The prospect of public speaking makes Judge William Lee D-SOIL himself.
Everything you never wanted in a hero.
Do you like complicated sci-fi stories with fighting robots, annoying teens, dumb ethnic stereotypes, big explosions, forgettable CGI and a douchebag protagonist? Chances are likely that you've already endured Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. If that's your cup of java, here's another tale of extraterrestrial aliens grinding their gears over the fate of humanity.
Facts of the Case
Kouichi Hayase is a 14-year-old boy who dreams of being a hero. Someday, he'll discover his latent super powers and become an "ally of justice," he believes. In reality, Kouichi is a loser who constantly gets picked on by bullies. That all changes after a giant robot falls on him. Sharing a psychic link to the machine, called Linebarrel, Kouichi gains super strength and rapid healing. Kouichi dishes out payback to the school bullies and sometimes he's called away to defend the city against other giant robots. Actually, he's just a super-powered jerk who alienates his best friends and contributes to the massive collateral damage around the city. He's also coping with his feelings for his longtime gal pal Risako and it's not any easier now that the mysterious girl Emi (she appeared with Linebarrel) is in the picture.
The world of Linebarrels of Iron will sound familiar to anime fans. Whether they will regard the recycling of ideas as comforting staples of the genre or tired clichés, I don't know. What struck me though, was how difficult it was to piece together the rules of this world. I was halfway through the season before I had a handle on the logic behind how things work. The animated series is based on a serialized manga so maybe it makes more sense for readers of the comic books. Still, it doesn't excuse the weak storytelling of the animated show.
Let me attempt to sum up what I understood was happening. In an alternate reality future, aliens have given mankind giant robots called machinas. These mechs have a psychic connection with chosen humans, called factors, who will pilot their own specific machina. Part of their psychic link involves D-SOIL, which has something to do with nanobots. A machina will teleport to a factor's location when called. In contrast, armas are crude, man-made copies of machinas. These can be piloted by anyone.
The bad guys are the Katou Organization and they want to use their armas to take over the world or something. The extremely destructive war of machinas and armas is kept secret by world governments. It falls to the JUDA Corporation to train factors to defend the world against Katou.
Linebarrels offers an interesting twist on the teen hero story by making its protagonist a jerk. When we first meet Kouichi, he's unable to stand up to the high school bullies despite his best friends backing him up. After he gains his super powers, Kouichi becomes the bully. He sees himself as a guardian of the city and expects respect and accolades as a matter of course. During the early episodes, Kouichi is a little unbearable: first because he's such a wimp, then because he's such an insufferable egomaniac. This is the intention of the show's writing and acting but it's hard to feel invested in this character. Fortunately, Kouichi does grow as a character over the course of the series so viewers willing to stick with him may feel they're rewarded for their patience.
The series was animated by the studio Gonzo (Pumpkin Scissors) and directed by Masamitsu Hidaka (Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns). Aside from some brief animated nudity, Linebarrels looks like your average Saturday morning anime. Hand-drawn character movement is limited and in comical moments the characters are grossly distorted to express emotions. They will also suffer sudden, raging nosebleeds when their hormones flare up. This happens a lot to Kouichi because he has to touch Emi's b-b-breast to summon Linebarrel.
The big draws of this genre are the fighting robots. Unfortunately, the mech-on-mech action is forgettable. The armas and machinas are computer-generated but it's hard to judge how well the CGI is integrated with the hand-drawn backgrounds. Few shots linger long enough for viewers to take in all the elements as a whole. Instead, the battles are comprised of quick cuts of posing robots, fast moments, close-ups, trash talk, smoke trails, explosions, explosions and more explosions. Considering how much destruction is dished out, it's a good thing the various city blocks, industrial districts and power plants where the fighting occurs are always unpopulated.
On the show's web site, there is a list of the different machinas and details of their unique abilities. Fans can appreciate which robot can fire its fists and which one carries a sword, etcetera. Watching the episodes, I found the machinas nearly indistinguishable. Sure, there's a beige one fighting a blue one…oh, and the blue one has wings. Whatever the reason for their design, it's wasted in the poorly staged action moments and camera angles that fail to make these machines look impressive.
Funimation has done its usual job in bringing the series to Region 1 DVD. The 12 half-hour episodes of the first season are spread between two discs. The picture is clean and colors are stable. The audio choices are the original Japanese track in stereo or the English dub in Dolby 5.1 surround. The stereo track sounds good with strong, clear dialogue. The sound effects are slightly stronger and gain a little more directionality in the surround option. Plus, the English dialogue fits very well with the timing and emotional tone of the animation.
ADR director Caitlin Glass (Murder Princess) leads a commentary track, with voice actors Josh Grelle and Alexis Tipton, on Episode 6. In this fun and informative talk the participants reveal what anime nerds they are. It's an entertaining listen and I wish Funimation would record more than just a single episode commentary for these sets. Funimation's standard-issue extras include: Japanese TV promo spots, the textless opening (with a crazy title song that can't be explained in words), textless close and a music video.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The series isn't much fun at first what with all the bullying, characters dying and the sketchy background details. It is some relief that the show doesn't take itself too seriously and humorous digressions are frequent. It does make for an odd fit sometimes as Kouichi's teen romance will be interrupted abruptly with a mecha battle that devastates a neighborhood. The humor is quite juvenile at times and a lot of screen time is devoted to Kouichi being flustered by his sexual attraction to Emi. The final episode of the set features the good guys and bad guys on a beach vacation, which affords the animators a reason to draw every character in bikinis and swim trunks.
At the start of this review, I mentioned dumb ethnic stereotypes figured in the mix. One of the baddies is a Russian with a heavy accent. Chalk him up as your standard dumb henchman. On the other hand, there's a girl who looks and sounds similar to Sailor Moon but she's supposed to be the American factor of the JUDA team. Go figure.
Guilty for being unoriginal and not entirely understandable.
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