Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 6th 2005
DVD: Complete Collection
On a ruined and dying Mars of the distant future, resources are precious and no child has been born in more than a decade. Gladiatorial combat between representatives of each domed city determines the yearly allocation of resources, while android “dolls” have filled the place of children in society. Some, called Barbaroi, opt to take their chances in the wastes between the domed cities, for life in the domed cities isn't necessarily good. From out of those wastes comes Layla Ashley, a young and impressively-skilled Barbaroi gladiator on a singular mission: she seeks revenge against Volk, the indomitable leader of Mars, whom she holds responsible for a great past tragedy which cost her dearly. Accompanying her on her quest is Speedy, a handyman “doll breeder,” and Nei, a doll resembling a 10 year old child with mismatched eyes who is so special that Volk and his lady Vesta dearly seek to take possession of her.
The setting may be different and the whole thing with the dolls is a nice gimmick, but Avenger is really just the latest version of the “Loner Warrior of the Wastes” subgenre of action series popularized in anime by Fist of the North Star. All the requisite elements are there: a post-apocalyptic setting, a sullen hero who is both a supremely-skilled warrior and on a mission, a very talkative and demonstrative sidekick who isn't too handy in a fight but makes up for the lack of dialogue by the main lead, a “child” sidekick who frequently gets into trouble and must be protected against bad guys, a Big Bad Guy who's both a powerful leader and an indomitable warrior, and a beautiful and much more gentle female companion to the Big Bad Guy. The only notable discrepancy in the set-up is that, this time, the Loner Warrior character is a young woman rather than a man.
Oh, the writing does aspire to more by showing how Layla's association with Nei is gradually starting to thaw her frozen heart and change her motivations, although this is done bluntly enough that the thawing metaphor is rendered literally. It also takes great pains to show that Volk truly believes that what he does (and has done) is necessary for the best interests of all of Mars, so he is not necessarily an evil monster. Ultimately, though, the storytelling wastes its opportunities to write itself out of the stereotypical mold for such series. Excessive and repetitive philosophical exposition by some characters is one of the main culprits, as is stretching out a plot suitable for 9 or 10 episodes to cover a whole 13-episode series. That the characterizations go overboard doesn't help matters, nor does the lack of explanation of many key story elements and a slowness to show much of anything about how things came to be as they are on Mars. Pacing revelations to keep interest and build intrigue is a fair and effective method of storytelling – provided that you establish enough to get the interest of the viewer in the first place, of course. Avenger does only a mediocre job of that.
There are good points. Although the character designs are typical of those seen in other Bee Train productions, they are properly-proportioned and reasonably-costumed (except for Volk's ridiculous get-up), with the Nei character in particular being suitably appealing and the midget girl hunter dolls with the monk's staves being suitably creepy. The rendering and coloring of the artistry are sharp and vivid, reflecting a high level of modern production values, while the wrecked Martian landscape, with its ruins and massive moon in the sky, lend an appropriate post-apocalyptic sci-fi feel. Fights, when they are shown, are rapid, dynamic affairs with lots of movement; there are few typical anime shortcuts. Unlike most heroes in fighting anime, Layla's style is a passive one which usually involves graceful maneuvering and minimal use of force, but that doesn't keep her from turning out some impressive moves. The series sometimes skimps on showing the fights, however, and some non-fighting scenes towards the end have a lesser caliber of animation.
The lively opener, while providing a good, energetic tune, is less remarkable for its music than it is for its visuals, which serve as a sort of prologue to the series. The similarly-styled closer is equally lively but instead uses more symbolic artistic elements while also blending the Next Episode preview into its beginning. In between, the score is very busy, working overtime to set the mood, fill in the gaps where not much is happening, and sprinkle throughout a few additional songs. This sometimes gets to be a bit much but there's no certainly lack of effort.
Bandai's English dub, which was directed by longtime English VA Wendee Lee, does a respectable job of casting the roles; Jameison Price's booming voice for Volk is much lower-pitched than the original seiyuu's voice but suits the character well, while the rest are reasonably accurate matches. Performances are also respectable, creating a dub track which doesn't shine but is plenty suitable for those at least tolerant towards dubs. The English script sacrifices any attempt at staying tight on the exact wording in favor of a more interpretive script which almost always get the basic meaning right. Some of the phrasing it uses to fill in gaps in sentences that are longer in Japanese is a little awkward-sounding, however.
Bandai's production of the Complete Collection puts all three disks in a decorated metal tin complete with four bonus mini-cells. On-disk extras are sparse, limited only to company trailers, Avenger trailers, and cleaner opener and closer, most of which are to be found on the third disk. All 13 episodes are available in the tin for only a little more than one would normally pay for a single volume of anime, though, so it's still an exceptional deal for a first-time release of a recent (late 2003) TV series.
Avenger, in the end, is a story about two things: the fights and whether or not Layla can find something more worthy and fulfilling than revenge to fight for. Along with the nice artistry it's enough to make the series worth watching, though its lack of originality and humdrum storytelling won't dazzle anyone.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Good artistry and action scenes.
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