"This isn't some third rate soap opera!"—Gascogne
Down with women, "our most bloodthirsty enemy!" This terrible scourge threatens the entire Tarak Empire, and only the great space battleship Ikazuchi can stop them. Will we be rescued by manly heroes the likes of young Hibiki Tokai, a stowaway aboard the Ikazuchi who dreams of becoming a heroic mecha pilot? How about the cowardly Bart or the brooding Dr. Duero?
On second thought, maybe we're doomed.
Ah, what has Evangelion wrought? In the wake of Evangelion revitalizing the mecha show, dozens of attempts to fuse action, pretty girls, and flashy art design have flooded the market. From the sharp wit of Nadesico to the prissy antics of Candidate for Goddess (currently running on Cartoon Network as Pilot Candidate), we've seen an awful lot of these shows come and go. One of the better entries is Vandread. The series takes aim at the more macho excesses of the genre, dropping us into a world populated entirely by men. Their government programs them to hate women with cheesy propaganda movies and encourages them to clone babies with one another. But this is an army of rookies, clods, and dimwits—and the women make short work of their glorious space armada.
Of course, the women turn out to be just as silly as the men. When Hibiki first tumbles on top of the bubbleheaded Dita, a female pirate, she tries to communicate with hand gestures straight out of Close Encounters. The ship's nurse plays with hand puppets, and half the crew is more obsessed with fashion than an army of junior high mallrats.
So what is the worst thing that could happen to this motley group? Yep, you guessed it—we throw them across the galaxy. As one crewmember helpfully explains, "Something went beep and then woosh." Then we attack them with mysterious aliens. And while that is going on, let's have their semi-sentient spaceship constantly transforming and exhibiting new powers. And the whole show suddenly turns into Star Trek: Voyager with more sex jokes and, well, more personality. And giant transforming robots. And did I mention the sex jokes?
I know, it sounds like a big mess. Surprisingly, Vandread works. It probably is not the sort of show that you will come back to time and again, but it is genuinely funny. Some of the parody will be familiar to fans of anime television shows (like Hibiki's constant existential crises, recalling Shinji in Evangelion), but many jokes, like Dita's Close Encounters reference and much of the sexual humor (check out the scene in episode 4 where the women speculate about male genitalia) still works pretty well on an American audience. And in between the jokes, there is plenty of space battle action, liberally peppered with clean CG mecha.
Pioneer packages the first four episodes of Vandread in matted widescreen with either the original Japanese or an English dub. Fortunately, the English version holds up pretty well, so you can show this to your friends that hate subtitles. There is no real point in trying to explain the plot details of these first four episodes. Like most anime shows, this first disc spends most of its time setting up the premise for the series to follow. Besides, there are so many twists and turns in the story that you'll just get a headache if I try to explain it. The pace is breathless, from battle to comedy to battle, and you are likely to find yourself watching the disc again just to figure out exactly what is going on.
Do not expect any of the extras on the disc to help you with that. There is a blurry gallery of original design sheets, a set of show openings run without credits (it is a cute opening sequence, but it is worth watching four times in a row?), and two Japanese promo clips, one plugging the show and the other a music video showing off the CG battles.
I sat down to this disc expecting it to be another dumb action show that would be a chore to get through. Vandread turned out to be a lot of fun. I am looking forward to seeing the rest of this series, which considering the lack of entertainment value in most television shows (in both Japan and America), is high praise. Vandread is campy, fast-paced, and silly. And sometimes, that is all you need for a couple of hours. If only Pioneer knocked down the price a bit: $30 is steep for only the first four episodes.
The crew of the Nirvana is acquitted and released to find their way home. Pioneer is commended for bringing an entertaining series to these shores and ordered to release more discs as soon as possible, and at a better price. Case dismissed.
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