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Armored Fleet Dairugger Collection 1 Anime DVD Review

9 min read

This galaxy ain’t big enough for the two of us…

What They Say
In the past, pioneers bet their youth on the sea. Now, in the year 2200 AD, mankind searches for intelligent life in the sea of stars. Aki, Walter, and Keats lead the three Rugger Teams from their base on the military flagship Rugger Guard. Using their specialized space vehicles, they uncover the ruins of spacefaring civilizations and explore uncharted planets. When they cross over into the territory of the brutal Galbeston Empire, they’re forced to defend themselves by merging their machines into the powerful Dairugger XV!

Contains episodes 1-18.

The Review:
With the age of this show and likely some issues with its previous adaptation, this release contains only a single language track on it. The original Japanese language mix is presented in mono to two channels encoded at 192kbps. The show doesn’t have much of anything to it due to its age as we get a full sounding mix that feels more center channel than anything else. There’s no real discernible directionality for this show but it’s reflective of the original production. The show has a good balance between the action effects and the dialogue as neither overwhelms the other. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and the show avoids any issues with the highs and is problem free overall.

Originally airing in 1982, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. This set contains eighteen episodes spread across three volumes with six episodes per disc. For a lot of the show, the bitrate is pretty high which is needed to deal with the source materials since there’s a fair bit of expected grain here. By and large, the show looks good when you consider that it is nearly thirty years old and the source materials themselves may not be the best of the best depending on where they were gotten. The grain is the big issue here as it does liven up a number of things across the set but the colors, in general, look good and there aren’t any obvious instances of blatant cross coloration or blocking. There’s a fair bit of line noise in the show which isn’t a surprise during panning sequences but it’s not often that it becomes very distracting.
With a show of this age, there’s likely little to be had for materials they can use to work with the covers so I don’t have much in terms of expectations. The front cover for this is kept simple with a shot of the Dairugger itself in an action pose while flames swirl behind it. The logo is decently done along the top while the bottom includes which collection it is. The artwork is alright but it’s definitely representative of the time. The back cover fairs a bit better as it uses a fleet action shot along the top and a planetary shot along the bottom to push more of the space angle for the series. Two strips of shots from the show bring in some clearer animation from the show which is good and there’s a really solid plug for promoting this show as something Voltron fans haven’t seen before. The summary deals with the large-scale ideas easily enough and where the show will go while the rest is given over to some minor production credits and a solid technical grid. No shows related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menus are pretty simple and identical across all three volumes as it uses the image of the Dairugger from the front cover set against a star-filled backdrop. With a bit of simple music to it and minimal navigation selections on the top level menu, it’s a clean design but one that’s really just designed for you to go right into the show. Language selection is just for subtitle selection and with no extras on the disc the only thing you might see is a spot for trailers. Submenus do load quickly when you see them but I continue to wish Media Blasters would provide top level episode access with their releases.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Originally called Kikou Kantai Dairugger XV, Dairugger is a fifty-two episode series that is far better known as part of the Voltron series which combined a couple of unrelated Japanese series into one back in 1984. This unedited original version of the series hasn’t been available before so it’s definitely a revelation, though you can find many of the documented differences and “child safe” measures that were implemented to it. I’ve never liked Voltron and the previous series, Go-Lion, was definitely difficult to watch when I worked through that. But there is a natural curiosity to see the original work, especially from a time period where Japanese kids were treated so differently in how these shows are presented.
Dairugger takes place in the year 2200 where mankind has gotten a bit soft and complacent, though it has formed a tri-planetary alliance with a couple of other alien worlds. Earth itself is carrying on as usual but there isn’t a sense of urgency about anything. The series focuses on the exploration ship the Rugger Guard, a sizable ship that’s out charting the stars of the galaxy looking for new planets that mankind can live on. It’s a pretty mixed race crew though it is dominated by humans who oversee pretty much everything. Within the ship, there’s a large cast that operates as we have the main ship crew themselves and fifteen pilots for various vehicles that are used for the planetary explorations.
