Aquarion Volume 3

 When a show has such heavyweight talents behind it as those named in Aquarion’s opening credits, you can’t help but have high expectations for it.

Let’s get this thing straight from the word go: On paper at least, Aquarion sounds VERY promising. We’ve got ace mechanical designer Shoji Kawamori, – who also created this series – along with celebrated composer Yoko Kanno on board. As if that wasn’t enough to raise eyebrows, everything’s been handled by Satelight, a studio whose excellent efforts with Heat Guy J and Noein convinced me some time ago that they were a name to watch. But could they deliver the goods in the already over-crowded mecha genre? Even with such draws as Kawamori and Kanno attached?

Volume 3 picks up in relentless fashion from the last clutch of episodes, throwing us straight into the thick of Earth‘s battle with the creatures known as the Shadow Angels. Intent on harvesting the life energies of the human race for their own purposes, this enemy seems almost unstoppable – save for the efforts of a team of young pilots entrusted with the powerful Aquarion mecha. Yet this team is not without its own internal problems, as we’ll see during these seven episodes.

Things look grim for the good guys. Reeling from the death of a comrade and struggling to preserve their own sense of solidarity, they face down a diverse series of problems and predicaments. They’re tested by enemy mecha, a giant vampire, a desperate food shortage, their own fractious personalities and even forced to… cosplay?!?

Yes indeed, folks – there’s a cosplay episode in this volume! If there’s one thing you can say about this DVD, it’s that it certainly puts the characters into some interesting jams! There’s a goodly variety of content on this disc, with some fun episodes that stand apart from the ongoing plot and go off in some interesting directions. We also get to see a little more of the back-story of the central character Apollo, though sadly there wasn’t nearly as much of that as I would have liked. In fact, by the end of the final episode on the disc, I came away with a certain feeling that this volume was rather light on development of the over-arcing plot, which could frustrate those who have been watching up to this point and waiting for things to kick up a gear.

In fact, some viewers may find Aquarion downright infuriating at this stage. I certainly did. That’s because this show seems to be made up of two uneven halves. The character-driven parts are a lot of fun, nicely written and, as mentioned, deliver a wide range of situations and predicaments. But the actual mecha aspect leaves something to be desired – not least in its execution. We’re treated to the sight of the eponymous mecha in battle every single episode, and it frankly gets a bit much. I got the feeling at several points throughout this volume that the good stuff had been curtailed to make room for Aquarion’s appearances, as though they were being shoehorned in. Given that these aren’t actually that exciting and rely on some extraordinarily silly fighting moves (complete with video-game style ‘special attack’ sequences) this makes the whole shebang feel like it’s come off the rails a bit and lends the series a rather juvenile tone. It’s disappointing, considering how much better the other aspects of the show are.

Still, whatever’s to be said about the clumsiness of the content, there’s no doubt that, aesthetically, it’s a success.

Yoko Kanno’s soundtracks are always stand-out affairs, and while this is far from her best work, she injects a lot of appeal. Visually, Aquarion is extremely pretty to look at, with a lush modern edge and some fluid animation. It’s a colourful show, decked out with some polished scenery painting and bold, distinctive, well designed characters. While the mecha scenes employ a lot of CG, it blends here a little better than you might expect, and is fairly well implemented. It’s all very easy on the eyes and ears, and puts a contemporary lick of  paint on everything. Satelight have done a masterful job here.

I wanted to like this series a lot more than I did by the end of the DVD. It has a lot to recommend it: good production values, a great English dub, some atmospheric music… it’s just a shame that the elements of giant robot action and character based drama are mashed together so clumsily. Likely it’s a problem that hardcore mecha fans will be able to overlook to an extent, but Kawamori’s need to dig the coolest toys out of the box at every available opportunity does this show some harm.

That said, Aquarion isn’t a bad show. It just struggles to compete with scores of better mecha shows out there. Taken as a snapshot of the entire series, there isn’t much here to recommend it above any of the alternatives. There are shows out there that hit the beats this one aims for, and in much more satisfying fashion.

Of course, if you’ve followed the previous volumes up to this point and found them agreeable, there’s nothing here to turn you off the show. Anticipation is certainly built for the final volume, as these episodes lead to something of a tipping point in the story, a sense that, by this stage in the war, the gloves are about to come off. It left me curious to see what happened next, that’s for sure, and by my reckoning, that means it must be doing something right.

7 / 10