Shelf Life Aquarion Logos Part 1
by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,
The constant flow of new anime on disc still amazes me from time to time. You'd think most folks would already be at the bottom of their wallets after all that holiday shopping, and yet we've still got new stuff coming out this week like any other. There are even a handful of things on the schedule for the 27th, which hardly seems like ideal retail timing. But hey, maybe people have already pre-ordered this stuff and the release date isn't as big of a deal as I think it is. Either way, neither rain nor snow nor major holidays will stop the anime train from rolling right along. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
Aquarion Logos part 1
On Shelves This Week
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Extra: If that cover art and my synopsis look familiar, it's because this movie came out on Blu-Ray a few weeks ago. The two versions should be more or less the same apart from pricing and format, and we've still got an old review on hand.
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Extra: It seems a little odd to see the classic Leiji Matsumoto character designs in a western setting, but this series got reasonably positive marks on Shelf Life the last time it appeared in the US market.
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Extra: Same story here as with Black Jack above: same content, different format. Still no reviews for this movie, but we do have one for the related TV series.
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Shakugan No Shana S - OVA Series [S.A.V.E.] BD+DVD
Funimation - 110 min - Hyb - MSRP $24.98
Currently cheapest at: $17.29 Amazon
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Synopsis: After disappearing in dramatic fashion, Yuji returns with a dangerous plan to change the world, which places him in direct conflict with Shana.
Extra: We don't have an encyclopedia page for this set at the time of this writing, but as always I'm going to err on the side of trusting the release dates on the retail sites. We've got a review and all three TV seasons are available on Funimation and Hulu.
Synopsis: The beginning of Shana and Yuji's story is retold in movie form, as Yuji decides to fight alongside Shana after being rescued from certain death.
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Shelf Life Reviews
After checking out Aquarion Evol earlier this year, James dives back into the world of big robots and crazy comedy with the first half of Aquarion Logos in this week's review.
I think you know where I'm going with this.
There are two things to keep in mind before I go any further. Number one, I haven't seen the second half of this series yet, so there's a chance it could pick up in the next thirteen episodes and really change my opinion on things. Number two, a lot of my complaints are aimed at the first five episodes in this set. Aquarion Logos is actually very similar to its predecessor in that it improves over time. By the time I finished all thirteen episodes of this Blu-Ray set, there were some things about the show I was actually enjoying, but those first five episodes are rough. It's one of the worst first impressions a show has given me in a long time.
It starts with the premise. Anyone who saw either of the last two iterations of Aquarion can tell you that the robots essentially function as blunt metaphorical devices for human connection, more specifically romantic/erotic connection. These are, after all, the mecha that give their pilots literally orgasms when they combine together. It isn't the most subtle of anime allegory, but it worked well enough in Aquarion Evol. Logos, however, takes a different approach.
This time, the main villain is a man who despises the complications of language and desires to create a world devoid of all linguistic communication. He uses his technological/magical prowess to infect words, which go on to cause real-world harm to anything relating to those words. To give one of the less convoluted examples, at one point he infects the word for “cold”, causing all of the hot and sunny weather to turn into a blizzard. Not only that, but these infected words take the form of giant extradimensional monsters called MJBK (short for “Menace of Japanese with Biological Kinetic energy”). Our heroes belong to an organization called the Verbalism Club, an offshoot of a government entity known as DEAVA that recruits young people with a high Verbalism Ability to pilot the Aquarion Mecha and destroy the MJBK. This Verbalism Ability goes frustratingly under-explained, but so far as I can tell, it means that these characters have a gift for speaking their mind or something.
There are many issues with Aquarion Logos' core premise, but the biggest one is that of the core threat revolving around MJBK and infected words, specifically infected kanji. Again, this is an idea that sounds neat on paper, but the execution just did not work for me at all. The idea of giant robots fighting giant word monsters just isn't compelling, so right away Logos starts off on the wrong foot. Maybe this would all play better to a native Japanese speaker, since try as the dub might, it just can't convey the nuances and complexities of the Japanese writing system without falling completely flat on its face. Either way, the underlying themes of the narrative just felt too clunky and out-there to be affecting or engaging on any kind of immediate emotional level.
Aquarion Evol didn't have the greatest plot foundations either though, and the series still skated by on the strength of its core cast. Unfortunately, this is where Logos runs into its second biggest failing: its characters. To put it simply, I couldn't stand almost any of the leads in this show. The ostensible protagonist, Akira Kaibuki, is supposed to be played off as an over-the-top goofball, who keeps ironically referring to himself as “the savior.” Though the show eventually starts to play this off as more of a joke, it's never all that funny, and in the first few episodes, it's legitimately obnoxious. The other Aquarion pilots each have their quirks as well; Kokone is shy to the point of developing a stutter, Tsutomu is the hot-blooded comic relief who aspires to be a famous comedian vlogger, and so on. For those first five episodes, every one of these leads is either bland or actively annoying, and only after that horrendous first half do they start to settle into modes that kind of approach the general vicinity of being likable. The majority of my problems with these characters are based on how little I liked this series' comedy, and comedy is very subjective, so there's a decent chance that you might find the show's gags hysterical and the characters instantly endearing. This was unfortunately not the case for me.
Still, things do get better by the time these 13 episodes are over; not great, nor even especially good, but I could at least see how this show could eventually become the lovable doofus of a younger sibling to Evol. Maia Tsukigane is the one character in the show I liked from the beginning, and the further the series explores her character and her ties to the mysterious organization behind the MJBK attacks, the more interesting the plot becomes. Her gruff exterior and naiveté regarding the outside world land on the right side of cheesy, where almost everything else falls on the wrong side of that equation. Whenever I get around to the rest of the season, I'll be looking forward to seeing what becomes of her character.
Specs-wise, this is a typical Funimation release. The solid 1080p transfer shows off the animation, which is the one area of this franchise with consistently high quality. On the audio side, we get an English and a Japanese dub, and while the English dub was good enough for me to watch most of the series with, the show honestly plays better in Japanese. So much of the story is rooted in the specific quirks of the Japanese language that it only makes sense to watch it in that mode. It doesn't make any of the MKJB stuff less corny or ridiculous, but it goes down a bit smoother all the same.
As far as extras go, we only have one, but it's a pretty great one: the thirty minute OVA "Aquarion Love", which crosses Aquarion Evol over with Genesis of Aquarion. Having not seen the first season of the show, I can only guess at how well those characters and stories are portrayed, but it was genuinely nice to see the cast of Evol back in action again. If I'm being honest, this one OVA was better than any of the Logos episodes, at least for me. Make of that what you will. At the very least, it makes this set a lot more enticing for fans of the previous two Aquarion series.
I'm giving Logos a Rental, but it's a low Rental. Even though I didn't enjoy it, I can see how so much of what I didn't like about the series could play well for others. I think it's fair to say that Aquarion Evol outclasses Logos handily in most every category, but the characters and premise that I found so insufferable might not be terrible for everyone. Some of the jokes do land, and some of the character moments do work. So far, this series isn't doing much for me, but your mileage may vary.
That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading, and come on back next week for a special "year in review" edition of Shelf Life!
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