Reviewby Theron Martin,
Guyver: The Bioboosted Armor
Complete Series Blu-Ray
Standing in the shadows of the world is the Chronos Corporation, a covert multinational organization whose specialty is bioweapon development based on technology left behind in prehistoric times by an alien race. Their chief gimmick is the modification of humans into Zoanoids, who still look human but can transmute into a variety of super-powered monstrous forms, but their prized possessions are a trio of Guyver units, bioweapons which encase a human and turn into incredibly powerful biomechanical armor, ones which can make even an ordinary person into a terror against the Zoanoids. Such a person is high school junior Sho Fukamachi, who, along with his best friend Tetsuro, stumbles across a Guyver unit during an escape attempt by a rogue Zoanoid who was trying to make off with them. He quickly becomes bonded to the unit, quickly starts trashing Zoanoids, and just as quickly finds himself and his friends and family targeted by the menacing agents of Chronos. Sho's Guyver I is not the only Guyver unit to activate, however, and as he eventually learns, there are elements within Chronos that are both more powerful yet than the Zoanoids and which have their own objectives within Chronos's scheme for world domination.
Based on a long-running manga series by Yoshiki Takaya (who also created Hades Project Zeromeyer), the Guyver franchise has a long history in official U.S. release despite never achieving anywhere near the degree of popularity here that it held in Japan. Both the original 1986 movie adaptation and the later 12-episode OVA series from 1989-90 and 1992 were among the earliest anime titles to be widely-circulated in video rental stores and the franchise did inspire a pair of cheesy live-action American B-movies in the early '90s, titled The Guyver and Guyver: Dark Hero respectively, the former of which was most famous for Mark Hamill's appearance in a major supporting role. In 2005 Oriental Light and Magic revisited the franchise and created Guyver: The Bioboosted Armor, a 26-episode TV series which not only adapts more of the manga than any previous version but also adapts it much more faithfully. Though ADV originally licensed and released the series during 2006-2007, it was one of the titles whose license ADV lost in the Sojitz mess in 2008 and subsequently fell to Funimation, who released a boxed set version in late 2008. Now the series has made its way into Blu-Ray format courtesy of Funimation.
The Blu-Ray specs for the series are fairly impressive. The series is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio with full 1080p resolution done with AVC codec and an overall video upgrade that was handled better than most of Funimation's previous efforts; the picture quality is free of flaws (including some that crept into the original DVD release) and offers a sharp, vibrant image which is a distinct upgrade. The audio upgrade is only a slight improvement, and the Extras found here are simply repeats of those found on earlier DVD releases, including manga/anime comparisons for select scenes from each episode, clean opener and closer, and English audio commentaries for episodes 1, 13, 23, and 26. Still, if you have ever had an interest in this series, this is unquestionably the version that you want.
The merits of the series itself are a bit more dubious. Bioweapons may have been a cutting-edge sci fi concept back when Takaya first created the series in the mid-'80s but the concept has not aged terribly well, as it has been done in many iterations in anime and manga (not to mention American comic books and sci fi media) over the past two decades and has, frankly, been done better elsewhere; both iterations of the Bubblegum Crisis franchise immediately spring to mind. A lot of the dialog – especially in early episodes – consists of tired, hackneyed exchanges between proverbial chest-thumpers trying to one-up each other in power and not until about midway through the series does it ascend above a critter-of-the-day monster mash. Even once the plot fully kicks in and starts to dominate, it is typical fight-the-evil-organization fare, including a tragic element, endangered loved ones, and a reject from the evil organization who sides with the good guys. The only sparks of originality are the individual agendas carried by some bad guys which sometimes interfere with (or even detract from) the grander goals of Chronos and a scheme which finds the good guys actually hiding out in the enemy HQ for a while.
Do not expect much for character development, either. Most of the prominent characters fit neatly into established archetypes and do not deviate much from them, although they are generally handled well within those archetypes and some of the personality dynamics with Chronos can, at times, get interesting. Tetsuro's sister Mizuki, the obligatory Childhood Friend/Love Interest/Girl Who Must Be Protected for Sho, has only limited appearances early on but actually gets the lion's share of the character development in the later stages as she becomes the outsider looking in on the world of monsters that Sho has gotten mixed up with. She is the only female character of any real prominence present for the whole series, too, with only two other female characters having more than a minimal presence: Shizu, a young woman who enters the picture as a subordinate of Guyver III wearer Akito Makishima in the series' second half, and Natsuki, a friend of Mizuki's who pops up towards the beginning and again towards the end. Chronos is apparently one big sausage fest, as not a single Zoanoid, Zoalord, or even flunky or researcher within the organization is ever shown as being a woman. (But, of course, this was the standard for monolithic evil organizations back in the early days of anime.)
The action component in the series is never lacking, however. Those who enjoy testosterone-laden, super-powered bashfests will find plenty to appreciate here as the monstrous Zoanoids and Guyvers do battle, sometimes within their own ranks. Fancy power and weapon strikes become progressively flashier as the series advances but always deliver healthy doses of mayhem and bodily harm, some of which gets more than a bit gruesome. The nature of the powers displayed by some later Zoanoids also gets absurd after a while, though no moreso than what might be seen in Bubblegum Crisis 2040. Those seeking fan service will, contrarily, be disappointed, as it never advances beyond Mizuki being slashed down to her undergarments in one scene.
The artistic strength of the series lies in its varied animal/human/mecha hybrid monster designs and in human character designs done in close-ups. Human designs for Makishima and Murakami are a little too similar, but otherwise everyone except the generic Chronos goons gets a distinctive look, with Mizuki's youthful prettiness being the highlight; she is one of the rare breed of prominent-status high school girls who are clearly attractive but not overwhelmingly cute or pretty. Character rendering quality often breaks down in distance shots, however, and background art heavily dependent on a watercolor style holds limited appeal. The animation is at its best in the fight scenes and explosive effects but even there it takes frequent shortcuts and looks stiff, even awkward, elsewhere.
The series soundtrack is serviceable and complements the hard-edged content well enough but is not wholly remarkable. Hard rock-flavored opener “Waiting For. . .” sets a good tone for the series but closer “Cotton Candy” offers nothing special.
The dub present on this release is still ADV's original from the 2006-2007 single DVD releases. The cast is anchored by prominent ADV regulars from the time period such as Chris Patton, Luci Christian, and Brittany Karbowski, though this one supplements its cast more than most with less-established voice actors. Though the performances may not impress sub fans, neither do they disappoint for their assigned roles. ADV did make a concerted effort to improve upon the modifying effects added to the voices of characters in Guyver suits and Zoanoid forms, using a form of artificial resonance rather than the layered effect apparently used by the original Japanese dub. The English script stays close enough that it should not generate much for complaints, either.
The series does leave a few things unexplained, like how certain characters can keep up with their clothing budget due to clothes ripped to shreds while transforming or how an organization like Chronos funds itself, but a bigger problem is the series' ending. It faithfully adapts up through the ninth volume of the manga – the point at which Gigantic appears – and then just stops. Oh, it does complete its immediate mini-arc but ends without resolving any long-term issues and with an impression than at least another dozen or so episodes should be forthcoming. Nothing has ever been said about this, though, so those expecting any kind of full closure should be forewarned. It does work as an action piece as long as one does not expect a definitive ending or great character depth, and does have some attempt at storytelling and character development, but if you're looking for anything fresh and new than this one is not it.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Solid Blu-Ray transfer, plentiful action, Mizuki is appealing.
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