June 17, 2007

VanDread




In the far future, Mankind has traveled across the stars from the Earth to boldly forge a new life on the unforgiving world of Taraak. But they soon learned that they were not alone! A vicious, territorial and predatory species from the nearby planet of Mejare ruthlessly attacked them in their new home. Now over a century later, this lonely outpost of Mankind steels itself to fend off a terrifying, incomprehensible enemy that seeks to loot their cities, and feast upon the livers of men.

The name of this  incomprehensibly alien race...WOMYN!!


One of the bigger surprises of recent years, this 1999 harem/mech/cosplay cliché buffet exhibits all of 'natures warning signs'. Despite this it transcends both its  genre(s) and  low budget, turning  what should be a paint by numbers throwaway series into a highly enjoyable character oriented story that ranges from funny to thrilling, and never bores.

The series setup is essentially the pilot, so to give an idea of what the show is about will inevitably involve episode 1 spoilers...

With that in mind....

The series opens with the launch of the repaired Space Ship Ichaczuchi, the colony ship that seeded MANkind on Taraak. The ship has been refitted as a battleship and is intended to stiffen the Tarrak fleet against the predations of the women of Mejare. Taraaks population is all male, they reproduce via cloning and the stress of surviving in an alien environment while under attack from....er...aliens...has warped their society into a fascist state...
yes boys and girls, gay NAZIs in space are the baseline normal at the beginning of the series.

   The society is highly stratified. At the wrong end of this stratification is one Hibiki Tokai an ambitious but stymied young mechanic on the  assembly line that produces the new "Vanguard" battle mechs. Hibiki is determined to prove himself despite the near impossibility of upward mobility. He hatches a rather desperate plan to steal a mech and prove that he is a worthy pilot...thereby forcing his way into the warrior caste. He determines that his lack of formal training is of little consequence as he builds them....and therefore knows how they work. His plan...and all of its logical fallacies...come to fruition just as the ship is launched....and the women attack...

Well...not exactly THE women....The attacking forces are actually female pirates, outcasts, rebels and criminals from Mejare...they are intent upon looting what they hope is a treasure trove of state of the art marketable tech.

Due to total surprise on the part of the women, the superb combat characteristics of the females 'Dread' fighters and the fact that the Ichazuchi's weapons are not fully functional, the fight does not go particularly well for the men...though they do not yield easily.

However, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and the women learn this in spades as they find that not only does the ship have little worth stealing, but several of their number are trapped inside. The Female captain elects to give her flight leader extra time to recover her teamates....a tad too much time as it turns out for the men surprise her by electing  to destroy their lost ship in the hopes of taking the female forces out.

At which point things get complicated...

A series of unlikely technical glitches...result in the (almost) abandoned Ichazuchi, the female vessel, and the survivors/ left behind of both crews to be warped far across the cosmos into unknown space...space inhabited by a new and implacable robotic race...that pounces almost immediately.

The two ships are fused together by their automated damage control systems...and the computer/power source/all round McGuffin  system (AKA Paxis) which seems to be malfunctioning with a purpose. The mechs of 3 of the female plots and that of Hibiki are altered mightily by the same process as it turns the 2 utilitarian vessels into a single Syd Mead wet dream.

Now  the surviving female crew and the 3 surviving men must find a way to  figure out the powers and abilities of their newly transformed war machines and their new and evolving  ship (Christened the Nirvana) while finding a way to get back to their star system, fend of the aliens, warn their respective home worlds of the coming threat....and not kill each other...

The Characters Male :
Hibiki Tokai:
Determined to prove himself and become a true man...Hibiki is actually rather unsure of what that means....especially since he's stuck first as a prisoner of, then having to work with mankind's...er..racial enemy. He finds himself wracked with awkward...nay sinful...xenophillic thoughts, especially towards a young 'alien' known as Dita. Hibiki is far out of his depth but continues to persevere in the face of  daunting obstacles. He is a remarkably believable character, and a decent and humane individual. He is not without faults, pigheadedness being one of his worst but he is a  clever out of the box thinker and grows into a leadership position of sorts quite well. Hibiki, like most of the characters in the series grows considerably in the course of the series.Unlike the insipid cyphers that make up the male leads in most harem shows, he has a personality, motivation, and is not a hapless windsock to the gusts of fate. 

Duelo McFile: Previously a doctor in the Taraak military. As the only surviving female medic is untrained and mentally unstable,  Duelo takes the position of chief medical officer both to fulfill his Hippocratic oath and to study the alien physiology of the females. His studies lead him to some remarkable conclusions about the evolutionary relationship between the two species. (spoiler...they are related! ) Another decent and honorable individual, this bishonin stud-muffin finds he has a great deal in common with the ships chief engineer. The two complement each others skillsets remarkably well in analyzing the many weird things the crew encounters in and out of the ship.

Bart Garsus:  Bart is a venal child of privilege and fancies himself a con man...though he's not really smart enough to pull it off. He convinces the women not to kill him by claiming he can interface with the ships helm...which to his astonishment...and comical degradation...proves to be true. He is therefore utterly vital to the ships survival...to everyones dismay.

The Characters Robotic:
Pyro:
A security drone damaged during the first episode and became a mark1  mod1 annoying comic relief robot. Seems at first blush to be unnecessary to the plot or pacing...especially given the sock puppet.

The Characters Female:
Dita Liebly:
Dita is a young female combat pilot and something of a xenopheliac. She fantasizes about 'first contact love' and feels her dreams have come true when she captures Hibiki...an action which led in part to the predicament of her shipmates. Dita is a bit of a ditz, but this is due to naiveté, 'tunnel vision' and inexperience rather than lack of intelligence. She finds that Hibiki is not just an exotic alien...but 'a keeper', and falls quite completely in love with him. Dita has a strong sense of justice. She is one of the main reasons the men were not summarily executed.

