NOTE: This review is for a Japanese release. Information contained herein may or may not apply to other regions' releases. When looking to import, be aware that the Japanese version does not have subtitles.
I've grown tired of anime. I've been a fan for over 10 years now and the entire landscape of animation seems less compelling than ever. The feeling of having been there and done that permeates almost everything and boredom sets in much more quickly than it ever has before. In the last three years, I have watched only two series in their entireity.
Aquarion will be my third.
In the year of Genesis 0012 humanity is being "harvested" by the "datenshi", a race of immortals who can thrive only by using the energy obtained from the souls of mortals. In order to fight this menace, an organization called DEAVA has created three flying machines called "vectors". These vectors can be combined in three different formations to form an ultimate weapon called "Aquarion". But in order to successfully pilot this dream-machine, 3 human "elements" must join their souls in "gattai (union)" and act in perfect harmony. In order to find potential elements, a school for "candidates" has been established.
New to the candidates is a headstrong, ill-mannered and almost bestial orphan named Apollo who doesn't get along with anyone. The odds of Apollo working "harmoniously" in any capacity seem pretty low. But Aquarion chooses it's own pilots and Vector Sol seems to have taken quite a liking to him. Could it have something to do with the handsome winged redhead whispering instructions in his head?
Meanwhile, an incredibly powerful Shadow Angel has awakened from a long sleep... and he's looking to rekindle something with his old lover, who just happens to be a handsome winged readhead...
Ep 1-2 Review:
Episode one has quite a lot packed into it's 25 minute run-time. We meet all of the current Element candidates (Silvia, Pierre, Sirus, Glen, and Lihua), DEAVA staff members (Sophia, Gen, Jerome and Rena), and Apollo's "family" (Apollo, Baron, and the orphans). Otoha and Touma are also introduced briefly. Aquarion's first form "Aquarion Luna" is also introduced, as is the concept of "gattai".
In spite of this, there's not much complicated story explanation. Most of the vital information is delivered in a 2 minute prologue. Far more energy is put into creatively coreographed fight sequences and establishing relationships between characters. The entire episode flies by with an energy and speed that is immediately engaging.
There are more than a few smile-inducing moments and most come courtesy of Apollo. His character is brilliant: a natural comedian, action hero and stray dog all in one compact red-headed package.
Episode 2 introduces the over-arching "past life" subtheme. In which we learn that Apollo is the heir to the "Solar wings" which once belonged to an improbably sexy immortal named Apollonius.
A major conflict between Sirius and Apollo is also introduced while Silvia gets a sexy immortal of her own to wisper in her head. We get our first glimpse of Solar Aquarion, Aquarion's "ultimate" form. The episode ends in an epic confrontation between Apollo and Touma that sets the stage for the rest of the series.
The animation is stellar for a tv series (having been largely outsourced to Korea), the character and art design is amazing (thanks to the original novel's illustrator Eiji Kaneda and concept designer okama), and the music (by the always brilliant Yoko Kanno) is lovely.
The only drawback is the series' heavy use of CG. It doesn't always look natural with the hand-drawn animation and a few transitions are downright jarring. Why CG toast for heaven's sake?!
Luckily, CG is mostly confined to mech battles, where it's been employed to usually impressive ends.
Vol 1 of the Japanese series release comes with a box to house the first 3 volumes, an insert on the human characters, and a complete storyboard book for episode 1.
Included on the disc itself are a plethora of special features (actually very rare on Japanese-release DVDs):
-Op theme single advert
-PS2 game advert
-a CG introduction to the vectors and Aquarions (narrated by Tsugumi)
-interview and making-of featurette with Shouji Kawamori
-interviews with Project Aquarion staff
-featurette about the series' premiere party
-a ton of promo trailers and CMs (both for conventions/expos and tv spots)
In short: this is the nicest DVD package I've had the good fortune to buy in three years of living in Japan. It almost makes the $63 pricetag seem reasonable... almost ^^;
"Sousei no Aquarion" is something of an oddity. It's a series that, in catering to every possible audience, managed to slip more or less off everyone's radar entirely. Having chosen a particularly miserable time to be noticed (at the peak of Gundam Seed's popularity) and having no major studio backing, Aquarion came and went quietly. 3 years later, it is nearly impossible to find DVDs, cds and merchandise.
But with a major liscencing deal in the USA, 2 OVAs and a theatrical feature on the horizon: Aquarion may just find it's audience after all.
And hell, even if it's just me: I appreciate having been reminded why I became an anime fan at all.
Highly recommended to anyone.