Another piece of the Saber Marionette puzzle.
What They Say:
In a far-off kingdom, the waning female population has been supplemented by androids called Marionettes. When the evil Starface is set free, he seizes the kingdom using a trio of bloodthirsty love dolls. He plows a path of carnage straight to the throne. As the last member of the royal family, Junior, a harmless wide-eyed boy, is in danger. Luckily his loyal Marionettes, Lime, Cherry and Bloodberry, will stop at nothing to protect him.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. While it’s continuity isn’t in the J frame, we’ve become quite accustomed to these voice actors and can’t imagine Lime done by anyone else. The show has a solid sounding stereo mix that’s pretty heavy on the center channel for its dialogue. The music and effects track makes some good use of the stereo channels throughout the show with the music giving it a very full feel. Dialogue is nice and clear throughout and we noticed no issues during regular playback on either track.
Originally released to video in 1995, the three episode R OVA series looks really good in this remastered version. The show doesn’t feature any of the issues that plagued Bandai’s releases of the subsequent series, so cross coloration and aliasing are both very minimal. There are a lot of very dark colors in this show and the blacks are well maintained. There’s some minor blockiness showing up in various brighter color areas such as some faces or areas in the hair, but it’s not too noticeable in general. The episodes are presented in their original format with the Japanese credits on them for both the opening and endings except for episode 3 which goes right to the English language version of the credits and covers all three episodes at once. Presumably the end credits for the third episode was just a black screen.
While there is an element of cuteness on this cover, it’s not the first thing you’ll notice by a long shot. With one hell of a sexy looking sexadoll crawling along the cover towards you and the entire piece draped in a lot of blacks, this just looks slick and attractive, right down to the stylized logo. The back cover is split in half with one side given over to a massive cast shot of just about everyone involved in the show while the right side has a summary and a rundown of the basic Japanese production credits. The technical information is nicely laid out in the grid along the bottom and is pretty accurate. The insert has the chapter listings for the three episodes and is set against some multi-colored pieces of artwork of the faces of the main sexadolls.
Using the same artwork as the cover, the menu is a simple affair but is just addictive to look at with the character artwork. The static image is complemented by the soothing ending song from the show, though it cuts out at a high moment and starts again from the low point at the beginning of the song. With nothing on the disc besides the show and some trailers, access times are nice and fast and the layout easy to navigate. The disc did not read our players preset language selections and required changing on the fly.
The continuity history of the Saber Marionette world can be hard to grapple with sometimes but what it usually comes down to is that you have to think of each piece as its own thing and just that. While there does appear to be some continuity in some ways between R and the future TV series J, they’re pretty tenuous at best. If anything, R serves as the bridge between the R radio dramas which were apparently much lighter and sillier than this and the end result of what J became.
The R OVA series takes a lot of what’s familiar to folks who have seen J. The world is quite different, not an Earth in any sense that we know it, where we’re dealing with the kingdom of Romana. Overseen by King Virey, he’s one of a succession of clones to rule the kingdom over the years. Throughout the kingdom a number of men have dolls that help them through their lives but there do appear to be real women in this series as well. It’s a vaguely set up society that isn’t as clearly defined as future visions of it are. King Virey has two offspring, Virey Junior and his brother who goes by the name Star Face, or just Face for short. Virey’s young, outgoing and very friendly towards just about everyone. Face, the older brother, has dark things weighing on him for many years and has spent much of his time behind a mask with, surprise, a star on it. During that time he’s used his genius to build a number of dolls, including the ones that protect his father and Virey.
Junior is more affectionate towards his saber dolls than most other people. After being protected initially by the more domestic feeling Cherry, he’s given a lot of his attention to the new induction to his home with Lime, a bubbly and somewhat bubbleheaded saber doll. She’s powerful but emotional, so she’s not the best fighter there is or the clearest thinking. King Virey himself only seems to keep one by his side, the talented Bloodberry. So when Star Face is arrested for various treasonous charges, it doesn’t take long for his small group of sexadolls to invade the castle and free him. They’re all eager to take on the trio that guard the Virey’s as the sexadolls all believe that they’re superior since they were given more care to their build by Face.
Star Face’s coup of Romana goes off pretty easily with the capture and torture of his father but he’s unable to secure Virey and the three saber dolls. The foursome escapes to the lower social stratum outside the city and try to formulate a plan that will allow them to sneak back in during the ascension ceremony so they can stop Face from acquiring the real power behind the throne. With three episodes to introduce the setting and characters, establish the basic outline of the plot and then execute it, it’s fairly tight in what time they have to do what they want to do, but the episodes harken back to the type of storytelling where little filler is really brought into play. Everything that’s done is done to forward the plot and keep it moving. The three episodes here really fly along well and while the story is straightforward, it’s fun from having seen the J material to see a different take on the property, almost like a What If. A more enjoyable What If at that.
The character designs for the most part definitely are easy to see as the genesis for what’s to come later. Cherry is really the most easily identifiable with her face and voice. Lime’s personality is the same through and through so it’s just a difference of design with her. Bloodberry is the weakest of the transitions though, as only her personality really made it through and even then that seemed to have changed a fair bit. Virey makes an obvious shift but with different results in background. The world of R is also considerably different than what comes later. With a mix of modern and science fiction while keeping a touch of fantasy to it, the world of Romana is interesting to look at with it’s multiple ledged city structure and a reliance on overhead gondola’s and trolleys. It’s got its own feel and the first episode gives the city a good amount of time to let the viewer get familiar with it and its diversity.
The sexadolls also come across very well here. They manage to actually feel threatening, which is a bonus of the show being short and self-contained, and they don’t avoid playing up their sexy nature either. There’s some scenes between them and Face where they do all that he wants and it struck me as the closest to a real piece of full sex/nudity that I’ve seen in a show that Bandai itself once released on VHS but could never get around to doing on DVD before they lost the rights. It almost makes me wonder if it didn’t fit in with their intended corporate image and was one of the reasons they never got around to it. While there’s no up front full on sex scenes, this is probably the most erotic that the entire Saber Marionette series has ever really been.
While I knew the show was different going into it, I had been burned out on the Marionette franchise for some time and wasn’t all that excited going into this. While there is plenty of things that you can see how they transitioned to the series that followed, the R series is definitely darker and aimed at an older audience than what the franchise ended up becoming. While this may have been what was intended if you go by the R radio dramas, this little bit of “what if” serves as a great little piece that shows just how much more interesting the show could have been if done just a bit darker and less episodic.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Release Date: July 13th, 2004
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
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.