Meia Gisbourne: A truly interesting character and one of the better realized military officers in sci-fi, Meia Gisbourne is the flight leader for the female pirates. Meia is intensely loyal to those under her command. A paragon of competence, and professionalism, she does everything in her power to save the members of her squadron that survived the pilot, putting aside her bigotries to lead by example. When she is asked to integrate Hibiki into her squadron, she does so under protest but is quick to recognize his potential and works to safeguard and help him as she would any other member of her crew. Cool as a cucumber in the harshest (and silliest) situations Meia's combination of  physical and moral courage, helped to earn her a place on the list.

Jura Basil Elden: Vain , urbane, and a chesty blond pain, Jura is the preening, narcissistic second in command of the Nirvana's flight wing. She is a competent pilot, but not a particularly good leader and inspires little confidence. The near total opposite of Meia, her main concern is adding feathers to her cap. She seems to revel in the #2 position that gives her status with little responsibility. A fairly petty character, she tends to provide comedy relief at times but her greatest contribution is to the fan service quotient as, having more vanity than sense, she eschews unflattering flight suits in favor of a spectacularly revealing outfit, the modest wearing of which almost certainly involves spirit gum.

Barnette Orangello: Jura's hotheaded significant other, is the leader of the second flight wing. She is intensely loyal to and protective of Jura. She has quite a few issues..Due to Jura's habit of involving her in  various hair brained popularity schemes, Barnette  feels increasingly taken for granted by Jura, she really hates men and she is a poster child for anger management issues.  She is one of the most formidable pilots aboard, despite the fact that her Dread was unmodified by the initial weirdness. She has a strange predilection for late 20th century firearms. Like her beau (?) she doesn't wear a flight suit, however, her outfit, though rather skimpier, is not such an engineering improbability. (but...those...shoulder pads...)

Gascogne Rheingau: The ships logistics officer, and a mother figure to most of the crew, Gascogne is a fount of wisdom and experience. She is extremely professional and takes pretty much everything in stride...except the mispronunciation of her name...which  is apparently not properly pronounceable by human mouths.



Paiway Underberg:
The females sole surviving medic, Paiway  is 14 years old, immature, inexperienced, and quite possibly clinically insane. Her grasp on reality certainly seems rather tenuous at times.After the traumatic events of the pilot, she speaks nearly as often as not through a sock puppet.  After a particularly bizarre treatment for most of the flight crew....at the worst possible moment..  she is quickly relegated to being Duello's assistant, but she is not particularly good at that either...

Mango Vivian: The commander of the female pirates ship, and later the Nirvanna, Mango is a superb CO, a shrewd businesswoman, and a competent tactician. She is very old, and of questionable heath. Mango has been around a century or more and has seen most of her friends die.  She has more space experience than any 3 of her crew put together. Mango recognizes the potential of the men in getting her crew to safety, and is the first to recognize the full implications of the alien threat to both their home worlds. Presumably due to decades of underworld haggling and dealmaking, Mango has a surprising capacity for diplomacy and brinkmanship which she uses to good effect. She keeps photos of all her lost friends and crew in a cabinet...and will go to great lengths to avoid adding to that collection.

Buzam A. Calessa "BC": Stoic, reliable and fittingly named, "BC" is the XO of the Nirvana. Extremely practical, she is one of the few initially unopposed to allowing the men to be freed. Cool under pressure, the ships XO is a welcome, rock solid foundation of reliability, constance and normalcy for the crew in the midst of the chaos that is their day to day existence.

Parfet Baldblair: The ships awkward and geeky chief engineer, Parfet has the thankless task of trying to make sense of and effect repairs to a ship that is constantly changing and seems to have acquired a personality of its own. Realizing that the PAXIS is likely the key to her shipmates survival she throws herself into studying it despite it's being out of her area of expertise. Intensely curious, and possessing a keen understanding of science, she finds a kindred spirit in the ships acting medic Duello, and the two become the de-facto science department combining his biological and chemical expertise with her understanding of mechanics and physics.



*************************************************************
Possibly unsure if the show would be approved for its full 26 episodes, the writers provide a spectacularly satisfying ending for the first series, that while not closing all loose ends, it would have not left the audience feeling cheated.  The ultimate climax is satisfying in its own right...no Gainax ending here!

The show is rather  bi-polar in character  alternating often jarringly between the comedic elements  and  action.  However, the blending works quite well here and the show maintains its quality throughout.

The silliness of the crew situation is a nice foil to the very well realized peril the ship faces on the way back. There were scenes that brought a tear to my eye and scenes that quite shocked me.

Regards the 'fan service' , despite a few (er..2) quite revealing outfits, it is actually  fairly subdued and not at all vulgar as is currently the fashion...there is a bit of fan service for the otakuettes as well.

The English dub in the Geneon release is quite good.

Above all this is a character show. The characterizations are superbly done. All the characters grow, learn and change believably. The superb characterization of Meia has already been mentioned but the fact that she is not romantically involved with the hero is a particularly refreshing thing.The two become friends and have deep admiration for one another, but their relationship remains utterly professional.

 There are a few bad points to be sure, Some will be put off by the overt Fantasy elements (the PAXIS mainly) the annoying robot, one cop-out in the second series and some philosophizing that doesn't translate well, but these are very minor points compared to the accomplishment of this low budget serial. Gonzo outdid themselves with this one.

Vandread is a cheesy fan service vehicle with shapely girls in skimpy outfits, mechs, gunpr0n  and space battles.

It is also a, cute, whimsical, thrilling, and at times downright inspiring show with surprisingly good rewatchability. I really enjoyed it.



5.5 bricks!


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