Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 14th 2011
Chrome Shelled Regios
DVD - Part One and Part Two
In a distant, post-apocalyptic future, giant mobile cities called Regios roam a desolate and hostile Earth populated by Contaminoids, bug-like creatures that mindlessly eat anything they find and can corrupt people's mental and physical natures. Guided in their movements by a resident electronic spirit, the Regios occasionally cross paths and battle for territory and resources but mostly keep to themselves. Each Regios is protected by martial artists wielding kei energy and weapons called dites (pronounced “dee-tays”) which help them to channel their kei for attacks and defense. The most powerful dites are the Heaven's Blades, which belong to the twelve elite warriors who serve the Queen of the Regios Grendan.
Though still only a teenager, Layfon used to wield a Heaven's Blade in the Queen's name, but certain events force him into exile and he turns up at the academy city of Zuellni instead. There he initially tries to hide his real power and lead a simpler life, but the all-powerful Student Council President Kalian Loss soon finagles him into joining the military school, where he gets immediately snapped up by Nina Antalk, the leader of the manpower-shy 17th Platoon. Layfon soon adjusts to life and training with fellow platoon members, but his power being in another league beyond theirs creates tension, as does becoming the object of affection for various female students. There are plenty of other dangers to worry about, too, include rogue electronic spirits, mutating Contaminids, inter-platoon rivalries, and challenges related to Layfon's past. Then there's also Leerin, Layfon's childhood friend-come-girlfriend, whom he had to leave behind back in Grendan but who may hold her own special importance.
Based on a lengthy light novel series, this 24 episode post-apocalyptic story originally aired on Japanese TV in early 2009 and is now being released by Funimation in a pair of 12-episode sets. Because these sets are being released simultaneously, they are being reviewed together.
The basic structure of CSR borrows liberally from past post-apocalyptic stories but also infuses some of its own inventions into the mix, and it is those novelties which help keep the series afloat. Marauding buglike creatures who eat and/or corrupt humans featured prominently in Blue Gender (amongst others), and the conception of a toxic wasteland is a recurring feature in both animated and live-action sci fi series and movies from various countries. The notion of giant mobile cities which crawl around on the ground is a new one, though, and the concept of electronic spirits, while somewhat derivative of other properties where the spirit of a city has an actual visible embodiment (see Karas), is handled quite differently here. Empowering martial artists with “kei” energy, which is connected to the artists' life force, is just the newest gimmick to create super-powered warriors, though the series does at least try to put a twist on it with the concept of nen'i operators, which are martial artists whose kei ability is so specialized towards telepathy and psychokinesis that they cannot use it normally (i.e. for augmenting physical abilities or to attack or defend with energy) and who correspondingly have trouble expressing emotions.
CSR does fairly well with developing its core cast and telling its smaller stories, such as Layfon's reasons for getting exiled (and the consequences thereof), Nina's struggles to put a worthy platoon together and be a worthy leader for it, her later problems coming to terms with how inadequate she is compared to Layfon's fighting ability, and the messy business involving the 10th Platoon. The series also provides a suitably entertaining array of regular action sequences. In fact, if the writing had just fleshed out the background of the setting and put together a coherent overall plot, the series might have come out quite well.
Instead, though, either the original writer or the script writer somehow saw the “wisdom” in weighting down the story with the trappings of a harem romantic comedy. No less than three of the girls in the series are obviously in love with Layfon, with a fourth's interest also being strongly implied, and character actions and behaviors are regularly consistent with harem themes, including an otherwise-straight-laced character who obsesses over her petite figure, occasionally goes into chibi mode, and brattily kicks Layfon and calls him an “idiot” for not picking up on romantic signals she's only barely sending out in the first place. Standard harem archetypes - the Childhood Friend, the Athlete, the Painfully Shy Girl, the Bratty Girl, The Breast-Fondling Girl/Woman, and the Seemingly Emotionless Girl - abound, and the series doesn't pass up on a chance for an “excuse for swimsuits“ episode. Nearly all of the series' humor is wrapped up in this content, but it does not integrate well with the otherwise-serious tone of the regular series content.
