Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
DVD 7 - Last Rites
Desperate to stop the Claw's "Birthday System", the rag-tag group of heroes, avengers and hangers-on that formed around Van charges headlong towards the Claw's compound. With their greatest weapon, Van and Dann, still stuck in space, they must depend on their own resourcefulness, firepower, and plain old guts. With his eyesight quickly failing, Ray makes a hard push to complete his revenge before it's too late. Joshua follows his brother, but can he save him from his own burning hate? Or from the remaining Original Seven? Everything comes crashing to a climax as Van and Ray finally face their revenge, Wendy confronts Michael, and the Claw gets ever closer to sharing his dream with all of Endless Illusion, whether they want it or not.
GunxSword ends well, seeding its final episodes with moments of honest excellence, plenty of Van screaming and chopping things up (it is what he does best), and capping it all off with a nice little coda the presents the next-episode previews in a new light.
Mind you, this unusually satisfying climax isn't the result of careful planning or the product of narrative focus and purpose. Rather, it's the result of very talented storytellers sifting instances of transcendental power from the detritus of a highly entertaining, but lethally uneven show. The cruel irony of the choice around which Ray bases his revenge and Joshua's mad dash to save his brother converge in a single brief moment, no more than a minute, of such pure cinematic panache that it could rival any anime out there. The tensions of Wendy's ugly confrontation with her brother, the elemental strength of Van's rage and hate, the Claw's final surrender to true insanity—in craft, in narrative construction, they all shine. And yet the weaker material persists. Pricilla's existence is entirely unnecessary, and the Eldora Soul crew is a combining robot in-joke (though their "secret weapon" is a gas). The confrontation between Carmen and Fasalina is incomprehensible, the stated reasons for their enmity failing entirely to explain the intensity of the emotions on display. And there's at least one timely rescue by past characters, pulled directly from the writers' rears, that is eye-rollingly bad. The crucial difference between this volume and its predecessors isn't a fundamental change, just that the good bits are really good, and the poor bits short and (relatively) easily forgiven.
Unfortunately, the twists put on the usual "hero saves the world" narrative are far less interesting than they had first appeared. It's all well and good to have hatred save the world, but exactly what the show is trying to say by doing so is never entirely clear. And the contrast between the "bad guy" motives of the good guys and the "good guy" motives of the bad guys is something that script writer Hideyuki Kurata did with more conviction and finesse in his brilliant conclusion to R.O.D the TV.
The series is still a thing of technical beauty, though the animation coffers seem to be running a bit short here at the end. Backgrounds are delicate wonders, beautiful to behold and more interactive than average. The organic mecha designs for the Original 7's mecha are a treat, while Eldora Soul will strike a chord for anyone who loves things like Gaogaigar. The digital effects used for the Prison Planet Destroyer system are unconvincing, as are a few of the powers manifested during Dann's fights, but the sharp editing during the fight scenes, along with their confluence of music, sound, and visual impact, makes it less noticeable. The willingness to put ugly, mobile expressions on Takahiro Kimura's unconventionally attractive character designs effectively supports the emotional content—the look of demonic joy on Van's face while swinging at the Claw is as chilling as it is excessive.
The music is more forceful than necessary, but makes up for it by breaking out the very best of the series' musical themes—Hitomi's delicate arias, the spaghetti western opener, a goodly measure of chanting and grunting—and by manipulating the sound design in inventive ways; matching rhythms of dialogue with the editing and choreographing a scene of devastation to the careless humming of the Claw.
ADR director Liam O'Brien's dub is the same impressive work that it has always been, with David Vincent's Van leading a cast that knows how to translate roles over while placing their own distinctive stamp on them. Kudos go to Kirk Thornton for the almost frightening aplomb with which he nails the Claw's mix of civility and sociopathic lack of empathy. Overall, a work that all but the strictest of dub abstainers owes at least a try.
This volume contains the 13th (and final) installment of the CGI puppet omake Gun Sword-san which, it must be said, is much funnier in English. Also included is a collection of four more clean versions of the ever-changing opening, and a few pieces of promotional artwork. Most interesting of all is an unusual curiosity: the custom-order GunxSword trailer that David Vincent used to propose to his girlfriend.
There's still plenty here that's dull, and just as much that is patently ridiculous (of which the Claw's technobabble-based Birthday System takes the cake). Like precious jewels embedded in a firmament of dullest concrete, GunxSword's exceptional moments, more so than lending luster to their surroundings, make one want to pluck them out and mount them in an artwork befitting their beauty. Here in the final volume though, they're close enough together and bright enough to make one a little more inclined to leave them where they lay. Not great by any stretch, but often pretty darned good.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Fun, reasonably dark, satisfying conclusion studded with moments of exceptional skill and power.
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