D7 Peacemaker: Stage 1 Anime Review
D7 Peacemaker: Stage 1
Dementia 7 Studios
US Release By
In the not-too-distant future, hostage negotiators have a new last-resort tool in their arsenal: the Peacemakers. When a situation at One American Center in Austin, Texas gets out of hand and a group of officers are mysteriously captured, Liaison Jynetik Lajiko calls in one of the best Peacemakers there is: D7. Fate would have it, however, that not only will a couple of D7's classmates get caught up in the situation, but D7 will discover the door to a deeper mystery.
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This first OAV of an independently produced series by Dementia 7 Studios is polished and professional in its presentation, and the tack taken with the visuals--in essence, a comic book set to music--is a creative response to a low budget. Its strengths are its thumping techno-style soundtrack, laced with funky riffs and influences as diverse as vaguely Spanish acoustic guitar, and its slick technology-drenched style--practically a cyberpunk music video. Its weaknesses are its overly cerebral dialogue, unnecessarily confusing story, and the still-frame-based animation didn't simulate enough motion to make it feel dynamic enough.
At least as far as the first episode, the end result isn't bad, but unfortunately doesn't quite come together to live up to its potential.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
D7 Peacemaker: Stage 1 is one of the handful of independently produced, non-Japanese anime productions to actually make it to a finished state. This first OAV of a planned series is polished and professional in its presentation, and the tack taken with the visuals--in essence, a comic book set to music--is a creative response to a low budget. Since things like this interest me, I'm going to go into some depth even though it's just a single episode at this point, but the bottom line is that, at least as far as the first episode, the end result isn't bad but unfortunately doesn't quite come together to live up to its potential.
I'll start with the good points. The first thing that caught my attention was the soundtrack (not surprising, considering that in lieu of animation the constant background music drives the mood and pace of the story). Most of the themes are percussion-heavy and techno-styled, but there's still a surprising amount of variety (including less synthesizer work than I was expecting) and a couple of appealingly funky pieces. My favorites were the lighter pieces on the soundtrack, but the pounding action theme and darker pieces are also quite nice. I'll add that if the music sounds like it might be your thing, the DVD includes the full soundtrack CD as a bonus.
The other thing that impressed me about D7 Peacemaker: It's got style. From the thumping soundtrack, to the slick visuals, to heavy use of heads-up-display-like text and graphic overlays, to the metaphysical-sounding cyberpunk plot, the production has the flavor of a Ghost in the Shell-themed, ultra-modern music video.
Unfortunately, that's pretty much it. In fact, the main problem I saw was that there was too much style--it MTVed itself to death. The story does a decent job of establishing the characters, setting up an action sequence, and asking more questions than it answers, but a few aspects seemed to be left unexplained for no particular reason other than to keep up the mood. Worse, it feels like less happened than the length should have allowed, particularly for a story that throws you into the middle of the action and leaves it up to you to figure out what's going on. The episode is supposed to be a hook, but the feeling I walked away with was less "I'm intrigued" and more "That made less sense than it should have."
I also felt like I was working harder than I should have been to figure out what was happening. It's partly because the style is laid on so thick, and partly because of some weak directing (or maybe bad editing)--several conversations seem to have long, unnecessary pauses. The largest share of the blame, however, falls on the dialogue; in an attempt to sound cerebral and deep, much of it comes across as pretentious and confusing.
One other thing that struck me as a bit odd about the story are the two un-serious characters, Sakura and Snow. It's odd enough that they randomly decide to follow D7 (into a building surrounded by police, no less), or that they manage to just walk into the middle of a huge hostage situation. Strangest of all is the simple fact that two characters this light are walking around in a series constructed entirely of dark cyberpunk style.
Part of the blame might, again, fall on the directing and editing, but the acting is also a little weak. D7 and most of the serious characters are good enough, and I like the casting (including a few fun Texas accents--this is supposed to be Austin, after all), but Sakura and Snow seem very stiff. Things do seem to smooth out somewhat toward the end.
I can't say that I was particularly satisfied with the way the production looked, either. Telling a story on video with still-frames rather than animation can work--it happens all the time in cheap animation, and the extra scene at the end of the Tenchi Muyo OAVs did the same thing. In this case, however, it didn't seem to be sufficient. To the series' credit, even though much of the animation was probably done in Flash, this definitely doesn't look like web animation--Macromedia's products were a tool, not a constraint. The individual frames are very nicely drawn, the tired-eyed character designs are distinctive (if not quite to my taste). Particularly noteworthy are the action images, which have a great sense of dynamic motion to them. There are also a few scenes with fluid CG animation--some flying police cars, mainly--that look very nice, and blend well with both the cel-style art and the slick visual style of the production.
