Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Xenosaga: The Animation
DVD 2 - Voices From the Past
The Elsa, like any ship crewed by a crackerjack collection of iconoclastic social misfits, squeezes—with a little help from KOS-MOS' abs—past all dangers in the path of their goal, eventually making it to the Kukai Foundation, home to crackerjack social misfits everywhere. Availing themselves of the free time their stay on the space colony allows, Shion and her retinue hang out, growing closer to diminutive battle-cruiser captain Junior, Kukai Foundation president Gaignon, valuable realean prototype Momo and a host of other residents. Peace is predictably short-lived, as U-TIC puts into motion a plan to gain access to Momo, one that forces Shion to dive into KOS-MOS' memory where she and Junior are forced to relive memories that everyone would prefer stayed dead.
When measured against the often atrocious failures of other video game adaptations, Xenosaga is actually fairly successful. That is, however, a very low bar to pass. But for a certain over-density of plot and a sense that it condenses a lengthy space opera into far too short a space of time, it is an easy watch; but easy doesn't mean compulsively watchable or even enjoyable, just that there are enough events of interest that watching the next episode always seems like a better option than stopping.
Those events of interest revolve nearly exclusively around Shion. Shion, as with the rest of the cast, is hardly a fleshed-out or compelling character. She is sympathetic though, as well as believably strong-willed and, most importantly, cute in a very grown-up kind of way. Thus Shion's fate is important, whereas it doesn't matter whether the scarred Marine guy or the soft-spoken badass (his name is "chaos," so he's obviously a badass) marry swimsuit models and have fleets of offspring or get tortured to death by Huns. Of course, one sympathetic character isn't enough to make a series watchable, but whatever else it is that makes Xenosaga go down even as smoothly as it does is a complete mystery. The tone, especially once the space-battles die down, is dull and far too serious to complement the utter ridiculousness of certain passages. The humor introduced in this volume to lighten the mood is brutally unfunny, especially the virtual reality parodies of anime "ultimate attacks." The plot barrels from one plot point to the next, far more concerned with cramming everything into the allotted time than with the dramatic or emotional impact of the plot. One particular bombshell, a life-threatening one no less, is dropped one scene, only to be forgotten at the next cut and ignored for the entirety of the volume. Did it just go away? Will it be resolved later? Who knows. And by the time the fourth episode rolls past without even mentioning it, who cares?
The likeliest suspect for the series' ease of viewing, besides perhaps the good sense that made the director reign in the pace enough to prevent complete confusion, is the simple fact that it looks and sounds good. Any four-year-old will tell you that pretty pictures make a story better, and Xenosaga's pictures are pretty indeed. As befits a series in which the lead's abs can crush a fleet of spacefaring monsters, the character designs are the real stars of the show. Character designer Nobuteru Yuuki's renowned style informs the profiles and eyes of every character, giving the cast a distinctive, pleasing appearance. His preferences for pastel color schemes and relatively subdued hair steers the visual aesthetic away from gaudiness, and faces are expressive without being elastic or overbearing. 3D effects are confined to external shots of vehicles and to the monsters, all of which (with the exception of the monsters) are suitably impressive. Animation ranges from solid during the space battles to careless during the animation of characters during their off-time. Standard shortcuts—speedlines, stills, plummeting detail levels, some repeated animation—are used, only becoming truly bad during the virtual reality fights in episodes eight and nine.
The series' other star is its score. It's an expansive, operatic score, one that uses the human voice—high, clear wordless song and ominous low chants—to superb effect and spans comic, energetic and solemn tones without ever breaking character. It benefits from an excellent, appropriately mysterious opening and a sparely beautiful closing. It deserves a better vehicle for its qualities, something with epic scope and range; alas, it has to make do with Xenosaga.
Those willing to brave the awkward dialogue additions typical of faithful dub translations that need to match lip-flaps will find in ADV's dub a work that makes up for its occasional lapse in conversational rhythm with performances that periodically improve on the Japanese. Luci Christian's English KOS-MOS has a mechanical delivery that never resorts to halting computer-talk and avoids the toneless shouting of the Japanese KOS-MOS. Junior has one emotional breakdown during which Greg Ayres goes to town, turning in a performance that crushes the lackluster Japanese rendition.
The mystery of Xenosaga (the real mystery, not all of that obfuscation that the plot tries to pawn off as mysteries) is that one can watch the plot holes swallow up common sense, cringe at the humor and laugh at the sadly ineffective appeals to emotion, and still be carried along as one episode flows into the next until you find yourself at the end of the volume. But when the disc is over, where the desire to see the next volume should be, there's nothing but an empty hole, best filled by a repeat watching of, say, Crest of the Stars.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Mysteriously easy to watch; attractive designs and great music.
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