Saturday, January 10, 2015

Anime Review No. 92 (Martian Successor Nadesico)

'You Get to Burning!'
Martian Successor Nadesico (1996-97)
Director: Tatsuo Sato
Writers: Hiroyuki Kawasaki, Miho Sakaki, Naruhisa Arakawa, Satoru Akahori, Shou Aikawa, Takeshi Shudo
Studio: Xebec

So, the new year is abound us. The holidays were nice on me, got to see my family along with grandparents for the first time in a few years and it was all nice and calm. Now then onto the first review of 2015, a look at a show that I have been meaning to get to, and that is…. the space opera Martian Successor Nadesico, an adaptation of a manga series by Kia Asamiya, who was also the creator behind Silent Mobius. .

Nadesico is the story of Akito Tenkawa, a young man who while yearning to be a cook, is instead roped into joining the new crew of a new starship the Nadesico. There he is joined by a crew of veritable oddballs, be it sexy helmswoman Minato, the stoic child genius Ruri, the fanboy pilot Gai and the young captain Yukari who might be someone from his blurry past. Together, they journey to Mars to discover some rather unsettling things from humanity’s past, possibly relating to invaders from Jupiters and their Chulips and also to have some hijinks of the slice-of-life and romantic varieties.

One of the things about I like about the show is how transitional, but then again that is part of the times. The Mid-90s sci-fi anime scene was dominated by one giant show: Evangelion which to this day still has an influence stretching to the present day. Nadesico, in many ways, was the next big game-changer for sci-fi anime. Though more for the space opera subgenre whereas Evangelion was a grand turning point in giant robot genres. Of course this show is mostly forgotten, but in many ways I find that Nadesico works a lot better then Evangelion.

Now why’s that? Well, for one thing Nadesico has a better and more likeable cast of characters. Granted, some of them are based on archetypes of the genre (young male pilot, the captain, the helm crew, the child prodigy, etc) but they have enough quirks and eccentricities that ultimately make them charming. And each of the them gets their episodes to focus on them individually and how they worked together as an ensemble. While Akito is a main character of sorts, pretty much all the other major characters get their own character arcs that are for the most part very satisfying. I see Akito as an improved version of Shinji from Eva, in more ways then one. He at least has some sort of spine.

For another thing, the story is much more interesting and yet takes risks to explore new areas in its home genre. It takes place in a future much like Star Trek, where humanity has combined their efforts to explore the stars. Only not so optimistic, with the world controlled by the all-powerful military and corporations that seek nothing more to fuel the engine of war even at the expense of life and peace. At yet our intrepid crew, when a big story twist comes in halfway through the series,  seek out the truth and hope against hope that someday peace and reconciliation. Like Evangelion, though they do some psychological introspection but thankfully it is kept to mostly one episode with a few other scatterings as the series progresses. No, what the show is really about is learning to overcome differences and make it better for the next generation. There is a vehement anti-military, anti-war streak in the ‘shades of grey’ morality and there’s a good reason for that, being head writer Shou Aikawa who would go onto do Neo Ranga and FullMetal Alchemist ‘03 and those share that similar moral trend. But it doesn’t come across as preachy, and that’s by giving the other side fair and equal treatment, something which not many anime accomplish successfully. The sci-fi elements, be it the Nadesico spaceship, the concept of space travel via the means of the Chulips and the effect of time dilation are very well-thought out. And then the movie happened, and well if you want my thoughts on it, see my review on that back in January 2013.

Of course, the story is without its visual presentation. However, like Silent Mobius which I talked about back in October, this show runs into the fact the show came at a rather awkward time.The production does show signs of digital techniques and CG intruding into a mostly solid and well-done hand-drawn cel animation. Fortunately, it isn’t so obvious here as it is in Silent Mobius. In fact, recently RightStuf released the series and movie remastered. I however have the old ADV 3-2 disc sets from back in the day. In part because I feel its best to see it as it was, even it is imperfect. The show director is Tatsuo Sato, who after this show, would go on to have a career mainly helming solid and entertaining or interesting sci-fi series (Stellvia, Lagrange, Bodacious Space Pirates). Also the opening song, You Get to Burning, is freaking awesome and is one of my favorite opening songs of all time. The rest of the music is done by Takayuki Hattori (Slayers and Gundam Origin OVA among others) and it’s amazing and really powerful full-on orchestral music. Its really good stuff.

Now for the english dub. It is solid if a little uneven, much like the show itself. Produced in 2000-01, its a dub of its time, that being the ADV Greenfield era. I say this as the first era of Houston english dubbing, from 1995 to roughly 2001-03 when Matt Greenfield was the main director/writer for ADV dubbing (Amanda Winn Lee and  Tristan MacAvery were also directors/writers as well, heck Steven Foster’s career goes back to this era). Of course, it is also a very transistional dub, featuring veteran 90s ADV talent like Spike Spencer, Tiffany Grant, John Swasey, Rob Mungle, Brett Weaver, Marcy Rae alongside newer talent like Kira Vincent-Davis, Jenny Strader, Jay Hickman (and Monica Rial in a small blink and you’ll miss it part). It takes a part of time to get good, but when it does it gets really great and ultimately makes the show all that more charming and fun.

It's kind of a bummer that this show has been largely forgotten and thrown aside. Despite the fact hasn't really aged all that well, its a very underrated gem from an era that is slowly fading into obscurity. Speaking of obscurity (or not).....

Til next time dear readers

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