Judge Bryan Byun has just the anime series for action fans who thought The Professional was too frothy.
"Subtlety's not your forte, kid."—Kurokawa
Mezzo is an anime series based on the hyper-violent Mezzo Forte OVA by Yasuomi Umetsu, the insane genius behind 1998's controversial Kite. If you've seen Kite, a blood- and sex-drenched alternate-universe take on The Professional (reimagined as if Natalie Portman's waifish would-be assassin had fallen into the crooked cop's hands instead of the kindly hit man's), then you already have a good idea of what to expect from Mezzo—a cute li'l gun-toting gal lays waste to armies of bad guys, perky boobs bouncing like helium balloons in a wind tunnel with each acrobatic kick to some hapless goon's face. In its incarnation as a regular series, Mezzo dials the OVA's sex and violence down to a minimum, which will disappoint viewers looking for the intensity of the earlier feature, but which also makes the series more friendly to the average anime fan.
In Mezzo: Shell Two, the second DVD volume of the series, we revisit the motley trio of guns for hire who call themselves the DSA, or Danger Service Agency. Mikura is a pink-haired, aggressively unhinged waif who's as perky as she is trigger-happy. Spiky-haired Harada is the team's hunky-but-nerdy tech geek. "Pops" Kurokawa, a former police detective, is the team's leader and father figure, although he's not much of either, which is why the team's still living in a dilapidated double-decker bus. And then there's Asami, a mysterious, meek little girl who's not a member of the team—yet—but who's attached herself to Mikura and wants to become just like her.
This second volume offers four episodes on a single disc:
"Shell of Memories" sees Harada plunged into melancholy after a chance encounter with an old girlfriend. It's the most unusual, and in some ways most enjoyable, episode in this volume, as we get to see some of Harada's back story through flashbacks to his schoolboy days, when he was a dorky teen in the throes of young love.
In "Shell of Sorrow," the DSA is hired by the owners of a condemned apartment complex to clear out a gang of squatters so the building can be demolished. What looks to be a routine muscle job turns into a macabre mystery involving a ghostly young girl holding a white stuffed bunny who keeps appearing to Asami.
"Shell of Thoughts" has Asami winning a contest to try out a new virtual reality simulation. Mikura innocently swipes the invitation and ends up going in Asami's place—much to her chagrin, when the simulation turns out to have far more sinister purposes than mere entertainment.
"Shell of Dreams" involves a scary clown-masked serial killer who warns his victims by sending them notes. The latest victim-to-be hires the DSA as bodyguards…but is all what it appears to be? Of course not.
The stories of Mezzo follow a fairly consistent formula, in which the gang becomes embroiled in a mystery, with a creepy plot twist at the end. It's predictable, and the plot twists aren't that tough to figure out, but the stories are engaging and range pretty far and wide in genre, from crime thrillers to Tales from the Crypt–style ghost stories to mind-bending science fiction. Even if the plots aren't the most original, it's always fun to see Mikura beating up on some pervy thugs or making cruel fun of the sad-sack Harada.
The episodes in this second volume aren't quite as action-oriented as in the first, but that's not saying much considering what a flurry of bullets and fists Shell One offered up. I actually preferred the somewhat quieter stories in this volume, which fill out the characters more and provide such charming domestic moments as Kurokawa fussing over his cooking and worrying about his receding hairline. It's not quite as exciting, but it's also less hyperactive and disjointed. In this second set, Mezzo may have been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, but it still has plenty of violent hijinks on display. One of my favorite scenes involves Mikura posing as a masseuse and having to deal with a lecherous client who wants more than he paid for—and gets it.
Audio and video quality in Mezzo: Shell Two is consistent with the earlier volume in the series. Images are flawless, with the crisp, highly detailed drawings rendered in vivid color. Audio is presented in a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround in English or two-channel sound in the original Japanese, and while the surround track is obviously superior, the 2.0 track isn't bad either. Extras, as in the previous volume, include "clean" opening and closing animations, a gallery of character portraits that's fairly interesting in showing off the level of detail in the character designs, and a selection of ADV trailers.
Make no mistake, Mezzo: Shell Two is no walk in the park. It's more like a high-speed chase through a carnival funhouse, with a hardcore punk band featuring caterwauling overcaffeinated preteen girls providing the soundtrack. It's not exactly artistically edifying, or especially memorable, but it's a pretty good ride while it lasts.
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