What They Say:
Mix one gadget-happy engineer, an ex-cop with a serious noodle fixation, and the ultimate bad girl: the highly combustible result is the Danger Service Agency. Brainy Harada and crafty Kurokawa may not seem like the most dangerous mercenaries to ever hit the streets, but it only takes one look at Mikura’s skin tight body suit and huge pair of M1911s to see that she has the assets to kick some serious butt. Toss in Asami, the DSA’s new killer schoolgirl-in-training, and the DSA is guaranteed to fulfill your daily “girls-with-guns” requirements!
Whether they’re working for sexy weather girls, friendly ghosts, or facing off against gangsters, trained assassins (or even extraterrestrials), there’s one thing you can be sure of: when the DSA takes a job, you can be sure it’ll pay off with action!
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language and the previously created English language dub, both of which are in stereo encoded at 224kbps. While not completely attached to the voice cast from the OVA, the continuity aspect was a plus. The series sports a solid stereo mix that has a good sense of directionality across the forward soundstage in both dialogue and action effects. There’s a lot going on with this show and the track handles it well and it’s all very clean and clear. During regular playback on either track, we had no issues with dropouts or distortions.
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this release is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Animated by ARMS, the series is spread across three discs in a four/four/five format. Much like a lot of Umetsu’s works, there’s a wide range of very vibrant colors mixed into the show and they shine through great here. From the oranges of Mikura’s outfit to the splattering blood, it’s a solid set of colors with no visible blocking and only the slightest hints in one or two scenes of some slight color gradation. Aliasing and cross coloration are virtually absent for the bulk of the print and all the high paced action is kept very solid. While it’s not quite OVA level, it looks great here and is a transfer that’s very easy to get lost in once it gets into gear.
The packaging for this release is one of my favorites as it gives us a good looking and energetic visual of Mikura front and center combined with some great blocking for the background with a mix of colors to give it a whole lot more pop. The white blocks definitely give it some additional flair and the art deco style logo is a big plus in its favor as well. The back cover works the same kind of layout but with smaller segments as it peppers it with more character headshots, a simple tagline, and a decent summary of the premise. The extras are clearly listed and the production credits round things out along the bottom in addition to a clean and easy to read technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is one that mirrors my enjoyment of the cover packaging design as it essentially replicates it with some different artwork and not quite as busy. With a good image of Mikura along the left and the navigation itself kept to the right inside the white blocks, moving around is a breeze and everything is smooth and functional. Language setup is easy, though worth noting that it’s locked with subtitles on if you pick Japanese language, and everything loads quickly and without problem.
The only extras included are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Back in 2001 when the Mezzo Forte OVA release came out, I quite enjoyed the uncut version of that project. Umetsu’s been controversial for what he’d done at this point in time in the past and Mezzo was his next big project that was getting all sorts of attention. Though it took a few more years to happen, the OVA eventually spawned this thirteen episode series that takes place some time after the events of the OVA and eventually tie into it pretty heavily at times, but not so that you’re really missing out if you haven’t seen it.
The premise is very simple. We’re introduced to the DSA – Danger Service Agency – which is a group of three people who will basically go and do anything for money. They try to avoid danger but the kinds of jobs they get really don’t allow for that. Headquartered in a London dual decker bus frame on top of a building, they’re a strange set of folks. The group is pretty much led by former detective Kurokawa who fits the bill of an ex-cop/detective that’s very familiar with the nastier side of the world and how it works. He’s got a great personality and chains together so many phrases and styles of speech at times that just listening to him ramble on is both a challenge and highly amusing.
What probably spurned this business into operation is when Kurokawa came across a young Mikura a few years back who was a stray on the streets and the two ended up through an undisclosed series of events becoming friends and working with each other. Mikura’s not quite the wild child of the streets she once was but she’s spent the time since becoming so attuned and training her body that she’s nearly superhuman in some respects. Adding in being good with weaponry and a high adaptability rate to whatever’s going on around her and she’s a lithe street fighter who even with her small body is able to give as good as she gets. Rounding them out is the spiky haired Harada, a guy who looks to be in his early twenties who is fantastic with electronics, good with a gun and can handle himself in a fight but tends to end up a bit more as support for Mikura during their jobs. He plays something of a half and half role of what both Mikura and Kurokawa are while bringing in his own technical side to things.
