Battle Athletes Anime Review
Battle Athletess - Dai Undoukai
Great Athletic Competition
US Release By
Sci-Fi Sports Melodramatic Comedy
6 30-minute episodes (ep. 1 is 45 min)
1997-05-25 - 1998-06-25
In the distant future, after centuries of war with an alien race, it was agreed that the dispute would be settled by a contest of physical strength between one representative of each species. Though the alien race was physically far superior to humans, the human champion miraculously defeated his challenger, ushering in an era of peace marked by human kind's drive to improve itself physically.
Our story begins at the turn of the 51st century on a satellite training facility constructed for the purpose of honing the skills of Earth's best and brightest for a competition to decide who is truly the epitome of the species--the "Cosmo Beauty."
The story follows Akari Kanzaki, the daughter of a past Beauty and a freshman entrant into the orbital training facility. Determined to follow in her mother's footsteps, she will work with her classmates to overcome the rigors of training, school bullies, and her own lack of self confidence in her trek toward the great competition. She is joined by a number of other students, foremost among them Akari's roommate Kris Christopher, an emotionally solid priestess-to-be from the moon. Also along for the ride are their other roommate, the quiet, shy Anna Respighi, and Tanya, a rather boisterous friend of Akari's from earth.
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Battle Athletes is something like a shoujo-tinted take on a sci-fi sports drama given a Pioneer twist. Though it could have easily turned into a cute girls in space romp or a really silly comedy (which the TV version is), the focus is more on character development and the building of friendships, with enough tension to satisfy fans of more emotionally-oriented stories. To cover the sports anime end of things there's plenty of creative futuristic athletic action, and the animation and art are of the quality you'd expect from AIC.
If an athletic soap opera with cute girls, a spot of wacky humor, and a fair amount of action sounds good to you, Battle Athletes is definitely worth a look, but be warned that the dubbed version has some major character changes, and is significantly raunchier with a lot more jokes.
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At first glance, Battle Athletes seems to be pretty much what you'd expect from Pioneer: Fun characters, a little bit of story, and plenty of action. Once you get into it, though, melodrama is more central than hijinks, resulting in a shoujo-tinted sports show with a Pioneer-style sci-fi twist. A fun premise taken in an unexpected direction, Battle Athletes is at heart a light-yet-serious coming of age story.
Aside from the overdramatic introduction to the setting (which is rattled off in the first five minutes of the first episode), the plot is pretty much another girls' high-school athletics show, this time in space. It could easily have been a cute-girls-in-space romp or a silly comedy (which the alternate reality of the TV version is). Instead, after an early sprinkling of situation comedy, the focus is on character development and the building of friendships, with enough emotional (not to mention physical) tension to satisfy fans of more character-oriented stories. The last two episodes in particular are quite sobering, and it can't honestly be called a comedy by that point.
The same goes for the characters--though most of them seem to be simple caricatures at first, several turn out to be significantly more complex than I was expecting. A few have impressive emotional depth for a series like this--Kris' deep religious beliefs in particular stand out as a straight-faced portrayal of a type of person rarely seen in anime. This cast alone was enough to keep me interested. Romance, incidentally, is completely absent--there are no boys on the station and it stays away from yuri territory as well.
Even the plot, while generally obvious, manages to serve up a few surprising twists. The last episode in particular is interesting--being a sports show, the outcome is pretty much foreordained, yet I was a bit surprised at how things turn out and the road it takes to get there. Definitely not another generic "Yay, I did it, and everybody's happy" ending--I found the conclusion surprisingly affecting.
That said, the choice of which language you watch it in will make a big difference in the character of the show as a whole.
The acting in the original Japanese is very good, with suitable casting, plenty of variety to go with the characters, and quality performances all-around. The standout is unquestionably Tomoko Kawakami as Kris--her performance is a perfect fit for an unusual character with a surprising amount of depth. The rather frightening Mylandah is also played quite well by Akemi Okamura. Pioneer's subtitles are accurate, but a little dry... which they apparently thought they'd fix in the dub.
It's not that the dub is badly acted--the acting is surprisingly good. It's that the dialogue has been altered to the point where it actually changes the personalities of the characters, reminding me of ADV's penchant for rewrites. Many of the characters in the English version wouldn't even be recognizable if they didn't have the same face, and the dialogue is considerably cruder. There are also a lot more jokes thrown into the English version (I can only assume they thought the broader interpretation would go over better with dub fans).
Basically, the Japanese version is about idealized Japanese high school girls (most of them cute) with unexpected depth, while the English one is about attitude-equipped American high school girls cracking wise. The English dub is a lot more likely to appeal to fans of sillier and raunchier anime (yet again, the TV version), while the original dialogue will appeal more to fans of shoujo and the cuter sort of anime. Either way, you'll probably hate one or the other.
Important to any sports show are the athletic competitions, which are handled quite well. We've all seen our share of come-from-behind victories, and although Battle Athletes sticks to the formula, it manages to keep things interesting and somehow even pull some tension out of an ancient cliche. The futuristic sports themselves are quite creative, and although I could have imagined them having more fun with really wild events (which the TV series does), the slightly more realistic slant fits better with the rest of the plot. The great zero-G scenes deserve particular praise--there is a really cool random gravity fight early on (you won't see that in Apollo 13).
On that note, the animation is very smooth, with a fair amount of sports-related action. The character designs, as you'd expect from AIC, are attractive, with lanky physiques and particularly large eyes on the cutest ones (if you like cute--in the classic anime sense--girls, you probably can't go wrong here). The many girls at the school have quite a range of looks, which I appreciate both for variety's sake and for telling the characters apart.
