Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 29th 2010
DVD - Part 2
In the wake of the XAT's demise, Amanda finds Joseph and learns about his past, in which was laid the foundation for all current events: how Xargin came to be the nihilistic villain that he is, how he and Joseph gained their powers, and how Joseph's elder sister Sasha fits into the picture. Both Amanda and Joseph soon become involved with Zwolf, the clandestine modern-day version of the Knights Templar which both Mei-Fong and Victor had been secretly working for, and agree (for their own personal reasons) to work with them towards the defeat of Xargin and the eradication of the Amalgams. As Amanda soon discovers, though, not everyone who dies stays dead when Amalgams are involved, and other nations have started to take notice of the Amalgam threat developing within Germany's boundaries. Soon the battle becomes two-sided for Joseph and the remaining forces of the XAT and Zwolf: not only must they defeat Xargin and his right-hand woman Beatrice, but they must also protect the country from being decimated in an attempt to wipe out the potential Amalgam scourge.
Few anime series even come close to being as relentlessly dreary as Texhnolyze, but the second half of Blassereiter certainly makes an honest effort. It almost seems to delight in giving its characters horrific backstories deeply ground in prejudice, abuse, injustice, and suffering; even bitch queen Beatrice gets a strong effort at a sympathetic background, it is not hard to understand why Xargin has gone down the apocalyptic path, and Joseph? His story would do Nestor The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey proud. The last dozen episodes even bring several characters back from the dead only to make them suffer more – or, in the case of Wolf, make them into even greater asses. (His eventual defeat is one of the more satisfying villain falls in recent memory.)
For all of the negativity, though, the second half does consistently pitch one positive message: no matter how bad the circumstances are, if one does not give up on life and humanity then something better can eventually come. In the series' backstory, Xargin became the villain when he lost sight of that and assumed the all-too-typical “I have to destroy the world to bring it to peace” arch-villain philosophy, while Joseph, after a major hiccup, eventually becomes its champion and Amanda, who is the only prominent character to remain completely human in a setting dominated by cyborgs and Amalgams, practically becomes its living embodiment. Characters even periodically remind you about the Message should you happen to forget it.
As crass as that may sound, though, the story is actually fairly solid in execution. Yes, little or nothing done here is bracingly different, but the writing makes an honest effort to make the story about more than just its action scenes and give it a more full-bodied feel. It does not force in fan service or mature content, instead allowing its more adult-oriented focus to develop naturally; apparently Gonzo actually did learn something from Speed Grapher. There are even a couple of parts that some may find genuinely emotional.
Unfortunately, like in the first half, the writing in the second half also occasionally shoots itself in the foot. Once again it introduces a character and builds that character up as a potentially important player only to kill that new character off rather quickly. Granted, the character's death was not meaningless, but this now marks the second time the series has pulled that stunt, and that's at least one time too many. The special nature of one long-standing character is revealed and tossed off a little too quickly and casually, and certain aspects of the climax and conclusion are a bit corny. The series also falls back on the all-too-common anime perception of the U.S. as having trigger-happy leadership; in case that point is not obvious enough, they throw in one Japanese character who is from Hiroshima and tosses out provocative lines like, “how many times are they going to make the same mistake?” (in reference to potentially using nukes to eliminate the Amalgam scourge) and “no more Nagasakis, no more Hiroshimas.” For a series so enamored of showing cruelty and bloody mayhem to try to imply some kind of message in this way seems hypocritical.
The action component shouldn't disappoint, and in fact may be a slight upgrade from the first half. Some of the battle scenes are hard to follow because of how fast they move, but that does contribute to some thrilling CG action sequences which can include cyborg warriors, mecha-like fighters, high-tech planes, souped-up motorcycles, cruise missiles, and lots and lots of ordinary missiles. The physics behind some of the plane movements is quite questionable even if one does account for higher-tech (they maneuver like helicopters in some scenes) and some of the Amalgam designs look silly, but Gonzo works enough raw coolness into its toys that it should compensate for flaws elsewhere. The second half will not be found wanting for bloody graphic content, either, although the more prurient fan service this time is entirely limited to Amanda and Beatrice's risqué notions on showing off cleavage.
Unlike many of their past efforts, Gonzo maintains its quality control all the way through to the end, producing some mostly nice-looking CG and appealing regular artistry, complete with a bevy of interesting and diverse character designs; none of the new characters introduced through the final 12 episodes visually disappoint in their human forms. The CG sometimes has some minor flaws integrating perfectly with the background art if one watches closely for it (typically in the most involved action scenes), but this is not a big enough or frequent enough problem to be a significant distraction. The animation, whether in CG or 2D artistry, is distinctly above average.
The second version of the original opener continues through episode 14, after which Minami Kuribayashi's similarly-toned “unripe hero” replaces it, including updated visuals. The original opener returns, with even more updated visuals, for the final episode. Closer “A Wish for the Star,” which takes over with episode 13 and runs through episode 23, provides a more adult contemporary sound, while the theme “sweet lies” closes out episode 24. The soundtrack in between is effective without being particularly exciting.
The sound engineering in the series continues to shine, with several scenes where vehicles are riddled by bullets actually sounding like a vehicle being riddled by bullets. The English dub does not face the challenges that it did in the first half (there are almost no instances of characters talking with a helmet on which have to be compensated for, for instance) but still acquits itself quite well. This time the challenge more involved convincingly portraying certain characters at different ages, and the dub does a respectable job of that. In fact, the only reasonable weakness which could be pointed to in significant roles is Stephanie Young's rendition of Sasha, and that could be as much because her role and lines limit her to a very dreary tone. The script is somewhat interpretive, sometimes using different version of Biblical verses and occasionally infusing some swearing, but none of the changes are drastic.
In addition to the standard clean opener and closer, Funimation's release of the second half includes two on-disc Extras of note. One is the Director's Guide to Blassreiter, a 15 minute interview with director Ichiro Itano that will mostly be of interest to people curious about the technical decisions made in combining the 3D CG and 2D graphic elements of the series. The other is an English audio commentary for the last episode by ADR director Tyler Walker, J. Michael Tatum (one of the script writers and voice of Xargin) and Todd Haberkorn (the voice of Joseph). That will mostly be of interest to those curious about the English script-writing decisions involved in the show. The dozen episodes come on two thinpacked DVDs in a slipcover artbox.
In the end Blassreiter proves to be a good-looking and sufficiently entertaining series, albeit one which falls short of ascending to a top-tier tier title due to flaws in its writing. Although it aims for (and achieves) depth in its characterizations, its second half gets too wrapped up in its religious and apocalyptic overtones, does little more than give lip service to the hope for something better in life, and never quite escapes the demands of formulaic structure. Still, if you tolerated the first half then you should find the second half to be at least a slight improvement.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Nice-looking animation and character designs, good depth in characterizations, plentiful flashy action.
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