What They Say:
Tokimune Susumu has every reason to distrust the military and question orders. His sister has already died in the service of the Arandas military, and his secret reason for enlisting is to ferret out the truth behind her mysterious death. So, when a civilian convoy is in jeopardy and his own battle mech is destroyed, Susumu’s all too ready to break ranks and jump into the cockpit of the experimental Argevollen.
What he isn’t expecting, however, is that activating the Argevollen conforms it to his mind alone. Now he’s on the frontline of the ongoing meat-grinder that the war between Arandas and Ingelmia has become, and his only certain ally is an attractive civilian contractor whose reasons for being in the war are as convoluted as his own.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo where it uses the DTS-HD MA lossless codec to bring it all together. The series is one that works a fair bit of action into it but it comes across more as a character driven show amid a country in chaos with war descending on it so it’s more focused there. The action sequences for it certainly work out well, though there’s a kind of restraint about it that plays more to it being a somewhat realistic approach to war as opposed to a big, flashy event. The impact is given to the mechanized units they use, the weapons themselves and vehicles, but it doesn’t overdo it and make more of it than it is. The dialogue side is fairly straightforward as there’s nothing added to those inside the mechanized units and most of what the cast does is straightforward center channel material without a lot in the way of directionality or placement.
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes for this series are kept to one disc as it’s a monolingual release with some room to spare. Animated by Xebec, the show has a rather solid look about it overall with some good attention paid to the military design aspects and the Argevollen itself. The CG blending with the rest of the animation works well for the most part as it doesn’t stand out in a glaringly bad way and the color design for it is solid and problem free. Colors in general are good throughout without any problems such as breakup or noise and the high fluid animation sequences hit some very good notes when it gets moving in the action sequences. The series has a good sense of design about it and the transfer captures it well to make it feel like a well realized world.
The packaging design for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray cast that holds the single disc inside. The front cover artwork goes with the familiar promotional image of the Argevollen in the background while Tokimune and Jaime are in the foreground, though her expression and pose is a bit awkward compared to his. The layout works well enough with a concrete background that gives it a bit more weight while the green on the bottom adds a bit more color. I rather like the logo as it feels a touch old school in a way with the style of it and the overall color design. The back cover is fairly traditional with a shot of he Argevollen in action mode along the left while the right breaks down he premise of the show in a decent way. There’s a decent selection of shots from the show, a nod to the episode count and that it’s the first collection as well. The production credits are cleanly laid out and the technical grid breaks it all down in an accurate way. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is very straightforward as it works off of the cover design elements in a good way, giving it all a bit more of a pop of color to it. The bulk of the screen is given over to the image from the cover artwork of the Argevollen and the cast, though zoomed in slightly while the concrete background is expanded to flesh it out more. It’s got a good look to it and works to set the tone of the show well enough from the start. The navigation side works the green and silver color theme well enough with the episodes by name and number along the right but it’s mostly just straightforward and without too much to connect it to the show itself. Everything loads quickly and easily both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu.
The only extras included with this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
An original series animated by Xebec, Argevollen was directed by Atsushi Ōtsuki and written by Tatsuo Sato that aired in the summer and fall seasons of 2014. Going into this show was something that I had some interest in because Sato is someone who has worked on some really strong shows over the years as a director with Shingu and Martian Successor Nadesico. While he didn’t direct here, having him as the writer definitely had me interested. And from what I can see with what he’s doing here he was looking for a very grounded kind of show unlike a lot of what he’s directed himself. It has a potentially interesting exploration of the impact of war between nations and some of what a nation will do to try and protect itself, but it falls short in important areas of characterization to actually make you care.
With overtones of something much larger going on beyond the basic setup, we’re introduced to a war that exists between the countries of Arandas and Ingelmia. Arandas has something of an advantage in that it’s locked by water on three sides while the fourth that connects it to its neighbor has a strong wall along the whole of it that has protected them for generations upon generations. Those in Ingelmia are running quite the campaign to conquer Arandas as they promote it as liberating their neighbors from those that rule the country, making it a war that its own people can get behind. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of real context given to the war itself here beyond that, nor to either nation to really draw us into the conflict. This lack of a solid foundation really hinders the show since everything takes place amid the rolling invasion of Arandas.
