Reviewby Theron Martin, May 2nd 2008
The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye
DVD 5 - Shadows of the Past
Honoka has a new assignment, and this time she finds herself working directly for The Third! When Joganki disappears while on a diplomatic task and is presumed captured, Fila Marique directly seeks out Honoka to handle the delicate, challenging task, and for additional firepower she sends the autonomous Auto Enforcer Blue Breaker as her back-up, much to Honoka's consternation. The foe, Rona Fauna, was once one of The Third and has now developed an ability to seize control of Auto Enforcers, hence the need for the Sword Dancer rather than The Third's normal troopers, but it is her control of the Wormhole Driver which concerns The Third even more. With her new tuned-up PSP suit and the assistance of Bogie, Paife, Iks, and the hated Blue Breaker, Honoka finds herself facing a small army of defenders.
Although The Third has steadily shown character and relationship development over the course of the series, and a certain amount of story progression, it has never really had an overarching plot to contain its individual mission arcs. Being based on a series of light novels rather than manga is probably to blame for that, with each new story arc representing a newly-adapted novel. If that is the case then the final eight episodes of the series must be based on one novel, as the four in this penultimate volume undertake the series' most involved story yet, one about the rescue of Joganki from the mutated Third Rona Fauna, and fall significantly short of rounding the arc out. For the first time since the second volume, a volume of the series ends with a strong sense of anticipation.
The involvement of Blue Breaker and the need to confront the Auto Enforcers and other military equipment taken over by Rona Fauna assures more concentrated action content than has been seen in any previous volume. Honoka gets plenty of armored PSP and unarmored sword-fighting action in, and Paife and Blue Breaker both also certainly get their share, but the most thrilling battle scene involves Bogie's mano-a-mano duel against an A.I.-equipped anti-tank plane in episode 20. The chatty comments both throw out in a mockery of human combat aside, this battle offers what may be the best CG rendition of a vehicle-vehicle duel yet seen in series animation, one which is worth a replay just to marvel at how well-crafted it looks and feels. The regular animation pales beside that scene, with a couple of scenes of Honoka quickly hopping into her PSP looking particularly awkward, though it usually supports the action content well enough.
Because of the more intensive plot and action focus, these episodes offer little new character or relationship development; in fact, elaboration on the apparent onetime connection between Joganki and Rona Fauna, and the current one-sided emotional attachment between the two, accounts for most of such content. Honoka still sells the series as much on her charmingly pragmatic and even-tempered (but definitely not unemotional) personality as on the action scenes, and Iks continues to function primarily as a space-filler and source of irritation for Paife, who still sees him as an unwanted distraction in her quest to claim Honoka for herself. These episodes do give Bogie a chance to show more 'tude and devote considerably more time to Fila Marique than she has previously seen, but nothing much develops with her beyond a growing appreciation for Honoka's talents. Interestingly, Blue Breaker actually shows that he has a personality, too, and has some grasp on the tenuous nature of his working relationship with Honoka.
Aside from the aforementioned tank/plane battle, new visual features include a sharp new form-fitting combat outfit for Honoka, a less impressive new outfit for Paife, a multilegged tank design which may remind some of various Ghost in the Shell properties, and a setting which looks heavy inspired by (if not directly ripped off from) the nesting area in Aliens. This block of episodes avoids the artistic breakdown seen in episode 13, resulting in a consistently high level of visual quality, especially in backgrounds. The only significant visual flaw is that The Third designs are too homogenous. Aside from Honoka's skin-tight outfits, fan service is limited to Rona Fauna's use of a tentacle to keep herself decent.
As in previous volumes, the musical score offers an eclectic blend which, even at this point, still occasionally mixes things up. Themes reminiscent of '70s and early '80s action shows, whose cousins could be heard earlier in the series, make a return in certain key action scenes, to varying degrees of effectiveness. These episodes also maintain the poetic original opener, the second closer, and Right Stuf's habit of following the intact original Japanese closers with the English credits.
If you have previously liked the English dub, this volume will do nothing to disappoint you. The delivery seems just a little awkward in a couple of places, as if the English voice actors were stretching to better match up with the lip flaps, but on the whole performances remain competent and consistent with their characterizations. Whether you agree about her skill or not, by this point Anna Morrow has so clearly-defined the English rendition of Honoka with her vocal style that it is hard to imagine any other English VA filling the role better. The script, meanwhile, finds a sensible balance between flow and accuracy.
As with previous volumes, the liner booklet includes episode-themed poetry, screen shots, brief character and equipment profiles, and sharp images of background art. The case uses a reversible cover with much racier artwork on the inside. On-disk Extras include clean opener and closer and more detailed bio files on Rona Fauna and Kevin, the cyborg merc that Honoka has occasionally encountered in town over the course of the series.
While a solid volume overall, these episodes do collectively suffer from one significant flaw: they fail to generate much of a sense of urgency about the impending end of the series. Sure, Rona Fauna having control of the Wormhole Driver is a decided threat to everyone's well-being, but the version of her sitting atop the pillar gives so little of a villain vibe that the threat does not translate well into overall tension. Volume 5 certainly doesn't screw up anything the series has previously established, but it does not elevate the series, either.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Charmingly pragmatic title character, Bogie action scenes in episode 20.
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