Reviewby Theron Martin, May 6th 2011
Allison & Lillia
Sub.DVD - Generation 1
In a world with a technology base similar to 1930s Earth, a mountain range and wide river split one continent north-south, forming the opposing nations of Roxcheanuk Confederation (aka Roxche) in the east and Bezel Iltoa (aka Sou Beil) in the west, each composed of numerous smaller countries. Roxche and Sou Beil have been staging their equivalent of the Hundred Years War, an ages-long series of on-again, off-again conflicts, but have been in a cease fire period for ten years as the story begins. Fledgling Roxche air force pilot Allison and friend Will, who grew up together in an orphanage, reunite for a summer which turns out to be anything but dull when a kidnapping and impromptu treasure hunt lead them on a dangerous journey into enemy territory, an adventure which earns them a long-term ally in the form of Sou Beil soldier Benedict Carr and uncovers a secret that could ultimately end the long Roxche-Sou Beil struggle. Later, an emergency detour during a snowstorm unwittingly throws the trio into the midst of another great secret, this one involving the royal family of one of Roxche's component countries. In a third adventure months later, the gang surreptitiously reunites for a luxury train ride into Sou Beil, only to find themselves in the midst of a complex plot which may (or may not) involve an attempt on the life of an industrial magnate.
Those who go into this 13 episode set without doing some research first may find themselves wondering why the series is named what it is, given that these episodes focus entirely on Allison and Will. The answer comes in the last few seconds of the final episode of this set: this is a generational series, with the first half focusing on Allison and the second half apparently focusing on new character Lillia. That's because the series is actually based on two related series of lite novels by the author of Kino's Journey, with this half adapting the Allison set and the second half adapting the follow-up Lillia and Treize set. Exactly what the connection is between the heroines of the two halves is a spoiler for this volume's last couple of minutes, so it will not be dealt with in this review.
In this half, teenagers Allison and Will take center stage as co-stars, with a major assist from two recurring characters – Benedict Carr and Fiona – who get introduced along the way. One of the big attractions of the series is how perfect a team Allison and Will make, as her vivaciousness, reckless enthusiasm, and action-oriented spirit are nicely counterbalanced by his even-keeled temperament, more serious demeanor, and analytical thoughtfulness. Naturally Will is dense about Allison's feelings for him and she is uncharacteristically shy about confessing them, and naturally Allison's initiative gets them into all kinds of adventures where Will (not always reluctantly) gets dragged along for the ride. Benedict is less stereotypical as a playboy who finds himself reluctantly enduring being a hero until he meets up with Fiona, a young woman who needs a real hero to accomplish her purposes. She falls more firmly into a common Japanese archetype of a reserved and proper maiden with just an ounce of gumption, but at least she and Benedict make a nice couple and their best scenes are when interacting with each other.
The story presented in the first twelve episodes takes the protagonists (and eventually Benedict and Fiona, too) on a trio of four-episode adventures which likely each correspond to one of the novels. The result is a series without an overarching plot, one composed of sequential short stories linked only by the gradual progression of time and relationships. Each adventure offers a similar mix of action, intrigue, world-building, and surprising twists flavored by Allison's pouty frustrations over not being able to get Will romantically interested in her and the occasional bit of light humor. The plotting tends to oversimplify developments as it dodges around plot holes and some of the surprises are a little too predictable, but the execution is pleasant and fun enough to successfully maintain the old-school spirit of adventure that the story was clearly intended to embody.
That changes some with episode 13, a stand-alone which is essentially a “what happens next” epilogue for the first half and a transition to the second half. It advances the time frame two years to show how the lives of its principal characters are playing out in the wake of past events and decisions, but in the process of maturing the central cast the writing also matures. One character gets an enticing offer which comes with a heavy price, forcing both Allison and Will to reevaluate where their relationship stands and what they must do with their lives. Its final few minutes achieve a remarkable level of sincerity and wrenching emotion which grows surprisingly smoothly out of the more light-hearted material which dominated the series to that point, creating an effect akin to classic Hollywood movies. With the jump ahead sixteen more years at the episode's end, the transition to the second half – and the new heroine – is complete.
The series is produced by Madhouse and directed by Masayoshi Nishida, who is probably best-known to American fans for helming Eyeshield 21. The visual effort he and his team have created here is one of marked contrasts, with serviceable CG renditions and animation of planes, trains, and armored vehicles mixed in with character designs that have a bit of a throwback feel to them, especially in the way noses are drawn. Perspective and scale problems which were not cleaned up for the DVD releases arise in some places where characters are standing beside trains or train tracks, such as a couple of scenes where full-grown men could easily lay inside railroad ties on the nearby tracks and other places where trains look disproportionately large compared to the people beside them. The character designs themselves are nothing special, although they do provide a good variety of apparel for prominent characters (Allison looks particularly charming in a dress) and do make a distinct effort to convincingly age their characters between the time jumps (perhaps too much so, in fact). The animation is also nothing special, with pure CG efforts faring a little better than regular animation. Though the series carries a TV-14 rating due to the violence present in some action scenes, it has very little for actual graphic content and nothing that would constitute fan service for any beyond military otaku; the latter group will find the hardware a delight, though, for all of the plane, gun, artillery, and armored car designs are clearly patterned on real-world technology from the 1930s, albeit with some extrapolations.
The fully-orchestrated musical score has a sound more reminiscent of a full-scale Hollywood movie than an anime series, which results in it sometimes getting a little too strong for the material it backs. For the most part, though, it provides an effective complement and support and, when needed, fully embodies the series' adventuresome spirit. Gentle, vaguely haunting opener “Tameiki no Hashi,” which has the flavor of European folk music, is an exceptionally strong choice for starting each episode and closer “Sayanora no Omajinai” is no slouch, either. The Japanese language track makes some interesting and not always effective casting choices, such as having Will voiced by a woman even up through his late teens (which inescapably makes him sound more girly than he probably should) and changing the voice actors for both Allison and Will for the 16 year time jump; in fact, Allison's seiyuu, the well-used Nana Mizuki, becomes the voice of Lillia at that point, a move which makes a certain amount of sense given the circumstances.
Sentai Filmworks deigned not to dub this one, perhaps because, while it is a worthy title for licensing (it has no distinctively Japanese elements), it was never terribly popular in fandom and is thus not expected to be a big hit. It splits the 13 episodes between two disks, with the first disk also containing clean opener and closer for Extras.
The first half of Allison and Lillia is not likely to knock anyone's socks off, but it is not trying to, either. While it has some writing and artistic flaws, it has charming enough central characters and a good enough mix of humor, action, grand plot developments, and general fun factor to offer solid entertainment value. Its final episode also should generate plenty of interest in seeing how the second half of the series progresses.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Episode 13, musical score, effective balance of story elements.
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