With this as the backdrop, the show focuses on an independent group within the Arandas military that’s got a decent mix of soldiers in it that can pilot the standard Trail Krieger mecha that are used for combat. These are basic bipedal mecha that have a slightly old school look to them, coming across as a bit clunky and certainly a step down from what the other side is using in the war. What we see early on is that while there are some decent members to this crew, one of the pilots is a bit young and not quite up to snuff. Tokimune is your standard male lead here in that the viewer can insert himself into the role as he grows into the show and becomes more of a man. That’s not to say he’s a boy here but he’s plainly not up to the same level as the others. Which is why, naturally, he ends up getting to take on the new prototype that they inadvertently save from an enemy attack.
This encounter brings Jaime Hazaford into the picture as she’s the liaison for testing the prototype Trailer Krieger known as Argevollen, a super secret high end piece of equipment. You can easily see how Tokimune ends up claiming it in a sense, getting his stats and connection with the machine to make it his own, and working closely with Jaime to gather more data while suddenly becoming a superior soldier on the battlefield because of it. It follows a lot of traditional young pilot/new pilot kind of material here with what it does in giving Tokimune a path but it also removes the surprises because it’s so obvious. There’s a slow growth of a relationship between Tokmune and Jaime along the way, though naturally it moves slower than the one that forms between him and the Argevollen. But both are just very basic and not all that interesting.
Mostly, because like a lot of the show, these aren’t really characters for the most part. Though they’re soldiers, there isn’t much given to them beyond that and even then that’s very slim. We get a little background on a couple of them towards the end of this set but the ostensible leads with Tokimune and Jaime get very little of who they are beyond the moment. The worst is that early on not long after the two meet he ends up essentially giving his life story distilled down to a single concept. He lost his sister to the war years ago through an accident of some sort within the military and he’s intending to rise up in the ranks enough to find out what really happened. It’s so telegraphed early on where his arc will go that you bang your head against the wall. It turns into just trying to figure out which member of his side is in some way responsible but also likely not truly responsible. Which it does in due course.
The series gives us some time with various aspects of the upper command, a few other groups out there operating on both sides of the war and some view of how the regular folks are coping with it and viewing the whole thing. This adds a little more to the show overall but after the minimal amount of material we get with the main characters this ends up not adding much overall. It brings some larger context elements but with the main cast having not gotten enough material it just doesn’t click at all. There’s such a simple and minimally scripted personality about most of the cast that keeps them at arms length at minimum when it comes to being accessible. With no background and little said in general about outside interests, something that comes up even amid a war involving conscription, it’s so simply focused that it just doesn’t click at all with anyone.
The series does find an interesting angle to work with towards the end of the set with the commander of the group, Samonji. His involvement in an automated Trail Krieger project years ago is one that explores the problems of trying to protect lives of one’s own soldiers while being effective in killing others while sacrificing your own in pursuit of that goal. We know that it’s going to tie back to Tokimune’s sister and what happened there but it, surprisingly, manages to do it well. Taking us out of the war in the present and going back eight years we see some of the cast we know at a different level and struggling with the reality of the sacrifices being made, and knowing how it impacts lives in the present. Sadly, the show doesn’t have the answers to the questions it wants to ask and really keeps it all very simplistic in that what the military does is bad, no matter how much it might work out in the end. It goes for the easy answer with a cost attached to it that was paid before the show started.
The first half of the Argevollen series proved to be a struggle for me simply because so much of what it did was telegraphed from the very beginning. There’s little in the way of surprises here and what we get is a show that feels very formulaic and without a spark to separate it. It has all the tropes that you’d expect and it doesn’t stray from them to stake out its own turf. There are decent moments, such as the battle in the small town as the team retreats and the flashback elements towards the end, but when it comes to the main cast and their interactions with each other and the reality of who they are it’s all kept very simple and without any sort of depth to make it engaging. The animation is decent, the designs are pretty solid and the transfer captures the show well so fans of it will be pleased. But it’s pretty obvious why this one didn’t merit a dub or heavy investment as it’s not a top tier show.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: C-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 1st, 2015
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 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.