Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 27th 2006
Guyver: The Bioboosted Armor
DVD 1: Days of Future Past
Big, bad, secretive multinational Chronos Corporation has been experimenting with bioweapons. Their main product so far has been Zoanoids, bestial creatures who can disguise themselves as humans, but the height of their development efforts are three Guyver Units, living suits of armor which bond with a subject and give him fantastic fighting capabilities, ones good enough to stand up to even the toughest Zoanoids. High school student Sho becomes the host for one such unit when it almost literally falls into the laps of him and a friend during an escape attempt by a test subject. Forced to do battle to protect himself and his friend, Sho discovers the power to rip his enemies apart, but it also leaves them as wanted individuals by the Chronos Corporation and leaves Sho uncertain about the changes that have happened to him due to bonding with the armor. Sho is not the only person who has come into possession of one of the Guyver Units, however, as an investigator for Chronos bonds with a second and his school's Student Council President, who is also the son of a Chronos executive, has found and bonded with the third.
Heroes who discover and bond with a special suit of armor which gives them fantastical fighting abilities have been staples of comic-book storytelling on both sides of the Pacific for decades, as have foes that seem human but transform into monsters in spectacular clothes-ripping scenes. (And really, if these bad guys didn't die so fast then you'd have to wonder about their clothing budgets, since they have to completely replace their outfits each time they do it.) Guyver, whose source manga was originally serialized starting in 1985, is one of the earlier anime/manga examples of both concepts. It was popular enough to spawn a 1986 anime movie, a 12-episode OVA series that ran in 1989-1990 and 1992, and a pair of cheesy live-action American adaptations in 1992 and 1994, the former of which is most notable for starring Mark Hamill. What the first volume of this 2005 revival shows most clearly is that the original concept hasn't aged well; while this may have been excitingly new stuff in the late '80s and early '90s, so many series of a similar nature have come and gone since then that even its apocalyptic prologue doesn't keep this one from feeling quite generic.
These series generally take one of two basic approaches: either the hero is a good guy looking for direction or a delinquent with mad fighting skills but a heart of gold. Guyver opts for the former, and adds to it typical elements like the accidental encounter with the armor, the evil multinational corporation out to recover it (and keep their secrets) at any cost, the best friend who's privy to his secret, the fellow student who knows more about the situation than he lets on, and the oblivious love interest, who in Sho's case is Mizuki, the younger sister of his best friend Tetsuro. The one minor update to the theme is that Tetsuro, being a sci-fi geek and modern computer-savvy teen, decides to seek help and information about Guyver and Chronos online, although this volume ends before he gets a chance to carry through on that decision. So far Mizuki has not come under imminent threat, but given how close she is to the story and how these things normally go it seems inevitable. The only other female character of consequence in the first four episodes is Natsuki, one of Tetsuro's fellow Sci-Fi Club members, who pops up a bit too much for her to not become involved at some point.
Plotting so far has been in the standard escalating “monster of the week” format, with the monsters getting tougher each time as Sho discovers new abilities and attack forms for his armor. On the Bad Guy side we have the standard “regional director in danger of losing his job/life if the special equipment can't be recovered” configuration, with the “big boss” ultimately stepping in, although the one minor surprise here is that he becomes directly involved so early. It is otherwise as formulaic as these series come in execution.
The updates to the series come through most clearly in the more current character designs and the enhanced visual effects involving the various special attack forms, the latter of which is the visual highlight. Designs are at their best in the Guyver suits and female characters, as both Mizuki and Natsuki have distinctive, girlishly pretty looks without resorting to massive-eyed cutesiness, voluptuous sexiness, or odd hair colors. Most male designs are also done well, although Sho's look is very typical for a teenage leading man and Tetsuro is so squared-jawed as to be a caricature. (And when did it become a rule that the Student Council President has to look far more mature than any other high school student?) Monster designs are drawn well but there's absolutely nothing special or distinctive about them, either; they could have been lifted from any of a number of other series. Far weaker is the background art, which most often looks like it was done in watercolors, and not very good watercolors at that. The animation is a bit too stiff in some places and takes too many short-cuts in the action scenes for it to be given much credit. Despite some flashy visuals and a few sharp scenes, the fights lack the dynamic feel that should be a hallmark of a series like this. They do include enough bloody violence to warrant a 14+ age rating, but that and the one fan service scene aren't enough to carry the volume on graphic content alone.
Guyver's opening theme uses a metal riff highly reminiscent of the opening theme for the more recent American broadcasts of Dragonball Z but actually includes lyrics, while it wraps up each episode with a bland adult contemporary-styled closer. The musical score in between, while not bad, tries too hard to be dark and melodramatic and contrasts too much with the generally bright and cheery look of the artistry.
ADV's English 5.1 dub should satisfy those who favor dubs and are not major audiophiles, as casting decisions and performances are solid and generally in line with the tone and tenor of the originals. Name pronunciations are also strictly in line with the originals, and the script also remains reasonably close. The dub job is likely to at least slightly annoy sub fans, however, as it makes liberal use of accents which do not seem reflective of those being used in the Japanese dub. One inconsistency between both dubs and the subtitles is the Chronos inspector's name, which is distinctly pronounced as “Lisker” in both English and Japanese but listed in the subtitles and extras as “Risker.”
As with previous revivals of old-school titles that they have done, ADV has made this one more appealing by offering sharp cover art and stocking it with a strong collection of extras. On-disc content includes typical stuff like clean opener and closer, a “Next Volume” preview, and an audio commentary track featuring the English ADR director and a couple of ADV marketing personnel who are major Guyver fans; amongst other points brought up in this is how this is the most complete and accurate adaptation yet made of the manga. Its most unusual feature is a manga-anime comparison for episodes 1, 2, and 4, which compares scenes from each episode to their equivalent panels in the original manga. Also present is a 32-page booklet chock full of reference goodness, including at least brief profiles on every named character who has appeared so far, interviews with the Japanese director and seiyuu for Sho, profiles on all the Zoanids and Guyver Units that have appeared so far (and some that haven't), concept and original manga art, and annotated synopses of the first seven episodes. This material is laced with spoilers, but a diligent effort has been made to mark the worst of them as being such, something that American companies don't do often enough.
Guyver was clearly at least partly inspired by American comic books, and knowledgeable American fans should recognize the volume title as an homage to that source material. Doubtless Guyver was itself the inspiration for other anime series about individuals in powered armor battling monsters disguised as humans, as many parallels can be drawn between it and Bubblegum Crisis, among many others. Unfortunately it no longer does anything to distinguish itself, and updated technical merits aren't enough to make it stand out anymore. Despite ADV's diligent efforts to promote it as something special, this is, so far, just a run-of-the-mill, monster-of-the-week monster-bashing series. It will appeal to action junkies and fans of earlier incarnations, but probably will not find an audience beyond those groups.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Strong set of extras, some good armor and character designs.
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