Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Nov 25th 2003
Licensed by Royalty
DVD 1: Deceptions
There's only one organization capable of stopping the various crimes perpetrated against the royal family: Cloud7, an elite team of special agents. Using wit, style, and plenty of cunning, Cloud7 agents Roe Rickenbacker and Jack Hefner thwart countless nefarious plots. There's no intrigue too thick, no danger too great, and no woman too gorgeous to stop these suave heroes from their appointed task!
Licensed by Royalty (changed from the original Japanese Engrish title, Licensed by Royal) is something of a conundrum. The elements are here for what could have been a smash hit series; there's spectacular animation, excellent music, a decent storyline and likeable characters. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, what we get is something of an undercooked mixed bag. The elements of this series that are successful just don't quite come together.
If you're going to sit through 6 to 12 hours of animation, chances are, you're going to want endearing and charming (or at least interesting) characters to watch. Licensed by Royalty succeeds in this arena, at least where the main characters are concerned. While they don't reach the sublime level of “cool” attained by Cowboy Bebop's titular hunter Spike, Jack and Rowe are just laid-back enough to be sympathetic and fun to watch. Their devil-may-care attitudes prevent them from becoming cold ‘hardcore’ warriors, a character archetype that's all too common in anime. Instead, Jack and Rowe quip their way through each episode, rolling with the punches. There's very little pretension about them; the dialogue between the two of them works very well. On the other hand, there aren't many other characters worth talking about. The “zany doctor” character is a cliché, and most of the other characters are wasted. Virtually none of them are developed whatsoever. Clearly the intent of the series is to go along on the ride with Jack and Rowe, and for a short series like this, that's totally acceptable.
Where Licensed by Royalty tends to get itself in to trouble is with episode structure and plot progression. Frequently within the series (particularly in episode 2), the plot points just don't make any sense. There are holes in the plot here large enough to drive a catbus through. Characters act without much motivation, and the “villains” in each episode are given very little back story. Here's where the intense focus on the main characters becomes a serious problem; the show is so obsessed with seeing these two in action that we see very little of anyone else in the show, even the guys they're supposed to be fighting. The end result is a show that's all flash and no substance; that's OK for an action series like this, but the screenwriters would have done well to maybe read the scripts a second time to check and make sure the plot makes sense. The episodes are fun enough if you switch your brain off, but for the most part, the holes are too big to ignore.
It's more than all that, though. Several of the technical elements in this series make the pacing seem very awkward. There's something amiss about the editing, screenwriting and direction. For instance, in episode four, we start with maybe 10 seconds of Rowe and Jack in the desert, facing down a fence. Rowe has one line and then they cut to the chief briefing them on their mission. Normal screenwriting technique states that if you're going to start with the present and then have the episode's story told as a flashback that eventually catches up to the sequence at the top of the episode, you spend more than 10 seconds to establish why you chose this point in the story to begin the episode with. Something unique or exciting should happen. In this episode, however, the director chose a seemingly random spot later in the episode to show us first, almost as if he's aping what he's seen in other movies but doesn't understand how to use such a device in terms of film. There's a lot of awkwardness like this throughout the series, and it makes the proceedings somewhat uncomfortable.
The animation is mostly excellent. We get a few shots of digital cheapness and the same cut corners every other anime series on the market showcases, but the character animation is above par. The music is marvelous as well. The opening theme, sung by Billy Preston (who collaborated with The Beatles on the White Album), is catchy; it's probably one of the best anime theme songs from the past five years, mostly because it doesn't sound like an anime theme song. Most of the rest of the music is similar in tone. Almost all of the songs used in each episode have lyrics, and it's a very refreshing change from the generic synth incidentals we get in other series.
The dub showcases New Generation Pictures in fine form, yet again. While the series' characters are not technically British, the show is so obviously based in and around England that using American voices would have ruined the feel of the series. New Generation elected to find a completely British cast for this show and the results are astounding and refreshing. Jack and Rowe have that perfect British edge to them; they're soft spoken, understated and come across as effortlessly cool, much more so than in the Japanese. Noelle, a young girl featured in the third episode, is performed with panache, completely avoiding the ‘generic anime girl’ voice problem prevalent in so many other shows. Cloud7's chief is performed by a veteran voice actor who is an absolute joy to hear in anything, and he does another amazing job here. Most of the cast seem to pass their lines off with ease; the result is a fantastic dub, nearly on par with New Generation's other bar-raising work, Hellsing. There are, obviously, a few misreadings and a couple of stumbles, mostly on the part of background characters, but such things are forgivable and ever-present in today's anime dubs. Given that the Japanese sound mix on this series not only drowns out the dialogue with bafflingly loud music but also loses the atmosphere the director was going for thanks to the Japanese voices, there's no reason not to revel in New Generation's nigh-perfect dub. Don't miss it.
Overall, Licensed by Royalty is undercooked. It's a question whether or not such a mediocre offering deserves the marvelous dub it's been given; it would have been nice if the show itself had been as good as the talent on display in the English language version. Unfortunately, it's mostly a mediocre action series. There are plenty of fun moments and the two main characters are extremely likeable, but that's really all it has going for it.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A+
+ Great music, excellent dub.
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