What They Say:
After a lifetime of seeing ghosts, young Sumire is recruited by powerful Lucia to fight demons! The girls battle darkness as members of the Venus Vanguard, a group dedicated to ridding the world of its greatest threat – Virus. But as they discover why every life is worth saving, they also learn that they carry their own unlocked potential for evil. The Virus rages out of control, but Sumire and Lucia are prepared to give it the beating it truly deserves. Get ready – it’s time for your vaccination.
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the English mix, both of which are encoded at 22kbps. The show does have some good moments in terms of its audio when the various Virus’ get active and attack, but for the most part it’s a rather mild mix that’s kept to dialogue and some incidental music along the way. The opening and closing sequences with its music tends to be the biggest draw as it utilizes the stereo channels well. Outside of that however it’s a rather predictable and sometimes bland mix. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions with either mix during regular playback.
Originally airing in early 2007, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The ADV Films release of the series was spread across three discs and they never got a collection out. The FUNimation release here is done as two discs and encoded by FUNimation, one of the few to be done that way, with six episodes on each disc. It retains the original ADV Films credits but uses FUNimation’s subtitle font style and color instead for the subtitles. With it being such a recent show I was surprised to see how it looked. There’s only one real problem with it but it’s a sizeable one in that the backgrounds are filled with mosquito noise. In some of the scenes it’s almost overpowering, especially when there are lots of soft blue filled backgrounds. This isn’t kept to just the backgrounds though but it is where it’s most noticeable. The show appears to be shot somewhat soft in general which adds to this and gives the backgrounds a feeling of being in constant movement. Colors in general look good with no bleeding or oversaturation but their level of solidity is out the window. The opening and closing sequences tend to look a lot better, the closing in particular with its heavy white use.
FUNimation has done up a rather nice package for the release though it’s not quite apparent at first. The show is done on two discs inside a single keepcase with both discs overlapping each other on one side, which isn’t my favorite method for double disc sets like this. The front cover is solid with a look at the three principle women on the side of “good” as they’re weapons ready and looking happy to get in on the action. It’s got some of the basic symbolism of the show and the layout is good with lots of bright colors and appealing enough designs. The back cover has Lucia with her hair down looking a little sultry next to the logo and a few taglines about the show. The summary runs through the basics very briefly and it’s balanced out by a few small shots from the show. Add in the production credits and a small technical grid and it’s a good looking release. What makes it better is that it’s a reversible cover, something that’s still somewhat rare these days. The reverse side goes classic and elegant as each panel is done as a portrait frame for each of the leads but with a breakdown of the episode numbers and titles. The spine retains the series name as an added touch to make it truly reversible.
The menu design is rather simple and straightforward as it uses the character artwork off to the right side. The first volume gives us a decent shot of Lucia while the second lets Sumire shine; giving both halves of the series their own spotlight. The navigation is kept to the left which individual episode access and it’s all tied together with a bit of the opening vocal sequence. It’s a decent looking menu but has that basic effort feel to it. Access times are nice and fast however and the disc, like just about every release FUNimation, doesn’t read our players’ presets and defaulted to English language.
The extras for this release are pretty standard in the inclusion of the clean version of the opening sequence and the ending sequence on the second volume.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga series by Atsushi Suzumi which only started in 2005, this twelve episode series is fairly formulaic in its approach as it deals with demons as viruses of sorts. The show revolves around the distinctive pairing of a high school girl and a young woman with an eyepatch who runs a fancy clothing boutique. They work there by day and by night they use special bullets to go hunting creatures that only they can see.
The setup to the series isn’t terribly original but it does work well as a series that deals in what appears to be self-contained stories, at least at first. Over the first four episodes we’re introduced to Sumire, a quiet young woman, and Lucia, the almost pirate-looking young woman who have an interesting relationship. Sumire is something of a rarity in that she’s able to see things others can’t which are called Viruses. They often take the form of gelatinous blobs but they do take over people on occasion and voice their will through there. Lucia has over the years, with help from her grandfather, come up with a specialized bullet that only affects the Virus itself. Even when inhabiting another, the bullet simply affects the Virus and leaves the person be.
There’s only been one unintended consequence of this, something that was found out quite by accident when Lucia discovered Sumire. When Sumire was accidentally shot during the incident when Sumire was saved by Lucia for the first time, Sumire ends up going into a berserker mode due to the imbalance of chemicals in her system. Her quiet and innocent exterior turns to one of bloodlust as she tears apart the Viruses with glee. If no viruses are left however, she turns her focus to whoever else is around her until she just plain tires out. Finding the right balance of chemicals in the bullets to take down the Virus but also limit what Sumire can do hasn’t been found yet.
Through the first four episodes, we get to see three varying tales of “horror” as people find themselves in situations that require Lucia’s help. These people are the only ones able to see the flyers she has scattered throughout the city which helps ensure that she only gets the right kinds of customers. Through the stories we get to understand a little bit more about the Virus situation but it’s still kept to the basics for the most part. None of the tales are terribly original but they’re decently executed and likely to appeal to people new to the genre more than people very familiar with such tales. The one episode that stands out nicely is the one regarding Sumire meeting Lucia as it gives us a flashback of merit, seeing how Sumire handled her first berserk experience and Lucia’s reactions to it.
The middle set of episodes starts to bring more of the larger plot to bear since it is what will play out in the final volume. Some of it is teasing as we see Sonoka using both Luca and Guy to do her bidding and test Lucia and Sumire. But it’s watching Lucia and Sumire that we see the most going on as each of them have very specific storylines that overlap well enough. For Sumire, she’s still adapting to this new world that she’s in and having a difficult time of it. Part of that difficulty comes from dealing with the way she fits into the scheme of things with Lucia and her crew. Lucia isn’t exactly warm and friendly so her demeanor causes some problems along the way. Nothing is major but it’s little moments that can unbalance a young girl.
