Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Jan 27th 2004
DVD 4: Intermission
Looks like Satan is up to his old tricks again! His true identity is revealed while Sakura deals with the reforging of her father's Spirit Sword, which results in a resurrection of an ancient power that bursts forth during battle. Iris, fearful of the Kobe units but slowly learning to cope with them, finally gets her own steam-powered combat suit right before the Crimson Miroke reappears for another showdown!
In an opera, the ‘intermission’ is when you get up from your theater seat, stretch your legs, have a sixth glass of wine and complain to your spouse about how bored you are. This fourth incredibly dull volume of Madhouse's Sakura Wars TV series has been named ‘Intermission’ by ADV Films. There couldn't possibly be a more appropriate title. If you were stuck watching this entire series in one sitting, these episodes would most certainly be the ones where you'd be desperate to get out of your seat and drink heavily.
Sakura Wars is a lot like an exclusive club. You need to know someone to get in, and once you do get in, anything but an expert command of the subject matter will result in high confusion. There's never been an animated version of Sakura Wars that didn't rely heavily on a presumption that the audience has obsessively played the video game series. This is unfortunate, resulting in a long-running, seemingly endless stream of OVA series, movies and TV shows that feature uninteresting, undeveloped, one-dimensional characters. Add to this the fact that none of the video games have ever been released in English, and you've got a serious conundrum on your hands. Literally every Sakura Wars anime project has been licensed and released in North America at this point, but the key to the entire franchise, the games, remain a total mystery to American consumers. The Sakura Wars TV series spends a little more time developing the characters, but not much.
An analysis of the characters exposes what the basic problem is with this show is. None of them are very fun to watch. Sakura has Belldandy syndrome; she's sweet, good-natured, cute, kind, excessively compassionate and caring, and essentially has no flaws. She rarely makes a mistake in combat. While some people might find this attractive or endearing, those of us who desire more realistic personalities will want to punch her in the face. Iris, the show's resident jailbait, speaks in a squeaky little high-pitched voice and gives us no reason to care about her at all. Maria is the staunch, dutiful workaholic, and is about as much fun as a plank of wood. There are a few other characters, including Spunky Inventor Girl ™ and Butch Warrior Amazon Chick ©, but they're all one-trick ponies. None of them seem to be flawed. They don't make mistakes, they don't really tell jokes, they don't do anything except The Right Thing all the time, and it makes for sleep-inducing television. If I'm rooting for the goofy-looking bad guy to slice them all in to pieces, why am I watching this series?
Since the characters are so uninteresting to watch, Sakura Wars TV becomes a real chore to sit through. Episodes 14 through 17, included on this disc, are painfully banal. We see a handful of amazingly anticlimactic battles with a bevy of poorly-drawn villains, a wildly uninteresting ancient ritual involving Sakura's father and a sword being reforged, a subplot involving the show's jailbait character finally getting her own Kobe unit (which is basically a trash can with arms and legs; I kept waiting for Oscar the Grouch to come out the top of one of them), and a few other things that aren't executed very well. The episodes are paced with all the speed and urgency of a snail trapped in amber resin that's frozen solid. Even the battles are dull; very little of the action is animated. Just when something's about to get hit, we cut to someone listening in on the combat. You can hear the fight going on, but you can't see it. Who directed this?
Madhouse must have either ran out of money for this project or relegated it to the back room where they send TV series they don't care about. The animation is unbelievably cheap. While other incarnations of Sakura Wars are beautifully animated and colored with rich depth, Sakura Wars TV is stilted, ugly, and for some reason, shot in bland and muted colors. Everyone looks like they're using their ‘night palette’ all the time, and most of the black lines are rife with air bubbles and mistakes. Action scenes are very poorly animated; the Kobes move around at a laughably low frame rate, and any excuse to cut away from the action is immediately taken. Why they cut so many corners on this thing is anyone's guess, but the result is a visual wreckage.
The dub is an admirable effort but unfortunately falls just shy of being good. The casting director clearly went out of his way to make all the girls sound different, but the result is a wildly mixed bag leaning towards 'awful.' Sakura sounds appropriate and the actress handling her voice is skilled. She, in addition to the voice actress for Spunky Inventor Girl, does a great job. Everyone else needs to head back to acting class. Maria has an 'accent.' The reason I don't name the accent is because I don't know what it is. It's generic--sounds vaguely European. If they'd renamed Maria to Eurotrash, maybe it'd make sense, but as it stands, it's a mystery. The most hilariously overdone voice belongs to Butch Warrior Amazon Chick; they went out of their way to cast her as a baritone mechanic from Brooklyn. Her voice actress is clearly struggling to lower her voice a few octaves, not to mention the fact that I don't think Brooklyn accents existed around the time the show is supposed to take place. Granted, the flying, sword-wielding garbage can robots didn't either, but somehow the Brooklyn accent is far more jarring. The Japanese language version is as whitewashed and clone-like as any Japanese language version can be. Everyone pretty much sounds the same. You can't win. Just give up.
Basically, if you're a hardcore Sakura Wars fan and just can't wait to see more adventures with the Imperial Flower Troupe, then the TV series will give you your fix. For everyone else, it's an incredibly boring waste of time. The animation is terrible, the voice acting is laughably mediocre, and the episodes are plodding, slow and painfully uninteresting. Madhouse really dropped the ball this time. Here's hoping their next effort lives up to the amazing legacy of quality they've maintained thus far.
Overall (dub) : D+
Overall (sub) : D+
Story : D
Animation : D
Art : B
Music : B
+ Tons of fun for Sakura Wars fans.
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