Deluxe ARIEL Anime Review
US Release By
Giant Robot Parody
2 45-minute episodes
The way-too-feminine giant Earth-saving robot ARIEL and its three unwilling pilots continue their fight to save the world from an entirely ineffective, budget-constrained alien invasion force. Things are going even more badly than usual for the invaders, though--maintenance funds being tight, their malfunctioning starship is in the process of crashing to the surface. Which is really annoying, since it's going to take a while for the equivalent of a tow truck to show up. Dr. Kishida is less annoyed than outright panicked, since the ship is heading right for (of course) downtown Tokyo, so he's pulling out every crazy technological trick in his mad-scientist playbook to try and avert disaster.
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ARIEL was a badly botched attempt at low-key, when-you-think-about-it parody. This sequel, Deluxe ARIEL, improves on that failure, but not much--about enough to move it from very disappointing to merely somewhat disappointing. The visuals look great, and the first episode has a lot of younger sister Kazumi grinning like an idiot to herself while the latest wave of alien monsters is unintentionally thwarted by lack of budget. Sadly, the second episode does nothing with this momentum, instead consisting of a lengthy string of mad-science attempts to avert the obliteration of Tokyo that's played far too straight.
Deluxe ARIEL a significant step up from the previous two-episode series, the opening episode is reasonably fun, and if you go for old-school tech-overload, you might even enjoy the underpowered closing half. Not particularly recommended, but not a total waste of time, and you can safely skip the even-more-disappointing prequel series without missing much.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
ARIEL was a badly botched attempt at low-key, when-you-think-about-it parody. This sequel, Deluxe ARIEL, improves on that failure, but not much--about enough to move it from very disappointing to merely somewhat disappointing.
The sequel, ironically, has more information about the characters' backstory than its predecessor. This lets you get a bit more attached to the three pilots, and pulls the whole thing together much better. Sadly, the beleagured alien command team doesn't get to do much other than lament the fact that their ship is going to get stuck on Earth due to equipment failure. I'd have enjoyed them panicking more than the mild-to-moderate annoyance we get, though their apathy is amusing given the apocalyptic consequences down on the ground.
There are still problems with awkward pacing and blown comic timing, but Deluxe is significantly better than its predecessor, leaving it feeling merely somewhat slow and choppy rather than near-narcoleptic.
The best part of the whole thing is youngest sister Kazumi, who, thanks to having gotten asked out on a date by a mystery classmate, goes through the entire first episode grinning like an idiot and looking altogether too pleased with herself regardless of what's going on around her. She also has the good sense to put defending the earth from invasion above her personal life, which is more than can be said for the other two leads.
Other high points are some entertainingly massive collateral damage due to the ARIEL pilots' shoddy aim, and the fact that the corresponding wave of monsters was launched due to equipment malfunction and the heroes' "victory" was because the enemy ran out of gas. None of which they actually realize--rather funny in a subtle, backhanded way. There's also an amusing variety of random outfits the girls end up wearing when pressed into service as pilots.
If you hadn't seen the previous ARIEL and assumed that the relative lack of set-up was because you missed the intro (rather than the reality of it not existing outside the novels and audio drama prequel), you'd probably end the first episode of Deluxe with a pretty good opinion of it. The directing is weak, but it's relatively enjoyable and subtly funny.
Sadly, the second episode does nothing with that momentum. The plot consists entirely of the alien ship geting closer and closer to an apocalyptic crash-landing in the middle of Tokyo (where else?) and an assortment of massive-scale SCEBAI plans to kick it back into orbit. Apart from the mildly amusing contrast between the nonchalant aliens and the grave, panicking earthlings, the whole thing is apparently played for drama. Or, if it's not, it's played so straight I didn't find it funny. Since there's no real tension (giveaway: of course Saber Starblast will save the day at the last second--that's all he does other than pose dramatically in random locations), the only "drama" is whether older sister Aya will take a break from studying for her college entrance exams to try and save Tokyo (and presumably the school she wants to go to) from obliteration.
The end result is that the only thing that's actually interesting in the final episode is a bunch of techno-babble and giant, mad-scientist machinery being deployed. Which isn't really my thing, though it does look quite nice.
On that note, Deluxe ARIEL takes an already solid visual foundation and improves on it. The expensive-looking character animation is the best of it--some of Kazumi's antics in particular reminded me of quality theatrical animation of the era. The collateral damage looks equally good, and there are plenty of sequences of giant machines being moved, prepared, launched, or fired, all of which have the sense of scale and mass that fans of that sort of thing should love. On the opposite end of the spectrum are a wide variety of fashionable (and not-so-fashionable) outfits, and a costume party full of anime in-jokes. Top it off with detailed art and if nothing else Deluxe ARIEL is a very nice looking series by almost any standard.
The sound effects and music, however, still have the same problem as the previous series: They barely exist, making the whole thing seem even lower-energy than it would on its own (which is pretty darned low-energy). An exception is the willfully goofy, old-school intro song--sung by a group of children and straight out of a '60s hero show. The end theme is less funny but reasonably good late-'80s stuff.
At least the modestly improved directing makes the acting come across more naturally, if still broken up by awkward and completely unnecessary pauses. The star this time is Megumi Hayashibara, who actually gets to do something with Kazumi--a lively-yet-realistic and likable performance additionally worth singling out since the character fits her distinctive voice perfectly. Mia has a different voice this time--Michie Tomizawa replaces Mami Koyama, and sounds fine in the role. (An amusing bit of trivia: Tomizawa voiced Kazumi in some of the audio dramas that preceded the anime.)
