Judge Adam Arseneau was licensed by royalty once, but he lost the job when he accidentally forgot his gas-shooting teakettle in the Queen's study at Buckingham Palace.
Twice the agents, twice the action, and twice the fun!
If Cowboy Bebop were set in the UK and had a total lack of spaceships, it would look a lot like L/R: Licensed By Royalty. Or rather, it would, if the animators were watching James Bond movies and Miami Vice reruns.
In previous Verdicts, Judge Bryan Byun panned the first disc of Licensed By Royalty, while Judge Rob Lineberger praised the second disc. For the third disc, I fall comfortably and neutrally betwixt the two (though not in the erotic "sandwich" sense, as that would just be wacky). The show definitely has some strong points; L/R is reasonably stylish, well animated, decently conceived and written, and yet, for some reason, inexplicably lacks the panache and spark of a cohesive, well-executed anime series. L/R is too dull to be intriguing or compelling, but too comfortable and easygoing to be a total failure.
In the kingdom of Ishtar (which bears more than a passing resemblance to Britain), where a bomber named "Angel" has been terrorizing the Royal Family, things are rather quiet these days. L/R, the Cloud7 duo of svelte Jack Hofner and the uncouth Rowe Rickenbacker, are something like secret agents, taking on dangerous clandestine missions for the royals…off the record, of course. But since Angel seems to have vanished off the face of the earth, the super-secret Cloud7 agency is afforded the opportunity to take on some less-glamorous missions—like retrieving a royal gem before it gets smuggled out of the country, or attending a baseball game. But for them, nothing goes particularly smoothly, especially when Jack is investigating the connection between their boss, Mister, and the present of DTI, and Rowe stumbles upon the secret identity of Angel!
From the opening introduction, it is clear that L/R desperately wishes it was Cowboy Bebop. It isn't. In effect, L/R is something of a weak knock-off, attempting to wedge into the niche by offering slick, enigmatic cigarette-smoking protagonists, the token preteen girl, fancy pursuits, an ultra-modern and hip soundtrack, and mysteriously unfolding plotlines. Problem is, while it definitely does all of these things, it does none of these things particularly well; or at least, not well enough to be a breakthrough anime hit. This is "discount anime": still very enjoyable and agreeable, but only if you have your head in the ground and have never really seen any anime before.
Character designs are almost painfully blasé, which is not to say that they suck outright, but rather, they instinctively resemble every other character design that you have ever seen in an anime before, without anything singularly unique or interesting about them. In short, the designs are a disappointment, but at the same time, immediately comforting. They are inoffensive in a soothing sort of way. The music, a bewilderingly esoteric combination of trumpets, harmonicas, and piano rags, sounds like a broken jukebox from the 1950s falling down a mountain, simultaneously playing three records at once. Personally, I actually liked the insane soundtrack; and the theme song, "Go Where No One's Gone Before" by Billy Preston, is a jazzy horn-driven number that is actually far too catchy for its own good, considering its…err…source material.
The video and audio are reasonably top-notch, and while the animation itself lacks any sort of kinetic grace or unique style, the anamorphic widescreen transfer should put a smile on the face of any otaku. Swarthy in its blues and grays, Licensed By Royalty looks downright smashing, despite a general lack of sharpness and definition to the animation, which suffers a disappointing cloudiness and lack of clarity at times. But colors are excellent, black levels are well represented, and overall this is a sharp-looking DVD.
Both Japanese and English Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks have been mastered exceptionally well, each representing the dialogue, sound effects and music in similarly balanced fashion. The English dub, hilariously done in faux British, Scottish, and Irish accents, could actually be one of the better English dubs I have ever heard, solely for the fact that it feels more appropriate than its original language track. I never thought I would ever say anything like this about an anime DVD, but here we are. Seriously. Maybe the fake accents hide the terrible intonation and sycophantic pacing that plague all English-dubbed anime, or maybe I just have a soft spot for someone who can fake a Cockney accent. Whatever the reason, the English dub is the way to go.
Not much in the way of extra material here—only four (almost) identical TV spots dubbed in silly English and about twenty minutes of Geneon previews. The real kick in the knickers, however, is the short breadth of this DVD. A lousy three episodes per disc represents the lower echelon of anime value, scraping the cold stone floor with its bloated sticker price. With a MSRP of $29.95, even the most dedicated fan would have to think twice on this one. The episodes are cute, charming, and totally inoffensive in their own slow-paced way, but absolutely not worth ten dollars a pop.
It's tough to know what to think of L/R. A decent anamorphic widescreen transfer, excellent English dubbing, catchy music, and inoffensive character designs almost—but not quite—mask the total absence of anything truly outstanding or interesting about Licensed By Royalty. At this point, the anime formula of noir-ish detective-types smoking lots of cigarettes and fighting the occasional villain with a hot jazz soundtrack in the background is almost something of a cliché…but an enjoyable cliché, if you're into that sort of thing, or really love British spy flicks from the 1960s.
The real problem, though, is that Licensed By Royalty has no idea what it wants to be. Part Cowboy Bebop, part Miami Vice, part James Bond, it ends up doing none of these things in particularly exceptional fashion. Nevertheless, it represents a decently entertaining ride, and despite the absolute ripoff value of a three-episode anime disc, Licensed By Royalty offers a half-decently good time for the interested.
Any diehard fans from Adult Swim may want to pick up the show for posterity's sake on DVD. The casually curious may be better off catching the show on TV before rushing out with their wallets protruding, since you only get three lousy episodes a disc, and that isn't much to base an opinion on. There may be interesting things in the future for L/R, but based on this DVD, it is hard to imagine.
Give it a go, guv', if you feel the need. L/R is far from terrible anime, but it seems like Licensed By Royalty may be doomed to animation obscurity before you can take a puff out of your knockout gas-shooting cigarette.
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