Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 30th 2009
DVD - Part 1
In a near-future central Europe, a mysterious “plague” has started turning corpses into creatures the public calls Demoniacs and officials call Amalgams. Capable of bonding to and controlling machinery and typically prone to going on bloody rampages, the Amalgams have become a dire threat to public safety, one opposed by the members of the elite XAT. One living Amalgam, a loner who goes by the name Joseph but is known to the XAT as Blue (because, well, he's blue in armored-up form), is able to control his transformation into Amalgam form and endeavors to defeat the ones that appear and run amok, but his actions are greatly misunderstood by the XAT and forces seem to be moving in the shadows behind him to promote the Amalgam transformations towards some apocalyptic goal. Idolized champion motorcyclist Gerd Frentzen soon gets accidentally caught up in the whole affair, as does Malek, the much-bullied younger brother of XAT member Amanda. Much death and chaos and many flashy battles ensue.
Blassreiter will always have a certain amount of notoriety in the American anime community for being one of the first batch of series to be legally simulcast as streaming video on Crunchyroll back during the spring of 2008. It also represents yet another entry in Gonzo's oft-criticized ongoing effort to produce a mature series which appeals to mature audiences and still tells a decent story. In this light, the first half of the series falls somewhere between Basilisk and Speed Grapher: it looks good, certainly will not be found wanting for action or graphic content, and does deliver some genuinely heavy and mature content which generally focuses on adult characters, but most of its positive aspects are swallowed up by its tendency to thematically and structurally ape many other anime series. This is not, in any sense, innovative storytelling.
That does not mean the storytelling is necessarily bad. The key subplot about the bullying Malek and his friend Johann endure because of their vaguely-defined ethnicity (Slavs in a predominately German setting, perhaps?), and the dire consequences it leads to, is suitably harsh and unsettlingly affecting; in case it was too subtlety handled for viewers, the trio of teen bullies bear suspicious resemblances to Alex and two of his main droogs from Stanley Kubrick's version of A Clockwork Orange. The circumstances involved in Gerd's downfall also progress relatively smoothly, if again somewhat heavy-handedly, as they show a man who, in desperation to get his life back together after a bad accident, risks becoming a Jeckyll-and-Hyde-type monster and ultimately finds himself fighting a losing battle against his Hyde-side urges. These two arcs dominate the first several episodes, often relegating nominal main character Joseph to a secondary role; in fact, no character in this first half has enough prominence and screen time to be convincingly called the star, although the waning moments of episode 12 make it clear who the main characters are going to be for the second half of the series.
Although the first few episodes are not without flaws, the storytelling markedly heads downhill once it starts introducing the apocalyptic elements and dealing more with this cultured creep Xargin and his green-haired, lab coat-clad slut Beatrice. One protracted series of scenes involving Beatrice's seduction of an XAT member happens too fast and too forced to feel credible, the apocalyptic theme is just tired, and one potentially interesting new character and some interesting new equipment (the Paladin units, which can transform from motorbikes to mecha) are introduced only to be soon wasted. Outside influences also become more clear during this time; the whole business about the Amalgams in many ways mimics the rogue Boomer hordes of Bubblegum Crisis 2040 (especially the “escape from the overrun HQ“ scenes), while Xargin seems to be taking a few pages from the playbook of the super-villain Apocalypse from Marvel Comics' mutant titles. Other elements - most notably the fight scenes featuring Joseph and Gerd - are stylistically reminiscent of the Karas OVAs. Death speeches also routinely run too long, but an unexpected twist in the final moments of episode 12 delivers a true shocker and gives reason to hope that the series can get its act together again.
Gonzo pulled out all of the stops for the artistry and animation on this one, including fully CG-animated bike racing and mecha scenes and fully CG Amalgam fights. These scenes look most convincing - even sometimes very sharp - when not depicting human characters but have too artificial a feel when they do. The regular animation is above-average, with some nice character rendering when featuring main characters but a far lower-quality effort when depicting bit players and crowd scenes. The quality cap imposed by having to work under a TV series budget is evident, as the series never quite puts it together as smoothly or impressively as Karas or some recent Sunrise efforts have, and small but important details like bust size when drawn from the side occasionally fluctuate. These episodes also suffer from the all-too-common anime artistic problem of wildly distorted body proportions when a character is covered by a sheet. This is still a much more impressive effort than Gonzo's clunky Dragonaut: The Resonance, however, and the vehicle and character designs are generally sharp, distinctive, and sexy. (Notably, Amanda and Mei-Fong are the only two characters to have the larger eyes typically associated with female and young male anime characters, while the rest of the cast has more normally-proportioned eyes.) The amount of fan service present is surprisingly low given the curvaceous figures of Amanda, Beatrice, and Mei Fong, though; one bit of nudity near the beginning of the first episode and a strongly implied sex scene much later on is all we get unless you count Amanda's penchant for wearing her uniform unzipped to show off her cleavage during down time. The level of graphic violence will not disappoint anyone looking for such things; it is not rated TV-MA for nothing.
Opening theme “Detarame na Zanzo,” whose graphics update with episode 10, tries to set the tone for the series with its hard rock beats, and generally speaking the soundtrack succeeds at setting the desired heavier and darker tone. Saxophone themes highlight melancholy moments, while heavier, if low-key, beats support more tense scenes and action scene themes suitably juice things up. It is not a stellar effort but sufficiently does the job. Closing theme “sad rain” offers a more adult contemporary sound.
Funimation's English dub script is highly interpretive even by their standards, including a few places where lines of dialog are outright deleted and a couple of others where lines are added in that did not exist before. It also markedly amps up the colorful language, although none of the four letter words tossed around in the English dub feel at all out of place given the content and type of characters involved. The English performances are generally respectable and appropriately-chosen, especially Jamie Marchi in an unusually (for her) subdued performance as Amanda. The dub's most remarkable feature, though, is the diligence put into the sound mixing and engineering, which beautifully accounts for effects like echo, radio transmission distortion, and even the way voices sound inside a closed helmet. Whether you like the voice acting or not, this is one of Funimation's best-sounding English dubs.
As with all of Funimation's seasonal boxed sets, the twelve episodes come on two thinpacked disks inside an artbox slip case. The second disk has all of the on-disk Extras, including some series promo clips, clean opener and closer, and an English audio commentary for episode 12 which features line producer Tyler Walker and various members of the XAT, including Jamie Marchi, Chuck “Bradley Guilford” Huber and Eric “Alvin Lutz” Vale, who also wrote two of the episodes. Typical chatter ensues.
Overall, Blassreiter is a particularly grim series, one which stands at the intersections of sci fi action, hard-core drama, and horror. Very little that is positive or redeeming happens during these twelve episodes, as characters typically either fail at being good or beat themselves up over what they have done wrong, and in most cases wind up dead whether they deserve it or not. Nearly every scene of heroism comes packed with angst, and of course there's the whole apocalyptic thing hanging in the background. Still, as long as you can tolerate such a darkly moody tale, it does offer a fair amount of entertainment value and some occasionally very solid storytelling.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Flashy CG action scenes, some strong sub-arcs, sound mixing/engineering on the English dub.
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