The exploration of the galaxy has only recently begun but their quest of mapping the stars and discovering planets hits a pretty big problem very early on. Namely in the form of a fleet of ships doing exactly the same thing from the Galveston empire, a race of purple-hued beings. This fleet has the same overall mission but their reason for it is different, though not fully talked about during this first set. Unlike the Earth fleet, the Galveston fleet goes for guns right away and tries to defend against a parallel investigation of a particular planet or they just outright attack the Earth fleet. The Rugger Guard has plenty to back itself up with even though it’s just a simple exploration vessel as the fifteen vehicles they have can combine into three different types or one larger Dairugger type.
Naturally, the Galveston side has large battle droids they send out to deal with the Dairugger and there are numerous types of smaller craft for when they go against each other in single vehicle form. Over the course of the show so far, each side seems to keep coming across each other at different planets and that leads to numerous fights to the point where entire planets are put at risk or actively destroyed in order to secure the upper hand. The fights are decent though definitely a product of its time as you have various vehicles flitting about or the larger battle droids of varying designs going against the combination form of the vehicle fleet. Everything is wrapped up in a single episode but it’s all part of the larger storyline as well and they do build upon the individual battles.
Dairugger is admittedly fairly predictable at this stage in terms of how each episode will play out. There’s either a new planet discovered or some sort of space-based danger or activity that’s brought out to provide the drama for twenty-four minutes the episodes run. Because of the size of the cast, it’s difficult to really connect with a lot of the characters, particularly on the Earth fleetside. With fifteen vehicle pilots, shipboard staff and commanders and then the Earth-based government and administration people, there is no clear-cut lead. Aki of one of the vehicle teams who serves as a team leader is the closest you get to a lead but even then it’s minor because of all of the characters. On the Galveston side, it fairs better because it’s just the command staff that you know, the various captains of the exploration fleet there and the main area commander in Teles.
What often makes shows like this interesting is how the two sides interact with each other, something that I found very appealing even in the adaptation of shows that made up Robotech. That kind of ambiguity is done with Dairugger as well as we slowly get to know the Galveston side and see several people of the command level finding that they may be better off working with the Earth fleet for their goals since mankind comes across as pretty honorable overall. A lot of that stems from the Rugger Guard operating on their own volition as the administration on Earth that oversees the military and this venture are uninterested in what’s going on out there. The military is trying to get them to change but it’s a difficult mission. Sadly, both sides find that their respective higher-ups cause more problems than solve them and the attempts at finding a middle ground or even working with each other often end up in utter failure. But there is faith among both sides, though plenty on each side is against any sort of working together.
With the show intended to run long, selling toys is important, they do a rather decent job of stretching it out and working the exploration angle. The “big concepts” in here are nicely done and it’s all fairly layered and humanized. But there are a lot of things, things that are simply part of the time period, that make the show difficult to watch. The use of space kilometers to try and give it a different scale and other pseudo-science are mostly laughable throughout. For me, the main kicker is that it’s very difficult to suspend disbelief when it comes to the vehicles themselves. Watching cars fly through space and the sky really doesn’t work well and the actual designs are pretty underwhelming as well. The mechanics of it are pretty poorly done and the entire combination aspect is just as mediocre at best as well. The Dairugger itself has an odd makeup where it almost feels like the majority of those involved are pointless in being there once it combines. There are things to like with the characters and their interactions, but the vehicles and the combination form left me feeling either bored or thinking up drinking games for it.
In Summary:
Armored Fleet Dairugger is definitely an interesting show from a time long ago where science fiction animation played out very differently from what we saw in the US. Like just about all of the giant robot shows from this time period, especially ones of this nature, it hasn’t aged well in the slightest. The animation is easily forgivable but the structure of it makes it difficult to watch and the pseudo-science is even more headache inducing. There are things I liked and enjoyed, but what kept coming back to me was that even after eighteen episodes I’d be hard pressed to name more than a couple of the characters. The size of the ensemble cast is a plus in that there’s a lot of variety and it gives it a more realistic feel as opposed to a five-man team. But nobody gets enough screen time to matter. Which is probably good since this is the most rebellious and insubordinate group of space exploration soldiers that I’ve seen in some time. I’m looking forward to seeing where they’ll go with the show, but like this set, it’s less about the vehicles and action and more about the characters.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

Content Grade: C-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Media Blasters
Release Date: February 23rd, 2010
MSRP: $34.99
Running Time: 450 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
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.

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