Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Aug 25th 2007
DVD 1 - Grave New World
After world-wide hurricanes devastated the population of Earth, sealing Europe and North America in ice and flooding much of the rest of the world, Japan recovered relatively quickly from the catastrophe, with the help of a pre-existing powered-suit technology. It isn't long before the sociopolitical lines are redrawn, resulting in a strict segregation of the haves and have-nots (called Logos and Revinus respectively). After external threats have been neutralized, Logos turns its murderous resources on the forces of internal rebellion, resulting in a brutal police state. It is through this blasted post-apocalyptic landscape of violence and social strife that two young men, Jin and Joe, escort a young girl named Sana, dodging the dogged and inevitably vicious attempts of the military to capture the innocent girl. Fortunately for her and unfortunately for their pursuers, Jin and Joe are far more skilled in the arts of combat than anyone could guess. It's a good thing too; they'll have to contend not only with police and soldiers, but also pirates and the military's monstrous special attack unit Phantom.
Let's play a game. For each of the following, name one show where they occur. A post-apocalyptic future in which geography and humanity have been reduced by some cataclysmic event. Brutal futuristic police states that put down the poor with mecha. Violent forces in pursuit of a young girl of unknown but obviously immense importance. A future with the strict segregation of the poor. A spunky young street urchin who helps the heroes. Not exactly hard, is it? There isn't much in Innocent Venus that hasn't been done already elsewhere, and multiple times. Even the way that Jin and Joe's mecha move strongly recalls Armored Trooper Votoms. The characters are all stereotypes, slicked and streamlined by intense use. Jin is a smooth operator whose warmth and soft-spoken kindness cover a heart of purest ice. Joe is taciturn death-machine whose antisocial exterior shields his fundamental decency and a caramel-taffy heart. Phantom is a hodgepodge of combat clichés, from the cold, tough female commander to the squinty-eyed Chinese psychopath who kills people with cards. Heck, even that skinny guy with the long arms and tongue who's always licking his knives is there. Funny about how he gets around; he can be found in combat units all throughout time and even in parallel universes. Maybe it's a genetic strain of some sort. If we lived in a time of chaos, would Gene Simmons have slimmed down and started licking knives? The pirates aren't much better. There's a gruff-but-kind muscle-bound lady, and the captain is only the latest in a long line of eccentric, deceptively skilled leader-types.
And yet there's something about the show that makes it rather compulsively watchable. There's an uncertainty about whether or not Joe and Jin are exploiting Sana to their own ends that lends a moral ambiguity to the "let's protect the innocent girl!" tone of some scenes. GoRA, the street urchin, isn't all he seems, and is also an unbearable brat whose presence is made tolerable by the mountains of abuse heaped upon him. Sana, besides providing a moe hook, is clueless, a tad incurious, more than a bit bratty and selfish, with a dash of the moon-eyed romantic thrown in for good measure. Her relationship with Joe, a mix of fear and fascination, rings especially true. From the breathless chase that opens the series to the sudden explosions of mecha mayhem, the pace is unrelenting, pushing swiftly from one violent encounter to the next, never letting up or sagging. There's a well-balanced tension to these first four episodes that owes much to the mix of the on-the-lam thrills of Jin and Joe's cross-country mission, the unforgiving gut-crunching violence, and the lack of any concrete information about the motives and reasons behind their flight and the government's pursuit. Series Writer Shinsuke Onishi plays his cards close to his chest, without ever noticeably obfuscating; tidbits of information are worked naturally into events and conversations in a way that avoids outright explanatory dialogue and allows the audience to figure things out at their own pace. Not everything works perfectly—there's nothing to be done about Phantom's motley assortment of cringe-inducing stereotypes but to hope that they die quickly and very, very painfully—but the end result is still solid entertainment.
That said, much of the ultimate appeal of Innocent Venus is visual. Animation duties are handled by Brains Base, who bring their usual quality to the table. Which is to say that the art is beautiful and the animation rather more uneven. Backgrounds get special attention, evoking the decaying world of rubble and ruin that the Revinus occupy with substantial, beautifully ugly settings of intricate detail. Characters look good, and move swiftly and realistically. The action set-pieces are dynamic and intensely visceral. Confrontations range from balletic, bone-breaking hand-to-hand brawls to old-fashioned shoot-outs and massive mecha battles. They're all smoothly animated and skillfully choreographed, full of quick flashes of memorable imagery and pretty darned exciting to boot. Excepting some of the mecha showdowns, during which the mecha look and move disconcertingly like articulated plastic models. Some of the other CGI effects are similarly unconvincing, though enough others work well enough to balance things out. The art makes the occasional questionable choice as well; the pirates' outfits are out-and-out stupid (though probably intentionally so) and GoRA is a bizarre cartoonish creature amidst the more traditional main cast.
The score is standard-issue: effective but thoroughly subordinate to the visuals. There aren't any stand-out pieces, and the opening and ending are pleasant and appropriate to the mood of both the series as a whole and the opening and closing visuals. Director Jun Kawagoe allows the score to get a little too strident during some scenes, but knows when to start and stop the music during action to maximize impact and allows it to fade into the background or cease altogether during quieter, more introspective moments.
ADV's dub is good. The actors all nail their roles right off, and even Sana (little girls are often weak points in English dubs) is dead on. The English script is fairly tight and devoid of meaningless additions. It sometimes wanders away from a strict translation, and at one point leaves a long series of comments out altogether, but the changes don't seriously impact the meaning or tone of the series, serving by and large to give the dialogue a more conversational rhythm. Even the lines left out were from an unnecessary explanatory exchange.
Extras: clean opening and closing. Yippee.
There's plenty in Innocent Venus that will be familiar to anyone with a few anime shows under their belt, but it features enough tweaks and moves at a clip that makes the more derivative features of the show easy to ignore. Just sit back and enjoy a little of the ol' ultraviolence, woven into a men-on-the run tale that keeps enough secrets (and reveals enough others) to pique interest in each subsequent episode.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B-
+ Solid action; moves quickly but clearly; plenty of eye-candy.
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