Judge Steve Power often pretends his car is a giant robot. Go! Pontiac!
A massive global catastrophe has left civilization in tatters, and humanity struggles to survive in the face of the mysterious alien oppressors. Their only chance at defeating the bizarre forces of the Shadow Angels, who've returned after 12,000 years of slumber, is the Mechanical Angel: Aquarion.
A group of pilots with special senses, called Elementals, some of whom may be reincarnated from the heroes who banished the Shadow Angels 12,000 years ago, train in the hopes that three among them will display the keen sense of unity it takes to control the ancient and powerful robot. It is their only chance to push the Shadow Angels back into the darkness before the world is destroyed.
Giant robots are nothing new in the world of animation, nor are giant robots comprised of three or more vehicles combined in various configurations, but Aquarion brings with it a healthy pedigree. Conceived by renowned mechanical designer Shoji Kawamori, the man who gave us Robotech's Veritech Fighter (also known as the coolest giant robot ever made), the series tells us a familiar yet entertaining tale about a group of young pilots who flit about in three ultra powerful aircraft called Vectors. These Vectors combine to form the ass-kicking giant robot known as Aquarion, and our three pilots merge their souls and abilities to fight the Cherubim warriors of the Shadow Angels, as they attempt to harvest the human race for their tree of life.
The show borrows heavily from theology and human mythology, tossing in everything from Greek myth to the Kabbalah, and it makes for a few familiar names and ideas that helped me along in my enjoyment. It starts off slow, getting the viewer into the groove for the first six episodes or so, and just when you think you see a pattern forming, the show changes up to keep things interesting. There's plenty of action to be had, and the usual prerequisites of love, romance, and goofiness are there to feed the anime nerd in you. The elements come together pretty well, with neither the relationships, the funny, or the slam bang stuff feeling forced or tacked on.
Once things really get rolling, the show does pick up its pace, and the final act, which plays out over the last few episodes, gets a little high concept. It never reaches levels of incomprehensive ridiculousness, and the characters don't quite flip out or start murdering themselves, but you may have a tough spot or two to work through while the show trudges toward its ultimately satisfying conclusion.
Funimation continues the trend of giving us top drawer series releases in an affordable package. Aquarion's four discs come handsomely contained in two slim DVD cases and a sharp looking slip sleeve. The discs themselves are excellent; the shows beautifully smooth animation is transferred flawlessly, and Shoji's varied, detailed designs look marvelous. While not on the same level as a theatrical feature, series anime doesn't look much better than this. Sound gets the job done, with a solid thump to the low end that adds punch to the combat. The 5.1 mix is lively, but doesn't rattle the walls. The dub also fares well, with solid voice acting that matches up perfectly to the Japanese script, so you needn't worry about getting a subpar experience if you prefer to watch in English. No real extras are present, though a gallery of textless openings and closings are there if you like that sort of thing.
If Aqarion has one obvious flaw, it would be in the sense of déjà vu that permeates the entirety of the show. Each and every character present feels somewhat recycled, from Apollo's uncontrollable jungle man to Sylvia's bitchy ice queen. While they never feel like a direct carbon copy, they're just close enough to shows like Evangelion, Escaflowne, or any number of "Mecha" shows that you get a sense of familiarity. The shows plotting follows similar lines, and while no, I can't say that I've seen this EXACT storyline unfold before, I can say that it never stops calling up memories of other shows, most notably Evangelion. None of this really kills the series, as it has reached the point that these character types and plot devices have become cliché in the giant robot arena. The Aquarion guys have taken the best of the old '80s mecha clichés and combined them with the "postmodern" '90s version, so you're getting a smattering of Voltron Cheese with your Evangelion pathos.
Aquarion may feel like other, older series in the same genre at times, but it manages to change things up just enough to have an identity of its own, and the pretty visual style and smooth animation make it a show worth the effort for fans of the "Mecha" (aka giant robot) subgenre of anime.
Go! Aquarion! Get out of my courtroom.
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