Judge Sandra Dozier bemoans the unfortunate choice of title for this series, which bears a strong resemblance to a song that, once stuck in a loop in your head, can make you insane within hours. However, don't let that stop you from watching this anime series.
For centuries, five supernatural factions have waged war for supremacy over mankind, with legend prophesying that one day the Aquarian Age will begin and one group will reign supreme!
Yet another anime based on a card game makes its way to the U.S., but rather than being an obvious "collect 'em all" adventure, Aquarian Age offers a compelling story about the dual nature of an emerging goddess, and the boy who loves her.
The series begins with Kyouta, a teenager with aspirations to make it big as a rock star. His best friend Yoriko, whom he has known since childhood, is his biggest fan and supporter. Along with his friends Jun and Shingo, Kyouta is recruited by Misato, who works for the entertainment agency Cosmopop. This starts a cascade of events for Kyouta, who begins to see supernatural fighters that no one else seems to notice. Meanwhile, Yoriko undergoes changes of her own as she begins to awaken to the power of the Benzaiten, a goddess and holy leader for a faction of magic users who are at war with other magical beings, all of whom exist just below the visibility of humanity. These changes begin to drive Yoriko and Kyouta apart as they both seek their own paths.
Volume two picks up the story with Yoriko, who is made aware that another path has been predetermined for her awakening: that of the Sarasvati, a dark force tied to no particular faction. Another element is introduced in the form of Mindbreakers, individuals who are independent of the magical world and who can control anyone who is a member of one of the warring factions. Yoriko is seduced by Abuto, a Mindbreaker who wants to turn her to the path of the Sarasvati, and who appeals to her need to escape her own weak personality by promising that the Sarasvati will give her confidence and power. When she witnesses what she believes is the romantic betrayal of Kyouta with another woman, she is devastated and follows Abuto willingly, leaving behind her former life and embracing the Sarasvati. As she falls out of touch with Kyouta, he learns a secret about himself that will change the way the two relate to each other, and everyone else.
Questions of good and evil are played out in this storyline and in the larger context of the surrounding story. Although the series centers around Kyouta and Yoriko, there are several players who weave in and out of the story threads, moving things along. I found myself caring about these characters and enjoying the story. This is not a fighting-girl anime, and it isn't even really a metaphor for religion or spirituality, although those elements heavily influence events. Instead, what it boils down to is the inner struggle everyone faces at some point in his or her life when they have to either change or die. This metaphor is made explicit when it is revealed that by following the path of the Sarasvati, Yoriko is suppressing the part of herself that is Benzaiten, and doing so will rip her psyche apart. At some point it will fracture her sanity so that she will become an unstoppable destructive force. It is hard to tell which side should prevail in the fight over her destiny, because no one is completely good or completely evil, and the ambiguity keeps the story fresh and entertaining.
ADV has done a fantastic job of packaging this series for a Western audience, with an excellent English translation and some nice extras on each volume. Chris Patton voices Kyouta, and his soulful voice is a perfect reflection of Kyouta's brooding and passionate nature. Monica Rial takes on the role of Yoriko, and she does a fine job of moving between the shy, girlish Yoriko and the mature, darker side that comes out later in the series. The English soundtrack is remastered in 5.1 from the strong 2.0 Japanese soundtrack, and it sounds great. Both versions makes full use of the sound field, with sounds that move between speakers, get louder and softer with distance, and move offscreen when people and objects go out of view. The video also looks very nice—sharp and clear, with gorgeous color and few or no problems on the print. The series is presented in letterboxed widescreen, and although it is not anamorphic, it looks really good.
Volumes two and three include an excellent extra called "Behind the Anime" that, for fans of voice acting, is almost worth the purchase alone. At about 10-15 minutes each, these shorts feature interviews with the folks at ADV who were responsible for bringing the series to a U.S. audience. Volume two has producer David Williams interviewing Jon Duckworth, an audio engineer, about his job recording and editing the voice tracks. This is an interesting look at the process from this angle, and it's funny to hear the two discussing the rigors of cleaning up the "clicks and smacks" that are a normal part of talking, but that would sound funny if left in a voice track and matched to a scene. Jon also offers advice to aspiring voice talent: don't drink coke or coffee with creamer, but lemons and water are great! This extra also features several minutes with Vic Mignogna (Shingo) and Chris Patton in the booth, recording dialogue. Volume three catches up with translator Sarah Lindholm, whose first project for ADV was this series. She discusses the research she did for the translation, and her fascination with the two versions of the same goddess, as represented by the Benzaiten and the Sarisvati. Monica Rial's recording session is also featured, in which her favorite pink bunny makes an appearance. In addition to these extras are production sketches, Japanese TV spots, and clean opening and closing animation.
This is a short series, just thirteen episodes long and contained in three volumes. With a great soundtrack, gorgeous animation, and an engaging story that transcends its card-game roots, it is definitely worth checking out, especially for fans of psychological drama who don't mind a little fighting-girl action and supernatural intrigue thrown in for good measure.
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Scales of Justice, Aquarian Age: Sign For Evolution: Destiny (Volume 3)
Perp Profile, Aquarian Age: Sign For Evolution: Destiny (Volume 3)
Studio: ADV Films
Distinguishing Marks, Aquarian Age: Sign For Evolution: Destiny (Volume 3)
• "Behind the Anime: Aquarian Age"
Scales of Justice, Aquarian Age: Sign For Evolution: Troubled Dreams (Volume 2)
Perp Profile, Aquarian Age: Sign For Evolution: Troubled Dreams (Volume 2)
Studio: ADV Films
Distinguishing Marks, Aquarian Age: Sign For Evolution: Troubled Dreams (Volume 2)
• "Behind the Anime: Aquarian Age"
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