Geobreeders: Breakthrough Review
Right, so some people judge the 'worthiness' of animé by how serious its message is (Grave of the Fireflies, Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade, etc.) or by how much of a surreal, thought-provoking head-trip it is (Akira, Serial Experiments: Lain, etc.). Fair warning to those of you in this camp – Geobreeders: Breakthrough (a.k.a. 'Geobreeders 2', the sequel to the original 3-part series) isn't out to make you think. Rather the opposite, in fact.
What it does set out to do – and triumphs brilliantly at – is having a good time, while bringing the viewer along for the ride. Geobreeders is another entrant into that fine tradition of light-hearted, fairly-mindless shows that successfully combine frenetic action with recurrent comedy. That it achieves this primarily via time-honoured schtick and stereotypical characters probably won't detract from your enjoyment of the spectacle at all.
There are, however, quite a few confusing aspects to Geobreeders, so let's get those out of the way first. To begin with, there's the name itself. Considering that this show has nothing to do with breeding (of any kind) nor an actual connection to any word beginning with 'geo', one really has to wonder what prompted the author (Akihiro Ito) to choose this title. (Bad sake, maybe.) A far better one might have been 'Phantom Cats'... or even 'Kagura Total Security'.
Which brings us to what the show's all about. The Geobreeders universe is a lot like our own, but with one important addition... 'phantom cats'. These creatures seem to be composed of some kind of electro-spiritual energy, and can take either feline or humanoid form. They possess a host of other truly excellent powers, the most impressive of which include rapid regeneration of any bodily damage and the ability to control (and transmit themselves through) any electronic – or even electrical – device. Oh, and for no reason that is ever explained, these phantom cats are at war with humanity.
I'm afraid that's it... the author doesn't see fit to reveal more details about where they came from, why they're showing up on Earth, why they hate humans, why humans hate them, what they hope to achieve, or how they are organised. This strikes me as a real shame, as so much more could have been done with the concept, but instead the audience is supposed to take the existence of phantom cats as read and accept them as nothing more than cannon fodder.
Kagura Total Security is an outfit comprised of five (typically-buxom) women, their pet phantom cat Maya, and the much-beleaguered salary man Taba. Kagura is in the business of wiping out phantom cats, and the company's only real competition seems to take the form of a government agency set up with precisely the same goal in mind. Like Ghostbusters, Kagura applies modern technology to the task of capturing these spectral invaders... in this case by setting up four-walled traps and 'deleting' the hapless phantom cat inside at the press of a button on their laptop computer. Unlike Ghostbusters, however, there's no attempt made at explaining how they drum up business.
The show's a lot of fun, but terribly predictable in every respect, trotting out just about every cliché in the genre. Let's see... we have a ready-to-rumble group consisting entirely of females, with one male thrown in to serve as the butt of jokes (a la Charlie's Angels). Each lass is a one-dimensional character archetype – Maki's the weapons specialist and expert gunman, Eiko's the martial-artiste extraordinaire, Yu's the ace driver, Takami's the computer geek (who's also good with butterfly knives, of course), and Yuka's the bossy company president. To give them more 'depth', each character also has a quirk – Maki's always seen in a white hat and jacket, Eiko's the only financially-minded one of the lot, Yu spends all her spare time sleeping and/or smoking, Takami goes to pieces at the first sign of stress, and Yuka acts like a spoiled three year-old most of the time.
Which reminds me of another point. From looking at the character designs for Geobreeders, you'd be forgiven for assuming that the show's leads were all teenagers... when in fact, their behaviour and language makes it clear early on that they are supposed to be twenty-somethings. It's a bit odd is all. Not that there's anything in this show that even hints at adult situations, despite the fact that there's a lot of fan service (semi-naked women) and every girl we meet seems to be interested in Taba.
Taba himself comes across as the main character of the show... the 'everyman' protagonist, jack of all trades, always forced to do the rubbish jobs that none of the ladies want to deal with, and yet never given any respect (cue Rodney Dangerfield). He's an immensely likeable fellow – level-headed, kind-hearted, courageous, etc. – but even with him there's not much room for character development because he spends the entire show alternating between attempting the impossible on behalf of Kagura and threatening to quit the company (which he never does).
