Reviewby Mike Crandol,
Saber Marionette J Again
The entire OVA sequel-series to Saber Marionette J is collected in this two-disc set from Bandai. After saving their planet from certain doom Otaru and his three “marionette” androids, Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry, settle down to live a quiet life at home. Their short respite is interrupted by the arrival of Lord Faust's marionettes, sent by their defeated master to learn etiquette and the domestic arts from Otaru and the girls. The wacky household hijinks that ensue are further compounded when Lime finds a new marionette named Marine and brings her home. Marine soon surpasses the other marionettes in their skills, and the secret behind her incredible aptitude may be the key to preventing a crisis that threatens to devastate the entire world.
A brief description of the Saber Marionette J saga reads like some wacked-out essay from Sigmund Freud's Creative Writing class: Another planet, created in the likeness of Earth, but populated solely by males, where our hero finds three robot females and is mystified by the notions of femininity they bring to his male-centric life…But in spite of this psychiatrist's nightmare of a premise, Saber Marionette J is a harmless (and one of the better) boy-with-a-house-full-of-magical-girlfriends anime. “J Again” is a six-episode OVA series that follows the conclusion of the television series and plays up the comedic aspects of its predecessor. The OVAs do justice to J's winning characterizations and off-kilter humor, but fans looking for more of the original's action and inventive plotting will find this pretty boring.
The vast majority of “J Again” is devoted to kitchen and bedroom antics in the best anime tradition. Cherry teaches the former killing-machine Luchs the joys of cooking, Lime frolics around town twice as much as she does in the TV series, and various marionettes as well as Hanagata continue to try and bed Otaru. It may sound like a retread of other harem-household anime--and it is--but it does the routine better than most of its competition and even seems to capture some of the spirit of the original Tenchi Muyo series, the mother of the genre. The interplay between the “refined” Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry and the crude and crass Tiger, Panther, and Luchs is great slapstick fun. It's also oddly endearing watching these formerly evil girls struggling to become model citizens, their former adversaries enthusiastically helping them on their way.
The only real problem with “J Again” is that there's not much to it aside from the silly antics. The television series struck a good balance of comedy and adventure, but nothing really happens in this OVA series until the final two episodes, and even then the action is somewhat sparse. A lack of any strong villain puts “J Again” at a disadvantage. Without a Faust to fight or a Gartlant to infiltrate, Otaru and his crew seem to lose a lot of their edge. The final confrontation between the marionettes and the forces trying to terminate Marine is pretty pedestrian, and the last episode lacks the punch of the TV series' finale.
Marine is seen as an unwelcome addition to the Saber Marionette J universe by many fans. Her character is vaguely defined, and she does weigh down an already overcrowded cast. It may have been better if this series had devoted more time to its established characters, but she gives the material what little emotional weight it has. Her arrival causes mixed feelings in Lime, who's at first glad to have a new friend and later jealous of her abilities. When it later becomes apparent that Marine may have to sacrifice her life in order to save Terra II, Lime must reevaluate her attitude toward the newcomer. Though some clever rewriting could have removed her from the series, the story works just fine with Marine in place.
One of the first digitally painted anime series, “J Again's” colors are intensely bright and vivid, but it suits the tone of this cotton-candy series perfectly. The design work is almost a caricature of itself with its fluorescent, saucer-eyed anime babes; it all holds together, though, and Saber Marionette J is one of the best-looking shows from the "neon-colored" anime movement. Digital effects are also utilized for some of the animation with mixed results. Otaru's wobbly house looks decidedly out of place, but when a marionette punches Hanagata he flies through the air at supersonic speed, and the digital compositing makes the scene twice as funny.
For an added kick, try watching Saber Marionette J Again in Spanish. A rare trilingual release from Bandai, somehow this show just feels right in español--the girls' flamboyant costumes would fit right in on the Spanish Channel. But Lime's Latino voice is too low to match the great Megumi Hayashibara's performance, though her English performer is spot-on. Hayashibara of course sings the show's opening theme, and like most of her recordings the catchy upbeat tune is one of the finer examples of bubblegum J-pop.
I think I have yet to say an unkind word about a Bandai DVD release, and this is no exception. The entire series is available as a single volume, but is split onto two discs for optimal video and sound quality. The menus are creatively designed to look like Marine's three-pronged Maiden Chip, a layout that works remarkably well and provides easy navigation. In addition to standard extras like a conceptual art gallery and textless openings and closings, there are also several original Japanese television commercials for Saber Marionette J. A Saber fan couldn't ask for more.
Some fans of the original series will appreciate this extra helping of Saber Marionette antics, while others will miss the serious underpinning of action that graced the television show. Like its predecessor “J Again” is warm, funny and engaging…but what happened to the previously intelligent storylines and gripping action sequences? Domestic anime comedy has seldom been done better, but there's usually more substance to back it up.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ More of the top-notch comedy we've come to expect from Saber Marionette J
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