Over the course of the first five episodes, there’s a mix of stories that really cross all over the place. From the simple one of finding someone who is trying to kill someone else and stopping them to being used as decoys for a bigger operation that’s going on, the jobs are fairly diverse. They even go into the truly strange when there’s a story about having to stop someone from acquiring a device that will allow an alien race to invade the planet after drowning all the cities. It’s comical and weird but it manages to work strangely enough within the context of the episode and they end it so perfectly as well. The series also pulls off a rather fun event in a two-part episode where we get two completely different stories, one in each episode, which keep intersecting and having effects on each other. Normally this is done within just one episode but the way they play this out is very well done and a lot of fun since it provides more information on Mikura’s past but also lets her fly solo.
Once we hit the middle area of the show, the main episode of interest is the one which provides some rather detailed history for Harada during his high school years. After a chance meeting at a parts marketplace with a woman he had dated back in high school, his time there begins to show in flashback form as he decides he doesn’t want to talk about it with anyone. It’s interesting to see a much cleaner cut and dressed Harada doing the school gig and going out on his first date with who is presumably the hardest to get woman in the class. The actual romance is very mild and played out in a very simple way but it has that kind of raw innocence to it that you sometimes get in reflecting on the past. I also rather liked how it was sort of tied around in an interesting way with Asami spending a good deal of time with Harada in the present and her carefully prodding him for questions that shows she has an interest on some level for him. It’s quite endearing when it comes from someone like Asami.
The rest of this block of episodes, which makes up the second disc, doesn’t fare as well. There’s an episode where the group gets picked up at a basement bargain price to do some bodyguard work for an elderly couple who are trying to get rid of a couple of gangsters who have moved into the apartment complex that’s being torn down in just a few days. There are some light surveillance and an attempt to get inside to see what’s going on, which is well done since it has Mikura posing as a masseuse girl only to find that the customer wants more and he starts to really go at her. The quirky angle to this episode is that there’s a girl that’s all in white and carrying a bunny that supposedly only other women can see that is wandering around the building. This isn’t tied into things until the end and it’s almost seemingly forgotten at one point but it just feels so overly forced into things. Granted, this is the series that’s already had an alien encounter so anything is possible, but it just didn’t feel like it clicked well.
The science fiction nature of the series comes into play again in another episode though this time it goes to tackle virtual reality instead. Asami gets a pair of tickets as a prize to go try out a virtual reality simulator and is all excited to do it. She’s been down a bit since she’s still getting picked on and hasn’t learned to really stand up for herself, which is why her being listed as a killer-in-training on the cover summary is so amusing, and thinks this might be a good chance to go try to be what she wants to be. Her interest in Harada has her asking him to go with her only to be awkwardly turned down, which sends her into confusion. That sets the stage for a somewhat bored sounding Mikura to walk in and see the tickets only to take them for herself.
The actual virtual reality piece isn’t given a whole lot of detail other than I can’t imagine trusting anyone who runs his laboratory like that out of his house, even if he does have some professional looking assistants. Naturally, something goes wrong when Mikura is in there and she’s acting out different times and places not realizing she’s actually in the VR simulator, so we get to see her go from normal attire to a feudal era Japanese princess and to a skimpy ninja and so forth. It’s cute and amusing but predictable in that they’d send Asami in after her to try and rescue her. I’m definitely all for Asami stepping up to the plate and getting a gun in hand and learning the trade – I think it’d be a nice side arc to the whole thing – but it’s not what they’re going to do by all appearances and instead just tease us.
When it comes to the end run of episodes, Mezzo DSA ends up finishing faster than it feels it should but probably right around the right time for it. As enjoyable as the series is, I’d rather just see a series of OVAs produced at a higher quality over a longer period of time instead. The quality of the TV series is decent, though the character models are off here and there throughout, but it definitely has its low budget feel to it. The loss of the slickness and detail of the OVA that preceded this is deeply missed.
The final four episodes are still a good bit of fun though as it plays through a couple of overreaching pieces before settling into a finale that closes up some of the things that have been going on since the beginning of the show. The opening episode is a fun one that deals with a tightly controlled middle eastern country that’s kicking off a sixteen-country tour showcasing a former ruler that’s been mummified. The mummy has some of the biggest diamonds in the world as its eyes and had its teeth replaced as well so it’s a big draw for people to come and see. The mummy, of course, has a curse attached to it but those are generally made up to help keep thieves away from it. Fearing that someone will try to swipe it during its transit time, the owners opt to hire the DSA group to transport the mummy while everyone else takes the rest of the artifacts go the normal route. The curse of the mummy affects the DSA folks in different ways, from Kurokawa getting nailed with some bad noodles to the truck Mikura picks up for the transport exploding on them. It’s a fairly typical caper with a fairly obvious ending once certain people step into view but it’s a fun trip.
