So this is interesting... as someone whose first exposure to the Geobreeders universe was the 4-part sequel (Geobreeders: Breakthrough), I was very curious to see whether or not this madcap series would make any more sense after I clapped eyes on the initial 3-part OVA [original video animation]. Well, in that great tradition of critical ambivalence, the answer is 'yes and no'.
'Yes' because there's a smidgeon more attention to backstory via the use of well-placed flashbacks... for instance, not only is the whole 'phantom cat' ['bake-neko' - and we're not talking about the cute, harmless spectral critter from Ranma ½, either!] concept explained in more detail, but we also gain a better understanding of Taba's relationship with Maya. And at the same time, 'no'... because none of the underlying questions regarding the existence, motivations, or agenda of these 'phantom cats' (or, for that matter, of the shadowy government and military agencies pursuing them) are ever addressed. All I can charitably assume is that the manga [Japanese comics] version of Geobreeders spends more time on story development.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. For those of you who didn't catch my last Geobreeders review, here's the general set-up:
- near-future Japan (specifically, a place on the coast called Ayagane City)
- weird electro-spiritual entities known as 'phantom cats', which don't much care for humans
- various governmental and military divisions, which don't much care for phantom cats
- assorted industrial/technological concerns, whose facilities oddly attract/create phantom cats
- one private outfit consisting of five women, one man, and a non-hostile phantom cat of their own, out to pocket every last yen of profit they can from their beleaguered clients (above) while not running too far afoul of the officially-sanctioned operations (further above)
Think Ghostbusters with a larger, predominantly female 'dream team', more government meddling (and conspiracy), a less coherent storyline, vastly more dangerous enemies (not to mention collateral damage!), less character development, and cat women galore. The company's name is 'Kagura Total Security' ('Kagura Sougou Keibi'), the women are mostly bog-standard action stereotypes with zero depth but gobs of comedic potential, and their method of dealing with their quarry involves surrounding a phantom cat with four 'talismans' linked to a laptop computer, and then 'sealing' the beastie away onto a computer disc at the touch of a button. (No, really, it's easier said than done.)
However the best fleshed-out characters at Kagura would have to be Taba (the sole male and quite put upon at that!) and the company's 'pet' phantom cat, Maya. In fact, Geobreeders wouldn't really succeed as a comedy without Taba's presence... and it's clear from the thrust of the three episodes on this DVD that there's something very unique about the quiet and unassuming Maya... if only the writers would put a little more effort into exploring that potential!
Having read the above, you'd be forgiven for thinking I was taking issue with the show's obvious shortcomings... but you'd be mistaken! I'm willing to overlook its blatant weaknesses because I adore Geobreeders for the many things it does perfectly and with panache. Case in point: Akihiro Ito (the series' creator) continues to demonstrate his mastery of 'epic stunt comedy', particularly by means of his alter-ego of Taba the salaryman. Throughout the sequel there are memorable sequences with Taba performing stunts that would put James Bond to shame, and this first instalment of Geobreeders is no exception.
(In one classic example, Taba plummets from a 10th floor balcony while battling a phantom cat in a multi-storey shopping complex, by a stroke of luck managing to land on the back of a gigantic inflatable fish secured in mid-air by guy wires. Just as he's ready to thank his lucky stars, the military squad that's also shown up to fight the cat perforates the inflatable and snaps the wires with some stray gunfire, sending the fish careering out of control. Taba slips off the side, catches himself on the flapping cable, swings around like a gymnast, and - releasing his grip - just clears the railing of the next balcony down, tumbling to a stop flat on his back and trying to catch his breath. Predictably for a show helmed by the same man who directed Project A-ko (Yuji Moriyama), when Taba can be bothered to focus again, the scene concludes with him realising he's landed directly under his partner from Kagura, and is unwittingly gazing up at her knickers.)
