Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 11th 2010
DVD - Part 2
While the ISDA plots a way to deal with Thanatos, Jin and his allies execute a rescue mission of Toa on Mars, albeit with some unfortunate consequences. In the wake of that mission, Jin, Toa, and Gio manage to live together peacefully (and incognito) for a time, but Commander Sakaki is leading an effort to capture all of the rogue Dragons and Dragonauts and eventually they get around to that trio, too. With some unexpected help they escape and go on another rescue mission, this time for their imprisoned comrades, but the presence of Raum (the third of the original Dragons) and the increased influence of Thanatos throws some wrenches into the plan. Toa's time being limited also complicates matters, as a desperate attempt to save Toa by sending her back to Thanatos, and Thanatos' boldest play yet towards Earth, only results in another rescue mission, this time into the heart of Thanatos itself. The fate of the world may ultimately be decided by some Dragons and those that have bonded with them.
It's amazing what actually developing a coherent plot can do for a series that, through most of its first 13 episodes, was a train wreck. Now the series is finally clearly going somewhere and – wonder of wonders! – the characterizations and relationships established in the first half start to fall into place, too. In fact, the second half is such a vast improvement in writing over the first half that one has to wonder why Gonzo couldn't have managed to tell the story like this from the beginning. Sure, some of the character foundations laid in the first half were essential, but it seems like the Gonzo staff just muddled through the first half because they did not have enough plot to fill up a whole 25-episode run (a problem that, unfortunately, is all too common in anime series of this length).
A lot of the improvement comes from the story getting away from just trying to capture/pin down Toa and Gio and shifting gears towards working with them against Thanatos, which presents a much greater common threat. Along the way the series does play the tired “discovering the value of love” card, and gives entirely too easy an “out” at the end for one of the prime trouble points in Jin and Toa's relationship, but the emphasis placed on the nature of the Resonance between Dragonaut and Dragon, and how that Resonance shaped the identity of the Dragon, compensates for that; each Dragon is apparently molded in the ideal image of the one who underwent Resonance with that Dragon, which makes for some very interesting insight into what each Dragonaut considers an ideal and explains the close bond which forms between each pair. (Howling Star represents Raina's unrepressed side, Machina is the full-bodied woman that very petite Akira wishes she could be, Amadeus combines a butler with Sieglinde's most beloved family member, and so forth.) That makes the lack of a close bond between Kazuki and Widow all the more glaringly for its absence, which makes for an interesting contrast to the close relationships of the other pairs. These connections, and the fleshing out of individual cast members who had not seen much development in the first half (especially Sieglinde) serve the series well as it plays out.
The second half dishes out some big surprises, too, and these plot twists help quite a bit. One concerning the true nature of one character who was prominent in the first half should not be a major surprise, given the abilities that character has shown, but the true nature of a second character who occasionally popped up through the first few episodes is a jaw-dropper, as the normal style of anime storytelling would naturally lead you to believe that she was something else entirely. Some character deaths may be unexpected to various degrees and the trio of bridge crew ladies who do the Next Episode pieces show some unanticipated spunk at one point, which provides one of the few comical moments in the regular second half episodes.
The series also improves in its second half by omission. Mercifully absent are the noxious transformation/loading sequences repeated a few times throughout the first half, and the commander who looks like an old guy trying to pass himself off as a young stud, who was possibly the most annoying character in the first half, fortunately does not get many more scenes.
Not all of the second half is completely serious, either. The final episode, which was originally released as an OVA bonus, assembles the entire cast for a pair of half-episode screwball bits. The first one casts all of the significant players in an ultra-melodramatic high school-focused action movie, while the second one finds some excuse to have everyone stranded on an island during a storm, where something is causing the Dragons to act rather oddly. Anyone who has followed the series well enough to know who's who in the cast should find both of these ridiculous bits at least mildly funny.
The second half also holds true on the artistic standards set by the first half, for better or worse. Those who favor massive mammaries in their fan service will still find plenty of jiggle to gawk at here and plenty of CG creations still fly around battling each other. The CG artistry and animation actually is not that bad, but it still stands out too much against the regular artistry and still lags behind the best recent titles in that realm. The most ambitious artistic thing that these episodes do is to give Toa a couple of alternate outfits; the last such occurrence does make her rather fetching. And what is up with Kazuki's ridiculous face patch?
The orchestrated soundtrack was perhaps the greatest strength of the first half of the series, and it does nothing in the second half to let the viewer down. It strikes just the right dramatic effect without going overboard, allowing some scenes to excel where they might otherwise languish in mundanity. Moreso than any other factor, it keeps the series afloat. Original opener “Perfect Blue” remains throughout, while decent but unmemorable new closer “Fight or Flight” takes over beginning with episode 14.
The English dub also remains a strength, with principle actors uniformly doing a fine job of hitting just the right emotional notes for their characters and nearly all of the casting decisions fitting well. If there is a weakness here, it is bit player Cole Brown's vocal quality and performance as the Gilliard King, which seems lacking in depth and imperiousness, but the rest of the performances are plenty good enough to balance out one minor weak link. As per the norm for Funimation, the script gets substantially rewritten in places, most notably in cases where lines specific to Japanese language structure are involved.
The second of the two thinpacked disks has clean opener and closer for Extras, while the first disk has an English audio commentary for episode 16 featuring Colleen “Toa” Clinkenbeard and Brina “Akira” Palencia. This is Colleen at her loopiest, with commentary ranging from extensive thoughts about character breast sizes to casting decisions to how easy it is or is not to act in one's natural voice vs. an artificial pitch. (Main revelation: some voice actors actually find it harder to act emotively in their natural voices because of an inherent inclination to juice things up.)
For a 25-episode series, does a much stronger second half make weathering a weak first half worthwhile? In this case the answer is a marginal “yes.” Sadly, viewers must wade through a lot of dreck to get to the good stuff, but those who do weather the first half and continue on will find their perseverance was not in vain.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Strong musical score, generally good English voice acting, distinctly improved writing.
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