This week, a bunch of questions about Blu-rays! How's that Macross Plus blu-ray box from Japan? How's that crowdsourcing thing going? And why are the episodes divided up so strangely?
Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Jul 14th 2003
DVD 1: Lost Ground
Twenty-two years ago an earthquake destroyed a sector of Japan now known as the "Lost Ground." This land became home to Alter users, people with amazing psychic ability to bend and shape their world, creating powerful Alters with unique powers. HOLY, a special task force comprised of "law-abiding" Alter users, comes in to police things and get the Alter users under control. If Kazuma, a Native Alter with a special attack called "Shell Bullet," has anything to say about it, he and his fellow Natives will run free.
There are a ton of anime series about good-looking guys and gals reinforced with psychokinetic powers. The quality of these series goes up and down; at the top of the heap you have things like X TV, probably one of the best anime series ever created, and at the bottom, wallowing in horrifying mediocrity, you have trash like Psychic Force. Thankfully Bandai's newest entry into the psychic action genre, confusingly titled s-CRY-ed, is good enough to rank right below CLAMP's hallowed television effort. Fans of the genre need to run out and scoop this baby up as soon as possible, and other fans will undoubtedly find plenty to like herein.
The basic premise of the show is pretty simple: Kazuma trots around the Lost Ground like Han Solo, taking out bad guys but always making sure there's something in it for himself. Snotty anti-heroes like Kazuma are always a little less popular than the stoic bishounen types you'd find in most other psychic action series, but Kazuma is a little more interesting to watch than you'd expect. The character development in s-CRY-ed is well done if a little choppy and overwhelming at times. It's hard to know exactly what's going on right at the start of the series, but things are slowly explained, and they spend enough time on the individual characters (and there are quite a few of them) to make the viewer care about what's happening in the series.
The storytelling is balanced but confusing and a little murky. Most psychic action series are pretty confusing (X TV comes with a little booklet to help you keep track of the characters; the recent E’s Otherwise will probably need one when it comes across the pacific), but s-CRY-ed only stays confusing for the first few episodes or so. It may take you a while to figure out who's working for who, which organization is which, and who's the good guy. Reading the back of the box is, surprisingly, the best solution to the problematic way that the plot elements are introduced, since it explains things the show does not within the first episode or two. The storyline picks up right away, which is pretty amazing for the first disc of a series. Judging from the first five episodes, the story arc will not disappoint.
Animation-wise, s-CRY-ed is fairly impressive. Obviously an all-digital production, the animation is fairly smooth and fluid for a television series. The show is heavily CG-enhanced, which is to be expected when people are slinging gigantic psychokinetic robots around. Surprisingly enough, the blend is well done in this instance and looks polished. Too many series these days rely on clunky, awkward CG effects, but this series manages to do it convincingly. There are a few moments where it seems like they applied too many Photoshop filters at once to the frame, but the show is far from ugly.
From a design standpoint, there's a lot to like here. The character designs were done by Hisashi Hirai, responsible for the unique look of Infinite Ryvius, another quality sci-fi series, and the wildly popular Gundam Seed. The faces may take some getting used to at first; they defy the typical laws of anime character design, eschewing gigantic eyes and squashed faces for a slightly more realistic look. It's a welcome change from the norm and Hirai should become an instant fan favorite when his three major works (this, Ryvius and Gundam Seed) find their respective audiences in America. The color palette of the series is bright and well coordinated, thankfully veering away from the garish look it could have easily had.
The sound of the series is a mixed bag. The music is haunting and appropriate; lots of choir-style choruses fill the background. The opening and closing themes are disparate in tone and execution and given the relatively somber tone of the show, it's up for debate whether or not they're appropriate. The Japanese voice acting is a little overworked but suitable overall. It's hard to say the same for the dub. The spotty track record of Bang Zoom! Entertainment rears its ugly head. While it's nice to hear the English voice actors pronouncing the Japanese words properly, the acting is atrocious in spots. Kazuma is portrayed as well as can be expected, but Scheris, the blue-haired girl working for HOLD, is unbelievably miscast. In fact, most of the female voices in s-CRY-ed are terrible. The males seem to have made it out mostly unscathed, and although a lot of them sound as though one guy is doing multiple prominent characters, at least that one guy could probably act his way out of a paper bag. That's a lot more than you could say for the females. In particular, Mimori, a character spotlighted in episode two, has perhaps the fakest "little polite girl" voice I've ever heard. If you thought Natalie Portman was cardboard in the Star Wars prequels, wait until you hear this particular hunk of balsa wood. Unbelievable. Do yourself a favor and watch the subtitled version.
The opening seems to try and sell s-CRY-ed as an all-out, balls-to-the-wall action series, but in reality, this show is mostly plot. That's not to say there isn't plenty of action, but the show isn't brainless by any stretch of the imagination, and it will require your full attention in order to make sense. s-CRY-ed is receiving a surprising amount of fanfare from Bandai upon release, and it's well worth it. Here we have a quality series that should please fans of the psychic action genre and open-minded fans in general to no end.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Good animation, engaging storyline
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