Variable Geo Anime Review
US Release By
Martial Arts Action
3 30-minute episodes
1996-11-29 - 1997-06-27
Variable Geo: A fighting tournament held to determine the strongest waitress in the world! ... Yeah, okay. But it's all the rage in the world VG is set in. In Variable Geo you either win everything or lose everything (I mean everything). However, when fighters are experimented on with drugs that make steroids look like vitamins, everyone raises an eyebrow. When they see how incredibly strong they make someone, everyone starts to ask questions. But it's not until Satomi Yajima is caught in this world of drug abuse that Yuka Takeuchi, Satomi's best friend, decides to do something about it!
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The idea of waitresses with super powers in a tournament is bound to make anyone groan and not give VG a chance. For those who do, the worry is that Variable Geo is going to be an hour and a half of exploiting and stereotyping women. It wasn't really bad in that regard. Even the theme of "the loser of a fight must publicly strip" thing is turned into a plot point, with the public humiliation being more important than fanservice for the audience. Most important, though, is that it's shockingly good looking: great looking fight scenes with very good animation even when there's no action going on. The dub is also surprisingly good.
If martial arts action anime is your thing, Variable Geo will entertain and maybe even surprise you. If you don't like martial arts anime, you may wanna give VG a look. It may change your opinion slightly.
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The concept is a new one, I'll grant that. But the idea of waitresses with super powers in a tournament is bound to make anyone groan and not give VG a chance. And if martial arts anime isn't your thing then by all means avoid VG.
However, I will state that I do, in fact, like this kind of anime. Unrealistically fast punching, kicking, and single bound leaps that would make Superman jealous and not to mention those wonderful energy blasts fired off with a command. I really do like this sort of thing. What I was a little worried about was that Variable Geo was going to be an hour and a half of exploiting and stereotyping women. It wasn't really bad in that regard.
ADV's synopsis said that the losers lost all their clothes. I assumed that meant the fight involved energy blasts that tore the women's clothes to a point that left little to the imagination. That did happen sometimes, but that's not what the statement meant. As punishment for losing, the women had to strip and expose herself to the public, suffering ultimate humiliation. While this may seem like an excuse to show women naked, it actually contributed to character development and plot, so I'm willing to give VG the benefit of the doubt on that. Variable Geo even dared to poke fun at itself. There were a few humorous comments about the females chest size. I was surprised VG dared to pull that off. Usually, fighting animes with women try too hard to take themselves seriously and that's one of the things that can make them very bad. This was a nice change.
Quality-wise VG really surprised me. The character designs are about what you would expect from a fighting anime. Big eyes, and big.. other things. The backgrounds were good, and the colors were very nice and vibrant. But the thing that shocked me was the animation quality. I was expecting pretty good fight scenes with decent animation overall. What I got was great looking fight scenes with very good animation overall. The animation was fluid even when there was no fighting. And the fight scenes... where can I begin? The choreography was simply superb. The energy attacks where very well done too. Nice, bright and flashy.
So, the quality of Variable Geo is very good. Is that the only redeeming quality? No sir. In fact, what was better then the animation were the characters. Seriously. As expected in any anime like this, there are a lot of characters with tragic pasts and not all of them are really focused on. Someone like Elirin has a purpose for being in VG, but we only get a fleeting glance at her character and not much else. But someone like Yuka Takeuchi or Jun Kubota were developed nicely. Fighting animes do develop their main characters somewhat, but VG's characters had a surprising amount of depth to them. I was impressed to see that they weren't just air-headed big breasted women who enjoyed flaunting their bodies. In fact, it was just the opposite. They felt ashamed and humiliated when they paid the price for losing, and it showed us that these were women with morals and personalities. In the world of Variable Geo, VG is the most popular sport around but the contestants usually weren't in it for fun. They needed money for themselves or someone else and this was the only way they could get it in time. This really added to the characters and definitely gave VG a more tasteful view.
The story isn't new. We've all seen it before, a secret organization making super powered fighters through illegal means. This time it's through powerful drugs, in Battle Arena Toshinden it was cyborgs (or man-machines as they were called), etc. There was a nice amount of drama (sometimes melodrama) and tragedy. However, again, the characters fleshed the story out a lot better, saving it from being totally cookie-cutter.
The third thing that surprised me was the dub. It was really good. I was expecting a dub along the lines of Dragoon, but what I got was a nice dub for a low-brow title. Which really pleases me. It shows me that the quality of dubs are going up, even for titles that are not as known as Master of Mosquiton or Soccerer Hunters (which have great dubs) or what have you. The casting was really great, not a single voice was out of place. The acting was also very good. It just seemed to flow really well, there were no sub-par performances and it never got off to a bad start or dropped off near the end. The dub started out very good and remained just as good. The writing was also a little surprising. It was mostly what you'd expect from a martial arts anime, with a lot of long speeches that were a little overdone. But what made the writing in VG better then other fighting animes was that there wasn't a cliche to be found. Honestly, I didn't hear one. That also pleases me that the quality of translation and writing is going up on less popular titles.
I think there was one problem with VG. The ending. Now, unlike Dragoon, VG did end... but it didn't end very well. It was left open-ended, which is expected, but you weren't really left hanging either. The whole execution of the ending was kind of disappointing. I'll admit, something was distracting me and I could keep 100% attention to the screen near the end. So, my opinion may not be as reliable as it could be. I'll leave you to be the judge.
VG was a pleasant surprise. Not only was it a martial arts anime with some intelligence, but it was a martial arts anime with a 90% female cast with some intelligence. If martial arts action anime is your thing, Variable Geo will entertain and maybe even surprise you. If you don't like martial arts anime, you may wanna give VG a look. It may change your opinion slightly.
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There are dozens of other fighting-game based anime; try Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie and Street Fighter Alpha for a couple of good ones.
Notes and Trivia
Based on the "adult" 2D anime-style Variable Geo fighting game series. The series started on 16-bit consoles like the Super Famicom (SNES), and continued through the Advanced Variable Geo PlayStation and Saturn games, as well as adaptations for Windows.
There is a much newer (2004) 3-volume OVA series set in the same world, Variable Geo Neo, which unlike its marginally-respectable predecessor is full-on hentai; it's available from RightStuf's adult Critical Mass division.
US DVD Review
ADV's no-longer-in-print DVD includes all three episodes and two stereo soundtracks. It doesn't boast of any extras.
Due to violence, nudity, and adult themes, AD Vision appropriately rated it 17+.
Violence: 3 - Lots of fighting and some of it is brutal.
Nudity: 4 - Aside from the punishment, there were several scenes that definitely did ADVs 17+ rating justice.
Sex/Mature Themes: 4 - There were themes that also earned a 17+ rating. Some were funny but most were nothing to laugh at.
Language: 2 - On the whole, there was very little offensive language.