Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jul 3rd 2006
DVD 1: React
Cou is a young sky pirate on the airship Red Lynx who discovers a mysterious girl among the crew's latest plunder. When invaders attack the ship, Cou soon learns that the girl, Ren, is also a powerful weapon—a mystically powered "Edel Raid." By fusing with Cou's body and "Reacting," Ren gives him the power to defeat the villains that try to capture her. Now Cou must accompany Ren to the legendary Edel Garden that she longs for. But does it even exist? Accompanied by newfound friends from the advanced society of Arc Aile, Cou sets out to find Ren's paradise, but it won't be easy. Countless enemies, all desiring the powers of the Edel Raid, will stop at nothing to take Ren away.
Having fallen into the clutches of unfortunate English as "Erementar Gerad," the US release of Elemental Gelade cleans up the title's grammatical goof and presents a straight-up fantasy adventure. A brash young hero sets out on a quest, supported by colorful side characters and exploring a world that blends technology and magic. Such a premise presents countless opportunities for daring challenges and explosive fights. While the series delivers plenty of action, however, it lacks anything special in terms of story and development, and the characters—distinctive as they are—seem to be sleepwalking their way through a run-of-the-mill quest. Cou's relentless energy is enough to drive the whole series forward. But how far can he go before he realizes he's living a cliché?
Viewers who come for the action will be happy with the first five episodes of the series, which present plenty of fighting styles and environments as Cou begins his journey. Episodes 1 and 2 give us mid-air dogfights around the airship; Episodes 3 and 4 feature the classic dungeon setup and a villain with the world's worst dreadlocks; Episode 5 takes us to the wilderness where Cou learns a few things about the bonds of friendship. Flashbacks to the city of Arc Aile also add another backdrop to this multi-layered fantasy world. With so many realms and battles, plus a horde of enemies trying to hunt down Ren, the story has plenty of material with which to maintain a steady pace. Cliffhangers are handled especially well, with endings that practically propel themselves into the next episode.
Unfortunately, the series does nothing else to differentiate itself from the typical fantasy romp. Cou's personality is as generic as they come, and the attempts to build a relationship between him and Ren (the quintessential "quiet girl") are stilted and laughable. His fellow party members aren't much better; trigger-happy Cisqua and perpetually hungry Kuea provide some light comic relief but only by recycling the same old jokes that have worked their way through every other anime. One gets angry easily! The other eats a lot! Ha ha ha! Characters like this are pure comfort food; people like them because they're familiar, but they add no depth to the story. The plot structure seems to be headed that way too—Cou is simply going to fight bigger and stronger villains until he gets all the way to Edel Garden, isn't he? Wake me up when he reaches the final boss.
A series like this takes all the opportunities it can to create a memorable visual experience. The artwork's best feature is its variety and color: outlandish character designs and outfits make it easy to remember who's who (Cou is red, Ren is blue, Cisqua is pink, and so on). Weapons and props like Cou's blade and the Red Lynx's mini-planes also have a unique flair. The weak link is in the backgrounds, however, which suggest a richly imagined world but never quite pull it off—instead, the buildings and landscapes look sloppy and half-done. Animation is irritatingly inconsistent, with some scenes looking sharp and others falling into the trap of bad action clichés. Cou can race and jump around spectacularly, and his Reaction with Ren is always an impressive (if recycled) sight, but there are other moments when combatants freeze into awkward poses and hope for speedlines to appear behind them. The heroes always win, but whether the battle is going to look good or not is anyone's guess.
Fan-favorite composer Yuki Kajiura is in her element with this series' music score, going for an all-out fantasy sound. Familiar choral strains and a strident orchestra punctuate the battle scenes, giving them an added dramatic quality, while piano and string ballads help to make moments of flat romantic dialogue feel more poignant than they really are. The opening theme is typical for this kind of show, with its strong dance beat, but the ending's laid-back acoustic guitar sound is a surprising and relaxing choice.
The energy of Cou's adventure carries over into the English dub, where everyone delivers a spirited performance, but not without some missteps. Ren's enigmatic character is a difficult one to portray, and her voice crosses the line from subdued to sleepy a few too many times. Cou and Cisqua sometimes get so worked up that their voices change with their moods. The dub script drifts away from the subtitle translations several times, especially during comedy moments, but the real problem is pronunciation: words like "Edel" are heard as "Eldel" in the dub, and the tongue-twisting "Shichiko-hojou" (Ren's classification in the Edel Raid hierarchy) comes out as "Shiko-hoji." If anything, it seems like a sneaky way to alter key names in the series. Also note that the subtitle track can only be turned on or off, with no "song lyrics and signs only" option for the subs.
Extras on this disc are relatively bare, with only a clean opening and ending; the real goodies—a metallic mini-pencilboard and Ren's hair ribbon—are only to be found in the collector's box.
Fans of role-playing games and fantasy will find all their favorite things in Elemental Gelade, but the lack of a strong story hook might turn off those who expect more out of the genre. It starts out with a good balance of battles, magic, and high-tech, along with a wide world to explore, but Cou's quest is so straightforward—and the characters so cut-and-dried—that there isn't a whole lot under that deceptively appealing surface. The bad guys are in search of Ren, the good guys are in search of Edel Garden, and the series is in search of a deeper storyline. Hopefully it'll find that depth in the episodes to come.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : B
+ An exuberant fantasy world, full of variety and action.
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