A young girl that can go berserk if her mental state is off and things work in the right/wrong way at the time. Sumire hasn’t really grappled with the issue much in comparison to fitting in with Lucia and the others. Part of it is likely just because she’s so unsure of everything and isn’t exactly outgoing with the questions. On the plus side for her, Nahashi has been working hard to figure out the right mixture to keep her in control when she lets loose with her powers, but it’s still undergoing a lot of experimentation. The idea of a controlled berserker is amusing in itself, an oxymoron to be sure, but when Sumire does go wild with some sense of control it’s actually a lot of fun to watch since she’s got some great changes in her expression.
Lucia for her part gets explored a fair bit more throughout these episodes. Her past has been haunting her for some time and it’s what is going to be the main focus going into the ending of the series. That comes more to the fore as the True World is talked about more since it seems to haunt her pretty well. What it is, and her role with it, is still a mystery but we do get some nice dream sequences involving her without the eyepatch. What does become far more interesting though is that Nahashi opens up a bit of a flashback sequence that lets us understand her origins a bit more. Introduced to her mother Luca, who had a romance with Lucif who was Nahashi’s friend, we see the way that she had grown up for a bit and what set her against Lucif when he finally returned into her life. Much of the story spends time on setting up her motivations to deal with the upcoming series finale, but with a short series like this it just feels a bit rushed in a way.
As the series gets closer to its end though, the bonds between Lucia and Sumire become the core of the story. They’re about to be put to the test by Lucif and his plans to achieve his True World. What better way to bond the girls together even more than by having a birthday party? This actually works out fairly well as the two of them share the same birthday but Lucia has never celebrated it since it’s also tied to the anniversary of her mother’s death. Sumire doesn’t quite realize this at first and naturally feels awful afterwards, but Lucia has changed a little bit since Sumire came into her life and she’s actually interested in trying to make it work. That does lead to a really awkward scene where Lucia is trying to do a test run on baking a cake which means she’s in her usual outfit plus an apron. Pandering to the audience at its best…
The birthday storyline actually takes up an entire episode which is focused on the test baking runs but it goes beyond there as well. Sumire wants to keep it small but it starts to balloon a little bit larger than she expected when some friends find out and want to celebrate with her. She’s also very interested in inviting Yoshiki, though he’s a bit hesitant since he and Nahashi would be the only men there and that’s just plain awkward for a young man like him. The slowly growing relationship between the two of them is quaint in a way as it feels rather restrained given what some other shows are doing today. Of course, these are the episodes where we start to really see that there’s more to him than meets the eye which in turn sets Lucia off on him in a nasty way.
While the story works roughly around the idea of Lucia and her business of dealing with the Virus’ that are out there in the world, the main plot of this particular arc is dealing in her father. With his return and intention to destroy everything and open up the path to the True World, he’s returned to Japan where his daughter and Sumire are as they’re the keys to it, quite literally. With the flashbacks we got in the previous volume with how he ended up like he did and what happened to Lilith, it isn’t a stretch to see how both girls are tied together in his plan. The deception and manipulation that he’s exercised on them isn’t exactly a surprise but it is nicely done overall since it puts both girls through the wringer once it starts getting revealed.
As an end to the series, Venus Versus Virus has me somewhat confused about how to feel about it. As the final two episodes get underway, there is a significant amount of bravery not seen in a lot of shows about how to deal with characters. When the bodies start dropping – and stay dropped – I have to admit that I become more curious since it means they aren’t going to play it safe for more merchandising possibilities. The conflict that’s put up between the two young women is one that works rather well and provides for some understandable angst. It’s brazen in its manipulation, but that’s what Lucif is all about at this point so it’s hard to complain about it because it makes perfect sense for what he has to accomplish. Add in that the series ends on a less than clear note that leaves it quite open for what really happens and Venus Versus Virus just doesn’t fit into the kind of predictability that I expected from the first ten or so episodes.
The character designs for the series are pretty good but Lucia really leaves me wondering what they’re trying to go for. Pony tailed pirate girls are attractive enough in their own right but here she’s slightly combined with a goth-loli aspect and a quasi maid outfit that really has such a mixture of styles to it that it’s almost disorienting. She does have that darker and harder edge to it but it’s diffused fairly quickly as we see how she interacts with victims of Viruses. There’s also the interesting aspect of how her eye under the eye patch works which will likely have a story all of its own. Sumire for her part continues to the trend of cute looking high school girls with elaborate school uniforms that have amazing powers. While she doesn’t stand out strongly, it’s a good design that fits with what’s going on here. The real treasure, fanservice that it is, are the various still shots at the end and the eye-catches that showcase the pair in some very appealing outfits.
Venus Versus Virus has some formulaic material to it but has coated it with a number of trends that are wearing thin, at least in the US and definitely for me. There was some potential with the series early on, but in the end it ran a by the numbers kind of storyline. Though they did try to make it a bit more character driven as it progressed with some of the characters pasts and ties to each other, it’s still all about the visuals with the character designs and some of the basic setting designs that are used as hooks. As single episode viewings it may hold more appeal when you see it on a weekly basis but it does feel weaker when taken in a single viewing session like this. There are things to like about this series, particularly the ending, but it’s a difficult work as a whole to really recommend. This is the kind of show that’s good for newer anime fans to sink their teeth into and to find what they really do like and don’t like. For long time fans though, this will be far more difficult to get into.
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: June 16th, 2009
Running Time: 290 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.