Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Aug 7th 2007
Shocked not only to find Rose doing something other than pushing daisies, but to find that that something is for the RUC, Roy and Solty join forces with Rose's brothers and hunters-turned-hunted Accela and Integra to get to the bottom of the issue. The reclusive Joseph also joins them, bringing with him staggering revelations that shatter the assembled company's preconceptions about their world and, in some cases, themselves. Meanwhile oily psychopath Ashley Lynx continues manipulating Rose while destroying all who stand in his way, setting his sights on Solty. Integra and Accela confront Lynx with consuming rage in their hearts, Roy and company scramble to correct the errant Rose, and chaos and mayhem stalk them all.
Few things are as fulfilling as watching a series take chances, altering a reliable formula to try something a little more risky. If it succeeds that is. This fifth volume provides yet another four episodes of evidence that Solty Rei's about-face in volume three was no mere fluke or passing phase, but a full-fledged transformation that signaled the birth of a darker series that steadfastly refuses to establish a status quo; changing characters, relationships, and events with an audacity at odds with its initial frivolousness.
The turnabout does well building upon the show's previous strengths; as is obvious from the manner in which it capitalized shamelessly on the series' greatest draw—SOLTY and Roy's strange little father/daughter relationship—at the end of volume three. It continues to do so in this volume as well, with a few moments that attest to how deeply SOLTY has insinuated herself into Roy's life. So too has the series taken the bitter little emotional codas that capped each episode early on and moved them front and center, building them into big 'ol heart-tuggers. In another little surprise, the lion's share of these moments go to Accela and Integra in this volume, as they cope with their losses, showcasing the surprising power of the camaraderie built during all of those throwaway scenes of the four RUC enforcers hanging out together. The two also provide this volume's best fights—a giant mecha showdown and some acrobatic martial-arts—which transcend simple technical showboating now that lives, futures, and ambitions are at stake. Of the series' weaknesses, some are transformed into strengths—the now-appropriate use of thundering guitar and overtly maudlin compositions, the way the meaningless stylistic flourishes from early on become balletic punctuation for important scenes—while others become irrelevant (the series' weak sense of humor is now entirely absent).
The series' willingness to delve into emotional drama, its occasional ruthlessness, and the unexpected depth of its world (much time is given over this volume to explaining the reasons behind the physical and social structures of the world, and to broad hints about SOLTY's true nature), are all such pleasant surprises that it's tempting to over-praise the series. Succeeding expectations makes for good entertainment, a superb payoff for viewers' patience, but it hardly qualifies something as a masterpiece. Some of the emotions are forced (basing an emotional climax around living plot-device Rose was a mistake, plain and simple), most of the cast is disposable, much of the plotting—big surprises aside—is transparent, and Rose's red-herring “death” still rankles.
Solty Rei has not only avoided the third-episode Gonzo animation curse (where production values drop precipitously during the third episode) but actually seems to be getting better as the series progresses. Fights are especially good, with care being lavished most obviously on Accela's. Enough patented Gonzo animation issues make their way in—plummeting detail levels on moving objects, issues with integrating characters and backgrounds that are exacerbated by vast differences between the detail levels of the two—to keep the animation from being top-notch, but it never enters the realm of the truly bad. And there're plenty of pyrotechnics this time, a long-time Gonzo specialty. The series' color palette is still a little too gaudy, especially where hair is concerned, but the patchwork feel of the city's color scheme gets a plausible explanation this volume, and thus stops being a liability. Character designs favor females over males, though both Roy and SOLTY are exceptions: Roy because he has strong grizzled-old-guy appeal and SOLTY because of her hair. She's a great character and visually appealing for the most part, but squint at her hair one way and it looks like a jester's cap, squint at it another and it looks like a pair of mossy antlers plagiarized from a bighorn sheep. Either way, it's distracting as hell.
The series still uses music to beef up emotions and expectations when it doesn't need to, but otherwise is improving in its use. There are fewer chances for it to use its less impressive light compositions, and overall appropriateness is increasing. There are also fewer insert songs (only one) which is a great improvement (insert songs are almost always a big mistake, except when in skilled hands). The opening and ending themes remain unchanged.
This far into the series there isn't much new to be said about the dub. Joseph is, shall we say, more ethnic in the English version, Accela's rage is chilling, and Colleen Clinkenbeard shows her mettle by almost making the big Rose scene work. Still a fine work for those who don't mind that it communicates the gist of the original rather than serving as a direct translation.
Clean versions of the opening and closing, and company trailers are the only extras to be found.
Flaws from the series' fun-but-slight beginning reach their long fingers even this far into the series, but overall the new tone of the series—serious, more unpredictable—is proving to be a significant improvement, and a permanent one. If past encounters (and the next-volume preview) are any indication, the final volume should be potent stuff. Still, the desire to cross one's fingers to ward off the possibility of an eleventh-hour face-plant is strong. But hey, that's half the anticipation, isn't it?
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Great Accela and Integra material; awash in world-building revelations.
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