Ah, speaking of which, there's no small amount of fan service in this animé, though it's all harmless stuff that shouldn't offend most viewers. First off, you'd think that Ayagane City must be some kind of sun-drenched resort town from the fact that four of the five gals from Kagura spend all of their time traipsing about in skimpy outfits (two-piece bathing suits, mostly), even during combat operations! There's lots of giggling bosoms, strange camera angles (yes, including 'panty shots'), and other things that convince you the animators were indeed having a laugh working on the show. About the only gratuitous bit of nudity is an early scene where one of the female phantom cats is stealing some clothes from a mall, but even that's just a few moments of bare breasts. I mention this because I know fan service is a selling point for some and a 'black mark' to others, so you may as well know what's what before you buy.
Getting back to what I was saying about the places where Geobreeders really shines, it's a little hard to put into words. It's an inspired little show that enjoys using misdirection to superb effect... just when you think a particular action sequence is over, it throws you a clever curve ball that usually makes you cackle with evil laughter the moment it unfolds. Another place where the series excels is in the use of subtle touches that tickle your funny bone on a sometimes-subconscious level. (A good example of this is the 'cat toy' car ornament seen hanging in the window of the missile transport vehicle as the phantom cat who's stolen it drives it ashore. I didn't spot that until the second watch.) And while we're talking about great visual gags, offhand I can only think of two shows that had the audacity to include a scene with characters riding a nuclear warhead in full flight. One is Dr. Strangelove; the other one's a certain animated show with phantom cats in it.
Normally this is where I'd scrawl down some episode guides for you, but in the case of both Geobreeders and Geobreeders: Breakthrough the various episodes are merely chapters - or 'Acts', to use their lingo - in a single monolithic story. This time around it's named 'File X - Get Back the Kitty', in reference to the fact that Maya is abducted from Kagura's office by men who later turn out to be US Marines. (And no, this is never explained. We're talking Geobreeders here, people; don't look for a denouement. As per the standard formula, events rush madly out of control until the last few minutes of the show, where everything is resolved without much in the way of explanation.) The actual plot is unlikely to affect your enjoyment of this kind of show, however, so don't sweat it... just engage your sense of humour and enjoy the ride!
As both Geobreeders and its sequel were OVA productions done on a vaguely comparable budget and completed fairly recently as well - in 1998 and 2000, respectively - I guess it comes as no surprise that they both sport similar video quality. What does come as a bit of a shock is just how gorgeous the picture really is on these discs. I recall being suitably impressed when I saw how nice a transfer Central Park Media had managed on Geobreeders: Breakthrough, and this disc is more or less the same story.
One place where this DVD earned bonus points in my book is the way in which the original Japanese ED (ending) sequences were handled. Not only did CPM provide the entire (unaltered) end credits - complete with great neon sketchwork animations of Kagura et al in full-on SD ['super-deformed' mode, a highly-exaggerated drawing style] - following each Act, but after this Japanese credit scroll at the end of Act 3, the closing theme tune starts up again and the credits are run once more in English (featuring the English dub cast this time around). Very professional and I only wish more animé distributors would take this approach... it's just a shame they didn't do the same with the OP (opening) sequences, which aren't the original Japanese ones but instead the English versions by JVC. Can't have everything, I suppose.
As for the subtitles, the news is mostly good; they're yellow for one thing (which stands out better than white) and they do have black outlines (albeit slightly on the thin side, but enough to do the trick). More importantly, CPM has made an effort to try - whenever possible - to translate background signs, radio announcements, TV broadcasts, etc. (And no, not as nasty overlays but in the subtitles themselves.) This is particularly helpful as some of these refer to the oil tanker Sakhalin and serve to set up an important bit of the show's plot. The only bad news is that near the very end of Geobreeders, a sloppy bit of translation subverts a key plot point... although the same erroneous phrase appears in both the English dub and the subtitles, so this isn't entirely a sub issue.
The audio quality on this disc is solid with no glitches to report in either the original Japanese track or the English dub. Be advised that it's a simple Dolby stereo mix either way, and even in the heavy-combat scenes I didn't really notice a lot of stereo directionality or bass punch to the soundtrack. However, in an action comedy show like this, the main thing is whether the dialogue comes across clear without dropouts... and in that regard, everything's perfect.
