The last days of human life on Mars will be slow going, mostly because Bee Train animated it.
What They Say:
Resources on Mars are thin and domes cities have resorted to a gladiator contest to determine who receives the most rations. Layla Ashley is one fighter representing her city. She along with Speedy, a doll breeder run across Nei, a mechanical doll with a peculiar characteristics. Together they wander and fight their way across the planet to take revenge against a man from Layla’s past! All 3 DVDs Enclosed in a Limited Collector’s Edition Avenger Tin Case! Contains the entire 13 episode series!
The audio presentation for this release is pretty decent and appropriate for its time in that we get the original Japanese language and the English dub, both of which are encoded at 224kbps. Similar to other shows from Bee Train, there’s not a lot of action but when there is it has a good bit of pop and placement to it, making the scenes work well enough. The mix has a lot of directionality with the action sequences and dialogue but where it makes out the best is with the music track as it feels very full and vibrant here. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2003, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The thirteen episodes are spread across three discs with five on the first and four on each of the two remaining discs. The show was very fresh at the time it originally came out and it holds up well here overall, though the quality of the animation is starting to show its age there. Colors are strong and vibrant though some areas do show some minor blocking in some of the darker backgrounds, it’s nothing that’s terribly distracting. Aliasing and cross coloration are very minimal throughout but a few scenes where the characters faces are up close you can see a bit of movement along the edges of the hair. In general, across the thirteen episodes here, this is a smooth clean looking release that will come across great on most setups.
While this wasn’t an early steelcase release, it was one of the few tin case releases that came out which definitely set it apart, in addition to it being one of the early shows where the whole season came out at once. Inside the case, the top panel holds the first disc and there’s a piece of foam between it and the bottom half where the next two discs are overlaid on each other without touching each other. The actual artwork used on the case is very attractive with raised artwork of Layla and Nei walking across the Martian landscape while the red moon is behind them. With the slightly larger case and full bleeding on it, plus the way it stands out, it just shines nicely even as dark as it is. The back cover provides a larger shot of Volk City as the main image with a summary of the premise across the moon while the bottom half covers the episode/disc count, several shots from the show and a good listing of the discs features and extras. As usual, finding the technical information takes a little more since it’s not all in one place but the runtime and basic features are relatively quick and easy to find. No insert is included with this release.
The menus across the three discs are the same with a strong piece of character artwork of the leads standing up across part of the Martian landscape along the left while the right side lists the episodes you can select and the rest of the navigation selections. Some of the shows music plays along and overall it’s an appealing if fairly basic menu. Navigation is quick and intuitive while access times are fast. The discs also correctly read our players’ language presets correctly.
There’s not much in the way of extras here as all we get are the clean versions of the main opening and closing sequences on the third disc.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Back when we were still getting multiple single volume releases for a series rather than half season or full season sets, Bandai Entertainment was looking for a way to try and market a show that wasn’t going to have a large fanbase promoting it. While Bee Train had garnered fans with Noir, not all their works were lighting fandom on fire, but their name still caused a draw at the time. So when it came to releasing Avenger, they opted to get people to buy in whole with one set, which was rare at the time and certainly tantalizing, partially because you wanted to support that kind of release so more could get done like that. To make it even more appealing, especially to the collector side, they did the really nicely done if large tin to hold it all. It’s definitely a stylish and appealing piece for an original work that simply didn’t have much of a following when it came out, never mind now.
Avenger starts out with what I found to be four or so very unclear and somewhat confusing episodes as it lays out the very basics of the world. We’re introduced to Layla Ashley, one of the Barbaroi that travels around Mars who fights in various gladiator matches in the domes against delegate gladiators. Fighting in these matches is kind of a Thunderdome approach as there really isn’t any draws to it. What you own is what you put up for the fight so you can lose everything very easily, which is why so many of these Barbaroi type fighters have so little to them. Layla travels from dome to dome in order to carry through on some sort of revenge that she has against someone and goes through the various matches in order to expand her training until she can get into the match with her ultimate goal, Volk of Volk City.
