A few questions for the director of Occult Academy, Silver Spoon and of course, the smash hit series Sword Art Online.
Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 21st 2005
DVD 3: Shell Three
The weird cases just keep coming as the Danger Service Agency is first employed to transport a valuable (and supposedly cursed) mummy, then asked to protect an ailing mob boss against an elusive killer known only as “Phantom.” The pretty-boy assassin continues to linger in the background, though, and makes his boldest strikes yet at Kurokawa. But who has hired the killer? And what will DSA find when they back-track his path? Meanwhile Asami makes large strides towards becoming the DSA's next recruit as she trains to fight like her idol Mikura.
First there was Mezzo Forte, Yasuomi Umetsu's founding two-episode OVA series about the exploits of Mikura and her DSA buddies, which includes just enough graphic sex content to earn it a designation as a hentai title. Now we have Mezzo, the somewhat cleaner (i.e. no sex scenes) and better-produced TV series which was always Umetsu's ultimate goal. I'm sure he's pleased with the results, as most episodes of Mezzo have just the balance of humor, action, and weirdness which Umetsu was looking to create. With “Shell Three” Mezzo undertakes two episodic stories involving various degrees of said weirdness before wrapping up its ongoing plotline about the mysterious handsome assassin in the two-part series closer. We finally get to find out who he is, who he's really working for, and why Kurokawa has been targeted for assassination. Less well-explained is why he is initially taken aback by Mikura at each confrontation (though Mikura's reasons for her reaction to him are more clear) and why one other character who pops up in these episodes looks uncannily like Mikura. The ending should be satisfying for fans of the series, though it and some comments made in the last “next episode” preview suggest that there are more exploits of Mikura and the DSA to come. As of the time of this writing, however, no announcement has been made about a possible future movie or additional episodes.
Mezzo sells itself as a “girl with guns” series focused on Mikura, and indeed she does get the lion's share of the attention in action scenes. Kurokawa and Harada get as many lines and as much screen time, though, and are nearly as interesting, while Asami is more stereotypical as the fledgling protégé learning to fight for herself. She and Kurokawa have the most appealing character designs, while Harada is forgettable in that ridiculous spiky hair. As for Mikura's design? That depends on how much you like short pigtails and the color orange, although she is portrayed as being more solidly-built and convincingly athletic than you normally see in “girls with guns” heroines. Some of the designs for secondary supporting characters are very good (most notably the bishonen assassin) but most tend towards mediocrity and a couple (the walrus-like police chief) are annoyingly unappealing. The supporting artistry is passable, as is the animation, but neither is likely to impress. Musical scoring is likewise unimpressive beyond the catchy, high-energy opener and a decent closer.
The performances in the English dub are fine; Luci Christian captures the energetic, irreverent spirit of Mikura, while Andy McAvin clearly has fun in a rare “good guy” turn as Kurokawa and Sasha Paysinger comes close to imitating the original pitch and breathy voice of Asami. Veteran voice actor Vic Mignogna also does a good job with the gay-sounding Mugiyama. Other performances are passable. The problem that purists are likely to have with the dub concerns the English script, which takes significant liberties with the original. Some of the changes involve putting jokes and puns into terms American audiences could appreciate instead of doing a straight translation (which would fall flat), while most others involve infusing the English script with colorful metaphors which are equivalent to what the characters are saying in the subtitles but much more lively than a straight translation and certainly in tune with the tone of the characters and series. This is an approach which ADV has taken on several of their other releases, to varying degrees of success and fan complaints. I do not have a problem with this kind of reinterpretation since it does (mostly) stay true to the intent of the original writing, but I am a “dub” person so mileage may vary. The one place a change was made that I didn't agree with is a scene in episode 10 where Mikura and Asami are talking while walking down a street. Mikura responds to Asami, who had been talking about wanting to be as strong as Mikura, and says “well, you've got a strong heart, and that's a good start” in English, while the subtitles for the same scene read “if you're weak of heart, you won't live long enough to get dinner.” Given Mikura's recurring alley cat motif, and other alley cat references which survive the translation intact, this rewrite seemed inconsistent and unwarranted. One note of interest about the subtitles: they insist on always spelling out Mugiyama's full name even though the original Japanese dialogue clearly uses “Mugi-chan.” While ADV has traditionally not used honorifics in subtitles, anyone who knows Japanese honorifics knows that referring to an adult guy with “-chan” carries special implications which are not reflected in the subtitles.
Though Shell Three is not particularly racy and contains only a brief scene of (non-frontal) nudity, it does get violent and occasionally bloody. Not a series for younger viewers, but it would be fine for teens.
Extras for this volume include company previews, clean openers and closers, and one of the more extensive sets of production sketches you're likely to see on a volume of series animation. Menu design could be better, as the DVD lacks “skip to chapter” submenus. The full-spread interior artwork on the DVD case is a nice touch.
As long as you don't expect more out of it than it actually is—a mostly light-hearted and sometimes weird action series about a girl with guns and killer moves—you should find this volume of Mezzo to be a worthy finish to an entertaining series.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : C+
+ good mix of action, comedy, and dramatic elements
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