Reviewby Casey Brienza, Feb 2nd 2009
Overman King Gainer
DVD - Complete Collection
In the far future, humanity lives in domed cities controlled by large corporations called Domepoli. Champion video game player Gainer Sanga lives in a Siberian Domepolis and spends his days trying to beat his virtual friend Cynthia…until he is unexpectedly tossed into prison by the Siberian Railway Patrol, on suspicion of helping to foment Exodus. He meets the mercenary and Exodus Specialist Gain Bijou in lockup and ends up helping him steal a mysterious giant robot called an Overman from the Duke Medaiyu's mansion and becoming its pilot. Next thing he knows, he is involved in Exodus for real as an enormous population of people, including several of his high school classmates, cooperate to cross the Siberian wasteland towards a new home in the legendary, fertile land of Yapan.
A new far-future science fiction series directed by legendary Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino? Bring on the fleets of giant robots and the geo-political jockeying, right? Uhh…try half right. Unfortunately, the 26-episode animated television series Overman King Gainer is a mecha fetish extravaganza cooked up according to the following proportional recipe of creative ingredients: 85% action, 10% plot, and 5% character development. So much for the nuanced far future politics that make its director famous.
Though left infuriatingly vague, even the socio-historical context of the story is less complicated than it seems on the first pass, and what the overarching plot all boils down to is a long line of once-subjugated human settlements being dragged veeeeeeeeery slowly across the tundra while fending off repeated attack from the corporate interests whose chief interests involve seeing that they do not make it to Yapan. (That would be Japan to you and me.) They call it Exodus, with transparent Biblical allusions, but needless to say, the subtitle of this anime should be, “Are We There Yet?” (Answer: nope.)
At least the many, many robot-on-robot action scenes are intelligible and well-edited. Beautifully constructed battles are hard to find these days, but Overman King Gainer does duels like they ought to be done. You are never confused about who is doing what to whom. In fact, although this series originally aired in 2002, its above average animation and well-conceived backgrounds are mostly hand-drawn, for a vintage, hand-crafted look that is only rarely adulterated with ill-advised computer graphics. Visually speaking, at least, this show is better than by all rights than it “should” be. Too bad it's hard to make the same claim about any of its other characteristics.
A Giant Robot of the Week episodic format means a metric ton of mecha designs and an overlarge inventory of poorly explained superpowers called Overskills. Hardcore mecha fans may think that they have died and gone to mecha heaven, but it really just reeks of a merchandising gimmick. How many plastic toys can one series spawn? Many of the designs, moreover, do not seem particularly striking or memorable, though some of the Overmen in later episodes look like they got lost on their way to Legend of the Overfiend. Perversely, the hatches to all the Overmen, including NASA spacesuit/Milli Vanilli lovechild King Gainer, have hatches in their bellies with openings that look disturbingly like female genitalia. In Brunhilde especially the pop psychoanalysis was painfully obvious.
Given the emphasis on action scenes, it comes as no surprise that characters are not, for the most part, well developed, and it feels like a terrible waste of potential. The unimaginatively named gamer Gainer, for example, begins as a couch potato who lives with his VR headset superglued on and by the end of the show has become a hero of the people. Yet this progression occurs with hardly any angst whatsoever; it is admittedly hard to care about a protagonist's successes when he never seems to suffer unduly. Supporting characters, generally sincere and occasionally ridiculous, are likewise poorly sketched out. With the exception of the shrill Princess Ana and her trio of long-tailed rodents, though, both men and women seem like the sort of people you might like to befriend and get to know better if only you were given the time. Which you aren't. I suppose props must be given to Tomino for writing characters who are hard to hate, even when there is not much to love or hate to be found in the first place.
The voice acting in both Japanese and English is solid and appropriate in their respective cultural contexts. The highlight of the Japanese dub is, without question, Takehito Koyasu in his supporting role of Asuham Boone. A veteran seiyuu who probably has more experience than all of his other co-stars combined, he plays this latter-day Char with gleeful, self-conscious camp and élan and delivers a standout performance. His English language counterpart Doug Erholtz goes for a more naturalistic sound, as does everyone else in the English dub cast. The only exception is Darrel Guilbeau, who plays Gainer, and his arrogant, artificial styling turns the ostensible hero into a hubristic pain in the rear.
The show's music, composed by Kohei Tanaka, ranges from the unmemorable and generic to the vulgar and grandiose. The opening theme in particular, sung by the veteran performer Yoshiki Fukuyama with lyrics by Tomino himself, is a lamentable waste of time and talent that tries too hard to be a surreal head trip and ends up just degenerating into a migraine headache. In fact, unless your life will not be complete until you see a dancing mecha with dreadlocks flying, you would be well-advised to skip the poorly considered and anachronistic opening animated sequence altogether. It's a poor fit with the otherwise high serious nature of the series that further diminishes the halo effect of what is left to genuinely like.
Extras included in this six-disc box set include an extensive collection of concept art and promo spots, as well as other typical offerings. An especial highlight, though, is a half-hour behind the scenes documentary that includes interviews with the legendary Tomino and other staff members involved in the production of Overman King Gainer. This is an unusual and much appreciated bonus, though admittedly it would have been more appreciated if this anime series had been more worth learning about.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : D+
+ Interesting giant robot designs duking it out in well-edited action scenes. Handsome hand-drawn animation.
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