Reviewby Theron Martin,
BD+DVD - The Complete Second Season [Limited Edition]
Some time after the Nova attack on West Genetics, many of the most powerful Pandora trainees in the world – including Satellizer, Elizabeth, Chiffon, and Rana from West Genetics and Cathy from East Genetics – and their Limiters are gathered in a Chevalier research facility in Alaska to assist in the development of the e-Pandora program, an effort to artificially enhance girls without natural Stigmata compatibility to a level where they can fight alongside regular Pandoras. While many of the others are dubious of the program's merits, Elizabeth welcomes it, believing that it will bolster the ranks for fights against Novas. She continues to encourage the prospective e-Pandoras even as they struggle to match the regular Pandoras but grows suspicious when nasty side effects arise from the program being pushed to an unsafe level. Gradually the callous handling of the e-Pandoras splits the regular Pandoras into two factions: one which believes that maintaining Chevalier is critical to the fight against the Novas and one which cannot abide the deadly human experiments going on in the facility. Amidst the conflict, Satellizer and Kazuya leave for a time so she can receive medical treatment offsite for injuries. However, her effort to call on her father to investigate what is really going on with Chevalier leads her to a reunion with the last person in the world she wants to have anything to do with: her stepbrother Luis.
At its core, the Freezing franchise is essentially a sci-fi version of Claymore flavored with elements from a handful of other franchises and loaded up with fan service on the level of the most explicit titles of the past few years. That impression only gets strengthened as the second series progresses, although seeing all of the comparisons requires familiarity with the content in the Claymore manga which goes beyond the anime version. As a result, Vibrations is every bit as sexy and graphic as the first series, but it sometimes does so in uncomfortable ways, ones that go well beyond even the mean-spirited nature of the first series (which is actually softened here).
Whereas the first series firmly centered on Satellizer, here she is just a member of a larger ensemble. This does not actually hurt the series, though, as Satellizer is simply not charismatic enough to carry the series at this point. Besides, except for one mid-season arc, the story here is actually not about her; it is instead more about the e-Pandoras. Astonishingly, the plot does not take the expected “us vs. them” tack between the regular and e-Pandoras, despite some early signs that it might. A big reason for that is the entreaty of Elizabeth, who becomes the series' biggest and most pleasant surprise when she is the first to accept and acknowledge the e-Pandoras. Though she can be arrogantly standoffish, she also reveals that she is very practical and can be quite friendly towards those she respects (Satellizer still is not one of them, incidentally), and she believes wholeheartedly in the concept of noblesse oblige. But this is, of course, a young woman who can fully maintain her dignity even while swimming in the nude. As a result, she is arguably the series' most interesting character, so her role getting greatly expanded compared to the first series is quite logical. A bevy of other new characters get added to the mix, but while all of them have distinct personalities, the only one who makes much of an impression is Amelia Evans, the strongest of the e-Pandoras. The writing tries to do the same with Scarlett Ohara (yes, that's really her name), the scientist behind the e-Pandora project, but it never fully settles on her attitude.
For a 12 episode series, the plot is remarkably thin. The first half is primarily character development punctuated by occasional bursts of action as the struggles the e-Pandoras face, the various layers of Chevalier's schemes, and how everyone feels about it are hashed out. After the side arc focusing on Satellizer in episodes 6 and 7, most of the rest of the series involves things blowing up in Chevalier's face and the various Pandoras taking sides so that the series actually has an excuse for all-out Pandora-on-Pandora fights. The writing quality goes downhill in this stretch, as certain characters (especially Chiffon) act with paper-thin justifications for their positions and the major crisis resolves in unenthusiastic and tiresomely ordinary fashion. The head-to-head fights are still good but also never escape the impression of happening just for the sake of happening. Despite finishing on a curiously ominous note, the foundation laid in the first half never satisfactorily pays off in the last third.
And then there's episodes 6 and 7, which are technically linked in plot to the rest but much more their own affair. We know from the first series that Satellizer earned the title of Untouchable Queen because she did not allow anyone to touch her, and that was because she had been molested by her half-brother Luis in her preteens and early teen years. Episode 6 of this series confirms that it was actually even worse than the first series suggested and puts Satellizer face-to-face again with her abuser. What follows is a disturbing and ugly display as Luis reasserts his psychological dominance over his half-sister, something that Satellizer is not mentally ready to deal with at first. The result is chilling, as the power mechanics involved do not stray much from what has been described about real-life serial molesters. Reinforcing the oppressive tone is an artsy, symbolism-laden visual approach not used anywhere else in the franchise, one which places heavy emphasis on Gothic architecture and adornments and practically omnipresent chain motifs; Luis even wears a chain-like necklace. The messages it sends are impossible to miss, and what Luis does to Satellizer, while not shown too explicitly, leaves no room for interpretation. Only Luis unwisely making threats against Kazuya in her presence allows her to break free from her stepbrother's control, but he has another Pandora under his spell – and she, of course, regards Satellizer's presence as the problem (because it distracts Luis from her).
