Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 13th 2013
Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne
Blu-Ray - Set 1
At Kamogawa Girl's School, Madoka Kyono enthusiastically carries on a tradition established by one of her current teachers and an older cousin: she is the sole member of the Jersey Club, a service club entirely devoted to helping others, whether it be rescuing someone who is drowning, filling in as a sparring partner or for an absent player on a sports team, or just providing a bit of extra muscle. And she stays quite busy at it, too. Her life gets even more complicated when she meets Lan, a uniformed girl her age who turns out to be from an alien organization known as Le Garite (in fact, as Madoka later discovers, she's their princess), which is working with the human organization Pharos off of a floating island located not far offshore. Lan recruits Madoka to be the pilot for the Vox Aura, a legendary mecha to her people and to which Madoka seems to be bonded. Madoka soon puts her own stamp on the Vox Aura, calling it Midori (due to its green highlights) and using her own distinctive style to fight off mecha from rival alien organization De Metrio. She eventually learns that Lan is reluctant to pilot her own Vox because of a nasty ancient legend about it, that a busty, flaky, mysterious girl she encounters and comes to know as Muginami is the bonded pilot for the third of the Vox trio, and that her older cousin Yoko is initially ardently against Madoka being a pilot because of something to do with her mother. Various players on both sides of the conflict also seem to have their own agendas, and because Earth is deeply intertwined with the history and legends of both alien groups, the city of Kamogawa is bound to be caught in the middle unless Madoka and her fellow Vox Pilots can do something to stop it. Fortunately Kamogawa girls are quite the hardy lot.
The intent of Lagrange seems clear: take a stereotypical spunky girl, a stereotypical reserved girl, and a stereotypical ditz and find roundabout excuses to make them all pilots of flashy mecha in a battle against alien invaders who aren't purely evil. To keep things from sounding totally generic, throw in a healthy amount of relationship-building amongst the girls, some complicated relationships on the alien side of things, and a few troubling legends. And oh, yes, let's not forget the fan service and an authoritative loli who, naturally, has blond hair. The result is a first season which does enough to be entertaining and certainly aspires to be a more involved work but never rises above merely being the sum of its base elements.
Initially the series looks like it is going to be a more light-hearted, free-swinging tale. Each of the important characters has her distinctively amusing quirks: Madoka is the stereotypical jack-of-all-trades troubleshooter who packs her schedule to a comically ridiculous degree, often wears a swimsuit under her clothing “just in case,” has a penchant for rolling one of her sweatpants legs up (apparently she's not aware that this used to be a gang sign in some urban areas of the U.S.), and does this odd thing where she traces a circle while saying “perfect;” Lan does a motion with her hand while saying “woof” when she first meets people (we later learn that a malicious soul misled her into thinking that was a proper greeting on Earth); and Muginami is the bouncy airhead. Various major supporting cast members have their own distinctive quirks, too, and some actions in the first episode – such as the Pharos commander deliberately muting Madoka's cockpit chatter at one point, Madoka smacking her head during a maneuver, and a suplex throw on an enemy mecha – suggest things are going to be light and breezy. This attitude reappears on a regular basis in later episodes, such as in an homage to Top Gun about flybys, one scene where a De Metrio leader struggles with another character over a cool coat found in a thrift shop, the humiliating fate of one of the enemy pretty boy pilots, or the way that Madoka can never get Villagulio's name straight.
Interspersed with the lighter elements are some mecha action scenes that muster a fair amount of intensity and thrill but never really convey a sense of danger to the pilots. These also have their playful aspects, like Madoka getting a cell phone pep talk in the middle of a mission or the way an enemy pilot misinterpret a patently stupid strategic maneuver as a local finishing move. Although the playfulness present there never entirely goes away, the series takes a distinct turn into heavier content with the final scene of episode 5. While that scene leads to some good character development, the series also begins to struggle with its mix between comedy and drama and rarely thereafter feels entirely comfortable with the balance it strikes. This is also the point where the rather cumbersome plot makes a greater presence, though the series does take time for some side stories, too. Fortunately the character dynamics which develop amongst the girls and with certain side characters keep the series afloat as it plods through its last seven episodes, which essentially come down to a struggle between the two alien groups over control of the Voxes and the strange powers they can manifest when all three of them are active and in synch.
