Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
In the mid-21st century a nuclear World War III unexpectedly breaks out, devastating many major cities. Decades later, the blast crater at the heart of Tokyo, now called the Black Spot, is a ruined region inhabited by outcasts and dominated by the Simeon Megacorp, which has established its headquarters there and ruthlessly patrols the region with its robotic Testaments. Cruz Schild and his older sister are members of an anti-Simeon Resistance movement which, save for him, gets wiped out by Simeon's Needless, individuals endowed with Fragments which give them a singular super-power such as shapeshifting, psychokinesis, super-strength, mental enslavement, and combat-grade aroma therapy. With his sister seemingly dead and Testaments hot on his tail, Cruz eventually falls in with Adam Blade, a priest who turns out to be a special Needless who can mimic the powers of other Needless, and the doppelganger Eve, who help him fend off attacks from other Simeon-directed Needless sent after them, including the Pretty Girl Squadron. Along the way they also pick up other Needless allies, including the flame-tossing Momiji and the information specialist Disc. Eventually, though, circumstances force them to go to Simeon HQ to directly confront their persecutors, but that is a task easier said than done.
At first glance, this adaptation of Kami Amai's ongoing manga series looks to be just a flamboyant version of a standard shonen action/comedy, complete with protracted battles involving super-powered characters and tons of stupid humor and grossly exaggerated reactions. Indeed, it never entirely escapes that impression even once a level of fan service beyond what normally graces shonen action series starts popping up. The source material comes from the older-skewing Ultra Jump, though, which means that this is actually a seinen series. To expect the greater degree of sophistication more typically seen in seinen series would be a big mistake, however, because for its age classification, Needless is as immature as they come.
Oh, it can still certainly be a lot of fun. The first twelve episodes offer no shortage of super-powered action involving characters alternately making snappy comments, doing cool and flashy things, or being flummoxed by something incredibly dumb going on. Jokes and puns fly freely, characters have colorful flaws (Adam Blade has an amusing weakness that is played to the hilt, while Eve has to ingest drinks with hyper-concentrated calories to fuel her power), attacks bear silly names that get emphasized to ridiculous extremes, and heroes and villains alike posture to the point of self-parody. Fan service comes fast and frequent, including panty shots, clothes being destroyed in fights, revealing costumes, and one scene where three female characters must strip off even their panties to pass a weight requirement that otherwise would have triggered a deadly trap. These episodes have snippets of intense graphic violence, too, including one character who gets impaled.
Those watching the series for any reason other than the bombast and fun factor will find precious little else to keep their attention. Part of the problem is that the series centers itself on a wimpy character with little redeeming value. Yes, the writing does try to develop the non-powered Cruz into his team's heart and strategist, but he only does the latter sporadically, fails at the former, and through the first twelve episodes has yet to show the kind of grit and determination generally expected of such characters. Other cast members are colorful but rarely anything removed from one-note stereotypes and lacking in any degree of depth or development. The thin thread of overarching plot, which seems to involve cloning and the efforts by Simeon head Adam Arclight to obtain a replacement body, has proven to be mostly just an excuse to set up fights so far, with the entire second half of this block being just the first stages of a protracted invasion of the Simeon HQ with a random flashback episode thrown in to weakly explain certain character relationships. The series fares better when it turns purely goofy, such as one episode where the Pretty Girls Squadron chases a power-depleted Eve into an abandoned but trap-filled mansion, but it does not do this consistently.
Although the animation production credits belong to Mad House, one can be forgiven for mistaking this series for a Gainax production, as the animation style and certain artistic flairs are more indicative of past Gainax efforts (especially Gurren Lagann, from which the series takes some clear visual cues). Except for Gido, male characters typically look like either lean bodybuilders or pre-pubescent youths, while female characters run the gamut of standard fan service-focused looks. Girl's school uniforms or maid outfits are, bizarrely, the apparel of choice for most female characters associated with Simeon, while guys commonly wear apparel which shows off their rippling six-packs and sports impressively flared collars. Fan service is equivalent to titles like Ikki Tousen, in that panty shots abound, nipple outlines can be seen through clothing, and characters are shown naked or nearly so but viewers never technically see anything. The artistry in general is flashy and colorful, with a mix of ruined landscapes and high-tech buildings for settings, but this is not one of Mad House's better animation efforts.
The musical score is credited to two individuals: Tatsuya Katou (a relative newcomer who has been quite active the past couple of years) and Masaaki Iizuka (whose credits mostly consist of theme song compositions). Together they give the series a hard rock-leaning score which does its best to capture the energy and enthusiasm of the series while still playing up the silly moments. Opener “Modern Strange Cowboy” is a hard-charging hard rock number which represents the series' action component, while cutesy closer “Aggressive Zone,” a lesbian fan service fest featuring the Pretty Girls Squadron members, represents the series' fan service aspect.
Sentai Filmworks's English dub, though solid overall, definitely has its strengths and weaknesses. Most male characters are cast well and done with appropriate vocal styles, especially Andrew Love as Adam Blade; the only minor flaw is that Luci Christian occasionally lets her Cruz voice slip. Amongst female roles, Brittney Karbowski is an ideal fit in the virtual co-lead role as Eve, and Mio pretty much had to be done by Hilary Haag, but Solva is consistently given a deeper voice in the English dub (in Japanese her voice is normally higher-pitched but deepens when she gets riled up) and
Sentai releases have typically been sparse on Extras, but not this one. The first of two disks has character sketches set to the opening and closing themes in addition to the typical clean opener and closer, while the second disk has the first six “St. Lillian's Academy” omake episodes (two-minute bits which feature all of the female cast members, plus a cross-dressing Cruz, in fan service-laden adventures at an all-girls boarding school) and the ironically named “Needless Information” files, a collection of translation notes about the first twelve episodes which explains how Sentai handled the tricky business of transliterating some of the more complicated puns and wordplay jokes. Amongst these are explanations for why an ongoing joke about mushrooms became an ongoing joke about apes in the English dub and how the script writer justified the use of phrases like “howzit hangin'” and “no problemo” at various points. A Blu-Ray version is also available and seems to have the same Extras, but it was not available for review.
Ultimately, the first half of Needless borders on fully parodying the super-powered action genre but seems unwilling to fully commit; it is what Gurren Lagann might have been had the latter stopped shy of completely going for the gusto. Unlike Gurren Lagann, though, Needless doesn't have any merits beyond fan service to fall back on, and in this case that is not enough. The first half of the series certainly may still entertain, but it does not do so in a particularly memorable way.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Some entertaining sequences, good set of Extras.
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