In all, Deluxe ARIEL is something of a disappointment; it has a lot of potential--both in concept and execution--that it fails to capitalize on due to a combination of a poorly-framed story and a boring finale. Still, it's a significant step up from the previous two-episode series, the opening episode is reasonably fun, and if you go for old-school tech-overload, you might even enjoy the underpowered closing half. Not particularly recommended, but not a total waste of time, and I'd say if you're interested you can safely skip the even-more-disappointing prequel series without missing much.
Chainclaw has a much lower opinion than I do.
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As with the first ARIEL series, the most obvious pick is cult favorite Shinesman--it does the same sort of sly, underhanded comedic take on a sentai show, and does it right. If you want a semi-parody of giant robot shows that goes in the exact opposite direction--outrageous and over-the-top--check out the flashy, fanservice-laden, solidly entertaining Godannar.
Notes and Trivia
Deluxe ARIEL is the sequel to ARIEL Visual, in turn based on an epic series of light novels by Yuuichi Sasamoto, with illustrations by Masahisa Suzuki. The two pairs of episodes make up the only anime adaptation of the more than two dozen novels.
In addition to the novels and the two short anime adaptations, there was also a fairly long (but generally forgotten) comic adaptation by Dr. Moro (never translated into in English as of this writing), a couple of manga side-stories, and three audio drama cassettes that serve as prequels to the anime (Deluxe ARIEL is effectively "Episode V" while the previous two-episode OVA was explicitly labeled "Episode IV").
The two episodes have both a Japanese and English subtitle: "Deluxe ARIEL 接触篇 The Beginning" ("Sesshoku-hen"; "Book of Contact") and "Deluxe ARIEL 発動編 Great Fall" ("Hatsudou-hen"; "Book of Commencement").
The not-particularly-secret super-science organization that developed the ARIEL robot is SCEBAI, an acronym of the English "Science, Chemical, Electronics, Biochemical and Aerospace Industry." This is a pun; SCEBAI is pronounced like "sukebe," which means "perv."
The alien superman's real name is Crest Saberhargen; Strablast Saber is, for no readily apparent reason, a nickname. On that note, his name could actually be Starblast Saver, which would make sense as a joke given his role in the plot, and indeed it was spelled "Saver" in at least the promo video for the anime.
Speaking of whom, his eventual solution to the crashing alien starship is remarkably similar to the stunt B-ko's dad pulls in Project A-ko 2; that movie predates the ARIEL franchise, so while it's possible it's just a coincidence, it's equally possible that they borrowed the same gag.
While most of the voice cast was the same through both ARIEL and Deluxe ARIEL, as well as those three drama tapes, the three female leads had no less than seven different actresses, one of whom played two different characters. Aya was voiced (against type, at that) by Yuuko Mizutani (aka Mihoshi) throughout the anime and in the third audio tape, while in the first two audio tapes she was played by Naoko Watanabe. Kazumi was an early role for Megumi Hayashibara in both anime series, but was voiced by Michie Tomizawa in the first two audio tapes and Chisa Yokoyama (another Tenchi alum) in the third. Mia, confusingly enough, was voiced by Michie Tomizawa as well, in both the third audio tape and Deluxe ARIEL, while Mami Koyama played her in the first anime series, and (again, against type) Eriko Hara (Hikaru in KOR) in the first two audio tapes.
US DVD Review
USM's DVD release includes both this series and the previous one on a single subtitled-only disc. They are soft subtitles, so you can turn them off if you're so inclined. The subtitles are also somewhat loose when it comes to accuracy. The video transfer is quite clean given the age of the production, and the stereo sound isn't too bad, either. The exception is the end credits, which leave the original credits and accompanying images intact with a few character credits added as hard subtitles, and no song subtitles; these appear to have come from USM's old VHS masters (the credit style matches their old releases), and are very fuzzy. Since there was barely any text added, it's odd that they didn't just re-do them with soft subtitles and video matching the rest of the production.
There are a few decent extras: Some character sketches, a short video with Dr. Kishida narrating ARIEL's specs over a video clip from the show, a karaoke version of the old-school opening theme from Deluxe (the text is in Japanese, but also includes both sing-along Romanized subtitles and a translation), and a promo video. That last one, for whatever reason, was done in English, and while they did at least get a native speaker to read the blurbs, it's embarrassingly (or hilariously, depending on taste) awkward. I got a good laugh out of Kishida's title (in English) being "the maddest scientist of this century," though.
There's also one of USM's DVD-ROM applications on the disc (Windows-only), which contains full scripts for all four episodes (nice), some art, and what they claim are the main voice actor credits... but are a complete mess, both spelling names wrong and, for some bizarre reason, crediting Dr. Kishida's voice actor with Kazumi's role in the fourth episode.
Somewhat ironically, USM's DVD release is the only one in existence--it never made it past LaserDisc in Japan.
The action is played straight and the alien monsters die in surprisingly graphic ways, plus there's a bit of exposed skin in a very brief shower scene; USM calls it 3-up, but I'd call 10-up more appropriate.
Violence: 2 - Nobody obviously dies, but the alien monsters are gorier than you'd think, and there's a lot of realistic property damage.
Nudity: 2 - One very brief shower scene, and some revealing costumes.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Just a touch of mildly off-color humor.
Language: 1 - Nothing significant.
Was available in North America on bilingual DVD (which also includes the previous series) from US Manga Corps, one of their last releases prior to declaring bankruptcy. They had previously released it on two subtitled VHS volumes.
The VHS tapes are easy to find; the DVD must've had an exceptionally small print run, as it's less common and relatively expensive.