Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 21st 2005
Mars of the future has become a flooded, ice-covered planet where humanity lives in drifting city-ships. The economy has turned bad since the end of an off-world war reduced demand for water, the planet's main export, making work hard to get for Gram and his friends, and governmental corruption only worsens the situation. The environment makes a perfect setting for pirates using futuristic submarines, who regularly raid the city-ships for supplies. The most renowned and feared of the pirate vessels is the Ship of Aurora, which makes a habit of reselling its booty cheap so that it can be redistributed to less fortunate folk. Such a problem do the pirates pose that the Earth government, which still controls Mars, has dispatched an elite team of fresh military recruits to help deal with their threat. Using specialized underwater mecha called Round Bucklers, they seek to engage their talented and elusive enemy, while chance encounters and a mysterious link to a special type of Round Buckler lead Gram into an association with the very same pirates. But one of the elite Round Buckler operators is an old friend of Gram's. How will he and she react when they find themselves on opposite sides?
Mars Daybreak is a series awash in creative ideas. Its setting, a world of underwater cities where constantly high humidity has made rust a major problem, is a dramatically and intriguingly different take on Mars. (How Mars got that way isn't explained, but it isn't really relevant to the story, either.) It features some distinctive characters with great promise, ranging from a talking cat to a talking dolphin who can walk around like humans with the aid of a special suit (though why he would want to is beyond me) to something called a Naval Witch, which in this case is a petite young woman with red eyes. It offers up some intriguing tech items, such as the aforementioned dolphin suit, robotic workers called BALLS, and a special brand of fireworks designed for underwater use. It even has “good guy” pirates, and who doesn't love a story about “good guy” pirates? Throw all this together with mecha, lots of action, a couple of sexy young women, a cute kid, an underlying mystery, and bright, friendly artistry and you should have a kick-butt shonen action series, right?
Not in this case.
While Mars Daybreak has a lot of good ideas, its first four episodes are prime examples of wasted potential. The lack of a true spark of energy in its action sequences and a general shortage of zest leave them as strictly run-of-the-mill shonen mecha fare. The main problem is that the series lacks spirit and attitude; it seems unwilling to embrace all-out enthusiasm and wackiness required for a series like this to work. Had it, from the start, taken on an approach similar to Vandread or Martian Successor Nadesico, it would have fared much better. An enterprising hero whose perpetual smarmy smile will not endear him to viewers also doesn't help (though he does at one point show himself to be bolder with women than the typical shonen action hero) nor does a cast populated mostly with stock characters. The writing not only fails to explain anything but also grossly underutilizes its most potentially interesting characters, such as the dolphin Poipoider. The series starts to show signs of improvement late in the fourth episode and strongly heads in the right direction with the fifth episode, a rip-roaring tale about a kidnapping where the victim is far more competent (and dangerous!) than the kidnappers, who managed to tick off the wrong uninvolved person in their getaway. If this episode is a genuine sign that the series has found its way then the next volume should be a fun one. Up until that point it's a lackluster production, though.
The artistry is bright, colorful, and cheery, as befitting a high-energy shonen action series. While mecha designs are very generic, the subs fare much better. Most of the characters are also stock anime designs (albeit with creative use of moustaches on male characters), though a few do distinguish themselves. Ester, the Naval Witch, has a very distinctive and appealing look, while the laid-back, paunchy Ardena military commander is a far cry from your typical diehard military recruit. Animation ranges from clunky to fairly smooth, depending on the scene; sub movement scenes fare the best, scenes of characters running fare the worst, and the rest is of unremarkable quality.
The energetic, light-hearted musical scoring tries to set the proper tone from the start, but not until the second half of the fourth episode, when the writing catches up, does it actually work. The energetic J-rock opener and more melodic closer, both ably performed by anime newcomer Takatsugu Tsumabuki are pleasant enough but not especially memorable. The English dub, provided by Bang ZOOM, does a respectable job of matching up English VAs to both the roles and original performers, and performances are generally in line with the spirit of the characters. The only dark spot is the voice of the dolphin Poipoider, but the Japanese voice for the character doesn't sound right, either. The English script, written by a pair of long-time English VAs, uses a fair amount of equivalent English phraseology but overall stays tight to the original meaning most of the time.
Bandai Entertainment's production does provide five episodes but skimps on the extras, including only company trailers and clean opener and closer. It does retain the original Japanese closers, however, with the English credits tacked on at the very end.
Mars Daybreak shows promise as a light-hearted, enthusiastic action series, and certainly has some good concepts to work with, but not until the later stages of this volume does the series find its way. Though it skimps too much on providing background details and wastes some potentially interesting characters, these are problems that can be resolved easily enough. Is the series truly headed in the right direction? Only time – and the next volume – will tell.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Sexy female characters, shows signs of improving
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