But, for a series that seems to want to center on action scenes, there simply aren't enough still-frames in those parts to pull it off. Although most of the dialogue sequences have enough cuts, the more active scenes linger on frames, rather than punching through several to create the illusion of animation in the same way that comic books do. Using small pieces of animation--mouth movements, mainly--also would have helped the production feel more dynamic (the couple of times this was done were welcome).
In any case, my other issue with the visuals is the abstract and undetailed backgrounds. There are a few nice, or at least concrete, images--a church, a school computer lab--but the rest of it, in what seemed to be a symptom of style-itis, doesn't give nearly enough sense of space and location to satisfy me. This might just be my personal taste, but I felt like concrete backgrounds would have pulled the whole thing together visually.
Although I could imagine others thinking differently, to me D7 Peacemaker is an interesting experiment, with the potential to be something more in later episodes. Objectively, although it suffers from an overly vague plot, so much style it hurts itself, and some weak directing, it's still a passable setup for a series and a polished production. It might be worth a look by fans of darker cyberpunk-style stories if you don't think the unusual visual style will bother you. As an independent effort, it is very impressive and definitely worth a look for those interested in that sort of thing.
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Aside from the much-improved sort-of-prequel Revelation, D7 Peacemaker probably has the most in common with Ghost in the Shell, although the characters are quite a bit different and that movie is more serious. Armitage III and Bubblegum Crisis 2040 also share some themes. If you like having to piece together the plot instead of having it explained to you, Boogiepop Phantom is a very different story, but does it much better. And, if you like independent productions, Shadowskin and Understanding Chaos are both somewhat similar.
Notes and Trivia
The first episode of a planned series of OAVs and at least one movie centered around the same characters. After this release the series was revised and many of the stylistic issues addressed; a 7-minute teaser and one full episode of the re-envisioned series (a theoretical prequel to this story) has been released on the web and DVD, with a second in production as of this writing.
Produced by the independent Dementia 7 Studios; they have an extensive website, done in a visual style almost exactly like this production. They have also done some work on at least one other similarly-styled but never-finished project (the preview appears at the beginning of this video). D7 Peacemaker also has its own website; the later parts of the series can be viewed for free or purchased on DVD there.
The DVD includes the full soundtrack CD as a bonus. Largely techno in style, it's full of quality, memorable tunes ranging from the D7 action theme to my personal favorite by far, Seaside Groove. A playful tune with a vaguely Spanish flair, Seaside Groove pairs a fast-paced acoustic guitar with a solid techno beat for something truly unusual. Interestingly, that track isn't from D7 Peacemaker; it was done for a promo for a different series that never went into production.
US DVD Review
The DVD is pretty darned spiffy, particularly considering that it's an independent production. It includes very sharp widescreen video (although not anamorphic), crisp 2.0 and DTS 5.1 English audio, some (text) commentary by the director, a couple of step-by-step videos demonstrating how the storyboards became the finished product, a gallery of stills, and the two trailers. In an interesting twist (and nice addition for non-North American viewers), the disc is dual-sided--one side is NTSC, and the other is PAL, and since it's also region-free, you'll be able to watch it anywhere in the world. My only complaint is that the 5.1 soundtrack is DTS-only, but since the DVD also includes a full soundtrack CD (including extra tracks--it's 70 minutes long, twice the length of the video), I'm willing to forgive.
The makers rate it 13-up, and while that's about how it feels, there's little enough objectionable material that it probably could slip in at 10-up.
Violence: 2 - No apparent deaths and no blood, but some serious combat.
Nudity: 0 - Nothing.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Nothing.
Language: 1 - Relatively mild language.
Staff & Cast
D7 Peacemaker: Cecile Nguyen
Sakura Grey: Rebekah Rhcades
Snow Lemming: Jackie McCann
Lt. Jynetik Lajiko: Evita Arce
Cmndr. Nathan Elliot: Mathew Reynolds
Sgt. Bill M. Honig: Scott Helmcamp
Private Merit: Arik Renee Avila
Private Jones: Andrew Viagnuson
Dr. Lee: Michael "Sully" Sullivan
Dr. Jesup M. Proett: Ward Boyce
Lorna Page De Warsa: Christie Pierce
Scared Soldier 1: Christie Pierce
Scared Soldier 2: Homero Cavazos
Scared Soldier 3: Jorge Lukaz
Lt. Jynetik's Car Announcer: Evita Arce
Police Car Voice Over: Tony Hobey
University Announcer: Evita Arce
Executive Producer: Joe Carson Smith
Producer: Tony Hobey
Director: Arik Renee Avila
Assistant Director: Scott Helmcamp
Story Concept: Arik Renee Avila, Jesse M. Proett
Writing: Arik Renee Avila
Character Designer: Arik Renee Avila
Character Design Assistant: Saga Niphredil
Music: Xero Reynolds