Twice the Agents, Twice the Action, and Twice the Fun!
Suave, debonair Jack Hofner and his roguish, etiquette-challenged partner Rowe Rickenbacker are agents of Cloud 7, also known as L/R (Licensed By Royalty), a private group retained by the royal government of Ishtar (a real-sounding but nonexistent alternate version of England) to tackle covert operations too sensitive to be connected with the Crown. No job is too dangerous for these International Men of Mystery, who travel the world on a wide variety of missions, usually involving cool high-tech gadgets and, for Master of Disguise Rowe, the chance to indulge a somewhat unsettling penchant for cross-dressing. Along the way, these British—I mean, Ishtarian—superspies trade quips and do their best to annoy, befuddle, or render unconscious everyone they encounter, in the service of the Crown.
Yes, it's James Bond meets the Goofy Gophers.
This first volume of L/R, Deceptions, contains four episodes of the series that ran on Japanese television earlier this year. These are mostly standalone stories, although there is an overall story arc, involving the Royal Family's search for a missing princess, that is introduced in the third episode.
Episode 1—"Be Traced": Jack and Rowe, AKA L/R (don't ask them which is L and which is R—they're not telling) investigate a pair of con artists out to cheat wealthy art collectors. A rather low-key introduction to the series, this slow-paced mystery gives us a sense of their personalities (Jack's the sober, suave one; Rowe's the unkempt scoundrel) and their irreverent working style.
Episode 2—"A Taste of Secret": The boys are sent to infiltrate a stock villain's evil lair to rescue a captured agent. Much Bondian action ensues, with a clever twist at the end.
Episode 3—"A Girl Goes to City": As the Royal Family searches for their lost heir, a princess who disappeared mysteriously (is there any other kind of disappearance?) fifteen years before, they place one rejected candidate into Cloud 7's custody, to protect her from snooping reporters.
Episode 4—"Sweet Enemies in the Same Desert": The most entertaining episode of the lot, in which several teams of Cloud 7 agents, including an amusing duo that looks and acts like younger, teenaged versions of Jack and Rowe, are pitted against each other in a contest of skills.
L/R is not without its charms; the episodes are solidly plotted with some clever plot twists, and are presented with a whimsical, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. The basic elements of an exciting series are all here, and yet it never quite jells; L/R unfurls with panache and spirit but lacks the spark of originality and visual flair that would lift it above its familiar origins. The main characters aren't especially memorable (at least in these initial episodes), and the series emulates the noir style of Cowboy Bebop and the quirky humor of Lupin III without capturing either. Ultimately, it's an uninvolving and only sporadically entertaining experience.
The animation and artwork are uniformly sub-par for a newly produced series; when I first laid eyes on L/R's washed-out colors and stiff, wooden animation, my assumption was that this was a catalog title rescued from the '80s vault and dusted off for the benefit of nostalgic otaku. Sadly, this was not the case. The curiously retro look even extends to the character designs, with our heroes dressed like extras from Miami Vice. (I'll give director Itsuro Kawasaki, who worked as assistant director on the amazing Please Save My Earth, the benefit of the doubt and speculate that this dated look might be a deliberate throwback to the '80s, but it doesn't make the visuals any less drab.)
Probably the most annoying aspect of L/R, however, is the music. A hodgepodge of '60s style pop and '80s power ballads—imagine Donovan fronting Loverboy—these cheesy and forgettable songs play incessantly under scenes for which they're completely inappropriate, unless of course you've always wanted to see a James Bond movie scored by Bryan Adams.
The extra features on this disc are sparse—Geneon hasn't gone to much trouble with this title, and it shows. "Clean" opening and ending animations and a selection of trailers is all we get. There are English subtitles, and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio tracks in Japanese and English (viewers are advised to stay well away from the English dub, which is the worst I've encountered in recent memory, with cheesy, stock British accents lacking any subtlety or character). Audio is fine but unmemorable, with a fairly static sound field; the anamorphic widescreen video features a clear, clean transfer without noticeable defects, but with colors this dull and faded to begin with, it's nothing to get excited about.
L/R isn't so much awful as mediocre; while there's little here (aside from the music) to offend the senses, everything about it has a warmed-over, been-there-done-that quality. The '60s spy thriller premise is a welcome change of pace from the more typical anime fare, but it's not enough to induce me to recommend this title, even as a rental. Those interested in this type of story would be much better off seeking out Bebop or Lupin instead of this uninspired effort.
The Court finds L/R guilty of mediocrity in the first degree, but can't muster enough enthusiasm to pass sentence.
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