Reviewby Theron Martin, Oct 18th 2006
DVD 2: Foundations
Being the Pleasure (read: bonded user) for a particularly powerful and sought-after Edel Raid tends to put young ex-pirate Cou in a lot of danger, so he seeks to become stronger to better protect Ren on their journey to the mythical Edel Garden. Cisqua, who opted not to React with an Edel Raid because she's firmly committed to protecting them from harm as part of Arc Aile, puts him through a grueling training regimen, but Cou also has to learn that it's just as important to temper his use of power and consider Ren's feelings as well. Discovering and repairing a plane allows the group to make better time, but they also come into contact with both a rival Pleasure/Edel Raid team and an Edel Hunter, whose pursuit of an Edel Raid named Selena brings Cou to realize just how stark some of the differences are between humans and Edel Raids. An ensuing journey to the city of Razfe Ankle reveals a seamy underside to the city, one which involves Edel Raids.
Elemental Gelade, whose title refers to the gemstones embedded in the skin of Edel Raids that mark them as genuine Edel Raids (as opposed to Sting Raids, which are women artificially turned into Edel Raids), is a classic example of a series that's great fun without actually being very good. It's far more entertaining than it should be, given that it's essentially a conglomeration of elements borrowed from numerous other action series, among them Last Exile, Kiddy Grade, Fullmetal Alchemist, sCRYed, and Maze the Mega-Burst Space. The setting is ripped off from the Michael Reaves novel The Shattered World, and even the show's most distinctive element – the use of chants and songs by a Pleasure and Edel Raid to React and generate the most powerful effects – is really just a new version of the spellcasting seen in fantasy anime at least as far back as Record of Lodoss War.
It also doesn't help matters that the series has several intrinsic flaws. Its story content and male lead are as stereotypical as you can find for shonen action series, it plays out like a video game, its background art is horrible, it has an annoying tendency to narrate things that should be explained within the bounds of the series, and it has one of the least interesting cute girl female leads ever in an anime series in the dull and listless Ren. It also wastes its world-building potential by failing to go into much detail about anything in its world, but this is a pure shonen action series so it can be partly forgiven for that.
Despite all its problems the show still works well enough to be quite entertaining. Cou “The Total Stereotype” Van Guiret is still interesting and likable as the enthusiastic but girl-shy young man who's learning the ins and outs of associating and fighting with a powerful Edel Raid, one who also happens to be a cute girl. The supporting cast surrounding them is lively, colorful, and not entirely run-of-the mill, especially Cisqua, the petite, gun-toting Arc Aile team leader, who somehow manages to step beyond the normal “girl with guns” mode. A musical score that hits exactly the right tone for the series doesn't hurt, either.
The true key to Elemental Gelade's watchability, though, is its tone. Its creators apparently realized that they didn't have high enough quality material to tell a serious and compelling story, so they don't try too hard beyond the uncharacteristically sad episode 8. Instead they emphasize the show's greatest strength – its fun factor – by packing a lively mix of action, light drama, and humor into a flimsy shell of a plot. The moderation taken with the humor actually makes it funnier, as it doesn't descend into overblown silliness or self-parody like so many of these series are wont to do. Its idea of a recurring joke is Cisqua's uncanny habit of being able to pull out weapons seemingly from nowhere or the occasionally ridiculous names given to organizations (Chaos Choir?!?), although at least a couple of times an episode it produces a good one-shot scene worthy of a laugh. And thankfully the magical girl-like transformation sequences rampant in the first volume have been (mercifully) truncated or removed altogether.
As noted above, the background art is a serious detracting factor, as it looks like it was done in watercolors by a minimally-talented artist. The characters and Edel Raid accoutrements are drawn well and colored vibrantly, but none are especially original or distinctive; Cou is basically an Edward Elric clone, for instance, and one can't look at the combat forms of Ren or Kuea without thinking of sCRYed or any of a number of other shows where the hero can generate ridiculously fanciful weapons. The overall artistic theme emphasizes cuteness at the expense of any but the faintest hints of fan service, while the animation quality is very mediocre for an action-heavy series. Don't expect much for dynamic movements.
Much stronger is the fine musical score, which bears the unmistakable stamp of Yuki Kujiura's work as it alternates between echoing .hack//SIGN and a mix of string numbers. Like most of Kujiura's work, it's worthy of listening to independently. A driving, energetic techno-dance number serves as the opener, while a more staid piece closes out each episode.
Also strong is the English dub, courtesy of Ocean Group. Although it primarily uses relatively new talent, it is replete with good casting choices and solid performances that capture both funny and somber moments without going overboard. The only possible weak performance is that of Brenna O'Brien, who is probably best-known as the voice of Rin from Inuyasha but here tackles the difficult role of Ren. In fairness, though, the role doesn't give her much to work with and the dub is otherwise a significant contributing factor to the series' entertainment value. The script generally stays in the ballpark, with its one significant flaw being the total dropping of Rowen's references to Cisqua as “senpai,” which better-reinforces Cisqua as the authority figure in the Arc Aile group. Likely this was done because there's no easy way to translate that without it sounding awkward, but they could have at least tried.
Extras for the second volume are comparatively sparse, consisting only of an interview with three key seiyuu and a textless opener. The case insert contains a preview of volume 3, while the cover has some nice foil effects. The 115 minute running time on the case is misleading, as it is apparently including the extras in that figure; only four episodes are actually contained within.
Don't expect much more from the second volume of Elemental Gelade than shonen action fun and the series won't disappoint. It won't win any quality awards but is entertaining enough to be worthy of recommendation as a light diversion.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : C
Music : A-
+ Musical score, good use of humor.
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