Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Betrayed by Jin, Sana and a badly injured Joe escape to the Ishin with the help of Toraji and his crew. The psychological wound left by Jin's callous act proves difficult to heal, but Joe's unwavering devotion proves a powerful salve, and with his support Sana moves to confront Jin and learn of her own true nature. Jin in the meantime, allies himself with Phantom's leader Drake, whose political machinations endanger the nation's very sovereignty, while Toraji takes it upon his shoulders to lead a revolution against Drake and the nation's oppressive regime. The battle lines are drawn, and with the Gladiators, and thus Sana, crucial to Drake's plans, Joe's quest to protect her draws him into the middle of the bloody conflict, and eventually face-to-face with Jin in a desperate battle to the death.
With its final volume, Innocent Venus regains some of the focus it lost in its dismal middle half, in the process regaining a little of what made the first volume such an easy, compulsive watch. The dreary politics and useless side-plots of the second volume do reach their diluting fingers into the climax, with Toraji and his badly-dressed crew playing a major role and the larger conflicts between classes and nations providing a backdrop, but the uncertain dynamic between Jin, Joe and Sana takes center stage and the shift is most welcome. Even as flat as the three are, watching Jin peeling the urbane veneer off of his underlying psychosis, Sana re-examining her affections, or Joe hearing for the first time what he truly meant to Jin is infinitely more interesting than watching old men wrangling for power. To be sure, the pace is rushed as the series tries to tie up its too-broad plot in a mere twelve episodes, and its reliance on a patchwork of hoary clichés hasn't lessened, but it's studded throughout with pleasantly emotional little bits, and draws to a conclusion that—Drake's tiresomely standard evil plan aside—is surprisingly satisfying. A conclusion that ties up all of the various plot lines and provides loads of visceral action, never flinching away from Jin's transformation or devolving into macho "I will save the girl!" posing. That's certainly more than anyone had a right to expect after the series' saggy middle. And that knife-licking Kiss refugee dies in the bargain. Thank God.
Nevertheless, the series lost something that it never fully regained when its production values dipped after those first episodes. Much of the series' appeal was visual, in its evocative background art, slick, expressive character designs, and beautifully choreographed, exhilaratingly violent action set-pieces. Then the character designs flattened out, the settings got less interactive, and animation shortcuts put a damper on the action that the choreography just couldn't quite compensate for. And it didn't help that the Ishin's crew was dressed in cast-offs from The Pirates of Penzance. Here at series' end the show recaptures, however briefly, some of that visual appeal. The last episodes are practically choked with action as its cast goes at each other with mecha, gun, fist and sword. The confrontations are bloody, fluid and exciting, drenched in musical bombast and once again composed with that eye for movement and composition that the series almost lost during some of its more cheaply animated battles. Though the character designs never quite return to the depth and detail they once had, important emotional revelations are aided greatly by some unusually mobile and detailed facial expressions—though Jin's mania is allowed to get positively excessive. However, the polish is only periodic—only patches of the sleek surface that made the first volume so easy to swallow remain, certainly not enough to make the series' shortcomings entirely palatable or to seduce you into forgetting how uneven the series overall is. As an interesting aside, in an unusual move for an action series, the show's fan-service leans heavily towards beefcake.
Though not good enough to lure sub fans away from the comfort of their preferences, ADV's English version of the series definitely has its advantages. Some of its performances (specifically Toraji's beefy politician pal) are actually less hammy than their originals, and Vic Mignogna plays Jin with suitably excessive ferocity. The cast is solid overall, and the script is quite faithful, though not so faithful that it sabotages the dialogue's flow.
Nothing will excuse the way the series squandered the precarious promise of its propulsive opening, and the need to neatly conclude its unnecessary side-plots crowds the pacing of the climax, but the renewed focus on the central trio of Jin, Joe and Sana and their drastically altered relationship still goes a long way towards providing a surprisingly meaty end to a deeply flawed series.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Tightens its focus on the central characters' new relationship dynamic; bolsters its flagging production values for some nice bursts of violence.
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