Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Wings of Rean
When a pair of Japanese "activists" with violent anti-American sentiments attack a Marine base with an RPG, Aesap Suzuki, their more-or-less-innocent roommate, gets caught up in the terrorist hunt. While losing his pursuers, Aesap is nearly drowned by an otherworldly warship. Brought to the "Upper World" from a land called Byston Well by the magical Boots of Rean, worn by the headstrong Princess Lyukus, the ship is followed by several others, not all of them friendly. The resultant conflict leaves the base in flames before the ships, along with Aesap, his two roommates, and a couple of JSDF pilots, are sucked back into Byston Well. Immediately branded a "holy warrior" upon his arrival, Aesap is soon deeply embroiled in the political and military infighting of Hojo, Princess Lyukus' homeland.
No one will ever accuse Yoshiyuki Tomino of a dearth of plot. The first two episodes of this spin-off of his 1983 mystical mecha epic Aura Battler Dunbine pack enough happenings into fifty minutes to fill a full two hours of a slower-paced series. But having lots of stuff happen doesn't a compelling plot make. Instead of intriguing, these episodes are simply overstuffed; crammed with people running around in circles and getting into inconclusive conflicts, all without any definite sense of purpose—a cloud of unnecessary narrative noise hanging around each episode's handful of key plot points. The abrupt introduction of the parade of cast members and the unending stream of events revolving around them leaves little time to get to know or care about any of them. So far Aesap is the only one with much flesh on his narrative bones, and he's already shaping up to be yet another of Tomino's patented male heroes: a product of familial strife; outspoken, stubborn, a little foolish, and abrasive as hell. Though they will undoubtedly develop later (this is only two episodes in after all), none of the rest of the cast has had a chance to make much of an impression what with all the running, flying, shooting, and blowing stuff up. It doesn't help that Tomino is apparently unwilling to delve into the minds and emotions of his characters via visual means, instead always opting for dialogue. The result is that while it's easy to understand them, they're difficult to identify or empathize with. It also has the side effect of causing the characters to chatter incessantly.
Rather than placing his audience within them or attempting to interpret them via his visuals, Tomino simply shows events, lending the proceedings an uninvolving flatness. Film-making is the art of constructing a story from visuals; what Tomino does here is more akin to tacking visuals onto a story as an afterthought. This isn't to say that Rean is devoid of stylistic flourishes. Indeed, on a purely technical level it's far above average: lovingly detailed, with intricate mecha and good-looking character designs that tend towards realism, and carefully animated—particularly where the mecha and mayhem are concerned. And there are also moments of stunning visual prowess, as with the fully CG insectoid mecha or the glorious slo-mo flight of an unexploded RPG. The problem is that none of it serves any purpose other than providing something to gawk at on occasion.
The soaring, full-blooded score is appropriately epic (if a tad bombastic) and the ending theme makes for a nicely downbeat j-pop lead-out after each unrelentingly paced episode.
It's been harped on to no end, but the real problem with this release is Bandai Visual's pricing; forty dollars is plain excessive for something with less than an hour of animation. It would be excusable were the release exceptional (like their Patlabor movie releases), but, while inarguably high-quality, the release is no better than any other high-end Region 1 release. There's a booklet full of behind-the-scenes information, explanatory notes and storyboards, and an on-disc conversation between Yoshiyuki Tomino and Anna Tsuchiya (the ending theme performer); comparable but not superior to releases like Funimation's Burst Angel DVDs. Comparable, that is, if you're a sub fan. As with the release of the various Gunbuster OVAs and Demon Prince Enma, Rean hasn't an English dub. Given its inherently limited appeal, this isn't surprising, but it makes the price even more of a stumbling point.
It's only two episodes, so perhaps it's too early for judgments, but thus far it seems that Wings of Rean is aimed solely at those with a Pavlovian response to the mere thought of returning to Byston Well armed with all the eye-popping luxuries of modern animation. Though, given the price, even the droolers may be tempted to just wipe their chins and move on.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ More Byston Well for the fans of Dunbine.
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