In all, Battle Athletes is another enjoyable ensemble series from Pioneer, but not quite what I was expecting. Lighter on comedy and more prone to melodrama, particularly toward the end, it's a nice-looking sports show with a varied and interesting cast of characters. Don't come expecting another dumb fun series, but if an athletic soap opera with cute girls, a spot of wacky humor, and a fair amount of action sounds good to you, Battle Athletes is definitely worth a look.
If you'd rather see hijinks than drama, take a look at the TV version; it's a more standard take on the same concept.
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Battle Athletes has a lot in common with a variety of sports anime, such as Ayane's High Kick or Princess Nine. It also bears some resemblance to light comedies in the Dual! or Tenchi Muyo vein, though the romance is replaced by peer bonding and friendship in this case (no boys to be found). It shares some themes with Gunbuster as well--though Battle Athletes is considerably more humorous, both are melodramatic coming-of-age stories that deepen toward the end.
Notes and Trivia
The Battle Athletes franchise began its public life as a radio drama in early 1996 on "Ai Orikasa's Moonlight Cafe." At the end of 1996, a video game of the same name was released for the Sega Saturn. It was followed up by the OAV series and shortly after that by the TV version, as well as two more games ("Alternative" in 1998, also for the Saturn, and "GTO" in 1999, for the PlayStation). There was also a manga adaptation, subtitled "A.D. 4999."
Battle Athletes Victory is what the TV version goes by in the US, but as with other Pioneer OAV to TV conversions, it has no continuity with this series, despite sharing a premise and several characters.
Battle Athletes has a lot of good, old-fashioned, wild sci-fi stuff, most of it quite well done. The zero- or random-G scenes are decent as far as realism goes, although you wouldn't actually be able to run along the floor of a zero-G lacrosse court. The shuttle launch at the beginning is also quite impressive, but I seriously doubt that we'll be using shuttles like that 3000 years from now, particularly if we're capable of waging an interstellar war.
The titles of the six episodes (or "Missions") are, for reference, Chronicle Beginning, Oath Entrant, Screaming Advance, Match Unexpected, Objective Tension, and Stage Yonder.
US DVD Review
The DVDs are nice productions, but rather minimal compared to some of Pioneer's other titles of the era. Aside from a nice video transfer, each disc has Japanese and English stereo soundtracks, both of which are very crisp (though the Japanese track seems to sound a little better, particularly on the end theme, which remains in Japanese in the dub). There are two subtitle tracks, one that's a translation of the Japanese, and one track that's a transcription of the dub for the hearing impaired; the latter includes sound effects, and is quite a bit different in the details than the former, as discussed above.
Each disc also includes a little character gallery and a set of promo pages for every Pioneer title available at the time (interesting resource/historical reference). For some reason there is no chapter index on the discs (go figure; there is a list of the chapter breaks on a card in the package, but you'll have to jump around manually). The discs originally each came with a chapter index insert and some cute Battle Athletes stickers.
Would be suitable for younger viewers, if it weren't for the occasional nude scene/raunchy joke (more frequent in the dub). Pioneer calls it 13-up, which is probably appropriate (some parents might find it more offensive than others, though, and the dub is worse).
Violence: 1 - Some relatively intense fighting, but not really life-threatening.
Nudity: 2 - Occasional nude scenes, though not detailed.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - A couple of raunchy jokes/comments, with more in the dub.
Language: 3 - The dub has more rough language and crude comments than the Japanese subtitled version, which only ranks a 1.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Akari Kanzaki: Rio Natsuki
Kris Christopher: Tomoko Kawakami
Anna Respighi: Akiko Yajima
Tanya Natdhipytadd: Aya Sakaguchi
Lahrri: Yuriko Yamaguchi
Mylandah: Akemi Okamura
Tomoe Midou: Miki Takahashi
Jessie Gartland: Miki Ito
Student A: Kae Araki
Student B: Michiko Netani
Student C: Chiharu Tezuka
Announcer: Miho Yamada
Chief of the Dorm: Shiho Niiyama
Control Officer: Takeshi Igarashi
Grant Oldman (Headmaster)/Prologue Narrator: Koji Nakada
English Dub Cast
Jetta Bird, Tessa Ariel, Debbie Derosa, Dorothy Melendrez, Ramri Darro, Diva West, Jackie Gonneau, Lia Sargent, Jayne Alan, Rebecca Olkowski, PJ Lee, George C. Cole, Anne Sherman, Lex Lang, Steve Areno, Dan Martin, Susan Myers, Bebe Elam, Tiffany Roberts, Deja Romersa, Laoren Maxwell, Wendee Lee, Marie Danielle, Melissa Williamson, David Lucas
Original Concept/Supervisor: Hiroki Hayashi
Director: Kazuhiro Ozawa
Art Director: Takeshi Waki
Animation Director: Shinji Ochi
Writing: Hideyuki Kurata
Character Design: Ryuichi Makino
Conceptual Design: Noriyuki Jinguji
Music: Takayuki Hattori
End Theme: "Mune wo Harou" ("Be Proud!")
Vocals: Rio Natsuki
Lyrics: Natsuko Karedo
Music: Takayuki Hattori
Arrangement: Junjiro Seki
Animation by AIC
Formerly available in North America from Pioneer on three bilingual DVDs. Prior to DVD was also available on three dubbed or subtitled VHS volumes.