Jason checks out Hideki Ohwada's politically-charged mahjong manga, The Legend of Koizumi.
Reviewby Jonathan Mays, Jul 26th 2003
Virus Buster Serge DVD
"124 degrees east longitude high above the Equator: stationary orbit. Special defense of the Incubator. Black Valentine: birth of the Incubator, ending the days of hell, dawn of the new terror. Incubator: a hole within the void, leading to world destruction. ZAINELL: a corrupt alliance, creating tools that offer false salvation. STAND: a feeble arm of Zainell standing guard against the Annihilator. Neo-Hong Kong in 2097: a city cursed with this fate, the worst yet to come. VIRUS: servant of the Annihilator. VIRUS: without limits. VIRUS: linking eternity. VIRUS: the key to the end. VIRUS."
Did you get all that? The first 45 seconds of Masami Obari's cyberpunk Virus Buster Serge sound like something out of Ghost in the Shell. Alas, the 389 minutes that follow hardly live up to the billing. The enigmatic intro gives a glimpse of the series' aspirations, but then it descends into the chaos of pointless fighting and annoying monologues. What a waste.
Following the trend of series like Brain Powered and Soul Taker, Virus Buster Serge prefers to keep the audience in the dark. You get the sensation that you were a few episodes late to the party; “Level 5s” and “Variable Gears” are thrown at you from all directions, but none of it makes much sense. After watching for a few hours, this much is clear: A satellite called "the Incubator" is infecting the Earth with viruses. These nasty little things mutate people and machines into monsters. An elite group called STAND (acronym's never explained, by the way) responds to such virus outbreaks, sending three cybernetically armored warriors—alpha-male Jouichirou, maverick Macus, and exotic Erika—into battle against infected creatures. Their leader, the mysterious Raven, has all the answers, but if he showed his cards, the show would lose the façade of being all deep and complex.
We find out a little more when a guy named Serge shows up during a virus outbreak and tries to kill Raven, claiming that Raven killed him first. Go figure. Serge has little idea of exactly who Raven is or why he must perish, but Raven seems to know. "You are loved," he tells Serge. Almost as confused as the audience, Serge leaves and steals one of STAND's vehicles, but once again, Raven is a step ahead. Serge discovers the vehicle is equipped with an armored suit tailored specially for him. So Serge faces a decision: go to jail for the rest of his life for assault and theft, or join STAND and fight the Incubator. Unfortunately for us, he chooses the latter, propelling the series further into a tailspin of boring battles and unanswered questions.
Maybe there really is a series of fascinating plotlines beneath all the rubble, but Obari doesn't seem inclined to share it with us. Instead, we're left with an unrewarding mess of stereotyped characters, dull action, and an utterly absurd plot. There's so much that's so wrong with Virus Buster Serge that it's a challenge to know where to begin. So let's start with the good. At times, the animation is almost decent.
The rest is a disaster. Oddball character designs are the first thing you'll notice; the men are all out of proportion, with dreadfully long arms and hollow chests (I think Obari borrowed some to use for the ladies.) The women feature ridiculously ugly, gravity-defying clothes and huge—huge—eyes. Obari exaggerates character features to such an extreme that it's simply no fun at all to watch.
But that's only the beginning. The dialogue of Virus Buster Serge is a most bizarre dichotomy. Half of the script is devoted to technobabble about RNA proteins and Dimension Compression Missiles, while the rest is drivel like "Are you serious?" and "Oh no!" In one episode, I heard “No way!” five times in thirty seconds. When they're not talking, they're fighting, which would've allowed some time to enjoy Obari's trademark fluid action. Unfortunately, even here he's not at his best, as unimaginative sequences simply kill any interest. In typical sentai fashion, the members of STAND punch and kick for a while, and only after being tossed against the wall a few times do they decide to pull out the GunBlade™ and blow the virus to shreds. It's dull and predictable, and there's virtually nothing redeeming about the action.
Dreadfully poor execution turns the semi-intriguing plot into a train wreck. After about three episodes, you'll be wondering if Obari and friends sat down at a table and brainstormed ways to make the story harder to understand. Early on they tried a few tricks (Subtle dialogue hint: "I have a feeling you're after something bigger, man"). But then they hit a good one: As long as we make no effort to advance the story, we can pretend there's something big under the surface! For a thirteen-episode series, putting it on autopilot is an incredibly cheap way out of constructing a real plot. Maybe there's a story lurking beneath, but I really don't care.
I don't care because Masami Obari gives me no reason to care. His last chance at redemption, character development, gets the same glossed-over treatment that the plot receives. Serge is leader of the bunch, which I know only because he wears red. Macus is a rogue, his individualist attitude accentuated by his fur collar, flared pants, and goofy hat. (What's that? Another stereotype?) Erika is the ultimate anime girl, replete with enormous breasts and an impossibly thin figure. The sinewy Serge has a more confused profile, and the director left plenty of room to evolve him into a more unique, or at least engaging, individual. As it turns out, that room is just a bunch of empty, undeveloped space. Maybe Obari didn't care, either.
When a show's this bad, does the quality of the voice acting even matter? For what it's worth, the performances in Japanese and English are actually above average, especially Shinichiro Miki's Serge and Debbie Rabbai's Mirei. Not satisfied to close his acting career with the Evangelion movies, Manga's Keith Burgess also makes an appearance in the dub. It's no better this time around, either.
Virus Buster Serge is clearly targeted a very specific audience, the younger sex-loving guys who will eat up the electric guitar (not to mention the nude shots of Erika) and pay no mind to the lack of a plot or original characters. The rest of us have better alternatives, like anything not named Virus Buster Serge.
Overall (dub) : D-
Overall (sub) : D-
Story : F
Animation : C
Art : D
Music : B
+ The music is okay.
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