Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD - Box Set - Viridian Collection
In the distant future the Galactic Organization of Trades and Tariffs (aka GOTT) has been established by the Global Union to regulate and police its economic well-being. A prime component of its enforcement branch is the shadowy ES Force, which consists of super-powered individuals working in pairs with custom-fitted spaceship and mecha support. Seeming teenager Éclair (who possesses great physical strength and general power) and even younger Lumière (who can manipulate any computer system) form one of the lowest-ranked of the six core ES teams under the directorship of Chief Eclipse. Regularly accompanied by the auditor Armblast (aka “The Wizard”) and occasionally working in tandem with other ES teams, they complete various missions against the unlawful elements of the GU. Gradually the missions start to suggest a bigger and more sinister picture, but Éclair finds more immediate concerns when one difficult mission triggers the piecemeal return of suppressed memories. Some things, it seems, are best left forgotten.
The 2002/2003 Gonzo series Kiddy Grade has had as many release incarnations in its four-year history in North America as any series introduced in the current decade. In addition to its original individual DVD releases, it saw double-DVD set releases in late 2005 and early 2006 and a boxed set release in the summer of 2006. Funimation's new Viridian Collection offering is the best version yet, however. (A series of three movies that are just slightly condensed versions of the series were released in Japan in 2007 but have not been licensed.) For less than $50 you get the entire 24-episode series, complete with all original Extras, in eco-friendly packaging that takes up less shelf space than three normal DVD cases. Although it adds no new material and comes at the expense of the nice original case covers, it is a great offering for those looking to try out the series for the first time and might entice those who purchased earlier versions to condense their collection. A newcomer looking for a new series to get into could certainly do far worse.
At least initially, Kiddy Grade looks like a high-spirited cheesecake action show that is essentially a glorified cop buddy series done anime style; think Lethal Weapon but with cute girls, spaceships, and mecha. The energetic and sometimes playful Éclair often gets scolded by the more even-tempered and mature-seeming Lumière about how “a lady should be more elegant” while sly charmer Armblast seems to be cutting deals behind everyone's backs. Interactions with the other ES teams – male/female twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee, fellow all-lady team Alv and Dverger, guy/girl team Cesario and Viola, dual-guy team A-ou and Un-ou, and bishonen pair Sinistra and Dextera – generate varying levels of compatibility or acrimony, and circumstances allow plenty of opportunities for tense or enthusiastic action scenes, especially in the early going.
The tone of the series turns dramatically darker as the arc about Éclair's suppressed memories begins in episode 9, however. During the next few episodes the overall plot takes control as it reveals major truths only barely hinted at in the first eight episodes and exposes the dark underbelly of the series. Among those truths is the reason why most of the ES members seem so young for the jobs they do, which actually lies as the core of what the series is and what it's really about instead of just being a gimmick. As events progress into the GOTT coup and Deucalion arcs which comprise most of the second half of the series, the underlying theme of the series becomes apparent: the value of close kinship and friendship bonds in making the grand span of life endurable. These carry almost no sexual undertones, but in all but one case the ES members show how deeply they care for their partners when the chips are down.
The characters alone might be enough to give the series a borderline recommendation, but it is first and foremost a visual project, and that is where its strongest draw lies. With this project Gonzo has produced a sharp, brightly-colored effort which can impress its viewer with solid mecha and mechanical designs, pretty characters (except Alv), and eye-pleasing costume designs (except Alv and Dverger). Lumière's initial outfit and other occasional images give off vaguely loli vibes but never becomes a big issue, while great effort has been put into giving Éclair a wide array of flattering outfits. She is also one of the rare female anime characters who actually has a build appropriate to her large breasts, and Gonzo is not shy about devoting particular animation effort to showing their bounce. They also include the occasional panty-flash or risqué scene and even a bit of actual defined nudity in one episode, although the fan service is not a primary component of the series. Well-executed action scenes flow smoothly along with minor CG support for special effects, but the animation does take shortcuts in places. Also notable are the eye catches, which feature different character concept art each time.
The soundtrack relies primarily on an effective core of orchestrated themes, which sometimes flirt with going overboard but rarely fail to set the right tone for a scene, juice up the action, or give a key dramatic moment extra punch. The style updates as needed for the various phases of the show, and on three occasions includes insert songs; one an instrumental piece that is a pervasive key plot point in episode 9 and two others with vocals used for basic scene backing in late episodes.
Funimation's original production of the English release dates to the time period when they made a habit of rerecording a series' opening and/or closing songs in English, and this series' opener "Future's Memory" represents the pinnacle of those efforts. Performed in English by Stephanie Nadolny (probably best-known as the voice of the younger Gohan and Goku in Funimation's Dragonball-related dubs), it not only sticks amazingly close to the original lyrics but sounds better vocally and has a slightly better music mix than the uninspired original version. The comparable quality of the English and Japanese versions of the closer “Future” is more debatable, but those who insist on only listening to the original versions can still find them on the Japanese dub track, along with the untranslated Japanese credits. Regardless of which language you watch the opener in, pay careful attention to the lyrics, which are more directly applicable to the story than most. Although the songs never change, the visuals in both the opener and closer do irregularly update over the course of the series.
The English dub offers a broad mix of both weak and strong performances which, on the whole, come out about even. The too-flat, sometimes awkward performance of Eclipse is the biggest trouble spot among prominent roles, with other disagreeable efforts limited to certain minor supporting roles. On the good side, Monica Rial is an excellent fit as Lumière, Dameon “FMA's Scar” Clarke works perfectly as Armblast/Armbrust (spelling differs between the subtitles and credits), and Colleen Clinkenbeard (who in real life actually slightly resembles her character) gives an inspired, career-establishing performance as Éclair in her first major role. As with most Funimation productions, the liberties they take with their smooth-flowing English script can sometimes change the meaning of scenes but never in ways that alter the essential story. On the Japanese side, the dub is most notable for giving a 15-year-old Aya Hirano, who voices Lumière, her first co-starring role. Subtitle viewers should also be aware that the series has two subtitle tracks; the first is a word-for-word transcript of the English script, while the second is the direct translation.
“Viridian Collection” is Funimation's new tag line for space-conscious, eco-friendly boxed sets. Aside from the shrink wrapping, all of the packaging is minimized and recyclable, with the individual disks offered in cardboard sleeves rather than plastic cases. All of the on-disk extras seem to be intact: image galleries, clean opener/closers (listed as “Song”), character profiles, and ES Force Team Dossiers compose the regular offerings, which also include an Easter Egg on each disk. Each of those is a subtitled-only version of the elaborate original Japanese piracy warnings, which can be accessed by clicking left from the return arrows on the bottom of the Extras menu on each disk.
Kiddy Grade rarely completely explains anything, and multiple viewings may be required to work out some of the trickier details. It suffers most from erratic original writing, which peaks at A-grade efforts in some of its purely dramatic content but just as often falters into C or even D-grade inanity. Its ending leaves room for more and leaves some issues unexplained or frustratingly vague, while in other places it drops tantalizing hints about intriguing backstories without taking the time to delve into them in detail. This often results in viewers wanting a lot more when the series is done, but that is meant as much as a compliment as a criticism. Likable central characters, interesting premises, sharp artwork, a little more depth than may have initially been apparent, and a generally high level of entertainment value all contribute to a good overall effort.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Likable characters, sharp look, solid musical score, strong lead English performances.
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