Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
The Law of Ueki
DVD 4 - Neo: The New Celestial
Ueki, now aware of his birthright, begins to grow into his role as a Celestial (or more accurately, grows into his Celestial powers). The Robert's 10 quickly become aware of his true intentions, and a ferocious war erupts between one defender of righteousness and nine of the meanest, most ruthless warriors that the Celestial Tournament has to offer. Ueki's justice seems destined to send him straight to his mentor (in Hell), but with a gigantic ten-eyed "chicken" as an ally, and a little help from an unusual source, he just may be one step closer to getting Mr. K out of Hell, and onto the throne in Heaven.
Law of Ueki continues blithely on the path it has been following, unconcerned that said path has been trod to the very verge of death by the feet of countless other shounen action stories. That it does so at a pace and with a visual flair all its own is to its credit, but its derivativeness still threatens to overwhelm it at every turn.
Ueki's pacing has always been both its greatest strength and its Achilles' heel. It means that no particular narrative phase, event, or cliché ever lasts long enough to overstay its welcome, and that the story never bogs down or feels as if it is wasting time waiting for inspiration to strike. But it also means truncated stories, dramatic moments lost in the manic shuffle of events, and limited emotional investment in any of the characters. There is also very little, if any, time is allotted to character growth. Ueki, likable deadpan crusader that he is, still leans more towards finely-tuned stereotype than fully inhabited character, and the Robert's 10 have no personalities beyond those suggested by their appearances (given that they are all supposed to be middle-schoolers, some of them seem awfully... old. Perhaps the Robert's 10 is in the business of recruiting multiple flunkees?). Mori-lovers will be dismayed (and Mori-haters overjoyed) to hear that, outside of narration and save for a single scene, this volume is Mori-free.
These four episodes comprise the middle section of Ueki's attempted destruction of the Robert's 10. The confrontation promises non-stop mayhem, and there's plenty of fighting to be had, but the show finds time to keep throwing aged bits plundered from the vault o' shounen clichés into the mix. This volume's cliché alert: a training (half) episode (the show's pacing comes to the rescue), a series of power-ups (with associated powers and numbered ranking system), a device (okay, animal) that can quantify fighting potential, and a tank of liquid that can heal all of a character's accumulated damage (Frieza would be proud).
If nothing else, Ueki's design is unmistakable. Its character designs are rough-edged, with a slight, purposeful sloppiness that gives them a shaggy charm. Not that they are attractive or original (they aren't), but they are well-suited to their roles and fun to look at (for a while at least, and luckily most of them aren't around long enough to become tiresome—with the exception of that pygmy cowboy). Backgrounds are still unremarkable, but trees and soil are given a distinctive, computer generated texture that sets them apart from the norm. Animation is likewise unimpressive, but is handled with such expertise that it is never that noticeable. Sharp editing, implied movements, and lots of quickly panned stills attempt to fill in the gaps in the animation (almost, but not quite, succeeding), and skillfully deployed (although occasionally intrusive) 3D CGI effects add spice to the action scenes.
The score is probably best when it is delving into thechno and electronic-flavored sounds. Subtlety isn't among its virtues, however. Its attempted emotional manipulations are so obvious that they occasionally border on the offensive (the action scene choreographed to the opening theme comes to mind), but is good enough of its own accord to excuse its misuse; despite its obviousness, its hard to stop your pulse from rising a bit during the thunderous battle music. The excellent, propulsive opener remains in place and the first three episodes feature the same forgettable closer as episodes past. Episode sixteen sports a new closing song which, while faster, is no more memorable than the first.
The dub is as weak as ever. The performances are so dull that it is hard to believe that any of the cast actually cares about the show. The leads are the most ineffectual of all. Mori is listless (especially in comparison to the insane energy of her Japanese counterpart), and Ueki, intended as a defender of justice with a thin veneer of apathy over his boiling blood, instead sounds like a bored teenager. Supporting roles shine in comparison. Though far from flawless (Robert is almost as bad as Ueki), most of the secondary cast sound, at the very least, professional, and some actors actually appear to be enjoying their roles. In spite of their efforts, the dub still dampens the show's crucial energy, knocking it down a rung or two on the entertainment ladder. Even dub fans may want to switch to Japanese for this release.
Extras: Clean closing for the new ending and Geneon previews (translation: zilcho).
As shopworn as it is, Ueki, flaws included, is still solid, brainless fun. If you're willing to disconnect your neural network and surrender to its insistent energy, Ueki just might satisfy your shounen jones, at least until the next volume of Bleach or Naruto hits the streets.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B
+ Quick pace keeps things from stagnating; plenty of brainless fun to be had.
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