Reviewby Theron Martin,
BD+DVD - Complete Series [Limited Edition]
In this alternate near-future setting, mysterious giant aliens called Novas periodically appear and attack. Humanity's only effective defense are Pandoras, young women outfitted with Stigmatas which effectively give them superhuman combat capabilities, and Limiters, young men who team up with older Pandoras to cancel out the “Freezing” fields that Novas radiate, which can immobilize other life forms. Kazuya Aoi, whose elder sister Kazuha was the most powerful of all Pandora prior to her heroic death in battle four years earlier, has come to the West Genetics school to become a Limiter. Almost immediately he accidentally interferes in a Pandora ranking battle, resulting in a loss by Satellizer el Bridget, the ranking #1 second-year student, to her #2-ranked challenger. Feeling terrible about it, but also feeling drawn to her because of her similarities to his sister, Kazuya pursues and actively attempts to both apologize to, and become the Limiter for, Satellizer despite the advice of his classmates, but he quickly learns that her nickname of Untouchable Queen was not earned for nothing. Her refusals and habit of getting into trouble with upperclassmen does not dissuade his efforts, but the arrival on the scene of Rana Linchen, a saucy new Pandora who sees Kazuya as her destined man, and the eventual appearance of further Novas complicates matters.
Meld together elements from Queen's Blade, Claymore, Infinite Stratos, and Neon Genesis Evangelion and tag on an enemy design aesthetic akin to RahXephon and you have something close to what Freezing actually is. The result is a good-looking but uncomfortably balanced series which clearly wants to be the kind of sexy, violent fare which has long appealed to American anime fans and hard-core Japanese otaku. To an extent it does succeed at being precisely that. It is, however, just as fraught with problems as the above combination suggests that it would be, though not necessarily for the reasons that one might initially expect.
In some respects the series can be looked at as a sociological study. It ostensibly focuses on three things: the struggle of Satellizer to overcome her aversion to being touched (flashbacks show that she is a molestation victim), which predominates in the early part of the series; the love triangle involving Satellizer, Rana, and Kazuya, which develops in the middle; and the struggle against the invading Novas, which dominates the final third. In execution, though, the series is at least as much about how Satellizer does not fit well into the rigidly hierarchical structure of the West Genetics school and the friction that generates when interacting with her fellow students. Looked at in the most positive light, this creates an interesting commentary on girl-on-girl and girl-on-boy bullying; traditionally speaking, bullying by girls does not usually take on the same caste as bullying by boys, but this series suggests (as Claymore and, to a lesser extent, Queen's Blade also do) that girls/women, when given powerful physical capabilities, are just as prone to physical bullying as guys are.
Look at the series in a more cynical way, however, and a different, darker subtext emerges. The series delights in being cruel to Satellizer, to a degree which at least matches how Leina was treated in the first season of Queen's Blade. The series is not particularly nice to most of its other female cast members, either, as the majority of characterized Pandora are portrayed as complete bitches and the series revels in inflicting bloody mayhem on its girls at least as much as it does in showing battle uniforms with impractically short (but fan service-friendly!) skirts getting shredded. Granted, Freezing is far from the only series to do this, and granted, it is not taken quite to the extreme necessary for it to be considered misogynistic (women are shown quite extensively in positions of authority and form the ranks of the most powerful and effective warriors, after all), but the degree to which the series takes itself seriously does make “mean-spirited” a fitting label.
Of course, expecting anything less than some exploitive treatment from a series which focuses so much on fan service and bloody mayhem is foolhardy. The series wastes not a single opportunity to offer a panty shot (although it does more let them happen than glory in them) and ranks near the top of the scale in terms of fully-detailed exposed breasts; fans of full-figured, amply-endowed young women should find the content to be a particular delight. While the regular series content does not engage in fondling and some of the other standard fan service gimmicks as much as other series in its class do, it does take a racy edge in the way it pairs older girls with younger boys and strongly implies that a sexual aspect to the Pandora/Limiter pairings is commonplace, perhaps even expected. The activation of the Ereinbar Set synching between a Pandora and her Limiter is also implied to be accompanied by a reaction akin to sexual pleasure (whether or not the Limiter shares in that reaction is never shown) and the beauty pageant in one episode is sexier than what would normally ever be allowed for 15-17 year old girls in a school setting.
As an overall storytelling effort, the writing quality varies. While the story convincingly establishes why Satellizer is so touchy about being touched, its efforts to simultaneously make her both standoffishly strong-willed and intensely vulnerable clash with each other, resulting in her vulnerability often coming at the expense of her resolute sternness; in other words, her behavior too often belies the reputation she's built up as the fearsome Untouchable Queen. Kazuya fares better in a more consistent portrayal as the earnest young man, while Rana is fun as the spirited country bumpkin who tries to worm her way into the love geometry. Most other characters are standard archetypes, few of which see interesting development; the strongest exception is Cathy, the top third-year from East Genetics, a girl whose humility about being amongst the most powerful is fueled by what she feels is a lack of the indomitable will that Satellizer once showed her in a backstory fight. In fact, the strongest run in the series begins with Cathy's introduction and continues on into the present-time battles in earnest against the Novas, although that run does also pull the cheap and utterly predictable trick of throwing a questionable-motive complication into Satellizer and Kazuya's building relationship. Even so, at points during the final four episodes the execution of the content raises the series to a higher level, and the series earns bonus points for not letting its climactic battles come down to a matter of the Kazuya/Satellizer team single-handedly saving everyone. They are merely part of a bigger battle and thus have only a proportionate share of it to deal with while other characters of equal or greater power also take their turns.
