Reviewby Theron Martin,
Jing, King of Bandits: Seventh Heaven
Jing, a young man known widely as the Bandit King, has allowed himself to be captured and sent to the isolated prison Seventh Heaven in order to seek out his newest target for acquisition: an item called a Dream Orb, which the prisoner Campari can craft from a person's dreams to allow another person to experience those dreams. With Kir, his wisecracking parrot companion, at his side he soon hunts down Campari, only to wind up crossing the warden and getting caught up in Campari's dream creations. In one Jing finds himself flashing back to his youth to the time he first met Kir, where he must save tomboy girl friend Cassis from a kidnapping by the Spirit of the Forest, while in others Jing and Kir encounter the mysterious young woman Benedictine as they flee giant rats and a chopped-in-half man through a variety of bizarre lands. Could the clues to Campari's own past lie therein?
Never seen the TV series (often called King of Bandit Jing instead)? No problem! All of the animated Jing stories are stand-alone tales spanning 1-3 episodes, with only three common characters and common styles and themes connecting them, so even a newcomer could pick these OVA episodes up and quickly understand what's going on. Only three important facts need to be understood up front: Jing claims to be the King of the Bandits, the horny parrot Kir is his constant companion, and together they can create a special energy-blast attack called Kir Royale. For those who have seen the TV series, this three-episode OVA offering is just more of the same, albeit with improved technical merits.
Based on volume 4 of the Jing: King of Bandits manga, the three episodes of Seventh Heaven could most succinctly be described as a walk on the wild side. Even when not in Dream Mode, to enter the realm of Jing is to enter a crazed parody world where a dinosaur-like prisoner transport vehicle has legs, a cigarette-smoking winged baby toting a shot gun is the vampire warden's right-hand man (er, baby), and toys spill out of the skull of a big man who falls down hard. Things get even weirder when Jing and Kir are led into the dream realm by Benedictine, a young woman who appears without explanation and whose true identity does not get revealed until the middle of the third episode. There Jing, Kir, and Benedictine flee through a bizarre wonderland where a giant dodo bird pulls a train, they might step into roles in old black-and-white movies, or a vertically split man wielding a scimitar in each half chases them down. Although all the imagery and events may seem random, the latter half of the third episode shows that there has at least partially been a method to the madness, and that has to do with Campari's past. In the TV series Jing was known to solve problems and/or create upheavals while in the midst of a heist, and Seventh Heaven is no different.
The two main parts of the story are split around the episode-long flashback into Jing's past, which loosely links into Jing's Dream Orb quest by casting itself as another dream Campari takes Jing through while in solitary confinement. Although that episode assumes a bit darker and weightier tone than the other two, it still shares the high-spirited enthusiasm and offers no less in the line of surreal settings and general strangeness.
The story and visuals may be an experience, but the characters themselves are also a delight. Soft-voiced, understated Jing is the epitome of cockiness as he confidently goes about his business, while wise-cracking, neurotic, self-styled lady-killer Kir, who was clearly patterned off of Iago from Disney's Aladdin, offers the comic relief. Megalomaniacal Maraschino (yes, most of the characters have alcoholic beverage-related names) is deliciously over-the-top as the vampiric warden, while Campari capably fills his role as the smug dream master whom Jing must eventually throw off-balance. Of the major roles, only Benedictine, who is given little chance to develop a personality, is found wanting, but she just represents the traditional “Jing Girl” for the first and third episodes so she is more an accoutrement than an actual character; Cassis more or less fills that role in episode 2, though she actually has a personality. Supporting characters strewn throughout the three episodes are the typical colorful lot you would expect in a production like this.
Jing cuts the standard look for a handsome teenage shonen hero and Campari and Benedictine also suit their roles, but otherwise the visuals in Seventh Heaven could almost pass for an American production. The central flashback episode resembles a darker side of an afternoon Cartoon Network production as much as any anime title, words sometimes flash on screen highlighting sound effects in much the same way as the old Batman TV series in the States, and many of the heavily-caricatured secondary character designs lack distinctive anime traits. They all get rendered quite well, however, and the artsy, often surreal backgrounds and creative (if sometimes clunky-looking) use of CG contribute to a dynamic overall look that will never bore. Animation quality reflects the greater budget of an OVA production, and neither fan service nor graphic violence will be found here.
As interesting as the visuals may be, they would not have worked without a spectacularly creative, energetic musical score. A mix of pure electronica tunes and jazzy, electronica-infused numbers peppered with tuba, flute, saxophone, and percussion instruments or twisted into discordant sounds form the core of the soundtrack, with themes varying somewhat from episode to episode. Each of the first two episodes sets its black-screen credits against numbers from that episode, while the final episode has the only vocal number, a slow-paced English-language love song of no great merit.
While the Japanese dub may be perfectly acceptable to sub fans, the English dub also offers a lot to like. Both dubs return the performers of the three recurring roles (Jing, Kir, and the postman Postino) from the 2002 Japanese and 2003 English productions of the TV series, with Ron Berry doing his best imitation of Gilbert Gottfried as Kir, which feels natural given that Gottfried voiced Iago in Aladdin. Joey Hood gets Jing's tone exactly right, and most of the supporting cast revels in playing up their attitude-laden roles. The English script monkeys around with the slang a bit and simplifies the dialogue in some lengthier expositions but generally stays fairly close to the subtitles.
ADV's production offers only a gallery of background art set to music for Extras, but given that these episodes have no opener or artistry in their closers, they may not have had any other options.
Trippy, lively, and fun, Seventh Heaven delivers strongly on entertainment value while offering at least a bit of depth. Working the episode-long Jing flashback into the middle of this trio of episodes disrupts the flow of the story a bit, but that is a minor flaw in an otherwise-strong production.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Inventive visuals and musical score, lots of fun.
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