Saturday, April 19, 2014

Anime Review No. 79 (Battle Athletes OVA)

“Winning at Friendship means Winning at Life”
Battle Athletes OVA (1997-98)

Studio-AIC, Director-Kazuhiro Ozawa, Writer-Hideyuki Kurata*
*-original concept derived by Hiroaki Hayashi (creator of Tenchi Muyo and El Hazard)

You know, sports can be quite fun and enjoyable. While I mostly walk or play fitness games on the Wii, back in the day I did do cross country during high school and tried out for track and field (in shot put) before becoming an equipment manager. I do also follow some sports as well (mainly college football and basketball) and find them entertaining.

Thus, sports do figure into anime but regrettably don’t sell well if at all. Efforts to do so stateside (Princess Nine, Ayane’s High Kick, Shootfighter Tekken and the 90s Ping Pong anime CPM released) have been fondly remembered or largely gone by the wayside. Of course, in that pile lies Battle Athletes, a OVA series from the late 90s that I find to be easily one of the better entries in the genre.

Of course, some background: In the far future (of 2015) a world war occurred but ended with the arrival of a global disaster. This united humanity, sort of the same way that Star Trek portrays the future. Flash-forward to AD 3045 and humanity colonized the whole of the solar system, but they engage in war with an alien race and it is very high tech warfare. It is a futile effort thus turned to tests of athletic prowess instead. The University Satellite Program, which would make the ISS look like Skylab, is founded and created. In AD 3996, the contest for the Cosmic Beauty is made in inspiration from that history but for female athletes only. Going forward to the present time of the story, which is 4999 AD.

Well Battle Athletes tells the story of one Akari Kanzaki and her journey to being the next Cosmic Beauty. She’s your standard main heroine: nice, kind, a bit naive but strong-willed candidate. Her mother Tomoe Midou won the contest years ago, so she strives to just not win, but also set a new record in process. In other words, Battle Athletes boils down to the classic underdog story that many sport stories use, like Rocky, Rudy, etc. That being said, Akari’s story is more interesting as the journey not the destination. Yeah, we as the audience know that she will end up winning in the end, but how she goes about it is more interesting.

In terms of conflict (besides the sports events which I will get to), Akari has more self-doubt and reluctance on her part then much of an external force. She is basically living beneath the shadow of her mom’s past success, which does put her in a bit of slump. Luckily she doesn’t mope around too much and seeks to improve. Of course, it isn’t just her doubt that plagues her.

If the series does have an antagonist, its Mylandah, but only through indirect sabotage. She is an A-grade psychotic given into her own highly misplaced regard for herself. She has her eyes on being able to beat the previous champion, Lahrri, herself to the point of pure obsession. Later, it is revealed that might be more than that, but I won’t spoil it here.

Fortunately, Akari is not alone. She got support from a few friends, be it the jungle girl Tanya, the quiet demure girl Anna Respighi, or Grant Oldman who I have to say is quite awesome. I mean, the dude surfboards in the upper atmosphere in one scene (trust me it makes more sense in context). Of course, Akari’s greatest pillar of support comes from well, one of my favorite characters in anime ever, Kris Christopher.

At first, she is a capable athlete but a bit of an oddball. She is from the Moon Beginners Colony, which are akin to lunar hippies, with their communal back to nature society and non-violent/pacifist philosophy. I would argue that the OVA is just enough about Kris as it is on Akari. Like her, Kris was inspired by Tomoe Midou as a child to go for the Cosmic Beauty. She is willing to give it her all, even against Akari. But more than anything, Kris strives not for victory, but self-improvement and seek spiritual peace in the process. Well, that and she’s a heavy spiritualist but thankfully it isn’t over-emphasized and she demonstrates this with both actions and words, which I have to admire.  Also, she’s an open lesbian or at least open to options perhaps, which makes some of the Akari and Kris scenes quite sweet and touching.

Of course, the sport events have their place in this. For once, these are given some degree of practicality to them. Of course, there is stuff like lacrosse in zero G or extreme High Jump with extra running start where physics much less standard human endurance are called into question, but yeah its sci-fi so I will let it slide. That and a lot of them look like a lot of fun and work to reinforce the character development and plot.

One of the things I adore about the show is how unbounded in its optimism and enthusiasm, much like other sports storylines with underdog protagonists. It is one of many Anime examples of the individual underdog going against all odds and obstacles in the process of getting it to the top.  It also has that good 90s old school charm which appeals to me greatly. Finally it is just so damn inspirational. It was so good that like many other AIC productions in the 90s, got a TV series named Battle Athletes Victory, which is a more expanded and light-hearted retelling of the story presented in the OVA and also gets a recommendation from yours truly.

Now, onto the animation. It is classic 90s AIC work here, very similar quality to El Hazard, Tenchi Muyo and Oh My Goddess in this regard. There are spots of CG work here and there but well done for the times. It is an overall gorgeous presentation and animation. It looks just fine on the DVD; of course, this came out in late 1998-early 1999, with the first US volume released within 6 months of the last episode release in the OVA in Japan.Though it would be nice if they would do a re-release in the future, especially the TV series since the only way to get it is through singles only at variable prices. I mean, come on, Princess Nine got a recent re-release, why can't this series?

The music is done by Takayuki Hattori who also did the Nadesico and Slayers OST among others. The OP song is  second best AIC OP besides the EL Hazard OVA 1 OP that I have listened to. It is phenomenally great, mainly being sweeping and grand orchestral music, though a lot of it sounds like battle theme music.

Lastly, the english dub. Now, this is late 90s LA dub done by the wonderful group at Animaze, the same group that brought us the dubs for Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Outlaw Star, El Hazard etc. The dub does have a handful of well-known voice actors (Steve Blum, Dorothy Elias-Fahn, Julie Maddalena, Bridget Hoffman, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Wendee Lee, etc) in there, and they are doing quite a good job here. This would be an overall ‘great’ dub but the big BUT rests on whoever they got to voice Akari, Bambi Darro. She is doing her best, but its just not consistent as the rest of the cast_ Voice slippage, slight overacting in scenes, screeching, etc. Granted, that does improve a bit by the end so not too bad, just not as good in comparison.

Overall, Battle Athletes is a very good 90s OVA series showcasing a future with young women playing really cool sport events and watching Akari Kanzaki against all odds reach to the top.

Now, for my next review.....well who's ready for some tankery?

Til next time, dear readers.....
(It should be up around May 3-4)

1 comment:

Overlord-G said...

What the OVA excels at compared to the TV series is that is that despite it feeling semi-lighthearted, it has more serious moments than the TV version and Akari is a lot less annoying or pessimistic. Kris having longer hair here is also a plus. I dunno. The whole underdog overcoming all odds sports story is cliche but when done right, it works out very well. Battle Athletes is one of example.