Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, May 21st 2014
BD+DVD - Part One
Twelve thousand years after the events of Aquarion, the souls of the past are once again reincarnated, this time on the planet Vega, to prevent disaster. Amata Sora is a young man with an anti-gravity power he doesn't entirely understand. One day he meets Mikano Suzushiro and the two begin to fall for each other. Suddenly Abductors from Vega's sister planet Altair attack, and Amata's powers summon a long-dormant mecha. This brings Amata's powers to the attention of the leaders of Neo-DEAVA, a military organization/school, and he and Mikano find themselves embroiled in the fight against Altair. As things heat up, truths about both the enemy and the past's role in the present start to come to light, and Amata, Mikano, and their fellow pilots struggle to learn how best to defeat the enemy...no matter how many sexual innuendos it may take.
Perhaps Funimation's commentary for episode one said it best – Aquarion EVOL feels like it was written by a group of very enthusiastic children. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Not really, no: the first thirteen episodes of this (at this point) loose sequel to Aquarion always keeps your eyes on the screen with very little downtime and a varied cast of characters who are inevitably doing something interesting. But the show is a hodgepodge of tropes and sexual innuendo/puns that makes it hard to take seriously in all but the most dire moments...and even then, it can get it little tricky.
Aquarion EVOL takes place twelve hundred years after the events of the first series – or as they say in it, “one thousand years and two hundred more.” The hero of the piece is Amata Sora, a teen with the Element power of anti-gravity that is mostly used as a metaphor for erections, as he tends to float away whenever a girl does something that excites him. (This is not the sole use of his power, but it is the one that gets the most time in these episodes.) Despite this innate skill, he has not yet been noticed by the military school/organization Neo-DEAVA, which trains teens with Element powers and sends them out to fight the enemy in special gender-coded mechs. When Amata is out on a date with a girl he met at a showing of “Skies of Aquaria,” an in-world film about the events of the past, the town is attacked and his powers are revealed. He and the girl, the lovely Mikano Suzushiro, accidentally summon an old mecha known as aquarion, thus revealing their presence, and powers, to the world. Before either of them quite know what's happening, the two have broken gender taboos about merging mecha and been enrolled in pilot school.
What follows is a mix of school antics and standard mecha warfare. Two planets, Vega, where the heroes live, and Altair, which has only male inhabitants, are fighting over Altair's continued abduction of Vega's citizens. The Altairians appear to be searching for a specific female with Eve-like attributes; they refer to her as a “rare Igura.” They are led by Mykage, a feathery-haired specimen of masculine beauty who clearly has ulterior motives and will do anything to accomplish his goals, even if it means sacrificing his own people. This part is quite interesting, and the slow reveal of links to the past with hints of reincarnated souls and a variety of attacks, to say nothing of the visual and philosophical differences between the two sides, is fascinating. Where the show falters is in the antics side of things, and likewise this is where we really start to get the impression that giggly teens may have come up with the original script.
As has been previously mentioned, Amata and Mikano break a merging taboo when they get into their unearthed mech. You see, like in the much goofier Vandred, male and female robots can combine to form a different robot, with multiple combinations possible. (Single gender combinations are also possible, but are not really discussed.) This, however, is forbidden, amidst lots of talk about purity. Apparently when mecha merge, their pilots experience some physical pleasure, which is greatly increased when the pilots are of opposite genders. Perhaps you can see where this is going. The result is a torrent of barely-hidden innuendo, terrible puns, and some uncomfortable moments. The major issue here is not that there is a clear sexual component, but rather that by putting it there it opens the door for some not-so-good moments. The most evident of this is when Mix, a girl who is uncomfortable with men, is forced to merge with male pilots. Her extreme discomfort is abundantly clear, and everyone basically telling her to “get over it” and that it's only bad the first time smacks of peer pressure and terrible messages. Yes, this is a matter of warfare and fighting the enemy; that doesn't really take away from the fact that Mix is being forced to do something overtly sexual that she is not comfortable with. Similarly, Yunoha's crippling social anxiety is played off as being representative of “the pure heart of a maiden,” which is troubling.
Apart from that, the show tends towards a sort of bi-polar feel, going from totally inanity or goofiness spiced with double-talk about filling holes to much more serious fare, failing to really achieve either fully. Perhaps the best example of this is the ongoing doughnut metaphor. One-eyed pirate lookalike Zen continually expounds on how important the hole in the center of a doughnut is, and we get the feeling that there might really be something to the comparison...if we weren't looking at a strawberry frosted doughnut with rainbow sprinkles floating in space. The visual really trumps the intent here, and while this is the most obvious case of it, the issue does persist throughout the show.
Luckily for Aquarion EVOL, the animation is spectacular. Lush colors, detailed characters – every single recurring character has a specific look, down to figure and clothing – and smooth, gorgeous animation make this a lot of fun to watch even when you're wondering about doughnuts. Both the Japanese and the English casts are strong, with a couple of voices from each standing out – for example, Todd Haberkorn's Jin feels a bit stronger than Jun Fukushima's, while both Ayumi Fujimura and Alexis Tipton's Mix are equally believable. There's a pretty good match between both sets of voices; if you get embarrassed by cheesy lines, reading the subtitles provides a little distance.
While you could make an omelet with the amount of cheese in this show, it still is an interesting watch. The story gets progressively more engaging over the course of these thirteen episodes, with episode ten marking the end of the “hur hur hur, holes” mindset, and the final one in the set being quite powerful. While some of the tactics employed by Neo-DEAVA are uncomfortable or just kind of mean – one goal seems to be to keep the kids on the cusp of love without permitting it fully – it does manage to get beyond that and become an interesting storyline. The extras are pretty standard but worth it: two episode commentary tracks and a Japanese special about creating the second series. Be warned that the commentary for episode one has spoilers for the second thirteen episodes (Chris Bevins gets called out for that one), but in any event, the commentary for episode nine is much more entertaining. The word “awkward” gets tossed around a lot in both, which isn't all that surprising, because Aquarion EVOL is kind of an awkward show when you get right down to it – in pacing, in content, and in puns.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Gorgeous animation and attention to detail in the art. Most of the songs are really nice, some good voices on both language tracks. Story picks up as it goes on.
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