Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Oct 25th 2007
DVD 2 - Blood of Betrayal
Jin and Joe seek out Sana's grandfather Shuzou Chikura, finding him running a rural dojo for refugee resistance fighters. The respite from pursuit allows time for a little introspection. Personal revelations ensue. And then Phantom catches up and Jin and company must flee amidst much blowing of stuff up. They find themselves once again under the protection of eccentric pirate captain Toraji. His ship soon runs afoul of the Logos navy and he must flee amidst much blowing of stuff up. Eventually everyone ends up in Satsuma where Jin presses Sana hard to discover something, eventually wrecking her health. At which time Phantom arrives and they are forced to flee amidst much blowing of stuff up. Only this time they may not escape with their entire entourage intact.
If the first volume was the series performing a perilous balancing act and miraculously pulling it off, this is the volume where it slips and falls on its ass, standing up again only after flailing around on the floor for a rather embarrassing period. The first volume balanced its wealth of tired clichés with propulsive pacing, piles of well-executed action, and a willingness to let the series' revelations surface slowly of their own accord. Over the course of these four episodes the series, to one extent or another, botches every last one of those qualities.
Episode five gets off on exactly the wrong foot. Allowing some down-time for character and plot development is often a smart move, but Innocent Venus has neither plot nor characters to develop. Or, to be more exact, its plot and characters aren't strong enough to sustain the extended scrutiny that a lull in pacing invites. The entire stay at the dojo is a waste of time, filled with cannon-fodder secondary characters and meaningless scenes of Joe being a silent badass and of Jin explicating and acting vaguely suspicious. It also makes the deadly mistake of forcing plot revelations and back-story to the surface with stretches of poorly integrated explanatory dialogue that further bog down the already critically injured, and crucial, pace of events. The move to Satsuma doesn't fare much better, where a series of pointless sub-plots involving the annoying (and hideously dressed) Toraji clog up the main plot and distract from the Jin/Joe/Sana dynamic—the series' strongest remaining redeeming quality. That dynamic does eventually come to the forefront in episode eight, salvaging what is left of the series' appeal. The possibility that Jin and Joe may be exploiting Sana for their own ends has always been present, but here grows much stronger as indications that Jin may not have Sana's best interests in mind become more common and more extreme. The tail end of episode eight takes their relationship in an abruptly new direction that, while not unexpected, is quite welcome, raising anticipation for the next episode for the first time since the end of the previous volume.
The lagging pace and info-dumps wouldn't be such a sticking point were the series still crammed full of exciting action set-pieces. The action is still there, if less omnipresent, but it falls prey to a combination of poor build-up and declining production values. The fights descend without warning, sans the winding of tension that lends power to gratuitous violence, and arrive at empty, inconclusive ends. For all the running, exploding, and collateral damage, there just isn't anything to get the blood up. The lazy insertion of the fights (as a sort of rite-of-passage transition from one plot development to the next) is a mirror to their increasingly sloppy execution. The dynamism of the earlier action scenes is gone, replaced by standard shortcuts and far too many off-screen developments. Gone is the visceral impact, the moments of exhilarating fluidity, the instinct for "cool." The naval battles don't have the visual panache to make their eye-rolling preposterousness palatable, the mecha not only look like plastic models but have begun to move like them as well, and apparently there isn't enough budget to animate bone-crunching martial-arts bouts any more. Characters have grown flat-looking, their faces inexpressive and their movements stiff (except cute little Sana and her pouty face). The backgrounds, beautiful and detailed though they are, aren't as interactive as before, serving as backdrops rather than true settings. Even Jun Kawagoe's timing with action music—previously the only outstanding feature of the occasionally strident but relatively solid score—has grown lax.
Other than some mild ad-libbing on the part of street imp Gora, the English dub is even more faithful to the original than before—at times using the subtitle translation word-for-word. It's cast with an eye towards matching the Japanese version performance for performance, and aside from being a little overripe and over-enunciated, it does a fair job of preserving the intent and feel of the original. Both Joe and Jin handle the various changes they go through well, while Sana—as always—is given little to do. Incidental and secondary characters are occasionally poorly acted, but otherwise the acting is solid, if not particularly outstanding.
If one were to take the end of episode eight and maybe handful of other scenes and tack them onto the end of the last volume, keeping the series tightly focused on Jin, Joe and their vow to protect Sana, then it would still be a fast-paced action title with just enough depth to keep things interesting. Unfortunately the rest of this volume—its pirates, unrelated conspiracies, and dull dojo down-time—is a millstone around the series' neck, dragging it down until only the slimmest promise remains to make it worth the effort to watch.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : C+
+ The central Jin/Joe/Sana relationship takes an interesting twist; excellent background artistry.
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