The other, and bigger, problem, is that the story does not adequately explain or justify itself. How characters like Layfon and 17th Platoon sharpshooter Sharnid ended up where they are is explained in detail, but we get no background information at all about how the setting came to be the way it is, who the powerful red-haired guy who occasionally pops up is, or what the deal is with the masked individuals or the Ignacius they speak of, and we get precious little clarification about how this Saya person fits into the grand scheme of things. Though the Heaven's Blades are featured prominently in the opener, less than half of them show up in episode content before the final few episodes. Then there's this whole weird alternate-world thing which runs concurrently with the main storylines and seems to involve Saya. Whether or not that alternate storyline is part of the backstory or just some ongoing TV program that certain characters are watching (as is implied on multiple occasions, though that could also be an in-joke) is also far less than clear, as nothing definitive comes of it by the end of the series. The awkward transitions between the main Layfon storyline, the Leerin side storyline, and this alternate-world story doesn't help.
Animation production comes courtesy of ZEXCS, a studio probably best-known to American fans for its lead work on Sister Princess and Rental Magica. Design aesthetics are typical for sci fi series, though some of the character designs (especially for the gun-toting Heaven's Blade who pops up late) seem incongruous with the setting. The rendering quality is pretty good, though, and certain character designs still stand out; nen'i operator Felli's petite, long-haired build nicely captures her coldly elegant personality and effectively contrasts with her occasional immature behavior, while Leerin projects a commoner's homespun warmth and Nina successfully combines sexy and athletic. Amongst male designs, the star is Layfon rival Haia, with his smirking arrogance. Action scenes have a sufficient but not extraordinary amount of movement and flash and a few bits of fan service, mostly in the form of shower or bathing scenes, have been scattered through the series. Also expect a fair amount of graphic violence and extensive use of CG effects.
Diasuke Asakura (Dead Leaves, Gravitation) provides a musical score heavily ground in high-energy techno themes, though late episodes mix in some weightier and more dramatic themes, too. The effectiveness of the score is hit-or-miss, with its greatest successes typically in the action scenes, but nothing about it is memorable. Hard-edged, techno-heavy opener “Brave Your Truth,” which is used for all episodes except the first and last, is more notable for the interesting visual gimmicks it uses than its song. Both first half closer “Yasashii Uso” and second half closer “Ai no Zuellni” come in multiple versions, with ten episodes scattered across the entire series featuring the seiyuu for one of four prominent female characters singing in character along with the main performers.
Funimation's English dub, while solid overall, makes some questionable casting choices. Is Todd Haberkorn really the right choice for a male action lead like Layfon, for instance? Jerry Jewell also seems like an odd choice for Kalian, and his performance lacks some of the enthusiasm of the original (especially in the Next Episode pieces). The alternate timeline bits were originally done in heavily-accented English anyway, so the new versions are definite improvements, and choices like Brina Palencia for Nina and Colleen Clinkenbeard for Leerin are right on the money. The dub script is more interpretative than accurate and actually uses less swearing than the subtitles do.
Although Extras on both parts are limited to clean openers and closers on the second disks, Funimation does at least include clean versions of all the closer variations. Curiously, they also put the second closer on the first part's second disk even though it is never used in the first part's episodes. A Blu-Ray version does not, at this time, seem to be offered. The first part also has a Limited Edition version which includes a series art box and a hand-held Zuellni Academy City flag. Some online dealers are not shipping the regular edition until the LE version has sold out.
In the end, the major plot line concerning Layfon coming to terms with his past mistakes gets resolved but nothing else does. The ending leaves the distinct impression that the story is only at a midway or two-thirds mark, and indeed the existence of 16 novels suggests that far from all of the series' existing content has been animated. As of this time, however, no indication of further animation in this franchise has been made, so this one stands a good chance to be one of those frustratingly incomplete adaptations which ultimately serve mostly to promote the source novels. Although some aspects of the series can be involving, it ultimately does not do enough to distinguish itself as a stand-alone project.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Good character designs, some interesting concepts, can be involving.
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