Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 19th 2008
The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye
DVD 4 - Desert Phantom
Concerned about Millie, Honoka has decided to take some time off and take Millie (and Iks as a tag-along) with her on an excursion into the desert to explore some of its great wonders and legends, as well as to have an opportunity to heal the bond with one of her favorite people. As they soon discover, though, some desert legends have more truth to them than others. The Desert Fairy, which inspires people to stay alive in their most hopeless moments, really does seem to exist, as does the Desert Phantom, and they meet a strange but benevolent wolf named Kamui who seems to be searching for the Desert Fairy. Honoka also has various run-ins with a unique hunter named Leon, who at first attempts to hire Honoka to help him hunt down the Desert Fairy for his own nefarious reasons but later regards her as a worthy opponent.
The first thing fans of the series are going to say or think upon seeing episode 13 is, “what happened to the artistry?” Although it may not quite have top-tier visuals, The Third has always looked sharp, but something must have happened in the crafting of that episode. The character designs are off, the rendering looks rougher, the animation quality drops off significantly, and background/foreground integration is not as good. In general, it represents a big breakdown in quality control resulting from either a rush job or some form of emergency outsourcing. The normal high level of artistic quality returns beginning with the Next Episode preview and is back to normal for the rest of the volume, but the visual difference is stark enough in episode 13 that it is impossible not to notice or penalize on the final grading, hence the lower Animation and Artistry grades this time around. That's a big shame, because the entire volume restores the wonderful desert vistas and sublime beauty (especially in one scene involving luminescent dragonflies) that became early hallmarks of the series, as well as offering one of the best-executed fight scenes yet and a particularly convincing depiction of a badly-injured heroine.
With this volume the series also regains some of the writing form it lost in its lackluster previous volume. This self-contained four-episode arc completely excludes any appearances by The Third or any semblance of a Big Picture, instead taking on a more intimate focus that serves the content very well. It strikes a good balance between relationships and action content by giving Millie and Honoka as much time to bond as it does time devoted to the groundwork for the Honoka/Leon conflict, faltering only in the inclusion of the generic sand monster encounter in episode 14. At the same time it develops a surprisingly effective level of wonder in its introduction of the Desert Fairy and the wolf Kamui. Little of what these episodes do may be entirely different or original, but strong execution and excellent use of tone and mood keep the storytelling interesting and involving.
Of course, having some impressive action sequences and a highly likeable female lead don't hurt. While she has a cute look, Honoka more effectively projects the aura of a skilled professional than most anime heroines, but does so subtly; the way she handles her sword and her focused, businesslike demeanor in fights suggest it rather than screaming it out, as is so often the case with action-oriented anime heroines. She can do some extremely impressive things but rarely seems like she's showboating, and allows a wide range of moods to show without taking any to extremes (again, as is too often the case in anime). Iks, contrarily, has so little character that he could almost be part of the background; newly-introduced Kamui shows a broader spectrum of personality, and he does not speak a single line. Leon attaches a stereotypical “sneering villain hungry for a worthy challenge” to abilities clearly patterned off of the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but both Millie and Bogie offer more diverse and interesting personalities.
By this point the soundtrack has settled into a more mellow sound as its default, with bolder numbers highlighting its action scenes and more tense moments. A less varied style produces an overall slight improvement in effectiveness. The opener remains the same, but the rock-styled “Late Show” by Super Flying Boy becomes the new closer with episode 13. New voices are cast well in the English dub, while established characters maintain the standards set in previous volumes. As before, how much you like the dub largely comes down to a like or dislike for the performance of Honoka, which has her moods down right but occasionally sounds like the actress is paying a little too much attention to trying to perfectly lip-synch. The scripting stays fairly tight, though it conspicuously neglects to ever name the desert monster as a Pancake, unlike in the subtitles and original Japanese.
On-disk Extras this time only include a pair of character bios. The packaging includes the standard reversible cover and insert booklet, which contains episode-related poetry, character images, and background art. The cover art continues the questionable (and somewhat misleading) practice of playing up Honoka's sex appeal.
Despite a one-episode drop-off in artistic quality, the series regains its stride as it heads into its second half. It may not be a shining example of originality but executes well and maintains a tone that sets it a little apart from other post-apocalyptic action series.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Good story execution, occasional sublime beauty.
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