Reviewby Carlo Santos,
DVD 1: Quest Begins
Fifty years ago, a lone swordsman sought to end the war between light and darkness by destroying the sinister Shadow Stones. Using his sword, the Rave, in conjunction with the magical Rave Stones, he struck the last Shadow Stone--but instead of ending the battle, it caused an explosion that scattered the Shadow Stones and the Rave Stones across the world.
Cut to the present day, where a teenage boy named Haru Glory has inherited the Rave. Aided by his cone-nosed dog Plue, Haru has gone to bustling Hip Hop City in search of the Rave Stones. Haru's search leads him across the path of a young girl named Elie, and they soon find themselves fighting off the city's "Shadow Guards" because of their connection with Plue and the Rave. After falling into the city sewers and enlisting the help of a human mole, the three find their way to the city harbor only to meet General Shuda, leader of the Shadow Guards. Shuda, not expecting the boy to possess
the power of the Rave, is soundly defeated--but Haru breaks his blade in the process, and now they're off to find someone who can repair it.
As far as adventure anime titles go, Rave Master has the right elements in all the right places: a plucky young hero with a big sword, a sidekick with enough brains to put him in his place, a calculating villain, and a cute animal mascot. The problem is that, from these first two episodes, it looks like the show does nothing to contribute anything new or interesting to the genre.
While not particularly original, this story does have the advantage of being really easy to follow. The back-story from fifty years ago basically sets things in motion; once you understand that the hero has to find the enchanted stones, there's not much else to it. In fact, the only interesting quirks that Rave Master brings to the quest/adventure genre might be the musically-themed names: besides a sword called "The Rave," we have Hip Hop City, Punk Street, and a sword repairman named Musica. Unfortunately, a clever name scheme doesn't help to make the story interesting. For those who like a predictable, fight-of-the-week format, it looks like Rave Master is going to settle into that style.
The characters of Haru and Elie fit their molds very well, but again, in a rather unoriginal manner. Haru is interchangeable with almost any typical shounen hero, and we can expect that his powers and maturity will develop as he finds the Rave Stones and masters his sword. Elie, meanwhile, is a sidekick of the smart-mouthed variety; she doesn't hesitate to fling her opinions at Haru, but she's still counting on him to lead the way. These characters seem perfectly designed to resonate with the younger viewers that are the target audience of Rave Master.
Visually, the character designs are straight out of the How to Draw Manga books (though a little more contemporary). Although our teenage hero and heroine--and their supporting cast--are easy on the eyes, the quality of the animation makes the show difficult to enjoy. If the movements of the characters were any stiffer, you might as well be reading the manga. There's definitely something amiss when the CGI sequences look smoother than the cel animation. The fight scenes manage to appear dynamic by using plenty of speedlines and striking angles, but it's clear that the visual appeal of Rave Master comes strictly from the cool-looking characters. Those looking
for animation that meets today's anime standards will have to search somewhere else.
Now, if Rave Master were being judged by story and visuals alone, it might get by with a decent grade. However, Tokyopop's handling of the dub script makes things nearly intolerable. The voice acting isn't so bad--Shuda makes a pretty convincing villain, Haru and Elie sound exactly like the kind of kids you expect on Cartoon Network's Toonami block, and there's some hilarious a cappella singing by the Shadow Guards. What really hurts the dub is the unnecessarily cheesy script. I don't understand what need there is to insert one-liners and puns into a straight-up adventure series. While there wasn't a subtitle option to check against the translated Japanese, I'm pretty sure that references to reality shows (among other things) are strictly an American contrivance. The most groan-worthy offender: "The only people who live underground are moles and lawyers!"
And just when you think that the pun-laden dub is bad enough, the theme songs make it worse. Tokyopop's resident musician D.J. Milky has contributed some music of his own, and it makes you wish they'd kept the Japanese theme songs. The pseudo-ska opening is a bland description of what the show is about, and the ending is even blander, having a soft rock sound that belongs more on your parents' radio than in anime. To its credit, the background music during the show is decent--there's a strong epic adventure feel to it--but it's the theme songs that stick in your head, and for all the wrong reasons. Even Funimation's policy of dubbing over the original Japanese music would be a welcome alternative.
If the dub script and music were a little easier on the ears, Rave Master might not be such an ordeal to watch. The story itself is a fairly standard quest that viewers can easily follow, and if you can get past the stiff animation, the artwork isn't bad looking. Fans of the Rave Master manga or shounen adventures would probably enjoy this anime best--but if you're watching the dub, you might want to bring your earplugs.
Overall (dub) : C
Story : C
Animation : D
Art : B-
Music : D
+ Easy-to-follow story; cool characters and fight scenes
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