Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jun 16th 2006
Joe is a big fan of action movies, but he never imagined he'd be in one. Sucked into the celluloid world of Movieland, Joe must rescue his girlfriend Silvia from Jadow, the evil forces that have captured her. At least he's got the "V-Watch" he inherited from his favorite superhero, Captain Blue, that allows him to transform into Viewtiful Joe and create time-bending special effects. What he doesn't know, though, is that Silvia's imprisonment is turning out to be quite comfortable—Jadow's minions have taken a liking to her! Meanwhile, Joe meets up with a young sidekick who calls himself Captain Blue Jr., and gets an encouraging boost from an old man who happens to be the ultimate Captain Blue fan. But Joe is yet to fulfill his own personal quest: finding an open hamburger joint.
Give Geneon credit for one thing: they've successfully brought Viewtiful Joe to the Saturday morning cartoon crowd. With its videogame-meets-Hollywood attitude and lack of Japanese cultural elements, it's an easy crossover to international audiences. The simple villain-of-the-week plot and striking visual style are enough entertainment for a lazy weekend, but it's much harder to recommend buying the DVD. Three episodes in one volume and an English-only track makes this little more than an archival version of the TV broadcast. And considering that the dub consists of Joe saying "Dude!" every five minutes and a script full of unfunny wisecracks, it's not exactly something worth paying for.
Episodes 4-6 on this disc provide an accurate cross-section of Joe's adventures. In each one, he wanders into a new locale and meets new people, then Jadow's minions show up, Joe becomes Viewtiful, and triumphs over the bad guys with his flashy moves. In Episode 5 he gains a new sidekick, and in Episode 6 he picks up Captain Blue's classic aircraft, Machine Six. But these are just standard power-ups tacked on to a methodical plot. It's all good and fun if you're watching it on a weekly basis while half-awake, but seeing it multiple times in a row makes a tired old formula look even more tired. The series' lively energy and in-your-face attitude keep it mildly interesting, but the adventures never stray too far from this repetitive structure.
The cast of characters fits a similar cookie-cutter mold, filling in the roles of classic adventure-serial stereotypes. Of course, the premise itself is born of pure cliché—the scrappy young hero out to save the damsel in distress from calculating villains—so everything else follows naturally. Episode 4 tries to buck the trend with Silvia proving to be a fairly self-sufficient prisoner, but it's an idea that fizzles before it ever really develops. The side characters, in fact, are more interesting, and establishing Blue Jr. helps to expand the cast. More problematic, however, is the show's irritating sense of humor: cardboard personality traits (okay, Joe likes burgers, we get it), predictable pratfalls, and dialogue that only the scriptwriters could find funny.
At least the visuals are weird enough to be interesting. The unique character designs, all big heads and spindly limbs, stay true to the original Viewtiful Joe video game. Although unconventional, it suits the needs of a series that purposely skews away from reality. Bright colors in both the foregrounds and backgrounds add to this unusual look; the bold linework and shiny, cel-shaded textures also emphasize the show's video-game roots. Once Joe leaps into action, the exaggerated sense of design comes to life too: his heroic poses and attacks are distinctly his own, never to be imitated by other heroes. Unfortunately, the animation doesn't pull this off as well as it could, resorting to average frame rates and typical fight-scene angles, instead of really making Joe pop out of the screen.
A music score laced with electric guitars sets the macho tone of the series, but is completely indistinguishable from any other style of mainstream rock. It's uninteresting, and at worst, annoying. (Think of that neighbor or schoolmate with a guitar who plays the same riffs over and over.) The theme songs have a similar sound, albeit a bit more melodic; the ending, however, gets hacked down to about 30 seconds in order to fit the abridged, Americanized end credits.
But what really tilts the show away from entertaining and into just plain silly is the ridiculous dub. The voice acting is confident, but too much so, and the accents need to go: no one really wants to hear "surfer dude" Joe or that pseudo-Australian shark villain. The scriptwriting, however, is even more unforgivable. Joe's vocabulary is all, like, totally, DUDE everytime he opens his mouth, and when he's not hamming it up with unconvincing slang, he's spouting lines that are supposed to sound witty but aren't. Naturally, his foes respond with similar comebacks, turning this into a verbal slapfight of who can come up with the dumbest line. It needs to be said again: this is the kind of dialogue only the scriptwriters could find funny.
The worst part, though? You get stuck with that dub whether you like it or not. There is no Japanese audio option, although ironically, there are subtitles—which, in fact, turn out to be dubtitles. Anyone looking to see the "original Viewtiful Joe" is out of luck. The disc does offer other extras like character profiles, concept art, and a lenticular image-shifting cover on the case, but it feels like a weak consolation prize. Without a bilingual option—or an uncut version of the series—this is just a DVD for people who really liked what they saw on TV.
But even if it hadn't been groomed for a TV broadcast, there's no guarantee that Viewtiful Joe would be all that appealing. Just six episodes in, it's clear that Joe is on a repetitive, formulaic adventure, only adding the occasional new character or piece of gadgetry to up the stakes. Vivid colors and a unique visual style give the show a lively appearance, but it's not enough to get over the bland story. And it's certainly nowhere near enough to get over the groan-inducing dub. With over 3/4 left of the series to go, there doesn't seem to be much reason to stick around.
Overall (dub) : D
Story : D
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : D
+ Bright, eye-catching visuals and a unique sense of design.
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