This is pretty sick and twisted stuff, and the artistic approach arguably aggravates it rather than alleviating it. The content clearly villainizes Luis, and he even seems to now realize at certain points that what he is doing may be wrong, but it also definitely victimizes and sexualizes Satellizer. In a literary sense, it does not lay a solid foundation for Luis coming to appreciate the error of his ways, and how completely he is let off the hook at the end is unconscionable; in fact, he even briefly appears towards the end of the series in a “good guy” role. Some misdeeds should never be allowed to be cavalierly swept under the rug, and this is one of them. Granted, the series has some other tasteless scenes, too (one Pandora is pointedly and indelicately shown losing control of her bladder in response to electroshock torture, for instance), but this whole business is by far the worst.
Outside of those episodes the fan service is at a moderate level, as the series does not go out of its way to show nudity and panty shots but does engage in some clothes-destroying action and frequently has important conversations occur in a pool area – and, remember, Pandoras who bother to wear swimsuits at all favor skimpy ones. All bets are off in the six OVA shorts, though, as some of them are risqué to the extreme and tasteless to the point of being uncomfortable, even by fan service standards. (To put it into perspective, the High School DxD franchise and To Love-Ru -Trouble- Darkness fall in between the regular series and the OVAs on explicitness.) Amongst new characters, full-figured young women are still favored, with only one new Pandora being given a truly petite build; as with the first series, the sense of her being the token concession those in the fan base who like smaller girls is clear. And of course one new Pandora is an aggressive lesbian. The eye catches are as sexy as ever, too.
Artistry was never a significant problem for the franchise, and that continues here. Despite some places where the animation is limited or certain shots are not as refined as they could/should be, the series generally looks pretty good and makes excellent use of color contrasts; this particularly shows through on the Blu-Ray disks. Animation, especially in the fight scenes, is solid but nowhere near top-end, and the graphic violence meter is high.
The aspect in which Vibration most distinguishes itself is its soundtrack. It opens most episodes with the awkwardly-named “Avenge World,” a dramatic, powerhouse rock theme by Konomi Suzuki (who has also done strong work in themes for Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, WATAMOTE, and Lord Marksman and Vanadis) which so beautifully synchs with its animation that it easily stands amongst the best openers of recent years. That sets the tone for a musical score which mixes orchestration, piano, and synthesizer to great effect, creating a sound that is heavy, dramatic, and (when necessary) ominous. Most importantly, it avoids the common pitfall of going overboard. This is the proper way to make a carefully measured score that still has plenty of thrill factor.
Funimation's English dub retains the voice actors for most returning roles, even the small parts. The most significant change is Tia Ballard taking over the role of Elizabeth; her rendition is a bit raspier than the original by Abigail Hartman but still a reasonable fit. Austin Tindle, meanwhile, quite capably takes over the role of Luis. He uses an inflection somewhat similar to how he plays Accelerator in the Index/Railgun franchise, which is a great fit for such a slimy and creepy character. Casting for new roles is merely passable and several performances by both new and returning actors have minor problems with the dialog sometimes sounding stilted or consistent inflection and tone not being maintained. Overall, it's not distractingly bad but definitely not one of Funimation's better efforts in that regard. Interestingly, all of the OVAs are dubbed, too.
The Limited Edition release of the series comes in their standard Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, with each disk type having its own case (which feature bonus interior art) and both cases stored in a sturdy artbox. On-disk Extras include English voice actor commentaries for episodes 3 and 7 on the first disk and clean opener, clean closer, and the aforementioned OVA episodes on the second disk. The first commentary features actresses for two of the e-Pandoras, while the second features Austin Tindle and Caitlin Glass. Neither is especially insightful or memorable.
Factor out episodes 6 and 7 and you have a season which starts in promising fashion before petering out in its late stages. It has some problems with sustaining some of its characterizations but not enough to get much in the way of enjoying the series for what it is. And even episode 6 is still put together very well in a technical sense, but my, its content is a stiff hurdle to deal with.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : A
+ Strong musical score, some flashy battles, Elizabeth Mably.
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