"Humanity is looking for the end product of evolution."—Lord Sneak
Call it the love child of Gattaca and 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a little Vandread thrown in. At the end of the 21st century, technology had enabled humanity to fulfill every dream. But most people's dreams are base and hedonistic. Chaos erupted. Humanity fell apart.
There was only one way, so the leaders thought, to set things right. Genetic manipulation would uplift the race, eliminate those inappropriate desires, and set each individual in his or her proper place. The new masters wrote men out of the equation, setting a ratio of one male to nine females, believing they could end war by removing male aggression. And it worked, for a while.
But 200 years of peace and prosperity are about to come crashing down.
Geneshaft, a 13-episode anime series from Bandai, wears its influences on its sleeve: "Niven Base," council members with names like Brunner and Asimov, episode titles borrowed from novels like Inherit the Stars and The Ship Who Sang. The show wants to be taken seriously as an heir to classic hard science fiction. It has a reasonable claim. The creators of the series did their homework, building a fairly logically consistent society based on a Brave New World style genetic hierarchy.
This is a culture that believes it has mastered human evolution. But when a giant ring is discovered orbiting the Moon, things start to get very bad very quickly. Anti-genotyping terrorists disrupt the survey mission, the sinister lord in charge of the operation assassinates his female handler, and the Ring awakens and zaps Earth with a deadly particle beam. So off goes the Bilkis, the only spaceship capable of saving the Earth from this new threat, along with its buggy and clunky prototype mech, the Shaft.
Geneshaft takes many of the conventional routines of the mecha genre and gives them enough of a twist to hold up on its own. Indeed, the mecha action is really secondary to the show. This is a dark mystery, often gravely paced. The heroes have problems with suit breaches, software patches, gravity failures, and other technical glitches. Most of the second episode is concerned with launching the crippled Bilkis and rescuing a jammed escape pod from the space station after the Ring's devastating attack—and they fail to save the pod. Computers crash, characters bicker, and the general tone of the series is somewhat grim, with occasional bursts of humor. This is a more realistic approach to this type of story, with a keen eye for detail in both gadget design and dialogue.
Where Geneshaft falters is in its characters. They are all pretty stock anime types: the spunky outsider, the brilliant and egotistical warrior, the brooding and sinister leader, the ditzy girl, the mentor, and so on. Nobody gets too far past their stereotypes, at least in these first four episodes. And because you can guess where all the characters are headed fairly early—for instance, outsider Mika will eventually show her latent powers and outperform the genetically perfect but arrogant Lady Mir—the character development angle does not hold your attention.
Fortunately, the overall plot arc, in spite of borrowing a lot from 2001 (mysterious artifact at the Moon leads explorers to aliens near Jupiter who had a hand in human evolution) is interesting enough to pick up some of the slack. And the creators have added enough social complexity to this world that the character conversations seem to have some relevance. At only 13 episodes, the series does not have time for too many irrelevant digressions, so there is little padding and plot threads generally stay on point.
Pioneer's DVD release of the first volume of Geneshaft does not offer much extra content, other than a "pilot film" (really a demo reel of CG-enhanced scenes) and a couple of very helpful glossaries. The print seems a little light, sometimes blurring the delicate, almost perforated line work. But I have come to the conclusion that the haziness is the current house style for Japan's "upscale" anime shows, which seem to all want to look like they have been borrowing Ridley Scott's cinematographer.
On the whole, Geneshaft has the makings of a reasonably entertaining series. It probably does not have a lot of replay value, and its glossy special effects will be superceded in a couple of years by the next generation of flashy trendmakers. But in the meantime, mecha fans should enjoy its fusion of formula elements with classic American hard SF.
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