Reviewby Jonathan Mays, Feb 14th 2003
DVD 2: Family Feuds
Brain Powered is the product of an impressive collaboration. Created by Yoshiyuki Tomino, the series also features the mecha designs of Mamoru Nagano, Mutsumi Inomata's character designs, and the musical blessings of Yoko Kanno. Tomino's outspoken belief that the series would be better than Neon Genesis Evangelion (which was concluding its second theatrical release months before Brain Powered's premiere) only further raises expectations. But sadly, as the series reaches its midpoint, such promises remain unfulfilled.
If a comparison must be made, it is this: Evangelion's most resounding success is perhaps Brain Powered's greatest failure. While Evangelion's layered story appeals to both the intellectual and action-craving, Brain Powered aims only for the former, a shortcoming that hinders the show's appeal. It is ironic that its universal themes will reach an audience so limited.
This inability to function on the literal level, to produce a coherent plot that may be enjoyed without careful analysis, to express a sense of unity between its components, scars an otherwise fascinating production. Brain Powered breaks many conventions of "mecha" anime, an approach that permeates the series, from organic mechanical designs to dialogue-driven episodes.
A cursory glance suggests that Brain Powered's plot is merely an old anime archetype; an overpopulated Earth beyond the threshold of ample resources is a staple of futuristic anime. But any resemblance to standard plotlines ends there. When an earthquake reveals a once-submerged spaceship called “Orphan,” scientists attempt to awaken it in an attempt to send their race to the stars. As the series begins, the Earth is littered with “Plates” (separated from Orphan by the earthquakes) that are used to spawn two types of mecha: the mindless Grand Cher and the more organic Brain Powerd.
Two doctors who possess Orphan use their children, Yuu and Iiko, to achieve their cause by forcing them into their program: Yuu pilots a Grand Cher and Iiko commands Orphan's tactical operations. Elsewhere, the U.N. has created an Ark--called the Novis Noah--to preserve the human race, as well as generated a fleet of Brain Powerd pilots, among whom is Hime Utsumiya. When Yuu meets Hime on a mission, he realizes Orphan's true intentions and escapes to the Novis Noah.
This second volume of Brain Powered witnesses Orphan's rise to the surface and the resulting destruction. Yuu reaches a decision over whether to remain on the Novis Noah or return to his family within Orphan, while Hime contemplates her attraction to Yuu. As in the previous volume, generous time is also committed to mecha battle and character development--the latter of which is perhaps the series' most intriguing aspect. If it is possible for an ambiguous show to become didactic for a moment, it occurs toward the volume's conclusion as the characters contemplate their planet's future, further complicating the show's direction. Brain Powered's prevailing themes of parent/child reconciliation are well conceived and thought-provoking. Unfortunately, poor plot execution obscures them often, minimizing their impact on the viewer.
Brain Powered's animation is an unusual blend of cell animation borrowed from twenty years earlier and some occasional computer graphics. With the exception of the CG, everything about Brain Powered's animation--color selection, character and mech designs, even animation quality--suggest a series closer to 1988 than 1998. Voice acting is above average; the full ranges of expression as well as the nuances of each character are well articulated. Repeated use of the second person creates some unintentionally humorous moments (imagine two "you"s and a "Yuu" in one sentence), but the English dub is otherwise fine, if a little less subtle than the Japanese version.
Yoko Kanno's music is, as expected, exceptional. Nevertheless, at times it feels like the animation and music function independently. A glance at the interview in the “extras” section reveals both that Kanno had “no idea” what the show was when she was composing and that Tomino had a difficult time fitting the music into the episodes. The bizarre juxtaposition of animation and music could contribute to an intended mood, but after reading Kanno and Tomino's comments, I am... compelled to dismiss the contrast as nothing more than the result of miscommunication.
Alas, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. Deconstructed, Brain Powered is promising: Tomino's vision, Nagano's mecha, Inomata's characters, Kanno's music. As four soloists, the talent of each cannot be denied, but this quartet fails to perform with unity. Instead of fluid phrasing, there exist uncomfortable hiccups in pace. Instead of harmony, discord. Instead of delicate dynamics, one voice often drowns out the others entirely. Their interactions are uneven, their visions conflicting, and thus, the product suffers.
Rarely are text interviews (included extras) so useful in making sense of a series; with Brain Powered, they are almost essential. In one segment, Tomino enlightens the viewer about his feminine/mother motifs. Coupled with prominence of female characters and the emphasis on character relationships, Brain Powered explores unique elements to be considered in mecha anime. Indeed, many of the most significant scenes in Brain Powered occur not during action sequences but in the middle of a conversation between characters. Aside from the equally character-oriented Crest of the Stars, it is perhaps the only domestically available series to so strongly defy the tenets of action animation. I suggest viewing these episodes twice: before reading Tomino's comments to gauge one's own interpretation of the themes, and after to better understand the creator's stated intentions. The true meaning of this enigmatic series likely lies somewhere in between.
After watching eighteen episodes of Brain Powered, I find little motivation to persist to the series' conclusion. There is no promise of resolution--or even forward progress--to encourage continued viewing. Even character development, the series' strongest element, is difficult to follow when filtered through such disjointed storytelling. After multiple viewings, I am... confident that a coherent story lurks beneath this series' many layers, but I question whether the reward is worth the necessary effort. It feels contrived; it lacks those essential elements of fantasy that allow a person to lose oneself in a story. As a subject to be dissected, Brain Powered is satisfying. As a form of passive entertainment, it is not.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : B+
Music : A
+ A daring attempt to redefine a genre
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