Look now, look all around, there's no sign of life. Voices, another sound. Can you hear Judge Adam Arseneau now?
Project Blue Earth SOS is a living, breathing homage to all things 1950s pulp science fiction, full of flying saucers, ray guns with big O-shaped beams and art deco styling, and hotshot fighter pilots dueling with UFOs, fighting back against secret alien plans to take over the world.
Facts of the Case
As humanity prepares to debut its revolutionary G-Reaction engines, peculiar accidents keep plaguing the project. Every time the new engine is put into service, be it ship, plane, or train, mysterious rainbow lights appear, and the engine (and craft) vanish without a trace! Two teenage geniuses, Penny Carter and Billy Kimura, both come to the same conclusion: aliens! Try as they might, they can't quite get anyone to believe them.
Once the flying saucers appear over the world and start destroying cities, of course, people start listening. Humanity is under attack from mysterious invaders, but Earth has been preparing for the worst for years now. A secret organization called the Labyrinth Alliance emerges as humanity's saviors, complete with top-secret weaponry to fight the aliens.
Project Blue Earth SOS: Complete Box Set includes all six episodes of the show on two discs.
It is easy to understand that director Tensai Okamura (Cowboy Bebop: The Movie) is a lover of all things vintage and science fiction, since Project Blue Earth SOS is a living breathing love letter to old-fashioned anime and science fiction, crafted in a modern style. It also pays loving homage to the seminal anime styling of yesteryear, of early sci-fi works by Osamu Tezuka and Go Nagai, emulating the innocent pulp sci-fi feel of early animation.
As homage to pulpy sci-fi serials like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, it is hard to chastise Project Blue Earth SOS for its charming visuals and spectacular design, having so perfectly created a 1950s-era world set in the modern day, where technology is both retro and hyper-modern at the same time. CGI-enhanced fight sequences show off detailed and choreographed dogfight sequences between thousands of UFOs against a single heroic fighter pilot, weaving and dodging through the sky. Unfortunately, Project Blue Earth SOS also emulated narrative techniques and character development of the past, which feels lacking to modern audiences.
I find myself conflicted trying to enjoy Project Blue Earth SOS. The geek in me is elated by the stunning visuals, the detail and immaculate homage to well-established sci-fi tropes and traditions, to the subtle nods towards classic manga and animes like Metropolis. The other part of me, the part that enjoys watching good movies, is bored stiff. Strip away all its visual design charms and this becomes agonizingly clichéd, with erratic pacing, poor character development, and a dull plot. Despite all the hootenanny going on, watching invisible alien ships appear out of nowhere and raze cities, nobody seems to be having any fun. There's no soul, no passion. The characters are painfully one-dimensional, old-fashioned even; the whiz-kid with the glasses, the plucky kid with the dog sidekick, the white-haired handsome hotshot fighter pilot, the freckled girl who faints on cue, the busty private tutor—all rough outlines at best, and then we go whooshing off to fight aliens. It's like Mars Attacks! without the sense of humor.
I will concede that once we hit midway through the series, things get more interesting as we get more details about the alien invasion and the weave of deception and mystery surrounding them, but it's a slow ride at times. Excitement levels never really peak; it kind of dwells around the kneecap level. But once the aliens take the attacks to the next level and start impersonating humans, things get spicy, if clichéd (special goggles to detect the "invaders"). This is right around the time we start to get some basic character development, but it serves only as a delivery device for new plot twists. All the adventures are essentially child-friendly, as the two fourteen-year-olds are essentially saving the world when the adults have no idea how to. It's not quite kids' fare per se, but it does have that feel about it—kind of like Jonny Quest taking on alien invaders. Whimsical would be putting it politely, but for those prepared to commit to it, the storyline does have a reasonable payoff. Although it is peculiar that the invading aliens go to such outlandish lengths to destroy humanity. Considering they can just ray gun everything, why they'd muck about with body snatching, bombings, and mind control is beyond me—but they would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for those pesky kids. And their dog…
Project Blue Earth SOS isn't as much fun as it should be given it subject matter, but it definitely delivers with amazing visuals and fantastic design. The presentation is very nice on this title. The anamorphic presentation is extremely nice, with saturated colors, excellent detail level and solid black levels. There are no problems with compression or edge artifacts, and the image is crystal clear. Certain sequences appear overly soft, but this is often stylistic, depending on the location and situation. Audio comes in 5.1 surround in both English dub and Japanese—always nice to see equal treatment to both options. I was impressed at the level of immersion and environmental detail in these tracks, especially in the rear channels, which eagerly come to life at any opportunity. Bass response is average, and dialogue is clear. I do quite enjoy the theme song, which is a string and big-band retro piece perfectly in line with the 1950s vibe of the show. The English dub is passable, but not particularly good, with Billy and Penny particularly annoying. I did catch a few grammatical errors in the subtitles, which is always alarming.
Extras are nonexistent; we get textless opening song and trailers, that's it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The lack of fun in Project Blue Earth SOS is the biggest hindrance to its success. This kind of retro sci-fi adventure begs for some tongue-in-cheek campy fun or over-the-top violence but there's little or none to be found of either. I mean, if you're going to overthrow an alien invasion from Earth, you need to take it one way or the other—either aliens tearing people from limb to limb in gory violence, or a madcap adventure full of silliness and laughter. Project Blue Earth SOS can't figure out which way it wants to go, and so it goes absolutely nowhere more often than it should.
Light and inconsequential, Project Blue Earth SOS is visually impressive and evokes nostalgia of 1950s pulp sci-fi adventure, but doesn't really evoke any adventurous enjoyment from audiences beyond the thrill of the homage. Retro alien invasions should never be boring. Not ever. Not even for a minute. Youthful audiences should enjoy this more than seasoned anime vets.
Enjoyable, but not a must-see title, Project Blue Earth SOS is not guilty, because I can't say no to big O-shaped ray gun beams.
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