Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye
DVD 3 - Gravestone
The sand dragons are on the rampage and the nervous chief administrator of Emporium sends her most trusted mercenary into the desert to discover why. The wily old lady isn't one to be caught without insurance, so Honoka also finds herself with a partner. Paife is the busty, gun-toting hardcase that Honoka met at the bar, and while she's interested in our erstwhile tri-optic heroine, the two aren't exactly complementary. Paife is too willful and easygoing for Honoka's tastes and, as a brutal confrontation between Paife and her cultist pursuers proves, Honoka is too humane for Paife's tastes. Nevertheless, tracking the path of the sand dragons soon has the two on the path towards a fast friendship. However, any friendship they find may be ephemeral indeed when Honoka's conviction that something at the end of the dragons' trail is calling to her lands them smack in the middle of a potentially apocalyptic showdown between ancient superweapons.
In the endless expanse of tales that concern mercenaries plying their trade in post-apocalyptic futures, The Third is the ideal representative of the middle ground. It isn't revolutionary but isn't derivative trash. It isn't particularly exciting but isn't boring. It isn't deep and isn't drivel. It isn't memorable but neither is it completely forgettable. It isn't even one of those shows that just is (it's too entertaining for that). What it is, is a standard adventure tale that gets just enough of the important details right to keep it from spiraling into complete disposable mediocrity.
To be sure, there's plenty of mediocrity to be had. Honoka's entire world is one giant failure of imagination: from the cowering townspeople under the dictatorial thumb of powerful rulers, to the technology-hoarding Thirds themselves, to the world war that ended history, to the endless deserts and the freedom-loving never-say-die mercenaries that inhabit it. Iks, who unfortunately returns this volume, is nothing but a human-shaped blob of shallow agreeability. The narration remains unnecessary and intrusive. And even while the shift to longer (in this case, four-episode) stories is welcome, the conclusion is hackneyed and predictable. There's a flatness to the narrative, an apathy born of events that chain one into the next without any driving sense of purpose, that renders the drama, even of life and death struggles (during an inexorable countdown to apocalyptic destruction no less), curiously inert.
But, just as Honoka and Millie's relationship allowed the last volume to slip past the mind's memory recyclers to linger on longer than it really should have, this volume has Paife and Honoka's partnership. Paife's mix of self-possession, self-hatred, and a genuine need for companionship, and her desire for Honoka to reconcile them all, elevates their relationship past the usual "thorny partnership" thing. And while Honoka is doing her predictable upstanding hero thing, Paife is there to add an element of unpredictability. When Honoka, conflicted over her own capacity for violence, has to wage the obligatory battle against her devil's-advocate doppelganger, Paife comes up against an obligatory little-boy villain who she promptly shoots. "Can shoot young boys without hesitation and still remain sympathetic." What character wouldn't want to put that on their resume?
Action is another of the details the series gets right. Director Jun Kamiya has a reasonable eye for the cool, and knows that punctuations of violence are essential in any post-apocalyptic tale. He also knows that good action doesn't rely solely on shortcuts, inserting moments of dynamism into each fight, some of them bordering on the balletic (Paife's fight with that young boy). He has a fair gift for mecha eye-candy as well; the slowly transforming orbital weapon the Thirds use is pretty neat, and when Bogie the tank opens up with his newly-installed arsenal, he achieves a sort of goony fanboy cool (which the writers are quick to point out with a redundant "Bogie, you're cool" comment). CG effects are intelligently used, usually during large-scale conflicts, and are generally well integrated into their more traditional-looking surroundings.
The eye for visuals extends as well to the desert, the appeal and mystique of which is readily communicated during the many introspective interludes by superior background artistry and a score that makes good use of both unobtrusive musical support and long stretches of silence. The art as a whole is solid—maintaining consistently good levels of detail, even during combat sequences, and occasionally even experimenting a bit with shadows—as is the score as a whole (even when it comes out of the background to play a more active role during action sequences). That there's some healthy Paife fan-service doesn't hurt either.
Perhaps Right Stuf's habit of using Japanese as its default audio setting is meant as a hint here. While the English version never enters the realm of the truly awful, it definitely spends too much time hanging around in weak-ville. The acting is deliberate, clearly enunciated and passionless; the lack of conviction in seemingly unimportant grunts and impacts during action scenes robs them of much of their immediacy. The translation is so concerned with fidelity that it often loses the all-important feel of the original and the cast occasionally misses the core of a character (Paife comes across as far too cold and serious). The English version will serve its purpose for hard-core dub fans, but the Japanese is clearly the superior of the two.
The only extras are character profiles for Paife and Gravestone that tell you nothing you don't already know.
A good addition to the cast, some solid action and continued use of its visually appealing desert setting go a long ways in preventing The Third from succumbing to its uninspiring premise and occasional dips into ye olde barrel of sci-fi clichés. With enough time and a little more Paife, it may even be possible to forgive it for that little boy villain. Maybe.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B
+ A middle-of-the-road futuristic adventure with enough action and atmosphere to keep it out of the ditch; Paife is cool.
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