eX-Driver:The Movie opens with an exhilarating car chase sequence that ought to go into every animator's notebook. With the camera sweeping through city streets and evoking a true sense of speed, it's one of those moments in anime that is genuinely theatrical. What a shame, then, that everything else after that falls a bit short.
eX-Driver's biggest fault is the paper-thin story. All you need to know is that someone was dumb enough to invent cars that drive themselves, but forgot to put in emergency measures, so now they have talented drivers who use their amazing skills to save the day on a regular basis. Any pretenses of plot beyond that are simply to keep you engaged until the next big car chase. While this may annoy viewers looking for deeper content, the story itself isn't intolerable. It's a simple crime/mystery premise set against the backdrop of high-powered car racing, no different from what you might expect in any blockbuster action flick. Most people can digest these storylines as long as they don't set their standards too high. While it isn't terribly original or exciting, the plot is plain enough that you can sit through it while waiting for the eye candy.
The characters of eX-Driver are... well, the real star characters might be the cars. Rendered with the draftsmanship that is Kosuke Fujishima's trademark, racers like Souichi's scrappy Super Seven, Lorna's no-nonsense Lotus and Lisa's sleek Lancia reflect more personality than the drivers themselves. Lorna and Lisa are, of course, the customary good girl/bad girl pair, and the fact that Fujishima had a hand in this show will probably elicit plenty of comparisons to
Miyuki and Natsumi from You're Under Arrest. Sadly, Miyuki and Natsumi are a lot more fun than these two. Souichi, meanwhile, is the kid prodigy with shades of Skuld from Oh My Goddess. Despite an attempt to give them character, these three are no more than warm bodies designed to occupy the driver's seats of their respective vehicles. In fact, the supporting role of Rico Gambino provides the only breath of life among the human characters in the show.
What lifts the eX-Driver movie above other mediocre works is the first-rate artwork and animation. Kosuke Fujishima has always been revered in the anime and manga world for doing two things really well: pretty girls and awesome cars. He gets to indulge himself here, designing and drawing cars so detailed that it would give the Initial D folks a good scare. Lorna and Lisa aren't so bad looking either, proving that drop-dead gorgeous female characters can exist without constantly losing their clothes. (Are you paying attention, Ken Akamatsu?!)
The computer animation for the driving scenes deserves special mention, too. Despite having a personal bias against mixing CGI with 2-D animation--it almost always looks artificial-- this reviewer found the slick, geometric shapes of the cars in eX-Driver to be well-suited to the technique. Yes, it still looks artificial in the production, but if you've already bought into a world where people can't drive their own cars, artificial-looking animation is the least of your worries. The freedom of being able to render the vehicles from any angle allows animators to frame each scene for maximum effect. The CGI cars of eX-Driver can zip past at speeds that just wouldn't have looked the same in 2-D.
The dub cast for the eX-Driver movie is quite plain, like the story and characters. Geneon must have known that they wouldn't be able to inject much personality into Lorna, Lisa and Souichi, so they sent in Typical Anime Girls #1 and #2 along with Typical Anime Boy. At least the use of plug-and-play voices sounds good as an ensemble regardless of how it's put together. The voice actor for Rico Gambino steals the show, bringing an Italian brogue to his role. By downplaying the accent and sounding more like a Godfather character than Super Mario, he adds humor to what would have been an otherwise dry stereotype.
Those who have come to associate Eurobeat music with car racing will be pleasantly surprised by the musical richness of eX-Driver:The Movie. Using a style that can be best described as "orchestral pop," composer Hikaru Nanase combines traditional film scoring with subtle but urgent beats that accentuate the thrill of driving. It's most noticeable in the excellent opening sequence, but comes up again and again as a stylish (if somewhat formulaic) accompaniment to the equally stylish visuals.
Also included on the DVD is a half-hour feature, "Nina and Rei: Danger Zone," set a few years before Lorna and Lisa's time. Very much in the spirit of the movie, this short story opens with eX-Drivers Nina and Rei going after a miniature AI car, and culminates in a highly improbable chase between an airplane and a car down a runway. Somewhere amidst all this is a plot that could threaten the very foundation of the eX-Driver organization, but don't let that interfere with your enjoyment of the usual eye-popping car chases.
Those who want a car-and-driver anime full of character development and story will be happier watching Initial D. On the other hand, those looking for an hour's worth of casual entertainment--just a feast for the eyes without having to think too hard--will find it in eX-Driver:The Movie. Try to look past the flimsy premise and story and you might just find out why Kosuke Fujishima is still the master artist of pretty girls and awesome cars.