Reviewby Mike Crandol,
DVD 1: Downshift
From the pen of Kosuke Fujishima, creator of Oh My Goddess and You're Under Arrest, comes this futuristic tale of runaway AI cars and the women who chase them. Lorna and Lisa are eX-Drivers, masters of the forgotten art of driving in a world where cars drive themselves. Occasionally one of these AI vehicles malfunctions and runs amuck, and when it does the eX-Drivers run it down in their outdated gas-powered racecars and take out the car's driving sensors. Lorna and Lisa pride themselves as being the two best eX-Drivers on the road until 12-year-old Souichi shows up in his custom hotrod. Lorna welcomes the young newcomer, but for Lisa the only thing more infuriating than being beaten by a kid is finding out he's her new partner.
I'm a sucker for Kosuke Fujishima girls. And there's something undeniably cool about seeing real-world sportscars brought to life in animation. The six-part OVA eX-Driver promises the hottest girls since You're Under Arrest and the coolest car animation since Gunsmith Cats. Can't go wrong with this one, right? Wrong. eX-Driver does feature some impressive animation, but beyond that this is merely another flat, uninspired take on the overdone "sexy girl buddies" anime subgenre.
To American audiences the idea of a future where driving a car is a lost art may seem tough to believe, but in the crowded nation of Japan where many people only know how to ride a bike this is not so far-fetched. Thus eX-Driver's AI cars feature no manual override, leaving it up to our heroes to catch up and subdue the runaway vehicles any way they can. Why they too do not use AI cars is something of a mystery, and if a car is truly "out of control" I don't see how shooting out it's sensors with a paintball gun is supposed to stop it. What really counts is it's a novel excuse to animate some really cool car chases.
eX-Drivers leaves Gunsmith Cats in the dust when it comes to car animation. Featuring not one but three perfectly drawn automotive beauties, eX-Driver devotes much of the three episodes on this release to showing them in action. LiSA's Lancia Stratus, Lorna's Lotus Special, and Souichi's custom Super Seven are all animated with style and grace as they perform all sorts of driving stunts, some real and some not-so-real. Though much of the animation is likely rotoscoped it is still an impressive accomplishment, and in the supplemental interview director Jun Kawagoe proudly states that it was all done by hand, without the aid of computers. The character animation is quite good as well. The standout is of course the sexy LiSA, the animators no doubt having more fun with her than the rest of the cast.
Sadly there's not a single interesting character amidst all the technical sparkle. Lorna and LiSA are derivative of every good girl/bad girl anime duo that has come before, with no redeeming depth to their stereotypical personas. Goody two-shoes Lorna worries about everyone's feelings and follows the rules of the road to a T, while loudmouth LiSA causes just as much trouble as she fixes. The other main character, Souichi, is so annoying Media Blasters wouldn't even put him on the cover art. Another flat anime stereotype, Souichi is the little kid who does the job better than his "more experienced" adult costars. It's easy enough to accept that Outlaw Star's Jim Hawking could be an ace mechanic, or that Rurouni Kenshin's Yahiko could defeat an adult kendo opponent, but the site of a four-foot kid driving souped-up hot rods like a pro is more than a little ludicrous. The supporting cast is even more aggravating, as dispatcher Nina's pointy shoulderpads and stuffed-animal collection try and fool us into thinking she has any kind of personality at all.....and we know Chief Munakata is a gruff old mechanic because, well, he's drawn like a gruff old mechanic.
Making matters worse are the equally derivative plotlines. Episode 1 establishes the been-there, done-that character dynamic of Lorna and LiSA, Episode 2 has kid upstart Souichi besting LiSA at racing, and Episode 3 guest stars a hunky TV reporter whom LiSA's gaga over but only has eyes for Lorna. Rounding out the tired feeling of eX-Driver is it's predictably "rockin'" music, which plays like a Japanese version of all your favorite 80s hair bands. It's horribly cheesy but given the rest of the show it's highly appropriate.
The vocal performances are also nothing to write home about, both in Japanese and English. There's nothing wrong with anyone's performance, they're just uninspired. One can hardly hold that against them considering what they had to work with. It is worth noting, however, that with this release Media Blasters continues to show a steady improvement on the quality of their dubs. Like many other distributors Media Blasters contracts their dubbing to Bang Zoom! Entertainment, but in the past they seemed to not be getting back the same level of quality some other studios were receiving. eX-Driver's competent cast represents a trend for the better.
Since the advent of DVD more and more studios are consciously producing behind-the-scenes extras to include on a project's release, the result being a wealth of supplemental information for shows that just aren't all that good. Volume 1 of eX-Driver features interviews with the creators, a documentary on recording sound effects and reference footage for the three featured vehicles, and even shots of the Japanese vocal cast racing on a go-kart track! While the cars are impressive and the care taken to capture their look and sound commendable, the rest of these bonus features are uninteresting because, frankly, the show itself is uninteresting. It makes one wish such extensive behind-the-scenes footage was available for many more deserving anime productions.
Like too many other anime series, eX-Driver features some dazzling artwork that fails to compensate for inefficiencies in story and character. Anime fans who are also really into cars may get some enjoyment out of this one, but everyone else will likely be put off by this bland rehash of countless other, better anime. Don't be fooled by the cover art...save your money for Gunsmith Cats.
+ excellent, kick-butt animated car chases, driven by trademark Kosuke Fujishima cuties
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