Vandread Anime Review
US Release By
Sci-fi Mecha Action-Comedy
13 25-minute episodes
2000-10-03 - 2000-12-19
Vandread takes place many years in the future when mankind has realized the ability to travel through space and colonize planets. In the prelude (episode 1), it tells the story of role reversal: In a distant colony where Earth doesn't exist except in children's bedtime stories, men have been enslaved by women for centuries. One day, the slaves rebelled, gained control of a prototype colony ship and made their escape to the distant stars...
Approximately a generation later, the descendants of these run-away slaves have prepared themselves to exact revenge on the 'devilish' women who are also rumored to savor men livers. They have built an extension for the women colony ship and plan to use it to carry out their assault. In addition, men have mass-produced mechas (Japanese anime style mobile suits) which they claim to be impervious to any women weaponry. A teenage mechanic Hibiki, accepts a dare from his friends to steal a mecha from the colony ship. Prior to its take off, Hibiki slips into the colony ship without realizing that it is about to leave. Subsequently, he is trapped in the colony ship as it takes off.
The men flagship (the extended colony ship) set course towards Mejuru (their old homeplanet) only to be creamed by women pirates on the way. Refusing to succumb to humiliation, the President tries to abandon and scuttle the colony ship, but somehow the ill-understood technology of it ends up fusing the colony ship and the pirate's ship (later named the Nirvana), and merging a pirate's Dread (light fighter) with one of those overrated mechas into something at least ten times cooler. It also ends up transloacting the new ship to another galaxy.
The pirates try to understand the mechanics of the combined ship but to no avail. In this light, they finally concede to bury their hatchets for a while and allow the male prisoners, Hibiki and two other guys, to become members of the crew. Thus, begins their adventure together to unravel the mystery of their origin, Earth (and also the mystery of the opposite sex).
Vandread starts off with a humorous men propaganda video initially showing evil women lashing at hapless men, then followed by the showing off their overrated, laser-bursting 'Van' mechas, ready for action. Later on we see how the mechas are completely licked by the pirates' Dread fighters. Indeed, the whole 13 episodes are filled with dry humour, witty banter, and sexual innuendoes which are always good and never sound forced or corny. They did a good job to lighten the mood at times when the plot gets really heavy-handed. After the transformation of the Van and the Dreads by the reactor, the two male and female fighter craft respectively are able to 'unite' to form a Vandread. Although there is little romance between the hero, Hibiki, with any of the girl-pilots, there are plenty of comic scenes where the girls will quarrel to decide who should "unite" with Hibiki during battle, saying that she should be the one to do it with him, really cute.
A Vandread can take lots of punishment. Being much more formidable than a separate Van or Dread, its transformation is usually crucial in most fights. There are only 3 Dreads and 1 Van which are transformed by the reactor. The different Van-Dread combinations will transform into different types of Vandreads, each with its own specialties and weaknesses. In light of this, the opposite sexes swallow their enmity towards each other and work together instead. To overcome the hordes of harvesters (very much like the Borg collective of Star Trek) who want to assimilate them and the rest of the galaxy, the female pirates and the men combine their strengths and wit in order to survive. The 13 episodes saw numerous battles between the pirates and the harvesters where the pirates are always close to annihilation. Finally, they decided that they have to return to Mujuru, the females home planet, to raise the alarm of the hostile encounter. The pirates call on many planets along the way which are, surprisingly, inhabited by humans. On many occasions, the pirates have to assist these humans to fight the harvesters. Well that's basically plot: lots of action, sexual innuendoes, more action. Despite the veneer of light-heartedness with which Vandread presents itself, there is a large share of thought-provoking themes of friendship, courage/self-confidence, and of course, the truth that men and women should complement each other as neither is dispensable.
The best part however is undoubtedly the visuals which are both innovative and surpassingly beautiful. The creator of Vandread, Gonzo studios, did not spare a single tool at their disposal in the making of the incredible, climactic CG space battles in every episode. The skirmishes with the harvesters are engaging and memorable--each and every one of them. The final battle in the 13th episode is especially gorgeous and protracted. The lush graphics, which extend to the mecha, dreads, and of course the vandread fighters, are cool, colourful, and convincing. The action sequences are fluid with a creative flair. The action music is fast-paced and makes your heart beat to its rhythm. Coupled, they present a graceful war dance which will burn into your heart indelibly. Despite all of its ground-breaking CG, the sequences can be a little confusing. More often than not, you will find yourself wondering which side is buckling under the tide of the battle, until one of the characters comments on the situation for your enlightenment. Gonzo studios have produced their best CG-oriented anime series ever with the dawn of Vandread. Gonzo is also responsible for other renowned series such as Blue Submarine No. 6 which is also worth checking out.
The main characters in the series are rather generic, which is not really a bad thing. The hero, Hibiki, is a self-effacing teenager who develops into a pilot of heroic proportions as a charismatic leader, a brilliant tactician, and a guy with a Don Juan complex. The exploration of the characters is not too in depth in episodes 1-13 (episodes 14-26 are currently in development) but it does delve into the more intriguing characters, such as the blue hair ace pilot Meia with a heart-wrenching past. Meia's blue hair and something else reminds me of Rei Ayanami of the all time classic NGE. The characters in Vandread are 2D which is a plus since they are very well drawn and blend superbly with the 3D surroundings. And of course all the shoujos are cute. The voice acting in Vandread is convincing but it is the excellent script which makes each character come to life.
The music for the action sequences is good, but not really as grand as the graphics. However, both the intro music, Trust, and the ending, Himegoto deserve top places in your winamp playlist. The music in Vandread is composed by the same person who composed the pieces for Shin Getter Robo, Iwasaki Fuminori.
All in all, Vandread is a massive piece of CG embroidered with beautiful plot and music, well-written scripts, and cute anime girls. It manifests the culmination of CG technology of the past century, and in the future, it will be the benchmark for all CG-oriented sci-fi animes just as Kungfu Boy and Dragon Ball defined martial art series. Don't miss it, dude!!!
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Notes and Trivia
This first season is followed directly by "Vandread: The Second Stage." There's also an OAV that recaps the first season along with a little bit of added animation, and two manga adaptations with art by Kotetsu Akane (not available in English as of this writing).
US DVD Review
Geneon's widescreen DVDs are weak, to put it charitably. They have English and Japanese audio and English subtitles, but the video--despite the Gonzo-standard pure-digital widescreen source material--is letterboxed widescreen. Yes, letterboxed, not anamorphic--it's the only anime DVD I can think of that does this. What's really annoying, though, is that the DVD subtitles run right up against the letterbox area. Now, depending on the screen you're watching it on, this might not be an issue, but on my TV when I set it to standard letterbox crop it overshoots by a bit and ends up chopping off the bottom of the text. Which left me hunting for an awkward combination of PS3 output settings and TV display modes that worked.
Given Geneon's heritage as a part of Pioneer, I'd really expect better of them. The discs don't claim much the way of special features other than clean opening and endings. The series is also available on a box set that includes both the first and second seasons.
Geneon calls it 13-up.
Violence: 1 - Not notable.
Nudity: 1 - Sexy body suits...
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - A lot of innuendo, but only one kissing scene in the 13 episodes.
Language: 1 - Some sexual innuendo but nothing explicit.