Reviewby Theron Martin, Oct 27th 2011
Sub.DVD - Complete Collection
Ray Kusagano is now a gifted young doctor with a unique talent well-suited to her trade – she has Superman-style x-ray eyes – but her background is even more extraordinary. She was raised in a white room with numerous other children (called Numbers), never allowed to go outside, and ultimately had her original eyes harvested for an organ transplant into a rich patient. She was eventually rescued from her grim fate and raised by a doctor who inspired her to undertake her current profession, with new, special eyes gifted to her by a scarred, immensely talented underground doctor. She has never forgotten the other children, though, and constantly seeks clues about their status (especially a boy named Koichi who was her first love), the Organization that raised them all as apparent organ transplant stock, and the Man with the H Ring who seems to be behind the Organization. Meanwhile she tackles a string of difficult medical cases that only she can ultimately handle, with artificial organ genius Shinomaya as a partner and potential love interest, a telepathic boy with a serious immunodeficiency problem as a confidant, and the bearded, one-legged, one-eyed hospital director who originally rescued her as her boss. The nurses she regularly works with are handy in a fight, too.
Ray: The Animation is the third title distributed by Section 23 Films under the Maiden Japan (get the pun?) label, which is a sub-label of Switchblade Pictures (one of the other successors of ADV) focused on acquiring and releasing more adult-oriented anime content from the past few years. That is certainly the case with Ray, which features teen characters only in supporting roles and plays out more like a mix of an old-school medical drama and a classic American soap opera, with a few sci fi/fantastical elements thrown in for good measure. The result is a project which does occasionally succeed at being dramatic but just as often ends up being goofy, with a load of twisted psychological baggage thrown around in the late stages worthy of Neon Genesis Evangelion; in fact, certain elements of this series have parallels to certain elements of Evangelion that are so substantial that they cannot be coincidence, although exactly why this is so cannot be delved into without discussing major spoilers. Recognizing those parallels is hardly necessary for understanding or appreciating the series, though, and other factors will interfere more with the latter.
This manga-based series also has a distinct connection to one other venerable anime/manga franchise: the “scarred underground doctor” responsible for Ray's special eyes, who makes cameos in the first and last episodes, is unquestionably Osamu Tezuka's Black Jack; he is even voiced by Akio Ohtsuka, the long-time voice of Black Jack. This story has no direct narrative connection to any of the Black Jack content but certainly has a similar style and feel in some places, so it can be seen as a direct homage to anime's most famous doctor. His presence and actions here could also be regarded as an unofficial passing of the torch to the next generation, as some comments he makes in the series imply that he specifically helped Ray and gave her the special eyes in order to enable her to follow in his footsteps as a super-doctor.
Exactly how Black Jack was able to obtain and give to Ray such special eyes is never explained, but that is hardly the only aspect of the series which immensely strains credibility. For all that the series throws around actual medical terminology, it also delves into supernatural elements, reincarnation, science and technology well beyond what actually exists in modern day, and super-powers. Ray's x-ray eyes don't stand out so much when another regular character is a telepath, one young woman is revealed to have had so many internal organs replaced by artificial ones that she's practically a cyborg, the director can make a devastating whirlwind attack by spinning around like a top on his peg leg, one patient gets possessed by a sentient tree, and another patient has to be operated on with glass surgical tools because he has an allergy to metal (amongst other complications). Nurses with martial arts skills equivalent to multiple-degree black belts do not seem so silly within this context, either, even if why they have them is also never elaborated upon.
All of these elements are just stage settings for the actual plot, though. The first few episodes tease viewers with clues and background details while conducting a “patient of the week” format, but the second half – and especially the last three episodes – features whipsaw twists, dramatic revelations, romantic complications, betrayals, and layered melodrama worthy of any American soap opera. Medical ethics are routinely ignored for dramatic purposes, such as one episode which involves Ray and the director agreeing to transplant a heart from a perfectly healthy woman into her younger sister so that the younger sister, who was a promising athlete before developing serious cardiac problems, can have a new lease on life. That Ray is a full and highly-respected doctor at such a young age (the timeline suggest that she's only 22 or 23) also seems a stretch, although American TV did have Doogie Howser M.D.. Other plot holes and oversimplifications abound, although they don't prevent the writing from achieving a bit of true drama in the late stages and a few smatterings of quasi-horror elements in a couple of episodes.
The artistry by Oriental Light and Magic includes both the best and worst aspects of the series. On the good side, its CG-animated x-ray elements are often quite cool, particularly one sequence in the opener where Ray briefly sees x-rayed versions of a passing crowd. Ray is also strikingly sexy with her petite build, long black hair, and typical “nightclub harlot” outfit, although she looks hot in just about anything else the series dresses her in, whether it be a bikini (she has to conduct one surgery in an aquarium tank, you see), surgical scrubs, or even Rei Ayanami-styled bandages. The detail work put into some of the surgical scenes also impresses at times and a few episodes use some nice perspective shifts. On the downside, the background art is a regular weak point, as exterior shots are often rough and interior shots typically have very worn looks, whether they should have them or not. The director is a dead ringer for a pirate (really, a peg leg and eyepatch in a time and place that has artificial organs sufficiently sophisticated enough to operate off of body heat?) and certain mid-to-late episodes have extensive issues with quality control, especially characters staying on model. Animation quality is good in the first episode and varies between being adequate and heavily skimping in others. Although the series does offer up some direct fan service and graphic violence, they are far from omnipresent components and generally restrained in content, and nothing about the surgeries is likely to make people squeamish.
The musical score for the series relies heavily but not exclusively on tense techno numbers occasionally punctuated by airy vocals, an approach whose effectiveness varies. Opening theme “zero-G” is a decent rock number somewhat reminiscent of the Demon King Daimao opener, while closer “Yuunagi” by Tomoe Oumi, who also voices an important supporting character later in the series, is a gentler song. Japanese casting decisions and voice work are generally good, though Sakura Nogawa's key performance as Ray sometimes seems a little too soft and gentle for the stern expressions her character throws around.
Maiden Japan takes a release approach essentially identical to the bulk of Sentai Filmworks' DVD releases: no English dub, episodes spread across two disks in a regular case, and minimal Extras. In this case only clean opening and closing animation is offered. Subtitles are error-free, though, and do include a couple of clarifying notes.
Ray The Animation aired on Japanese TV in the spring of 2006 but aspects of it look and feel much older than that. That it is only now getting licensed and released suggests that it never had a big following, so Section 23 is apparently gambling on another treasure hunt with its license. It is not a hidden gem on the level of past Section 23 successes Living for the Day After Tomorrow or even Uta Kata, and is a little too goofy to be taken as seriously as it wants to be, but those who fancy a supernatural/sci fi-laced combination of medical drama and soap opera should find it sufficiently entertaining when not rolling their eyes over the corny content.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ CG-animated x-ray scenes, sexy adult lead.
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