Reviewby Theron Martin,
In a near-future Tokyo, a rampant increase in crime has led to the legalization of individual gun ownership, which has resulted in citizens dispensing individual “justice” despite the efforts of police organization RAPT to keep things under control. Four young women – computer specialist Amy, striker Jo, leader Sei, and mostly-useless Meg – form a mecha-armed strike team to handle problems for the syndicate Bai Lan. Their jobs bring them up against a wide variety of covert and overt scoundrels, including serial killers, rogue Cybots with strange glowing brains, and remnants of Jo's forgotten past. Kyohei, a young man training to become a pâtissier, gets hired to be their cook, which results in him regularly getting dragged into their messes.
Dial the clock back to 2004 and this 24-episode series was a hot property, with a popular run in Japan and plenty of hype in the West. It's easy to understand why Burst Angel would have been a hit; it was produced by a prominent studio at the height of their popularity (Gonzo), featured sexy girls fighting with both guns and mecha, and sported a cutting-edge blend of 2D and 3D animation backed by one of the most expensive TV budgets of its day. A substantial degree of Wild West flavor to both the music and the story also helped sell it to American audiences. While its integration of 3D mecha elements was a stage-setter for an approach that has become common in the 15 years since its debut, the series has otherwise not had much lasting impact. This new Blu-ray/Digital release, which appears to be a rerelease of a 2009 set, makes it clear why: in the grand scope of anime productions, nothing that this series does is all that memorable or distinct.
In essence, Burst Angel is simply an overblown “girls with guns” series that also pulls in mecha when big foes are involved. That's not necessarily a negative, as a series can be successful even with that minimal hook (see Gun Gale Online), but what hurts this series' gunplay is how ridiculous it gets even by the standards of its setting; hand guns are frequently shown doing damage that should be beyond their capabilities. The outlandish feats that Jo regularly accomplishes are spectacular, but most of them are practically run-of-the-mill feats for anime action. Almost nothing stands out about the foes they face, either.
The one thing does stand out with regularity in the series is a great number of nipples. While Burst Angel doesn't have a lot of direct fanservice, it delights in putting Jo, Meg, and Sei into skimpy outfits that clearly don't allow for bras; nipples visible under clothing or exposed underboob are regular features of the series, especially for Meg. Thankfully the much-younger Amy is not given this treatment, but the sexualized clothing is pervasive throughout the present-day story.
The overall story structure does not offer much to remember, either. The bulk of the series is made up of 1-2 episode arcs where the team gets involved in one job or another, with only limited carry-over between them. Underlying plot threads about Jo's background and the business with the glowing brains do thread sparsely through many of the shorter stories, but neither is focused on much until the last quarter of the series. Once that point is reached, those plot elements are resolved with breakneck speed, resulting in a rushed and somewhat ambiguous ending that's far from satisfying and leaves the fate of two core cast members unknown; in other words, it's the same kind of problem that Gonzo series were well-known for around that time. Some of the individual stories do stand out, with one of the best being a two episode arc about Jo's encounter with a mute samurai, but those are exceptions rather than the rule. Much of this fare (including the series' design sensibilities) could be found in any of a number of late '90s or early '00s anime, from Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 to Daphne in the Brilliant Blue to Kiddy Grade and Solty Rei.
To be sure, the core cast is just a slightly modified version of the Knight Sabers team from Tokyo 2040, complete with the young male hanger-on and the buff male equipment tech. The one major difference is that Lina's stand-in, Meg, is practically worthless. One episode literally involves her inner kung fu master being released, and she is occasionally shown toting a gun, but the former is limited to that episode and she rarely gets to use the latter. Most of the time, she's just eye candy and rescue bait. She does serve to motivate Jo (though usually to rescue her), but that's about it. Jo is Meg's more aloof counterpart, as well as her best and most loyal friend; romance can easily be read into their relationship but nothing overt is ever shown. Neither of them shows much depth, nor does the more mature and responsibility-driven Sei or the cute and chipper Amy. While the cook Kyohei looks like he's going to be a staple cast member at the start, the story seems to lose interest in him as the series progresses. The one interesting bit of character development is the implied developing romance between tech specialist Leo and Takane, an Osaka biker girl the team encounters in an early arc who shows up later on, but otherwise character development isn't a strong suit of the series.
The action is really the main draw. Every episode has a generous dose of combat, whether in mecha or using some combination of guns, wooden swords, throwing knives, explosives, rocket/grenade launchers, and martial arts – often both in the same episode. There are almost inevitably explosions and insane moves, guns popping out of everywhere on combat cyborgs, and large automated mecha to fight. These scenes can get both creative and graphic, but the carnage never goes beyond the level of bullet-riddled bodies. Thanks to mecha animation that might even be passable by current standards, the battles can have some zing to them even while being eye-rollingly ridiculous.
The series has two main flaws that bring it down. The first and most problematic is substandard editing. Especially in earlier episodes, there are too many places where scenes abruptly shift or connecting shots seem to be absent, which sometimes results in a choppy quality. The other is the artistic inconsistency. Hair colors can sometimes fluctuate badly enough that no change in lighting can excuse them. Character designs also periodically slip off-model, with the most common effects being significant shifts in breast sizes. (The series cannot seem to settle on the size of Sei's chest.) The higher budget must have gone entirely into the mecha animation because 2D animation quality is rather ordinary and CG renditions of explosions are often an eyesore. Neither mecha designs nor background art stand out, with both being ordinary sci fi fare.
The musical score for the series is more consistent in quality and effectiveness, if also more eclectic. It primarily uses electronica themes occasionally infused with rock beats, but often throws in numbers in the style of American Westerns. This promotes the cheesy flair that permeates most of the series, but it's not like this was a series viewers were going to take too seriously anyway. Opener “Loosey” by THE STRiPES is a free-flowing and somewhat catchy number, while closer “Under the Sky” is less remarkable. Two insert songs are performed by a quartet of the four lead female seiyuu for the series.
The English dub for the series is not one of Funimation's stronger efforts. The only casting choice and performance among the primary roles that seems on-the-money is Alison Retzloff (aka Alison Viktorin) as Amy; Monica Rial using her lowest register for Jo is only passable, with Clarine Harp making Sei sound much huskier than the original Japanese performance, and Jamie Marchi too often going over-the-top in making Meg sound abrasive. Casting the narrator as an old Western guy is a fitting choice given some of the series' themes, but I have to question the wisdom of making everyone in the Osaka episodes sound like a country hick. Granted, that's probably the most comparable thing in English to how Tokyo denizens regard the Osaka accent, but the effort quickly becomes obnoxious.
The current Essentials release contains only the Blu-Ray and a digital version. It includes several episode audio commentaries and a wealth of other extras, including clean opener and closer, various trailers and previews, Japanese interviews with the cast, CG artists, and character designer, a feature on Jo that was originally shown at Anime Expo 2005, a summary of the series done in little over an hour using clips from each episode, a skippable set of English dub outtakes, and something called a Character Designer Special, which looks like a promo for a sequel series (set at least a couple of years after the original) that was proposed but never made. Also present in the episodes menu is Burst Angel Infinity, the 2007 OVA episode that's set between the flashback in episode 14 and the start of the series. Though not anything special, it is best-watched prior to seeing the final episode of the TV series, as it provides context for one important scene in that finale.
Though it still stands up decently well as a sexy action adventure, Burst Angel doesn't stand out enough compared to more recent fare to be worthy of a recommendation. This release is primarily for those seeking a nostalgia trip who want to upgrade their old DVDs to a respectable Blu-Ray transfer.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Plentiful action, curvaceous girls, and individually strong story arcs
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