Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
In a distant future where much of mankind lives in space and living planetside is regarded as a cursed existence by some, the noble Michel leads the People's Army in revolt against Vetti, who has proclaimed himself Holy Emperor and has taken to leading most nobles in oppressing commoners. Defeated in a massive space battle, Michel finds himself (herself?) unexpectedly saved by a powerful transforming glass battleship manned by an eclectic crew and captained by Cleo, a man who professes to have long-thought-lost royal blood. Michel sees him as the savior the People's Army needs, but Cleo insists he has other priorities until a chance face-to-face meeting with Vetti sparks a sudden and intense battle between the two, one whose ferocity catches both men off guard and leaves each wondering about the other.
Gonzo has been one of the most prolific anime production studios over the past couple of years, but that has also resulted in vast variances in the style and quality of their productions as they use different teams to work on different projects. Glass Fleet must have gotten their A-team treatment, as its artistry ranks on a level with upper-tier visual efforts Basilisk, Trinity Blood, and Last Exile. Unfortunately its writing did not also get Gonzo's A-team treatment. While nowhere near as awkward as Speed Grapher, it nonetheless harbors issues that, at least initially, weaken its storytelling efforts.
Its biggest problem becomes apparent almost immediately. Its setting borrows elements from a number of previous Gonzo projects in creating an inventively unusual (and wholly impractical) environment, but the first couple of episodes squander much of that potential by failing to explain anything or find a focus. They leave the viewer with the impression that the creators brimmed with ideas that they wanted to stuff in somehow but neglected to make sure they would all actually fit within the context of a sensible story. The result is a mess that does not settle down and order itself until Cleo (gods, what a name for a leading man!), Michel, and crew arrive planetside in episode 3. Staging one of the most boring massed space battles ever seen in anime in the first episode doesn't help matters, either. The action scenes in episodes 3-5 do help pick things up, and the series seems to be trying to establish some political complications, but by the end of episode 5 it has yet to step beyond the realm of generic plotting and bland execution.
Similar problems can be seen in the cast. Gender-vague Michel (implied to be a woman masquerading as a man because of the female voice actors used for an apparent adult male character) cuts an interesting figure as the prideful, idealistic noble mindful of his (her?) position in the role of things yet not quite seeing himself (herself?) as the savior the People's Army really needs, and Vetti mildly stands out as the Roman Emperor-styled despot due to his odd relationship with the boy Ralph, but beyond them the principal cast falls into common archetypes exercised with little effort. Cleo's oddball crew assembles a typical cross-section of anime standards into the requisite anti-establishment lot; you have the mouthy firebrand girl, the nerdy technical wiz, the drunkard, and the needlessly dramatic weapons officer who becomes even more overblown when he dons his Roman centurion-styled battle helmet. Standing opposite them are colorful nobles and a scheming pope. Putting them together implies a fun-loving pomposity decidedly at odds with the generally serious tone, as if the producers could not make up their minds which way to go.
Whatever problems may exist with the writing, none of the criticism can fall against the artistry. Gonzo's trademark used of CG visuals here portrays massed fleets of ships with a genuine 3D feel, as well as the odd transforming glassy ship which gives the series its name and the individual ships of Vetti, Michel, and others. Eye-poppingly elaborate costumes and hairdos extrapolated from 18th and 19th century European themes dress beautifully-drawn feature characters with a vast array of appearances, although commoners tend to look at bit rougher. A couple of the designs resemble characters from Le Chevalier D'Eon, and other fall into general archetypes, but rarely do the designs or apparel lack for inspiration; the corpulent nobleman John Fall, with his multi-tiered flared beard, in particular stands out, as does the elaborate mask worn by the pope's daughter Rachel and the bizarre uniform worn by John Fall's right-hand woman. Eimer also distinguishes herself with her semi-cutesy “I'm a little dominatrix girl” apparel and Cleo, despite his other faults, does cut a dashingly masculine look. Background art also shines, with space backdrops receiving a colorful array of options but never appearing black. Unfortunately the sometimes stiff-looking animation is not on the same level, and the way ships jerk when hit in battle does not look natural.
No fault can be found in the fully-orchestrated soundtrack, either. Interspersed with occasional harp chords, melancholy harmonica pieces, one Broadway production-styled song, and backing vocals reminiscent of some dramatic selections from Noein, the soundtrack does its best to promote a high-spirited action-adventure feel. The opener is a standard upbeat J-pop number infused with a bit of rap, while each episode closes out with a respectable light rock number.
The role of Michel (the English language credits for the Japanese performances erroneously spell the name as “Michelle”) requires a deep female voice, so FUNimation's English dub calls on the heavier side of Laura Bailey's range for the role. Most other roles feature the usual suspects for that type of role; Luci Christian as the fiery Eimer, Greg Ayres as the wimpy nerd Nowy, and Monica Rial as the put-upon maid Sylua, for instance. Little fault can be found in the performances or casting, although some may not care for the rampant use of accents and speech affectations. FUNi's typically liberal English script usually stays within the spirit of the original intent when outright changing the wording. The significant flaw here actually lays in the subtitles, which regularly misspell Vetti's surname as “Sfolza” when it clearly should be “Sforza,” a reference to a noble family which heavily influenced Italian politics during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Extras on this volume include clean opener and closer and a quartet of short interviews with key seiyuu done in pairs.
Gonzo and co-producer Satelight have a great-looking piece of work here, but the story lacks a consistent tone and tries to do (and be) too many different things. The first volume shows potential but has yet to realize it.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Looks great, solid musical score.
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