So enough about the setting and the characters... what about the plot? Well, it doesn't make any particular sense, but is nevertheless quite entertaining. Not to give away any critical developments, the idea seems to be that the phantom cats have a brand-new plan for taking over the world (or something like that). The Japanese government has cottoned on to this and is mobilising its own latest technological marvels against them. Kagura Total Security is blissfully ignorant of all of these background developments, but has a problem of its own in the form of a sniper ('Indigo Shooting Star', no less) who seems dead set on killing Maki... and anyone else who happens to get in her way. There are many obscure references to things I assume come from the original manga [Japanese comics], but as they are never explained in this show, you don't really need to worry about them.
I was really impressed with the picture quality on this disc. With the exception of Act III (Geobreeders: Breakthrough is divided into four 'Acts', each just under half an hour long), the video is sharp as a tack and the animation style itself has a nice modern feel to it. The colours are vibrant, the lines are sharp, and the movement is amazingly fluid, surpassing most of the animé I've seen on DVD.
Unfortunately I can't give it a 10, because there are some definite problems in Act III. These mostly take the form of blotchiness/macroblocking in the background of several dark scenes, and at the very end of the Act itself. Even so, these are only fleeting instances; most of Act III is of similar quality to the rest of the disc. In addition, there are a few points in the show where there's a momentary burst of pixellation during camera pans across a scene, or the occasional faint background grain.
Some visual effects on this disc deserve special mention, the foremost of which have to be the super-stylish intro sequence for the show (the shell casings tumbling across the screen look so good I assume they are CGI), and an early bullet-chase zoom shot when the sniper first attacks Maki.
The audio quality is also good, though nothing as spectacular as the video. Geobreeders: Breakthrough offers a Dolby Digital stereo mix for both the original Japanese and the English dub tracks, and it's all very clear and crisp. I noticed no dropouts of any kind, and the sound effects never overpowered the dialogue. (Although, frankly, this is an action piece so dialogue wasn't likely to get place of pride anyway.) I didn't notice much in the way of stereo directionality effects, although the sound did seem to fill the front soundstage nicely.
As for the English dub, it's certainly passable, but I didn't like it as much as the Japanese track. Although the voice actors seemed competent (or better, in the case of the guy who voiced the lead villain), what really killed my enjoyment of the English dub was the voice of Maki. The voice actor who played her decided to adopt a stereotypical 'New Yoik' accent, and punctuate every gunfight with an annoying series of 'yeah! yeah! yeah!'s. It's enough to make you reach for the 'audio' button on your DVD remote in about five seconds flat.
This section could hardly be complete without at least mentioning this show's completely bizarre end-titles theme. Unlike the main theme, which has precisely the kind of feel one would expect for an action show, the closing theme is a strange comedic number. As is revealed in the on-disc interview with Yuji Moriyama, this is an old 1950s song which loosely translates to 'I Got Sick of This', which seems to centre around the travails of your average Japanese salary man. (So, despite its overall wackiness, it actually does have some relevance to this show!)
The main menu on this disc uses a frame constructed of a colourful, 'cartoony' rendition of all seven lead characters from Kagura Total Security over a washed-out background showing various character close-ups. Inside this frame is a central 'cat-shaped' window that features a series of brief animated scenes from the show itself. To add to the inevitable cuteness factor, each of the six main menu options are placed so as to form 'whiskers' for the cat face. Finally, beneath all this a short clip of the show's catchy theme song plays in an infinite loop.
Each of the associated submenus uses a modified version of the above artwork as background, but all of these are static and silent. The 'Disc Set-Up' menu offers a choice between the English dub and 'Japanese with English subtitles', but there's a slight problem here. When you select either option, the DVD immediately begins playing the show... so if you wanted to set the audio/subs and then choose which Act to watch, you're out of luck. And if you use your DVD remote to return to the main menu, it seems your audio/subs preference is wiped out. None of this prevents you from simply selecting the audio and subtitles manually on your DVD remote, but it is a bit of a bug all the same.
The 'Pick a Scene' submenu is very basic, offering three chapter breaks each for the four Acts that make up Geobreeders: Breakthrough. However, there is a laugh to be had here in the form of a 'hidden' Easter egg. By selecting the central artwork, the viewer is treated to a short animation intro done in the style of a 'spaghetti western', featuring Maki's nemesis, Indigo Shooting Star.
