"I will crush them all with this fist of mine!"—Kazuma
With all of the stoic vampire slayers, bubbly little girls, and quirky robots dominating the anime landscape lately, the action genre has been overlooked. The most recent example of a popular pure action series was Dragonball Z, a wildly popular series that sends many anime diehards cringing into their mangas. The time is ripe for s-CRY-ed to pump life into the action genre, and it is making the most of its chance.
Facts of the Case
A weird supernatural calamity has thrust part of Japan up into the air like a tower. This aerial plateau is renamed "The Lost Ground" because resident Japanese don't like mile-high vertical commutes. Just as well, because something strange is afoot in The Lost Ground. Some newborns and forest creatures are being born with the disconcerting ability to alter matter and energy. For example, a threatened squirrel might summon a 50-foot high robotic warrior to defend itself. (You may wonder how a squirrel understands the schematics for a 50-foot high robot, but I digress.) Needless to say, these "alter users" make The Lost Ground a puzzling, deadly place for unwary city folk.
In true X-Men fashion, an organization named HOLY hunts down native alter users to convert or incarcerate them. The irony is that HOLY is a faction of alter users. This hypocritical tidbit puts a strange philosophical twist on the conflict between native alter users and the elite HOLY police force.
Ryuho is an elite officer of HOLY, ruthless, calculating, and irresistible to women. The ladies want to bother his intense, dominant exterior, while the men both distrust and respect him. During a routine alter-user roundup, Ryuho crosses paths with Kazuma. Kazuma is a fiercely independent alter user with a "strike first" attitude. The two hit it off like tar and white linen. Ryuho makes it his top priority to crush Kazuma, while Kazuma organizes the scattered alter users to resist HOLY forces. Enter volume two, The Alter Hunt.
The best thing about s-CRY-ed is the sense that it is building towards something. Many animated series ho and hum along until a freaky third act comes out of nowhere. s-CRY-ed is somewhat formulaic, yet moves with purpose. Even the five episodes on this DVD show a progression. HOLY reveals strife within its political factions. Kazuma does some soul searching, finds a weakness within himself, and seeks to alter it. The Alter Users explore different sides of their power. People actually talk and seek to understand each other.
Real tension is generated between Ryuho and Kazuma. You just know they are going to duke it out, and when it happens it will be spectacular. Their repeated clashes are intense, but always stopped before it gets too interesting. Eventually, fate will cease intervention and let the two have at it.
While we await that showdown, s-CRY-ed gives us other stuff to think about. The plot isn't too deep, but at least there is one, which is an improvement over many fighting animes. The central conflict in these episodes is the capture and incarceration of Kazuma's best buds. Strategy is not Kazuma's forté, but he does an admirable job representing the alter crowd. He attempts to free them through subtlety, and fails. This fallibility in the characters is s-CRY-ed's strength. Kazuma is bull-headed and hot-tempered, but he has the ability to reason and allow his paternal instincts to emerge occasionally. Ryuho could be a boring character, driven by work and nothing else. But the ladies dig him and he expresses uncertainty at times. These flashes of humanity make Ryuho a more approachable rival.
I'm not willing to crown s-CRY-ed the king of intrigue, but for a show that basically consists of glowing guys fighting each other, the context is remarkably rich. Throw in a dash of political infighting, personal strife, character development, and a heaping scoop of misunderstood outsiders, the action takes on more significance.
Technically, the DVD is impressive. The colors are blindingly bright with even saturation. Outlines are crisp and black with no sign of edge enhancement. The animation lacks the sedentary qualities found in many anime, with plenty of movement and energy. Tastefully integrated computer effects add glowing auras and glittering showers of sparks. The artwork is on the cheesy side at times, with blocky robotic arms, poofy coiffures, and Next Generation-esque uniforms.
Snappy audio injects energy into the action. I was tapping my toes while the combatants squared off, awaiting their majestic swirls of energetic power. The score is responsible for the kinetic feel of the series. While it isn't particularly sophisticated, it is effective. I really wanted a 5.1 mix, though. Many of the newer anime DVDs have begun to incorporate surround effects with great success. For example, I found similar battles in Full Metal Panic richer and more dynamic because of the surround mix. For a show that is clearly focused on action, the surrounds would have added a healthy boost.
The voice cast is superior in the Japanese version, with more world-weary dramatic weight. The American cast sounds too young and too peppy at times. The dub is of high quality, and the cast does a decent job, but the Japanese vocal cast nails it.
I am awed at the number and variety of extras. The promo clips are thoughtful considering this is the second disc in the series. I was able to glean enough back story to understand the episodes. A couple music videos were peppy fluff. The sound comic was truly interesting, showing a contrasting view of the s-CRY-ed universe. Other extras flesh out the world a bit. The inclusion of all five textless credit sequences shows thoughtful attention to detail. A spiffy trading card is icing on the cake.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The fight scenes are nice because they vary somewhat and allow you to see what is going on. Too often, anime fights consist of two dudes glowing with magical power and clashing in a mushroom cloud of dust. s-CRY-ed is a notch above, with two dudes squaring off and showing each other their spiffy alter powers, then clashing slowly enough for us to discern what is happening. However, I could use without the meaningless "awe-filled intonation of technobabble" that proceeds each blow. Ponder this. In Saving Private Ryan, did Barry Pepper yell out ."30-06 bullet of holy power!" every time he sniped a German soldier? Did Sly Stallone's Rocky yell out "blazing left hook of downtrodden blue collar spirit!" before each punch? No…they would have been knocked on their butts. So why do anime heroes yell out stuff like "annihilating second bullet" or "behold my Super Pinch Crisis mecha!" before they throw blows? That's just silly.
Equally silly are the manifestations of alter power. For example, a little fox created a tentacled robotic behemoth to protect its nest. Wouldn't a fox come up with, say, a slobbering grizzly bear with bared fangs? Or maybe a party of British shotgun-toting dudes in red suits, bugles blaring? Where did a fox see a tentacled robot? That's just silly. To their credit, the writers poke fun at themselves when the flamboyant Emergy Maxfell summons a parody of Japanese action figure toys.
I haven't read it, but I understand the manga is far superior to the show. That is easy to believe once you see the included sound comic, which is a somewhat animated excerpt of the manga. This blip of black and white was edgier, more mature and believable than all of the episodes combined. The Ryuho and Kazuma of the sound comic are sophisticated rivals with more hatred and understanding expressed between them. It is easy to extrapolate a better plot and more engaging world from this brief view.
s-CRY-ed borrows heavily from other shows, but musters enough originality and mood to drive the series forward. It transcends its action pedigree to create a decent sense of intrigue. s-CRY-ed is hampered by goofy alter-power manifestations (watermelons? hello!) and moments of melodrama, but manages to maintain a sense of tension. If you like action but Dragonball Z isn't your cup of tea, check out s-CRY-ed.
The court withholds its verdict until Ryuho and Kazuma have their real fight.
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