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With the Earth in the frozen grip of a Baguan alien-induced ice age, Penny and Billy are doing their boy-genius best to puzzle out the connection between the aliens, long-dead mad scientist Professor Steamson, and a mysterious substance known as Element X. The aliens are desperate to acquire the element, along with Steamson's daughter Margaret, and have devised a diabolical new way of going about it while also trapping humanity in a downward spiral of violence and paranoia. By brainwashing huge portions of the populace via an insidious children's radio show, the aliens are able to send zombified mobs after Margaret and turn man on man in a vicious circle of kill-or-be-killed mistrust. As Penny gets closer Margaret and to finding Element X, Billy and his upstanding comrades at the Labyrinth Alliance prepare for a final confrontation with the Baguan aliens' home planet. However spaceships, lasers, and nifty homemade communicators are no match for betrayal and the truth about the Baguan aliens and Margaret. Luckily, where technology and firepower fail, boy-genius spunk can prevail.
After four episodes of rather silly fun spiked with the occasional tragedy, Project Blue enters a final stage in which abstract imagery, convoluted discussions of Dadaism, and the deconstruction of assumptions about reality take precedence over alien invasions and boy-genius hijinks.
Okay, so the preceding was all lies, for which I apologize, but sometimes it's just too hard to be mature. It is for those times that we have things like Project Blue. Gleefully juvenile adventures that require no brainpower, provide clear divisions of good and evil, offer mild emotional identification, and exude the kind of naive confidence in the transcendental power of good ol' human ingenuity that the cynicism of age would normally have us mock. But sometimes the cynical part of your brain needs to counterbalance itself with tales of ugly evil aliens being defeated by spunky preteens. It is in that spirit that director Tensai Okamura and the folks at A.C.G.T. give us Penny and Billy and their world of amusingly antiquated future technology, and that escapist intent never wanes, not even as the series' conclusion takes a more—and largely unsuccessful—emotional turn.
The budding relationship between Penny and Marg>aret is obviously intended to be the heart of the series' final third, but the development of their relationship is too rushed, and their characters too underwritten for it to succeed in that function. The one belated romantic interlude between Billy and Lotta packs more sweetness than the entirety of Penny and Marg>aret's romantic byplay, and at any rate no one is (or should be) watching Project Blue for the emotional involvement. It's true heart lies not in its characters, but in its evocation of kind of gee-whiz adventure that delighted us as children, with just enough substance to keep our adult selves from feeling guilty.
And on that front, it's a treasure trove of supremely unprofound riches. Writer Ryota Yamaguchi—idling about after putting series like Escaflowne and Cowboy Bebop under his belt—manages to cram ecological disasters, mad scientists, crazed warmongers, cowardly politicians, masses of brainwashed zombies, grand space battles, a no-frills bare-fisted brawl, and alien queens into a mere ninety minutes without so much as flinching. And that's not counting holdovers from earlier episodes such as the lady spies, gallant cyborgs, boy geniuses, Flash Gordon-era spaceships, hyper-intelligent dog sidekicks and indestructible evil old geezers. His script borrows liberally from the paranoid alien invasion scenarios of the 50's, as well as from Flash Gordon-era serials, outrageous continental James Bond rip-offs, and cautionary horror tales about scientists playing God.
The result is a gloriously silly mash-up of borrowed tropes given life by A.C.G.T.'s fluid animation and Okamura's classical direction, where the self-referential smirk is in the details (check out the vacuum tubes whenever an instrument panel is destroyed) and the breezy fun is in the candy-colored retro-future vision. It's difficult to hate a series that can mock itself with weapons like the “Super Mole” and “Super GX Cannon” without once cracking its poker face. The OVA-quality visuals and resolutely old-fashioned score help of course, but only that straight-faced antiquated sci-fi atmosphere can make the futile emotional appeals and pulled-from-the-rear conclusion seem not only appropriate, but somehow quaintly charming.
ADV does a fine, sometimes meticulous job of preserving the original dialogue in their English adaptation and for the most part preserve the original feel as well. An overall stiffness in the performances and a habit of playing the “fun with accents” game with the bit parts causes the English version to emphasize the camp value more so than the rather more somber Japanese version, but it could be argued that the change is an improvement, one that prevents the cast from wasting good emoting on bad emotional content. Or it could be argued that it just makes bad emotional content worse. Take your pick.
Think of Project Blue as Giant Robo's clumsy half-European cousin, informed by Hollywood sci-fi rather than Tetsujin 28 and prone to tripping over its own feet whenever it gets too serious. But its spirit—the desire to entertain while paying homage to a childhood love of science-fiction—is the same, and so long as you share that love, it may be just break that your grown-up half needs.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Infuses light, low-effort entertainment with a slightly self-mocking nostalgia for golden-age Hollywood sci-fi.
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