Reviewby Theron Martin,
Xenosaga: The Animation
DVD 1 - Enter the Gnosis
4,000 years after mankind has left its home world behind, a fleet of ships attempting to escort a powerful artifact called Zohar is beset by the Gnosis, extradimensional aliens who have, for the past several years, been regularly attacking humanity. Shion Uzuki, chief programmer for the Vector Corporation, had been working on KOS-MOS, mankind's ultimate android weapon against the Gnosis, when forced to abandon ship with KOS-MOS, her closest subordinate, and Marine Lt. Virgil. Picked up by the salvage ship Elsa, which has its own mission to transport the prototype Realian (i.e. artificial life form) MOMO and her cyborg protector “Ziggy,” they soon find themselves also on the run from a ship of long-thought-destroyed O-TIC organization, though help soon arrives in the form of the allied battleship Durandal and its young-looking captain Jr. Unfortunately a massive group of Gnosis also finds them. . .
Meanwhile a madman named Albedo and other assorted figures work their own intrigues.
The 2005 TV series Xenosaga: The Animation is an animated adaptation of Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht, the first of a trilogy of console game RPGs under the Xenosaga name released for the PS2 beginning in 2002 in Japan (2003 in the U.S.). The anime version provides a condensed retelling of the story and events in the game, albeit with some scenes removed, others added, and some parts entirely rewritten to facilitate the transition between a story that could be played out and a story that must be watched. The series supposedly serves as a nice supplement to Episode I, as it provides elaboration on some points not adequately explained in the game, but has received mixed reactions from fans of the game (presumably because of the condensed storytelling and altered details). Familiarity with the game is not required for appreciation of the anime, however.
Although the first episode makes some small effort to establish the setting and circumstances of the story, it does not take time to delve into detail before jumping into its first action scene. It then spends only a few minutes introducing key cast members and plot elements before progressing into its first massive space battle, which lasts the remainder of the episode and nearly all of the next. Over the remaining two episodes several more important characters and plot elements get introduced, the ships Elsa and Durandal appear, and a few mysteries are sparked, but for all its efforts to create the feel of a grander story the first volume comes off heavy on content and light on substance. We do get pieces of Shion's backstory and see some details on how Ziggy and MOMO hooked up, but the size of the cast and scope of the story prevents any particular element from receiving sufficient focus to develop any kind of depth. Trying to cram in all the game-related details should satisfy fans of the game and works relatively well towards establishing the first volume as the beginning of a sci-fi action series, but it hampers the series' ability to develop itself into a full-blown space opera, something which it clearly aspires to be.
It does not significantly hamper the first volume's ability to be entertaining, however. The content still looks good, meets its requisite “cute” and “highly cosplayable” quotients, offers a wide array of action scenes, and paces events well enough that it never gets boring. It cast forms a diverse if mostly stereotypical bunch, including such classics as the sexy young techie with glasses who has some kind of inherent secret, the sexy combat android, the cute artificial human, the studly cyborg, ship's captain, and maverick pilot, the artificial life-hating scarred soldier, and the requisite prone-to-maniacal-laughter villain. So many mysterious plots and philosophical/literary/quasi-religious allusions abound that the influence of Neon Genesis Evangelion stands clear, as does that of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and the works of philosophers including Nietzsche.
The naming conventions in the series offer further subtleties, one prime example being “Kirschwasser,” the type designation for the little girl Realians. (It's also a type of German brandy made from black cherries, an interesting tidbit to know given that the model for those Realians was named Sakura.) Another is Albedo, a technical reference to light refraction which explains the color scheme used for that character's design. There are others, too, if you dig for them.
The artistry eschews the purely CG look of the game in favor of a more traditional anime look accompanied by CG renditions of space ships, whale-like alien Gnosis, and space battles. Those not familiar with the game may appreciate the designs more, as they lack the textured 3D look of the game characters but still look good by anime standards, with eye-pleasing renderings and quality use of design and color making up for the unoriginal feel of the looks of many of them. The most striking look belongs to KOS-MOS, especially when she sports the cannons on each arm, though one has to wonder about a couple of the oddities of her design. (Why does a combat android wear a totally nonfunctional garter belt on one leg? And the color change of her eyes at one point is not only deliberate but noteworthy, although the reason isn't explained in this volume.) Shion also provides an impressive example of the “girl with glasses” appeal, and even down into the minor supporting cast roles the designs are solid. Gnosis mecha suffer more by comparison, as do non-CG backgrounds, but the only major flaw in the artistry is an oddly flat and sometimes lifeless color scheme. Decent animation quality occasionally shows specific deficiencies, such as discrepancies involving the scars on Lt. Virgil's face.
The fully orchestrated musical score, which sounds as if it were crafted from a blend of sci fi computer game stand-bys and themes borrowed from numerous live-action sci-fi movies, may draw inspiration from the game but does not seem to exactly reproduce any of its original themes. Its best effects come in scenes where the score is anchored by the majestic-sounding opener, while in other places it does little to enhance the visuals. Each episode closes with the more gentle melodies and English language lyrics of “in this serenity” sung by Mayumi Gojo, who is otherwise best-known (albeit only to Japanese fans or ardent fansub watchers) for singing various themes to Pretty Cure.
The English version of the game was voiced by several anime regulars, but ADV appears to have entirely recast the anime version using their own regulars. Relative newcomer Stephanie Wittels does a fine job as Shion, and Luci Christian is nearly unrecognizable but fully credible in the hard-edged monotone she uses for KOS-MOS. Other roles are cast well enough and performed smoothly enough that the dub shouldn't generate complaints except from those irritated by the English cast changes between the game and anime. The English script generally stays close to the subtitles, although their translation of “chibi-sama” (in reference to Jr.) as “Little Master” sounds a little awkward in execution.
The only Extras available for this volume are ADV's standard fallback position of clean opener and closer.
The animated version of Xenosaga only runs 12 episodes, so newbies to the franchise who seek a clean action-intensive sci fi series that will not require a long-term commitment could find a lot to like in the first volume. If you have played the game, then whether or not this one will work for you may depend heavily on how willing you are to tolerate condensations and alterations to see the story told all at once.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Nice character designs.
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