"Solty Rei: The Complete Series" - When Clashing Clichés Crash and Burn
Friction is what results when two forces moving in opposite directions come into contact. With careful coaxing, friction can generate heat and sparks, and make a fire that spreads warmth and light. Badly handled, though, friction just causes both forces to come grinding to a screeching halt.
Creative friction results when one tries to coax a story from seemingly incompatible genres, like zombie horror slapstick or a kung-fu romantic tragedy. Do it right, and the story will kick up sparks and warmth, forcing us to look at both genres differently. Do it wrong, and the whole thing will come to a screeching halt.
Sadly, the genre mash-up in Studio GONZO’s Solty Rei falls into the latter category. It attempts to mix hard-boiled science fiction with a super-cutesy kawaii teenage girl, but the resulting show only clashes with itself repeatedly. The grittier, seamier sides of the show are completely undone by its comedic elements, while the comedy often curdles because of the underlying ugliness. The show, available from FUNimation in a six-disc boxed set, is mostly a frustrating mess that can’t decide what it wants to be until it has thoroughly squandered the audience’s patience.
Solty Rei is set in a futuristic city a dozen years after a strange, catastrophic incident called the Blast Fall maimed many of the city’s inhabitants. Unsurprisingly, this triggered a technological boom in Resemble technology: advanced robotic prosthetics that replace missing or badly damaged body parts. These prosthetics are produced by the Reestablishment Universe Committee (R.U.C.), and their success seems to have produced an entity that combines the worst traits of a fascist police state government and a greedy mega-corporation. The Blast Fall stripped bounty hunter Roy Revant of his only child, Rita, and with her went most of his compassion and emotion. Even though he does his job with a cold, hard-hearted efficiency, he’s never given up hope that his daughter is still alive somewhere. When a naked, green-haired teenaged girl with no name and no memory of who she is or where she came from appears, it’s only a matter of time before Roy ends up naming her Solty and adopting her so they both can learn the meaning of love and family. The fact that Solty seems to be invulnerable and inhumanly strong only deepens the mystery around her, as does the odd interest that the R.U.C. seems to be taking in her.
The roots of Solty Rei are strong, but the execution is a complete mess. The entire first half of the series is entirely dedicated to setting up an intricate web of characters and relationships, including Roy and Solty; Roy’s employer, Miranda Maverick, and her annoying know-it-all daughter, Kasha; the Robin Hood wannabe Rose and her “brothers” Larry and Andy; a quartet of R.U.C. operatives with names that sound like sports cars or prescription medications; the extremely mysterious and sinister head of the R.U.C., Ashley; and the fifth wheel science nerd Yuto, who is hopelessly smitten with Solty. Unfortunately, this intricate plotting turns out to be mostly a waste of time, and at least three or four characters could have been left on the cutting room floor quite easily. The earliest episodes of the show whip between deadly serious melodrama and slapstick comedy far too quickly, with each sudden change undermining the earlier tone completely. The plot also feels mostly like a collection of clichés that have been done far better in other, more focused series. Furthermore, injecting clichés from one genre into another does not suffice to make them fresh or original, as Solty Rei unfortunately demonstrates. It doesn’t help that Roy is a total jerk for the overwhelming majority of the show, never once revealing any characteristics that would justify Solty’s continued faith in him.
The show finally settles on the “deadly serious” side of things by the middle of disc 3, with a jarringly dark event that casts a pall on the show from that point forwards. Unfortunately, by then it’s far too late to take much of what happens seriously, which is not helped by the show playing the “everything you thought you knew is wrong” card two or three times too often. Once the show settles on its darker tone, Solty herself becomes as ill-fitted to the show as the irrepressibly jaunty jingle that plays during the interstitial break in the middle of each episode. This is not the only jarring change that comes mid-season: we are suddenly expected to take the quartet of R.U.C. operatives seriously when they had shown little more competence than the Keystone Kops. The real shame of it all is that the truth behind the world and the Blast Fall turns out to be fairly interesting, and the final episodes that end the series have no small amount of emotional poignancy. However, by that time it’s too little and far too late.
Much of Solty Rei‘s faults might have been forgiven if the animation were unusually good, but it is very clearly one of Studio GONZO’s earlier and lesser efforts. The animation is not bad by any stretch, but GONZO has definitely stepped up their game with much better recent cartoons like Basilisk and Afro Samurai. The seams are also very visible as it tries to integrate CGI vehicles with the hand-drawn characters and backgrounds. It’s mostly of value as a historical document at the state of anime and of Studio GONZO itself about three years ago.
The Solty Rei boxed set from FUNimation simply collects the six discs of the series under one space-saving cover. All the episodes are presented cleanly in an anamorphic widescreen, and can be watched equally well in the original Japanese or with the fine English dub. Like many recent anime DVD releases, Solty Rei is fairly thin on extras, which disappear almost entirely by the final discs of the series. However, the extras make up in quality what they lack in quantity, with some interesting behind-the-scenes commentaries starting things off on the early discs.
About the only good thing to say about Solty Rei is that it’s a valiant attempt to do something different; it’s too bad it founders on its own poor execution. The sense of closure in the final episode is a nice change of pace from the open-ended sequel bait, but it’s also a relief to know that a sequel to this series is highly unlikely. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and the earliest impression Solty Rei gives is contradictory and confusing.