Reviewby Casey Brienza, Mar 3rd 2009
Xenosaga: The Animation
DVD - Complete Collection
Humanity abandoned Earth over 4000 years ago and took to the stars. But now its very existence is being threatened out in the vacuum of space by an implacable enemy from another dimension known as the Gnosis. Vector Industries' Shion Uzuki has been developing a beautiful but unpredictable super-weapon codenamed KOS-MOS aboard the space ship Woglinde, which is secretly transporting a Zohar Emulator, when the ship is unexpectedly attacked by a devastating large Gnosis force. KOS-MOS activates, and Shion barely escapes with her life. But her escape is just the beginning, and her life begins to intersect with those players, such as 100-Series Realian prototype MOMO, who will be key actors in an adventure that will lead ultimately to the salvation of countless lives—or their final destruction.
Those unfamiliar with the franchise will find Xenosaga: The Animation largely unintelligible. Fortunately, it is just entertaining enough that intelligibility is not strictly necessary. Good production values from Toei Animation and fast-paced outer space action sequences packaged within a tolerable time commitment of only twelve episodes total mean that coming to this show as a newbie is not the worst of possible fates. And, given that there are several plot twists which, especially in the final stages, differ dramatically from the original video game Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht upon which the anime is based, those who have already enjoyed Xenosaga in another medium may be enticed to experience the anime as well.
For the most part, the episodes stomp their way determinedly through the original game's plotline. Hardly any of the technological talk or talking heads make any sense in animated isolation, but all you need is the general gist of it all to keep up with the newest developments from episode to episode. You get the attack on the Woglinde in the beginning, for example, and Shion and company's later adventure into a strange virtual reality in order to retrieve data from KOS-MOS's memory banks and thus prove their innocence to the Federation. This is probably the weakest of the subplots, and too mystic for the rest of the show's mythos. In general, the pacing is quite good, though it is not especially gripping, though if you're looking for concrete resolution at the end, you will be disappointed.
The final two episodes are undoubtedly the best, digging into the emotions with feminine appeals for human connection that do not quite descend into bathos. The Kirschwasser's hatred toward her creator and in extension the world for having discarded her for the newer and better model succeeding her is perhaps a warning to anyone inclined to plow through the latest and greatest technology heedlessly—New cell phone every two years, anyone?—but her final, self-less sacrifice seems to redeem the notion that technology serves humanity, and not the opposite. Likewise, Shion's despair in the face of KOS-MOS's apparent demise is surprisingly heart-wrenching. She's a good megane-ko for all of those fans of that particular fetish out there, yet she is also both smart and courageous. You do not see her do anything annoyingly stupid. And in fact, if KOS-MOS were not such a cold fish throughout the series, you might be inclined to read homoerotic undertones to their relationship. (This is almost certainly intentional.)
The high point of Xenosaga: The Animation is its visuals. The vibrant palette merges foreground and background seamlessly, and the quality of the animation is good for a television show—and in a few short sequences, quite high. Settings are beautifully detailed and invariably interesting, though at times they seem a bit too perfect and clean to be realistic. Nobuteru Yuuki's elegant character designs are a welcome addition, and as always he gives each character a distinctive appearance and signature flair. KOS-MOS is a veritable vision who stands a full head and shoulders above the rest; her big bust line and abs of steel are certain to launch a thousand collectible action figures and statuettes.
The soundtrack aims for space opera mode, emphasis on “opera.” Neither of the opening nor ending theme songs are anything you want to hear more than once, and the weak warbling of the ending song is especially grating on the nerves. In contrast, vocal performances by both the Japanese and English language casts are stellar and easy on the ears; in particular, both Albedo voice actors nail his manic, insane laugh. In a much welcome change of pace from the usual, even the voices of the young children, in most other shows head-splittingly high-pitched in the original Japanese, are eminently tolerable here.
The Xenosaga: The Animation Complete Collection is a slim package, two DVDs in two individual boxes, packaged together in a cardboard slipcase. Indeed, “slim” is truth in advertising when it comes to the extras that have been—or, rather, have not been—made available by FUNimation with the set: Save for textless opening and ending animation themes, there aren't any. Given that the character designer is Nobuteru Yuuki, one of Japanese animation's most prolific and popular, and that this show is after all based upon an expansive video game franchise of considerable lineage, the possibilities seem virtually endless and the dearth inevitably disappointing. Do not buy this set unless you love the series enough to own purely on its own terms.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : C+
+ Excellent voice acting and visuals. Attractive character designs.
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