There are two things that come across in the four episodes here that play out to varying degrees before the ending where all things eventually come together but not necessarily to close up the entire series. One of them is the training aspect that Asami starts taking on. She’s wanted to be like Mikura since the very beginning when she was being bullied by the girls she knows and has made small fitful attempts at doing just that since meeting the DSA people. She’s gotten a bit distracted along the way with a crush on Harada which is just cute as well as having to conquer a few fears herself, but with these last episodes she’s actively taking hand to hand training from Mikura while wearing one of the spandex outfits, a nice charcoal gray at that. There’s a good mix of words of wisdom from all of them to her on her training, though she seems to only want to train with Mikura. Her evolution of the series has been fairly subtle but she eventually does change by the time things roll around here and it’s a plausible piece, not a piece of high fantasy where she’s suddenly a pint-sized Mikura.
The other arc that plays out among all the other shenanigans that are going on in the individual episodes is that there’s a contract out on Kurokawa that’s slowly being attempted and fulfilled. The young man that’s doing it ends up coming close a number of times and even gets a few shots off on him but whenever he catches an eye of Mikura he ends up hesitating and often just bailing out on the attempt at that time. This killer gets involved in a couple of the episodes in a background sort of way but also stumbles into another case where he’s mistaken as someone wanting to take down a crime boss and gets wrapped up into the chaos that ensues from there. This is actually a fairly decent stalker/assassination attempt in that we’re given some interesting background on the killer and on those who hired him to take Kurokawa out.
Though the series kicked off with some really fun episodes and managed to burst out of the gate with a great action episode, it never seemed to really recapture that kind of energy again. The remainder of the series has some good episodes to it and the characters are fun to watch and deal with, but the kind of energy and fluidity seen early on just didn’t make it for the rest of the series which is a shame. The characters remain intact throughout the show but they don’t really encounter the same kind of things as they did in the first few episodes so they really didn’t get to shine in the same way further on, nor were there the kind of really solid action pieces where you had Mikura tossed through walls and over buildings, which is really part of the draw here.
Visually, the show is just a hell of a lot of fun. Umetsu’s designs aren’t exactly the most pleasing in the world for the male characters but they’re definitely distinct. He’s come a long way since his work in the Megazone 23 series but Mezzo is much more streamlined than even his very angular Kite designs. Mikura, Asami and the women, in general, are all very attractive and very sleek looking; I can’t help but laugh at the way Mikura’s bosom bounces to perfectly during one spot in the opening sequence. The male characters are still rough in Umetsu’s way but they’re not as ugly as some of his past ones. The way the action flies throughout this show there’s a lot of violence, bloody violence at that, with people being flung through walls, shot outright, stabbed and more. It’s pretty violent but at times hits that comical level of violence. This is that kind of show where there’s a real beauty in the way the violence plays out in all of these abandoned buildings and desolate areas where other people aren’t in the way. The animation keeps up with their intent very well and the fight sequences are very fluid.
The dub cast for this show did an amazing job with their characters. Luci Christian has completely nailed the Mikura character down in just about every way and puts in a superb performance here. Mikura’s such a wild character at times and says what she wants to say so she swings between very sweet to a near hyper-violent style that it’s great watching it being able to transcend between the style of languages. Luci gets huge extra points for her karaoke performance, right down to the winks in it. I also really liked how well Andy McAvin was matched for Kurokawa as he managed to get that kind of rambling phrase dropping almost too sure of himself nature that Kurokawa has. I also really liked how well matched Sasha Paysinger was to the Asami character and was really happy it didn’t go to one of the usual players of such young quiet characters.
Mezzo DSA is one of those titles that’s certainly interesting to revisit as it has some real flashes of creativity and style that’s missing from many shows today (and the period this came from) but is also mired in the familiar as it struggles with its budget and the rough production schedule. Though I think I like the OVA more because of the sexuality to it, the TV series does a lot of fun things overall and makes for a pretty enjoyable experience in both staggered viewing and as a marathoned show. Umetsu is the type of creator that has some really good ideas but needs to be better paired with writers to give it more focus and more of a cohesive feeling. This release is definitely a no brainer for picking up since it’s the full run on the cheap and is one of the quirkier series out there, and one that I wish was able to get a proper high definition release just to eke out more of the color quality of it all.
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: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: ADV Films
Release Date: March 21st, 2017
Running Time: 325 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.