Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 11th 2007
Venus Versus Virus
DVD 1 - Outbreak
Akin to demons, monstrous Viruses are former humans who lost their souls and now seek to devour living souls in order to fill the void within them (and create more Viruses). They are drawn only to people who can actually see them, and middle school student Sumire is just such a person. Fortunately she works for Venus Vanguard, a small, privately-owned business which operates as an antique store on the surface but is actually dedicated to hunting down and exorcising Viruses using special anti-Virus bullets they have developed. Although the seemingly cold, eyepatch-sporting Lucia, VV's main shooter, is quite capable of taking Viruses down, Sumire is not without her own ability; when shot by an anti-Virus bullet (which normally doesn't affect humans), she briefly turns into an unstoppable berserker, in effect making her a living anti-Virus. Despite her unique ability, Sumire just wants to lead an ordinary life and spend time with the boy she's just met, but with Viruses being drawn to her because of her special sight, that may not be possible anymore.
In its defense, the first four episodes of Venus Versus Virus do succeed in a few aspects. Sumire's portrayal as a girl who yearns for an ordinary life but must cope with being something special works, partly because of her naturally budding relationship with the boy. In fact, how naturally she acts at any point when under control of her actions stands greatly at odds with the artificiality of the rest of the content. The berserker mode she turns into when shot by anti-Virus bullets also offers an intriguing twist by giving a power set to a type of character not normally so endowed in exterminate-the-evil-spirit series. And the writing does improve markedly after the first episode, especially in the flashbacks.
Little else complimentary can be said about the opening volume, however. So far the series fails overall because it relies too much on its gimmicks to carry the series and too little on developing effective and interesting storytelling. The situations presented throughout these four episodes, aside from those mentioned above, are just tired retreads of concepts used better elsewhere, and the presence of some of the lamest spirit critters ever to be shot up in an anime series doesn't help. These episodes fall painfully short on their efforts to be cool and/or stylish, and most attempts at originality feel strained; just because you can put an eyepatch on a pretty young Gothic-styled female character design does not mean that you should, for instance. A better sense of dramatic timing would also help.
Granted, the content does improve markedly after a thoroughly unimpressive first episode, which tries to hook viewers with a blend of action and intrigue but never generates the level of excitement, danger, and enthusiasm that it should (except perhaps for Sumire's initial berserker transformation). The flashback-dominated episodes 2 and 4 work much better, as they establish the necessary foundation for the series set-up and provide at least some hope that the series may be worth watching. The episode about the twins sandwiched in between regresses a bit as it tries to be bittersweet but cannot pull off the emotion it seeks.
Throughout this run the writing portrays Lucia as an outwardly cold-hearted bitch who inwardly does care, and gives her a freaky left eye to explain the eyepatch. She never endears herself to the viewer half as well as Sumire does, however, and is not fully convincing as either a businesslike action heroine or a secretly caring woman. (Were she a live-action character, one would say she lacks screen presence.) Lucia's father, who makes the anti-Virus bullets, and the sassy cuteness of the yet-to-be-explained girl Laura provide little help in key supporting roles.
Studio Hibari, a company probably best-known to American fans for Duel Masters and Kashimashi, has produced a decidedly average set of visuals and animation by current series standards. The Virus designs are a major disappointment, and while all of the character designs range from passable to likeably attractive, none of them stand out in quality. The studio certainly attempted to give Lucia a distinctive appearance, with her eyepatch, long blue hair, and Gothic dress, but most of the time she instead looks like she's trying to cosplay her way through life. Their effort to be innovative with flashbacks, by having them framed in a manner reminiscent of Revolutionary Girl Utena, more often proves annoying than desirable. Not a speck of fan service can be found in these episodes beyond possibly the eye catches, but they do have enough violence to (barely) warrant a TV-14 rating.
The soundtrack works hard to provide the spooky tones necessary to play up the action and suspense, but only sporadically does it have enough material to work with. An upbeat J-rock opener and more sedate, violin-enhanced J-rock closer are worth at least a couple of listens.
Amusement Park Media, a division of ADV responsible for many of their recent dubs, also gets the call on this one. Although several members of ADV's normal pool of voice actors can be heard in supporting roles, the lead roles have been handed off to total newcomer Natalie Arneson (as Sumire) and relative newcomer Joanne Bonasso (as Lucia), with mixed results. Ms. Arneson gets the emotions and attitude right but often sounds a little too loud and brash, a common problem with dubbing neophytes which usually works itself out over the course of a series, while Ms. Bonasso sounds perfectly fine. Other performances come across acceptably well for those used to dubs. The English dub script credited to the pseudonym “Dorothy Garrett” (actually a well-known English VA) flows along well enough that those only watching the dub may not notice how far it often strays from the subtitles; in some scenes characters say entirely different things in English vs. Japanese.
The Extras section holds nothing more interesting than clean opener and closer.
The first volume of Venus Versus Virus does improve from a weak start but never truly gets good. Although the content may have enough merits to generate interest, future volumes will have to improve greatly if the series is to hold onto its viewers.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Likable female lead (Sumire), solid opener and closer.
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