Shaenon takes a crawl through the manga version of one of Makoto Shinkai's beloved films.
Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 11th 2007
In 1988 in Venezuela, Aoba had initially refused to fight a Jinki piloted by Kouse, the boy she'd met who had quickly won her heart, but when Rui is soundly defeated by her she's left with little choice, especially with her mother Shizuka doing everything in her power to entice her into a battle to the death. Genta must also contend with the young woman who looks so much like his deceased wife. In 1991 in Japan, Akao is also still adamantly against fighting the Ancient Jinki and forces of the Hachi Shoujin, but seeing the harm that her friends are coming to fighting in her place, and the threat posed to them by the Hachi Shoujin, starts to change her mind, despite the inner voice which tells her not to fight. A new and older pilot, Mel J, comes into the picture with a stolen Jinki and mission of revenge against Hachi Shoujin member J Hearns, but could this all be just a ploy by Shiva to get Akao to do what she wants?
The first volume showed promise as a classic-styled coming-of-age mecha story about a determined young female pilot learning the ropes of operating giant mecha and coming to terms with the fact that piloting might ultimately mean she'll have to fight other people. Though its storytelling was a bit muddled because of the way it bounced back and forth between two different time lines without explaining what it was doing, it offered up a lot of intriguing mysteries and assorted cute young female pilots. The second volume, unfortunately, is not only a mess but shows a distinct drop-off in writing quality, with some scenes (especially in episode 9) playing out like clumsy, hackneyed attempts to generate drama and emotional scenes – and no, that can't be blamed on the dub. It also gets discordantly silly at exactly one point and almost completely ignores a significant chunk of the supporting cast used in the first volume. It is a disappointing follow-up to a good first volume.
As with the first volume, it helps tremendously if you understand up front that the storytelling alternates between events in 1988 Venezuela and 1991 Japan. This time around the bulk of the emphasis is on the events in 1991; in fact, episodes 8 and 9 concern them almost exclusively, with the final few minutes of episode 9 providing linkage between the two time frames by at least partly explaining how many of the characters in Venezuela ended up in Japan in 1991. The shifting of emphasis may be disconcerting to those who got hooked on the show because of Aoba, but as this block of episodes makes clear, she was apparently never meant to have more than a share of the spotlight with Akao.
The real problem, though, is the pace of the storytelling. Neither timeline in these four episodes tells anything approaching a full story, instead jumping ahead in increments and skipping the connecting content necessary for things like developing sympathy for characters, explaining why characters are doing what they're doing, or just generally making full sense of what's going on. Each episode ends with the feeling that something has been missed, and the impression that the series would fare better if it had at least four or five more episodes to develop is inescapable. A good number of mysteries do remain to be sorted out, such as how Shiva is connected to Shizuka, why Akao is a dead ringer for Genta's dead wife Akano, what the Hachi Shoujin, led by Kokushou, are actually trying to accomplish (looking this up online is recommended, as the series as a whole, and Shizuka and Shiva's actions in particular, make a lot more sense if you know it), and what these “Lost Life Phenomenons” and the Ancient Jinki have to do with it, but at least by the end of this volume we know why Ryouhei is in Japan in 1991 and have some sense of why Shizuka is so determined to get her daughter to hate her. By the end of this volume one does have a sense of how the series' opening sequence came to be, though.
The artistry is at its best in providing an array of interesting female character designs, although the way the eyes are drawn on several characters is freaky and disconcerting, while some other features (particularly hair) lack good definition. Mel J's design, and her revealing outfit, also makes her look much older than she's supposed to be. (18?!?) Far less impressive is Ryouhei's rough design and the coloration of the artistry in general, which is tremendously flat and dull except when showing the mecha; this isn't the vibrant look one normally expects from anime. Backgrounds are also very ordinary. The animation is perhaps the biggest disappointment, as the shortcuts are so obvious in some scenes that even a novice anime viewer can tell that something doesn't look right. The mild fan service sprinkled through the first volume is nearly absent in this one, unless you count the revealing outfit Mel J is made to wear or getting to see how Aoba looks with three additional years of growth in all the right places.
Sound production and use of the musical score continue to be the series' greatest strength, although both are a bit less impressive here than in the first volume. They are still complemented by a good rock-themed opener and solid closer. The dub also continues to hold its own except for the awful Next Episode previews, with most roles cast and performed well. Of particular note is Monica Rial in a very rare villainous role (as Shizuka). The English script does not stray too much from the original, which is a shame because that might have improved things in episode 9.
The inside cover contains bonus artwork and an interview with the original planner and script writer, which does contain some minor spoilers. On the disc itself are an interview with the Japanese sound director and two seiyuu, an alternate on-air opener, a regular clean opener and closer, an updated versions of the Glossary of Terms, and notes on the Japanese locations used in the series to date. The most novel Extra is the “Moriboto-2 Model Test,” which is a short all-CG test rendering of the Moriboto-2 in action.
Episodes 6-9 still have the cute look and enough mecha action to satisfy mecha action junkies, and there are some decent story elements, but the volume suffers too much from its overly-condensed story and poor execution in key dramatic scenes. Extra online research about the title is recommended for maximum appreciation and understanding of what is transpiring, since the series has not done a terribly good job so far of explaining itself.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : B+
+ Good sound and musical elements, interesting female character designs.
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