Nothing says "Saturday" to Judge Brett Cullum more than Air Trecking with his colorfully-attired Japanese buddies.
Spread your wings and fly!
ADV keeps cranking out the fan service titles left and right, and Air Gear 1: East Side Showdown is a prime example of the company's commitment to fast fun anime. Nobody will accuse Air Gear of being intensely deep or confusing, but it is a fanciful flight delivered on high tech roller blades. The show is spry, humorous, and nonstop. Air Gear is only concerned with providing a nice adrenaline rush for each show it offers. It is based on a manga originally serialized in the Weekly Shonen Magazine (available in the US in serialized book form). This release contains the first four installments, which serve to set up the show and introduce the personalities involved with the simple plot.
In the initial chapters we meet Ikki, a second-year high school student who lives with four sisters that take care of him. He's fascinated with mysterious roller bladers who fly around the city, and soon discovers several pairs of mechanized skates called Air Trecks (ATs) in his host family's closet. He straps on a pair, and immediately discovers an entire world where wild gangs calling themselves Storm Riders battle for each other's emblems by racing each other around the city. Turns out the Noyamano sisters, unbeknownst to their ward, are a group of these skaters called Sleepy Forest. They teach him the rules of the games, and introduce him to contests known as "Parts Wars" where skaters race for better gear. Soon Ikki decides to create his own gang on wheels, and begins the journey to become the best Air Treck skater around. Will he get the glory or simply break his neck?
At first I was skeptical about a show revolving around the world of roller blading. But like the mecha suit epics so common to anime, these skates give the users special powers to fly and twirl throughout the streets and in the air. The spectacle is far more impressive than you'd guess, and the Air Treck sequences are dizzying and acrobatic. Air Gear packs a nice giddy punch of charmingly goofy action married with good natured competitions delivered at a whiz bang pace. The races and obstacle courses are ingenious, and it's a perfect fit for anime. This isn't the kind of story that would work as a live action work.
ADV delivers a quality presentation for Air Gear. Since the show is so fast-paced a good English dub is essential, and they have assembled veteran voice actors to keep up with the frenetic plot. It would be hard to read subtitles during the race sequences, so I suggest enjoying the English cast first. Chris Patton gets the bulk of the dialogue as Ikki, but other ADV pros like Greg Ayres and Monica Riaal give ample support. It's a large cast of characters, but thankfully ADV has cast distinctive voices for each role. The transfer is crisp and clear with only a hint of grain in the darkest sequences. The English version gets a full rich surround treatment, while the Japanese track stays in two speakers. Extras are limited to clean opening and closing sequences.
Air Gear certainly isn't a kid-friendly anime, and it wears this on its sleeve. Fan service elements include a healthy dose of fist to fist violence, nudity, and foul language. It seems to ultimately be aimed at teens and college students for those reasons. The gangs reminded me of The Warriors, with the outlandish themed costumes and a gathering at a park in the first episode. Half the fun is seeing who comes up next as a competitor, and what they are going to be wearing. The wall-to-wall Japanese pop songs featured in Air Gear are surprisingly well done, and sound better than what typically shows up in anime. They are hard driving dance rock instead of the sugary teen pop we usually get. The animation is slick, although you will notice a significant amount of still sequences which indicate some cost cutting. All of the production elements are surprisingly sophisticated, even though the premise is to mix Xanadu with the WWF.
Air Gear 1: East Side Showdown turns out to be a nice thrill ride for anime fans looking for a fast and furious diversion. It's the kind of show you pick up only for the adrenaline of watching acrobatic skaters grinding their way through a city. I've heard the story gets more complex in Volume 2, but for now this release seems like a simple stunt-driven joyride. ADV does a nice job with the American dub, and the only downside is a lack of extras explaining the new series. This one's definitely worth a look for fans of simple action, hard driving songs, and anime babes.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• Clean Opening and Closing Sequences
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