For those not sufficiently drawn in by other elements, fan service is also present. The service is not a major or pervasive element, as some episodes have none beyond Muginami's cleavage-baring outfit or the impractically sexy designs of the Vox pilot uniforms, but there are a few scenes each of near-complete nudity, panty shots, female-on-female sexual harassment, and languid, full-body panning shots throughout. Whether or not any of the girls' relationships have yuri leanings is left to the viewers' imagination, as no overt yuri content is shown but some could probably be read into certain scenes; even one mouth-to-mouth resuscitation scene actually looks like what it is supposed to be rather than something sexual. This lack of specific sexual connotations, paired with fan service largely on the mild side by current standards (no nipples are actually shown, for instance), makes Viz Media's decision to give the series a TV-MA rating rather curious – and a near-total lack of graphic violence and absence of any drug-related content cut off other avenues for justifying it.
The CG designs of the Voxes used by the girls look very sharp and elegant but also very impractically fragile. The Ovids (i.e., mecha) used by the male enemy pilots generally look a little sturdier but not as sleek. Both suffer from a problem very common to CG mecha animation: the models never show any signs of wear and tear or battle damage despite impacts which should have left some. Fight scenes are flashy and well-animated but animation elsewhere is less robust and fine quality control on detail and rendering is less consistent. The overall color scheme is light but muted and leans towards flatter pastels in non-CG coloring, leaving the sharp visual effects for the CG elements. Also watch for a recurring beach chair motif, which is apparently intended to reflect the current relationship status of the three pilots.
Soundtrack music typically consists of high-spirited numbers which rely heavily on synthesizer sounds. They work well backing comedic and action scenes but are only modestly effective in more serious and dramatic scenes. That sound theme also carries over into the opener, the up-tempo, dance beat-flavored opener “TRY UNITE!” and cheery but more bland closer “Hello,” both sung by Megumi Nakajima, the Japanese voice of minor character Grania (Villagulio's right-hand woman).
Viz Media turned to Bang Zoom! Entertainment for the English dub, which on the whole is a competent but unimpressive offering. Casting choices and performances for male roles are generally on-the-money, while female roles are more hit-or-miss; relative newcomer Kira Buckland is fine as Madoka, but Karen Strassman (Kallen in Code Geass, Momo and Soifon in Bleach) gives Muginami an airy lilt that technically suits her personality but can get annoying rather quickly. Curiously, a couple of well-known English VAs seem to be using atypical pseudonyms here; Asteria's Saki Shin is actually one of Stephanie Sheh's known aliases, and if Lan's voice actor Sophie Roberts isn't actually Michelle Ruff then she is a vocal dead ringer for Ms. Ruff. The script stays plenty close enough to be accurate without (usually) sacrificing fluidity.
Viz Media is offering all twelve episodes of the first season in both DVD and Blu-Ray versions; the former was not available for comparison. Technical aspects of the visual transfer and DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks are good but not exceptional, as the naturally-muted color scheme restrains the visuals from truly showing off in the format. Extras include clean opener and closer, a collection of concept art featuring various characters and mecha, and the “Kamogawa Drama” collection, a series of six omake totaling roughly 15 minutes which feature various comical side moments, from gossipy discussions to a search for ghosts to the De Metrio pilots screwing around with a Wii-styled game. These are subtitled-only.
The first season of Lagrange is unlikely to blow anyone away in any aspect, as it is competent in most respects but does nothing exceptionally well. It is also not original in any aspect except perhaps in casting the mecha battles as pretty boys on one side vs. cute/sexy girls on the other. Its ending is more a stopping point and resolution for an immediate issue amongst the girls than a large-scale resolution, so those who want a full story will have to wait for Viz's separate release of the second season, which has not been scheduled at the time of this writing but is presumably due out later this year.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Relationships amongst the lead girls, some good humor and fan service.
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