Baldr Force EXE

BALDR Force EXE is one of those peculiar beasts. Based on the plot of a Japanese video game series, you’d be forgiven for rolling your eyes and swiftly moving on, but there’s a good deal more to this set-up than you might first imagine.

The single DVD that comprises this release contains all four OVA episodes. Beginning with a group of FLAK operatives encountering something decidedly strange in the Wired World (read ‘Cyberspace’) – and coming off worse for it in spectacular fashion – we are then introduced to the show’s protagonist, Souma Toru.

Toru cuts a credible figure as the type of hero you’d expect to find in a William Gibson book. He’s your archetypal cyberpunk hero. Reluctantly forced to join FLAK after they take down his own band of hackers, he takes the opportunity to search their ranks for the murderer of one of his friends. But this is a concern that pales against the things he will encounter in the Wired World. As he is drawn deeper into FLAK’s affairs, his strange encounters with a young girl he meets in the Wired World will lead him to uncover secrets about his own past that have lain repressed for too long.

So, the question is: are these four OVA episodes worth your time?

My answer has to be, with some reservations, that yes, they are. BALDR Force EXE isn’t going to set the world on fire by any stretch of the imagination. But what it does, it delivers rather well. The characters may be a bunch of ‘seen-it-all-before’ anime stereotypes, but they’re likeable enough, and their interactions with each other certainly hold the attention. The CG mecha scenes may be one of the show’s weaker, less well implemented aspects, but at least the action scenes are staged and executed with some flair and quite fun to watch.

EXE is a good looking show – not exactly jaw-dropping in the animation stakes, but the whole thing is very capably done from a visual standpoint. The show’s varied locations are all very nicely realized, while the character designs are competent, if a little clichéd. Crucially, nothing looks out of place, and this helps to make the story’s setting feel a lot more plausible and involving. The soundtrack is much the same – quality stuff, if unexceptional, with a serviceable dub from Funimation, whose voice actors turn in a solid, well delivered performance here. Sadly, there are hardly any extras on the disc, besides a few trailers. A real shame, given that a short OVA series like this could have used whatever extraneous info such material could have provided.

If I have any great criticisms of the show itself, it’s that the cracks start to appear in the third episode, with some new ideas and plot developments rather abruptly shoehorned in. EXE really could have done with at least one extra episode to make the story flow a little easier, and maybe give its supporting characters more to do. But nevertheless, the story is sufficiently engaging, and the storyline is nicely cyberpunky in an authentic sense. Do be warned, however, that with its sporadic gore and a particularly unpleasant rape scene, this show earns its 18 certificate.

A lot will hinge on whether this particular genre of sci-fi is your thing. But whichever way you slice it, BALDR Force EXE is a solid, above-average offering. It wouldn’t necessarily be a show to watch over the likes of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, or Ergo Proxy, but still worth a look.

7 / 10