Whatever other flaws the series might have, it looks great. A.C.G.T., whose other lead production credits include fare as diverse as Duel Masters, Human Crossing, and Project Blue Earth SOS, has a conspicuous lack of fan service-heavy credits to its name but still provides an ample amount of well-rendered nudity and great attention to detail on animating breast jiggling. Girls and boys alike have appealing, distinctive designs, although female designs do heavily favor voluptuous, overtly sexy physiques. The one knock against that could fairly be made here is how inexplicably incongruous Satellizer's normal low-cut uniform is with everyone else's, but that is offset by how surprisingly adorable she looks in glasses. Director Takashi Watanabe brings the expertise in super-powered action that he developed in titles like Slayers and Shakugan no Shana to the table and shows what he can do when he has a bigger budget and better animation studio at his disposal. The results are battles which still take some animation shortcuts but nonetheless impress with their animation and visual effects and provide ample graphic content, including slashed throats, severed limbs, and bodies cut in half. The production also does better than most at integrating in CG enhancements.
Music director Masaru Yokoyama also did the musical score for Queen's Blade and brings much the same flair for enhancing dramatic events to this series, too. Not all of the themes work well, but on the balance the series typically sounds nearly as good as it looks. Opener “Color” and closer “Kimi o Mamoritai” both feature decent songs but are more memorable for their visuals.
Although Funimation's English dub does a passable job with the content, it is far from being one of the company's best dubbing efforts. (The content, rather than the quality, probably has more to with why a couple of the well-established female English VAs used pseudonyms, however.) Rough performances from a couple of newcomers and some questionable casting choices contribute to the problems, especially Jamie Marchi being cast as Rana. Ms. Marchi's unparalleled specialty has long been infusing American-style street attitude into sassy characters, and while Rana is sassy, she requires a more colloquial flavor which is clearly not Marchi's strong suit; having her awkwardly phrase certain things simply isn't enough. Why not instead give her one of the several roles in the series that would have been much better-suited to her strengths? Caitlin Glass also sometimes struggles to hit the right tone as Satellizer, although any other VA doing better with such an inconstant character is unlikely. The entire cast does handle the unusually large amounts of required screaming well, however. The dub script is okay except for its reluctance to use the nickname that Kazuya and Satellizer agree upon for her midway through the series; Kazuya regularly uses it in the subtitles and Japanese dub, but the English Kazuya infrequently and irregularly uses its English interpretation. At least the awkward Engrish seen on some computer screens in the episode content and in the eyecatch profiles is attributable to the original production rather than Funi. (And on that subject, are we really expected to believe that a 17-year-old girl newly-arrived from Tibet, where she apparently studied and trained with monks, is going to have “assembling plastic Gundam models” as her main hobby?)
Funimation is offering the series in one of their now-standard Blu-Ray/DVD combo packs, with the cases for each featuring sexy interior bonus art and coming together in the same artbox. On-disc extras include clean opener and closer, TV promos, series trailers, English commentaries for episodes 6 and 11, and a set of six OVA shorts. The latter items are the expected all-out humorous fan service fests but do offer a couple of choice bits of insight, such as how the initial baptism of a Limiter by a Pandora often goes badly or how Volt Textures become unstable when the user has a cold. Of the two commentaries, the latter one by Caitlin Glass and Luci Christian (aka Ganessa Roland) is the more interesting one, as it provides insight into the types of roles that female VAs seek to do or avoid, whereas Josh Grelle (Kazuya) and Jamie Marchi's earlier commentary is more of a Q-and-A session. The Blu-Ray version upgrades the audio tracks from 3.2 (English) and 2.0 (Japanese) on the DVDs to TrueHDMulti for both languages tracks, which is a most noticeable increase on the Japanese side, but the picture quality provided by the MPEG-4 AVC encoding is only slightly more crisp on the Blu-Rays; those lacking a top-end set-up may not even notice a difference, which is a disappointment given how recent this series is (Winter 2011).
The final episode of Freezing tosses a couple of new and mysterious characters into the mix without a stitch of explanation about who one is, as well as leaving a few too many other mysteries unanswered, so the series was clearly set up to potentially be the first part of a longer story rather than a completely self-contained one. As of the time of this writing nothing has been announced about any further animated content, but the series is still recent enough that a follow-up at some point is not out of the question. As is, the series is nowhere near as bad as its premise suggested it could have been, and comes off a little better in the end than the initial impression it gives, but its appeal is still not going to extend much beyond the normal crowd of fan service and graphic action aficionados.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Strong visual merits, quality fan service, writing gets better in the last third.
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