Conforming to the conventions of a genre is one thing, but the first episode of Martian Successor Nadesico made me wonder if there were any original ideas left in mass market anime. Not only does this 1996 television series feature giant fighting robots, a state-of-the art space battleship staffed by a bridge crew of gorgeous young women, and seemingly invincible alien invaders, but it also puts an unlikely young man in the pilots seat by accident and delivers the fate of the Earth into his hands. Creatively speaking, Martian Successor Nadesico doesnt so much dip into the well of its predecessors' ideas as skim from the top.
It wasnt until well into the second episode, however, that I realized that Nadesico is actually a fairly subtle homage-as-parody to the anime archetypes that developed over the previous thirty years. Most telling is the overly-anguished anime series watched by the characters in the story, which not only provides a broader parody of the roots of anime (particularly Mazinger Z, aka Tranzor Z), but also throws the storyline of Nadesico into relief. Unless you're something of a student of anime, however, many of the jokes will be lost and you may find it difficult to maintain interest.
The movie's erstwhile hero, Akito, is a short-order cook from a colony on Mars who, for reasons unexplained in this volume, happens to have the surgical "nano-injecion" modifications necessary to pilot the mechanized battle robots of the future period in which he lives. The current war between Earth and the alien inhabitants of Jupiter (don't ask) unnerves him so much that he can't even hold down a cook's job, much less be a pilot. When he bumps into a figure from his past, however, he finds himself drawn into the conflict in a much more dramatic way than he anticipates or desires. One thing after another keeps him involved, though, until he is one of the main defenders of the starship Nadesico and the central figure of the story.
Nadesico is an anime series for folks who are already fans of anime. Having grown up on Tranzor Z, Robotech, Battle of the Planets, and Star Blazers, I'm a prime candidate to get sucked in. (I've already got the next couple of volumes lined up to rent.) The robot designs just plain rock, and the writers do offer a few new wrinkles in the mechanics of space combat. (I was especially amused by the line-of-sight energy transfer system, which, in combination with an energy-to-matter converter, may well explain how these fighter-jet-sized robots seem to have an infinite number of guided missiles on board.) But unless you're already comfortable with the story and character types involved, the series may well leave you cold.
The animation in Martian Successor Nadesico is a bit too glossy for my tastes. It definitely perpetuates the notion of anime as a highly stylized form in which the characters have reflecting-pool eyes the size of dinner plates. I much prefer the hand-drawn style of the series-within-the-series, but it seems petty to complain that things look too good. ADV has done an admirable job of bringing the series to DVD and dubbing the dialogue into English. While I used to be a purist who insisted on watching anime in the original Japanese with subtitles, I've now discovered that this was largely due to the sub-standard dub jobs given to early anime titles and that reading the subtitles now distracts me from the visual aspects of the show.
The image on the Volume 1 disc is clean and bright, with excellent sound on both the English and Japanese tracks. ADV has certainly learned the lessons of subtitling: the letters here are yellow with black outlines, which keeps them readable against any backdrop. The fidelity of DVD does expose some of the limitations of the original animation and film transfer, but if these things bother you, you should probably get out more. ADV does engage in one practice that might annoy purists: they like to replace Japanese text on screen with English text, rather than simply subtitling the existing text.
ADV provides a nice selection of extras, including the opening and ending credits without the overlying text, and both English and phonetic subtitles for the theme song. Dan Kanemitsu, the series translator, has added some text notes on the various Japanese jokes that defied conversion into English. Once again, these are only really of interest to more, uh, "involved" fans, but they do provide some insight into the behavior of some of the stranger characters. Character profiles seem particularly pointless in light of an entire anime series that should give us all the insight we need into the characters, but the text blurbs included here do provide information not immediately available upon watching this volume, which contains the first four episodes. Finally, there is a Nadesico trailer on the disc. One might well ask why disc authoring credits are listed with extras, but I suppose graphic designers and production coordinators need love too.
Chris Holland, 4/14/2003