Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 7th 2005
Aquarian Age: The Movie
For many ages three powerful but secretive organizations have operated on Earth: WIZ-DOM, Arayashiki, and Darklore. During the Age of Aquarius the alien Erasers invade, sparking a fourth organization—E.G.O.—to arise and unite the other three in defeating their common foe. Peace lasts for only a short time, however, before the interdimensional Polestar Empire invades on a mission of conquest. Once again representatives of each of the four organizations must gather and come up with a way to defeat the new invaders.
Aquarian Age Saga II, aka Aquarian Age: The Movie, is based on the popular Japanese CCG (that's collectable card game, for you gaming neophytes), Aquarian Age. The movie represents the transition between the game's first and second Sagas and seems to have been made primarily for fans of the card game, so familiarity with the basic story and characters is assumed. Those watching the movie without first reading the background info in the included booklet are going to be totally lost about what's going on, as the movie begins right in the middle of the climatic battle which wraps up the first Saga. Though it uses the same organizations as the Aquarian Age TV series, the movie does not seem to be directly related to the TV series in any way. (I cannot absolutely confirm this, however, since I only ever saw the first few episodes of the TV series.) It is also of a completely different style. While the series was more a story about a developing musician with all this weirdness going on in the background, the movie is purely a flashy action tale.
The four Earth-based organizations in the story each represent a different kind of power. E.G.O. is composed of humans with psychic abilities, while Arayashiki is a federation of spiritualists such as miko and onmyoji. WIZ-DOM is an organization of Western magic-users, while Darklore is an association of legendary species such as vampires, mermaids, and fairies. In the original saga the bad guys were aliens called Erasers, while in the second Saga the bad guys are from the Polestar Empire, a group of interdimensional conquerors. The former appear briefly at the beginning of the movie, while the latter appear throughout the rest. After finishing off the Erasers and having a year or so of peace, the good guys all wind up battling the Polestar Empire forces, individually at first and then as a group.
The events shown here partly reflect a changing of the guard, as some of the characters who were prominent players in earlier events are either left behind or killed off in favor of younger and newer characters. Beyond that, the entire sum of the plot has to do with the Polestar Emperor wanting to fight against the strongest warriors, hence his reason for the invasion and specifically calling out Earth's strongest defenders. The 53 minutes of actual animation are densely packed with action scenes, so not much time is left for much real character development. Also unclear is why all the action heroes beyond the vampire Alucard are female, though that could just be a style issue.
The movie does partly work as an all-out action story because of the quality of its artistry and technical merits. Though Broccoli is responsible for overall production, Madhouse is the studio behind these elements, and they have created a fairly impressive-looking production stocked with lots of flashy effects, a good amount of gore, and a few brief hints of fan service. Characters are obviously digitally-created, but look sharp and distinctive, though how likeable the designs are varies from character to character (Yoko, the fledgling vampire, just annoyed me and the Polestar Emperor himself looks really lame for someone who's supposed to be as powerful as he is). The helmet design on the Lancelot soldiers in one segment is just ridiculous; granted, they eliminate the need to draw faces, but no one could actually see out of those slits! Both the background art and animation are heavily enhanced with CG effects and rendering, which are at times too distinctive as CG to maintain a smooth integration with the character art and animation. Overall, though, the animation is pretty good, which allows for some nicely-executed action scenes.
The musical scoring for the movie and its closing song are wholly unremarkable. The opening theme, “Change My Heart,” is a peppy rock number set to rapid-fire imagery which mixes action scenes with scenes of characters in more ordinary circumstances.
The appropriateness of the English dub casting and the quality of the performances varies widely from role to role. Two prominent supporting roles (Hikari and Misuzu) feature stiff performances, while some lesser roles (most notably the Lancelot Army Commander) actually sound better in English. The four “main” characters (Mayumi, Miharu, Yoko, and Stella) are all well-cast and well-performed, but that's to be expected given that they are voiced by four of the top female English VAs currently working in anime dubbing (Michelle Ruff, Carrie Savage, Jane Alan, and Wendee Lee, respectively). By comparison, the English script is quite shaky. It not only takes liberties with the literal translation, but actually significantly alters the meaning of some statements; at one point the line goes “we've underestimated them” in English while it says “they've underestimated us” in the subtitles. This is enough of a problem that I feel the mark down in dub rating is warranted, based solely on this factor.
Included with the DVD is an indispensable booklet which provides a plethora of information about the movie and game on which it is based, including basic story introduction, additional epilogues for two of the characters in the movie, detailed character profiles for the main characters in the movie, descriptions of the five major organizations involved in the movie, card game details, opening song lyrics, and an English translation of the credits, including all vocal roles in both English and Japanese. Also present is an artwork sticker. The DVD itself is also well-stocked with extras, including company trailers, textless opener and closer, an image gallery (some concept art, some art from the cards), and several videos. The four Bonus Videos are each about 5 minutes long and seem to be promotional videos, though they aren't translated so it's hard to tell. I'm not sure exactly how the first two fit in, but the third concerns the Aquarian Age TV series and the fourth at least partly concerns the movie. The other video is a somewhat silly 23-minute tutorial on playing the card game, which is translated but is likely to be of little interest to American fans since the Aquarian Age card game has not, to my knowledge, been translated and distributed on this side of the Pacific. The DVD setup includes separate language and subtitle options and uses the original Japanese closer, with English credits following after.
Aquarian Age: The Movie is not really a stand-alone story. It is intended for players of the card game, so it may be difficult for American anime fans to fully appreciate. It has good enough graphics and action scenes to be worth a look by fans of action-oriented titles, though trying to watch it without reading the background information provided in the included booklet will leave the viewer hopelessly confused. What is shown here practically screams for a full series to describe the assemblage of the alliance against Eraser, present the Polestar Empire as a more proper threat, develop central characters more, and lay out the backgrounds and circumstances of the various organizations, because 53 minutes is way too compact a time frame for the potential which exists here. As of this time, though, no such series exists or is even planned, as far as I know.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : C+
+ Good-looking and well-animated feature.
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