Other than the ubiquitous 'Play Movie' option, all of the remaining main menu selections are essentially extras, so I'll cover them in the next section.
It has to be said, Central Park Media (U.S. Manga) doesn't skimp on the extras. Although some are certainly of higher quality than others, the fact that there are no less than eight special features under the 'Extras' menu is impressive in its own right. 'Comics & Characters' is a highly-useful section for those not familiar with the manga (like myself), as it introduces all seven members of Kagura Total Security using an inventive format (by flipping through the company's personnel files, highlighting clips of each character in action in the form of attached photos). It even includes a silly 'Matrix'-style shot of the artist himself, Akihiro Ito, and half a dozen examples of cover art from CPM's own line of Geobreeders manga.
Although the next two extras are both trailers, these are very different animals. The first claims to be the 'Original Japanese Trailer', but upon closer examination turns out to be a Japanese trailer for the 'Victor & Ours Animation Festival 2000'. Although there's quite a lot of Kagura Total Security featured in this trailer, none of the clips are from Geobreeders: Breakthrough. On the other hand, the 'U.S. Trailer' focuses solely on this show. (You'll be happy to know that neither trailer paints a coherent picture of Geobreeders.)
Next on the list is the 'Textless Opening and Closing', always a welcome addition to any animé DVD. The intro sequence looks magnificent without the scrolling credits, although it doesn't make that much of a difference for the ending sequence. Also a nice touch are the four storyboard-to-animation comparison segments included under 'Storyboards', each one between one and two minutes in length. And the 'Art Gallery' special feature is particularly generous, featuring no less than 134 unframed stills.
Beyond this, there are two live-video extras included: a 'Yuji Moriyama Interview' and what amounts to an extended advert for the 'Big Apple Animé Fest'. Both of these are quite short – only a couple of minutes long each – and the former is definitely the more interesting of the two, as it actually gets a few insightful comments out of the animation director behind Geobreeders.
Whew... and that's just under the bona fide 'Extras' submenu. There's also five video promotions for other CPM properties under 'Sneak Peeks' (including Now and Then, Here and There, Descendants of Darkness, Labyrinth of Flames, Project A-ko, and Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Black Rose Blooms), but this pales in comparison to the DVD-ROM content stashed away on this disc.
If your computer has a DVD-ROM drive, you're in for a treat, including around 100 still images, over 100 production sketches, about 30 pages of original storyboards, the cover art for three of the comics, a full cast list for both Japanese and English voice actors, production credits, and web links. But even if you cannot access this additional content, there's plenty on the DVD to keep you occupied.
Finally, a word about the packaging. Central Park Media (U.S. Manga) combines transparent Amaray cases with slipcover inserts that are printed on both sides, so when you open up the case you get two more pages of info. In the case of Geobreeders: Breakthrough, the reverse of the colourful cover art includes the complete cast list, all chapter breaks, production notes, and seven nice line art samples of the lead characters. What can I say... it looks good.
Oh, I almost forgot. Although technically not an 'extra', this disc is all-region, helpful to those viewers still stuck without a multi-region DVD player. (I believe almost all Central Park Media / U.S. Manga discs share this trait.)
This is terribly entertaining fluff. The show may not break any new ground, but what it does, it does really well. The action is superb and inventive, peppered by absolutely brilliant scenes (like Taba 'surfing' through a busted dam). The intentional comedy comes across perfectly, including extremely amusing meta-references to other animé (as when Maki and her rival face off, and one shouts 'You've been watching Trigun, haven't you?' to the other). Of course, so does the unintentional comedy, like one of the burly special ops guys going by the name of Yoda... or the fact that Kagura Total Security seems to be the only company in the world with an iMac that doesn't require a power source to run.
Geobreeders: Breakthrough is essentially 108 minutes of over-the-top action, a somewhat dubious plot (no matter), and a lot of associated silliness. The video quality is amazing (with a few exceptions), the audio's solid, and the extras are outstanding for a single animé DVD. And if you like the sound of scantily-clad women battling phantom cats – and leaving total destruction in their wake a la Dirty Pair – then I can assure you this disc is for you!