She actually starts off in Volk City and ends up leaving there after a challenge match by someone else and she finds herself hooking up with a man named Speedy who is a doll breeder and a child doll model named Nei who is about ten years old in appearance. The way these people all come together is part of the problem in the first few episodes as it’s just very poorly done and so much is covered with long panning shots with lots of music and drama to it. There is so much drama in fact that you really can get put off by it because you have no connection to the characters yet and it just feels really out of place. It’s gorgeous to look at as I really like the designs that are used here and particularly to the great detail emphasis to the eyes and eyelashes, but without context you end up just rolling your own eyes.
The first few episodes move the characters out of Volk City as they go about to other locations but it’s not until it hits the fifth episode that things start to gel as Layla finds herself going up against Jupiter, the man who controls the city he resides in. It’s from this meeting that we slowly start getting explorations into the past and learn that Jupiter is one of four remaining members of the Original Dozen, the first twelve people who came to setup things on Mars. Those that remain have gained long life and are trying to maintain some semblance of order while protecting Mars. We learn that the dolls that are all around are replacements for a society that has been unable to have children for the last dozen or so years as people seem unable to procreate anymore.
A lot of the show up until the final volume is the trio going from place to place and trying to avoid the hunter dolls that are seeking out Nei as she has some grander design to her existence. Layla has taken on an almost parental role to protecting her and her journey starts to become much more about that while Speedy helps things along the way as a voice of reason and a way to avoid getting into bigger kinds of trouble that Layla would just rush into. The mysteries that are unraveled here from the fifth episode on are intriguing with the backdrop of the Earth’s moon being on some sort of collision course with Mars. With it being only thirteen episodes long, the revelations come fairly quick once the second volume kicks in and the flow of events up until the last five minutes of the last episode is very engaging and had me really interested in the show, enjoying it far more than I ever expected.
Avenger is a very frustrating show at times though. As mentioned, the opening episodes were just far too dramatic for their own good and instead of telling a story they were just showcasing scenes with music and panning shots more often than not. Once past that the show really hits its stride and with a steady flow of revelations and extremely fluid action scenes each episode left me wanting to get to the next one as quickly as possible. The design of this show is very appealing as it takes on the Martian landscape in the more classical way as opposed to what we’ve seen in more recent scientific discoveries but it works well as in the background of anything taking place with a view of the outside is the Earth’s moon getting closer and closer with each episode. Though the origins of that cataclysm isn’t revealed, the follow-up events to it are and it opens up so many more questions that you want answered. With a backdrop like this it just appeals to the science fiction fan in me as well as having read so many Mars novels over the years to see a new interpretation.
The character designs do suffer somewhat from what you could consider a studio flaw in that things they do look so similar. Layla manages to break the mold slightly with her look with the longer hair and more ruffled look while Nei is younger than previous characters who had a central role to series. It’s interesting that Speedy has more of a role in this show as other Bee Train productions haven’t had a lot of strong prominent male characters as involved as he is. The animation itself for the show takes advantage of saving a bit of money by doing a number of dramatic panning sequences so that when they actually have a combat sequence or something requiring a good deal of animation it ends up looking gorgeous and incredibly fluid. The gladiator battles are great to watch and are very well choreographed. In terms of music, the opening song is weak with its fast pace and clipped nature but the instrumental and in-show vocal pieces were solid and very evocative, particularly when used in the last episode. This will be another soundtrack to be sought out.
Revisiting Avenger nearly ten years after its initial release is definitely an interesting experience. I had mixed feelings on the show when it first came out but I liked the overall presentation and what I hoped it would mean for anime releases in general, which largely came true. The series is one that plays to a setting that I like and has some interesting ideas, but it’s so convoluted on the way the world works and never really gives us strong enough characters to work with that we can really like and get behind, partially because they’re either moody or just quiet. There is an awful lot to like in here but they just couldn’t figure out how to start it right or how to end it properly. The journey itself is very engaging at times, especially since there are few shows that really deal with Mars, but as a whole it leaves you wanting because of the issues. It’s a curious piece of anime history that’s been kind of lost in the years since. One that I doubt we’ll ever see a license rescue for, never mind some sort of high definition release.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Release Date: October 25th, 2005
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.