This is another one of those animé on which I'd steer my friends away from the English dub, though. Not that it's awful... just that it isn't stellar, and there are a few problem voices (particularly the actor who plays Maki, whose voice schtick drives me up the wall). Another problem is that there really are some bloody hilarious lines of dialogue in this show that are often let down by the North American voice actors, who either didn't quite realise that what they were saying was intended to be humorous or perhaps simply lack decent comic timing. Your mileage may vary, though.
Back on the positive side of things, both the opening and closing theme tunes for Geobreeders are extremely catchy, and just the kind of songs you'd expect for a fun action series like this. I may be mistaken, but I believe the same OP song ('Rising Soul') was used for both this show and Geobreeders: Breakthrough. Unsurprisingly, the ED song ('Dynamite Mambo') was composed by the same person (Motoyoshi Iwasaki) and - as is often the way in the world of animé - was performed by the five Japanese voice actors who play our 'heroines' at Kagura Total Security.
On last note... another thing I noticed about Geobreeders is its propensity for leading the viewer astray with comedic musical cues whose sole purpose is to misdirect you just long enough for the writers and animators to set up yet another visual punchline. Listen for it; it's very cleverly done.
The menu here is very basic and a little on the busy side, but at least it's fast, functional and not ugly. Essentially a single static page without any musical accompaniment, after a minute or so of user inactivity it decides it's waited long enough and will automatically start playing the show. (Which can be a little inconvenient if you've stepped out of the room to go make popcorn or something!) Selections include 'Languages', 'Play Movie', 'Pick a Scene', 'Comics Page', 'DVD-ROM' & 'Sneak Peeks'.
The 'Languages' submenu offers the usual four options (English/Japanese, subtitles on/off), but is trigger-happy in a way similar to the main menu... that is, the moment you change the language options, it immediately begins playing Geobreeders from the start. (I've said it before and I'll say it again... this is one of my least favourite CPM menu tricks. Almost all of their discs pull this stunt, and it's definitely a bug and not a feature, as it makes it a nuisance for the user to then have to then break back to the main menu if her original intent was to watch, say, the second or third episode on the DVD.) There are an adequate 10 chapter stops provided under 'Pick a Scene' (three per Act, plus one for the full credits scroll).
I'm afraid I had to dock the Extras score on this DVD a bit, which is a shame, as it has scads of them... unfortunately all locked away under the DVD-ROM portion of the disc. (Which means they do absolutely no good to most viewers, as even in this day and age not every punter can be counted on to have a DVD-ROM drive on his home computer.) The 'Comics Page' is, disappointingly, simply a one-page static advert for the Geobreeders comics released by CPM Manga... and 'Sneak Peeks' is just the usual clutch of five trailers for other Central Park Media releases.
Now, if you do have a DVD-ROM drive, you're in good shape. That portion of the disc includes a decent spectrum of special features accessible by either PC or Mac users, including a lengthy image gallery (about three dozen pictures in total), the complete script for all three Acts, a pair of storyboard-to-animation comparisons (the second one much longer than the first), a list of the English and Japanese cast, and scans of both sample covers and internal pages from some of the English-version Geobreeders manga CPM publishes. The interface on the DVD-ROM content application is also quite a bit nicer than the ones I've seen previously out of CPM, so that's a plus too.
Finally, not precisely an extra but definitely worth mentioning... as with most Central Park Media (U.S. Manga Corps) DVDs, this one is all-region (R0), for those of you out there without a multi-region DVD player.
I really am quite fond of Geobreeders, which came as a bit of a surprise to me after my first exposure to it. The fact is, the story is a bit on the weak side and the characters don't see much development at all. However, that's it for the negatives (unless you despise even fairly innocent levels of fan service, in which case add that to the list). Counterbalancing this is not only a well-animated, inventive little series with fun - albeit stereotypical - characters and lots of excellent action sequences, but one that employs all sorts of clever comedic touches that you'll be sure to appreciate upon a second (and third, and fourth...) rewatching.