Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Oct 28th 2010
Linebarrels of Iron
DVD - Part 2
The death of ex-friend Yajima has put Kouichi's worst tendencies to rest. The years of powerlessness and resentment that warped his personality are straightened out in one go, and a straight-shooting if rather dim champion of justice-in-the-making is born. His newfound levelheadedness is soon put to the test. The Katou Organization is moving in earnest, and their plans will turn allies against allies and the world itself against Kouichi. Kouichi is going to have to make some very difficult decisions, fight some very unpleasant fights, and join forces with some unthinkable allies if he's to fulfill his self-proclaimed destiny and save the world. And he has to make it, because the world really does need saving and, unbelievably, everyone is looking to him to get the job done.
If nothing else, Linebarrels of Iron is a restless show. Rarely does it go any length of time without something mixing up the status quo and sending the story careening in a new direction. Yajima's death was one such careen, and this set includes at least three; possibly more depending on your definition of "new direction." This would be great news, if only Linebarrels knew the first thing about shifting directions.
But it doesn't. Each turn it takes carries it somewhere different, yes, but rarely anywhere interesting. Around the various corners Linebarrels takes are military coups, enemies-turned-allies, allies-turned-enemies, fugitive "lovers," the end of the world as we know it, villains who aren't really villains...the list of yawnable clichés marches endlessly on. Eventually the twists acquire a dulling sameness; not because they don't change anything, but because it's hard to care about the changes they make. It's impossible to invest yourself in the plot when each serpentine kink brings you to yet another bad cliché (dead friends who aren't really dead, anyone?), when the pursuit of new kinks opens up planet-sized plot holes, and when logic flees before the need to reconcile the glut of twists. The who-cares cast, with their credulity-stretching personality alterations, don't make it any easier, and neither does the series' habit of falling back on repetitive betrayals to fuel its forward momentum.
As dispiriting as the series is, the law of averages guarantees that with all its flailing about Linebarrels will occasionally strike a spark of interest. The writhing, random, illogical mess that passes for its plot hides more than a few interesting ideas and developments. The resurrection of the Kouichi/Yajima/Risako love triangle and the subsequent (if brief) return of Kouichi's smoldering resentment, for instance, hearkens right back to the unforgiving emotional realism of the opening episodes. There are also some neat visual conceits housed within the climactic battle, and the finale's collective enemy is a pretty nifty concept—even if it owes a large debt to the Borg. The series' increasingly odd sense of humor is another source of reluctant enjoyment, with rather a lot of its tenuous charm springing from the bizarre posthumous tests Ishigami inflicts on his protégés and the incongruous expressions the animators sometimes paste on the characters' faces. During its better moments the series can be quite diverting, even fun. But like all sparks such moments are fleeting; hopeful signs that never catch fire, quickly smothered by the dullness that surrounds them.
One advantage to having a plot that feeds on a constant supply of betrayal and apocalyptic conflict is that the mecha action never dries up. It's particularly essential in Linebarrels' case because mecha action is the only time when the series looks good. Glossy robots swing three-dimensional swords and fire CG blasts, all in Gonzo's patented 3D, causing much lovingly animated destruction. If, by the time the last green glowing energy blade dices its last victim, you haven't had your fill of Gonzo's meticulous explosions, then you haven't been watching closely enough. The 2D animation, on the other hand, remains awful—aside from the humorous uses it is put to. Not only do the characters move in cheap, truncated ways, but their designs fluctuate from scene to scene. Proportions go off-model; faces contort in hideous ways; eyes shrink to rodent-like points and expand into shimmery shojo lakes; breasts wander senselessly from normal to melon-esque. Never have Hisashi Hirai's designs been so abused.
The disjuncture between Linebarrels' 2D and 3D artistry is basically a disjuncture between its action and non-action content, and that rift in quality extends to Conisch's score. When supporting various varieties of mayhem, the score is big and bold and at times thrilling. When supporting humor it's at best undistinguished, when buttressing emotion it's at best obvious, and when signaling a twist in the plot it falls back on the duhn-duhn-duhn of minor piano chords familiar to anyone who's watched a bad television melodrama.
You can tell when the actors in a dub are enjoying themselves; when they respect the work they're doing and relish the roles they're in. You can hear it in the dubs for series like Kamichu! and even Sgt. Frog. You can't hear it in Linebarrels of Iron. And who can blame them? The dialogue is terrible: mid-fight arguments, "I'll never forgive you" shouting matches, redundantly vocalized emotional revelations; all written in words a thousand series old and preserved with unfortunate fidelity by Funimation's scribes. And the roles themselves are no better. Those that aren't underwritten, hackneyed or gimmicky are intolerable. It would take an inhuman level of control not to let that effect you. The series is acted with solid professionalism, but unsurprisingly no one goes above and beyond—except possibly Cherami Leigh (during Shizuna's humorous interludes). And above and beyond is where the really good dubs are.
Anime fans of necessity are good at excavating mutated tropes and kernels of inspiration from under the anime detritus that most series are fashioned from. The quality of a series, to fans at least, often comes down to whether the dig is worth the reward. Dig far enough and you will find things to like about Linebarrels. The scene in which Kouichi and Yajima charge across the extended arms of their mecha to clash in front of a crackling backdrop of lightning, for instance. But with its main distinction—Kouichi's nauseatingly realistic reaction to mechanical empowerment—permanently extinct, Linebarrels' payoff is too small to justify the slog to get at it. Never mind the money to buy it.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C-
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ Not painful, which it once was.
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