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"Linebarrels of Iron Part 2 & OVA": The Ends Justify The Means?

After what seems an almost-inordinate amount of time (actually a still somewhat surprising nine months), the final half of Linebarrels of Iron reaches DVD courtesy of anime power-house Funimation.

Following the frivolity of the preceding beach-based episode on the first volume, this second set of episodes begins almost quite literally with a bang, as the death of a major character and the apparent defection of another has repercussions for the JUDA team, sending them onto direct conflict with their arch nemeses of the Katou Organization. Stepping up a gear, Katou begins moves to take control of Japan itself, and in a surprising turn of events actually manages to succeed in relatively short order.

Some good time is spent indicating what relationship a conquered Japan now has with the rest of the world, with some all-too-realistic depictions of other countries simply pulling out of Japan since it is none of their business. That the country is ruled by an organization in control of nearly invincible robot suits is probably a contributing factor to that decision.

Nevertheless, JUDA take it upon themselves to personally remain defiant against the de facto rulers of Japan, leading to some genuinely amusing scenes among all the battles and bloodshed, including the sight of lead character Kouichi’s mother and sister appearing on television pleading with him to give up and come home, complete with cringe-making cod emotional singing. Let’s also not forget JUDA’s attempts at going for the public vote by staging a televised karaoke contest and comedy routines. Even super robot pilots need something to do on their time off.

After such comparatively slight diversions, the main plot kicks back in, with the mysterious Emi Kizaki suddenly beginning to remember more about her past, including her relationship with the Katou Organization’s Hisataka Katou himself. To complicate matters even further, just when Kouichi thought he had a clear target to direct his frustrations against the defecting JUDA member from earlier, his romantic triangle between Emi herself and childhood friend Risako becomes a step more complicated when the curvaceous Miu also makes her feelings towards our main hero, daringly going so far as to kiss him.

Finally, after one last confrontation between Kouichi and the JUDA traitor, the stage is set for the final part of the series, where at last some of the back-story of the alternate universe is revealed, amidst a surprising series of revelations which ends with all concerned galvanized to fight a heretofore unrevealed enemy.

This final part of Linebarrels of Iron continues much in the vein of the first, with plenty of robot-on-robot action amid the usual personal typical trials and tribulations of teenage characters found in series of this nature. Comedy interludes are once more peppered throughout to break up some of the serious moments, and these do much to keep the characters fresh and engaging as well as often delivering some genuine laughs, including an odd yet welcome jokey reference to classic (and sorely in need of a re-issue) Maison Ikokku.

While I have no complaints about the overall story, and particularly liked the sharp turn it took towards the end, it’s clear that there was still a missed opportunity. Too many important character motivations rely on mostly unseen back stories, and it would have been advantageous if the series’ creators had devoted a little more time to these. In particular, the set-up of an alternate universe really deserved an entire episode to itself. Nevertheless, the main question posed toward the end of the series, as to whether ends do indeed justify the means is an ever-interesting one, and puts the earlier part of the series into a new perspective.

Of course, Linebarrels doesn’t merely end at the episode 24 mark, as there were two further OVA episodes that Funimation has also licensed and included on the Part 2 DVD set. Perhaps somewhat predictably, the first of these OVA specials focuses squarely on the youngest female character, the American genius Rachel Calvin, as she first arrives in Japan to work for JUDA and manages to get resolutely lost upon touching down. It is undeniably pandering, as it focuses on the young Rachel and features many suggestive shots of the other female characters later in the episode, but there are some amusing touches to be found here, not the least of which are Rachel’s attempted use of a credit card with smaller Japanese stalls, as well as a worried exclamation halfway through the episode that they’ve got another ten minutes to fill.

The other OVA is a more standard episode that effectively serves as an epilogue to the series, giving us a glimpse of what the various surviving JUDA and Katou teams did following the end of major combat operations. JUDA having transformed its base into a beach resort naturally enables lots of swimwear to be shown off, as well as a reprise of Kouichi’s love rectangle between Emi, Risako and Miu. Before it starts to get too trite there is one last bit of action for the main characters to contend with in order to finally bring peace to the world.

As might be inferred, the OVAs ultimately offer little to the series as a whole, but as amusing side stories they can’t be faulted, even if Kouichi’s love situation still isn’t adequately resolved by the end of the final OVA. Nevertheless, I found the OVAs something of a missed opportunity, in that they would probably have been better used in order to address some of the series’ back story shortfalls, but when weighed up against the selling power of fanservice, the series’ producers obviously didn’t have much of an option on that front.

The series’ technical specs from the first volume still apply here, with some nice, if sometime variable, character animation, but some particularly dynamic CG animation of the mecha units throughout the series, serving as an excellent testimony of animator Ichiro Itano’s (Macross) skills coupled with Gonzo’s experience with computer animation. Voicework between the two tracks is on a par with the previous batch of episodes as well, with the English dub clearly having been completed in one session between the two releases. As a side note, watching the series in English and Japanese offers two differing interpretations on the gender of the character Satoru Yamashita, who while being voiced by female voice actors on both tracks, is consistently referred to as “she” on the English soundtrack, and “he” on the English subtitles accompanying the Japanese soundtrack. While I’m given to understand the character is indeed male in the original manga, their gender is much more ambiguous in the anime. Thanks to both voice tracks, either possibility is catered to.

The DVDs’ static menus are basic but functional, with the only notable extras being the usual textless OPs and EDs, as well as trailers for other Funimation releases, including the quite frankly far more interesting looking Eden of the East. As these are review discs, I cannot comment on the packaging other than to say from the online pictures I’ve seen, the new releases supplement the Part 1 DVD set quite adequately.

Linebarrels of Iron‘s concluding part brings with it much of what the first half of the series had to offer, but with some interesting and unforeseen developments towards the end of the series that throw a new light on the events of the earlier part of the series. Anything that gets one to think a little has to be commended, but the series as a whole could have done with more moments such as those. As it stands, Linebarrels is a mostly entertaining series that is never in any danger of getting too deep. While a sustained return to the more darkly ambiguous motivations of main character Kouichi as seen at the start of the series would have been welcomed, the series’ unwavering balance between seriousness and humor still keeps it mostly fresh throughout the later installments. Recommended, but it’s more for those who prefer style a little more over substance.

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