Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 2nd 2008
DVD 2 - The Enemy Within
Section 3's war relief efforts progress on a wide variety of different fronts while, behind the scenes, the military continues to fret over the advance weapons used to blow up the tank in episode 4. Orlando's hospital stay to recover from previous injuries becomes eventful due to a pushy nurse and a roommate who gets some bad news, but that's nothing compared to the problems that await him when he discovers an abandoned baby outside of military HQ, one that seems to take a liking to him. Efforts to find the baby's mother prove enlightening to Alice about Oreldo's background and some of the stark realities of everyday life. A mission to investigate missing supplies takes the men in one direction while Alice must attend a function for nobles with her fiancé, and a later assignment to deliver an important briefcase to a remote mountain village becomes harrowing when bandits attack.
The end of volume one seemed to indicate that the series' bigger underlying plot was getting underway, but only faint hints of that can be seen in these four episodes. Instead the series slips firmly back into “solving the problem of the week” mode through this span of episodes. Some minor plot points do come up, relationships get built further, and Alice continues to get an education on the practicalities of the world, but at times these episodes feel like nothing more than filler.
More troubling is the way these episodes almost completely set aside the horror overtones the first four episodes worked so diligently to establish and, except for episode 8, minimize the action content. While they do still have their share of serious content and character insight, these episodes focus much more on playing up the series' humorous side. Granted, the oft-ribald humor does succeed at times; the running joke in episode 5 about the nurse trying to get the urine sample from the massive (in apparently more than one way) Oland is a classic, one certain scene in episode 8 shows that Oreldo certainly has a mischievously sly side, and section 3's general incompetence at dealing with the baby in episode 6 is probably good for a few laughs. They spend so much time on these jokes, though, that the dark edge the series started out with gets lost.
Things only get worse in episode 8, which is a mess of execution suggestive of a rush production job. Its beat-the-clock approach might have worked fine with a greater sense of urgency, its attempts to portray the mountain bandit leader as a clever man only sporadically work, and what should be one of its most dramatic scenes falls flat due to bad taming and a lack of tension. The episode's writing also demonstrates an annoying degree of inconsistency, especially in the way it concentrates on or ignores what should be a prevalent temperature issue at its convenience. Bandits who appear to be close on Section 3's tail in one scene suddenly seem far enough away for a half-minute of conversation a moment later, and comments the unit makes about not having sufficient wood for a fire in a cabin at one point are contradicted by a generous stock of wood shown inside the cabin in another scene. Let's not even get started on the snowboarding bandits, either; did someone actually think that would look cool despite its impracticality and intense anachronistic feel?
At least these episodes do continue to develop their strong core cast. None of the central characters may stray far from established archetypes – Alice is the naïve, committed idealist; Oreldo, the laid-back playboy; Martis, the serious, studious one; and Oland the practical, put-upon one – but all of them have at least a bit of extra kick and play off of each other well enough to always remain entertaining. The way the series occasionally delves into arcane technical issues also continues to speak in its favor, as can be seen in the illustration of the not-uncommon problems the earliest semi-automatic rifles had with jamming and backfiring.
The artistry also remains sharp. Alice looks just as good in formal dress or a winter coat as she does in her military uniform, and continues to serve as the series' visual centerpiece despite almost never being portrayed in a sexy manner. Beyond Alice's dashing fiancé (the blond-haired guy seen in the intro), character design quality drops off markedly once past the core characters but never gets bad, and uniform design, equipment design, background art, and use of color all continue to be strong points. Episode 8 gives the series a chance to experiment with snowy backgrounds, which does not prevent it from also being the series' artistic weak point to date; its rendition of an avalanche disappoints. The general animation quality also fails to maintain the high standards it set early on.
Sound effects continue to be a bright point for the series, as do the intense, mood-setting opener and playfully silly closer. The soundtrack through these episodes relies heavily on previously-established military themes, with lighter ditties and the occasional dramatic number mixed in as circumstances dictate. The content offers little opportunity for use of the dark, heavy horror themes, however.
Having had a few episodes to settle into the roles reaps great benefits for the core English dub cast, who deliver strong performances that sometimes more clearly and distinctively define their roles than the original Japanese performances, which are not shabby, either. This can be most clearly heard in the greater flair Oreldo exhibits in English, which stays perfectly in line with the original seiyuu's interpretation but gives an even better feel for the character without going overboard. The deep, rumbling voice of Adam Dudley is also a fine fit for Oland, and the weary interpretation he gives to Oland fits his appearance well, while Kaytha Coker gives Alice just the right balance of spunk and compassion. High English performance quality runs far into the supporting roles, too. Whether this is a case of the English dub actually being a slight improvement, or just an ideal interpretation for the language, is debatable. The English script, though sometimes a bit too loose, never becomes a major problem. The only issue here, and it's an extremely nitpicky one, actually comes in the Japanese song subtitles used in the opener in the even-numbered episodes, where converting “Gespenst Jäger” into Japanese phonetics and then romanizing it into English results in a linguistic travesty.
The Extras this time around only include clean opener and closer, although the series' artbox is also available with this volume.
The series may have gotten off to a strong start, and certainly continues its practice of focusing on stories about war relief, but it leaves a potentially interesting plot hook mostly in the background as it progresses through four pedestrian individual tales about war relief. Its visuals and interesting core cast still carry the series, but this volume is not as impressive an effort as its first volume was.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Interesting and appealing core cast, English dub.
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