Get Backers (Volume 2: Find the Fine Arts) Review
Well, paint me impressed. Whilst I wasn't entirely convinced by the first volume of the show, this second DVD proves that Get Backers can, in fact, deliver the goods in a big way. The fact is, episodes 6-10 are a massive step up from their predecessors, featuring better stories, better characters, and better use of those characters the show already possessed.
For example, this 'two-man outfit' starts to feel a lot more like a viable team as the writers remember some of the supporting characters and let them take a more active role in the recovery operations. While in the case of Natsumi (you remember, the first client we ever saw the boys land?) it probably doesn't matter whether she continues waiting tables at the Honky Tonk or hangs out with our heroes undercover on assignment, it's good to see that Hevn (yes, pronounced 'heaven') brings more to the party than her, uhm, usual blonde-bombshell assets.
Even better is the direction that character development is taking in this series. Specifically, this volume introduces some of Ginji's old gang pals, including two of the Four Kings (remembering of course that Ginji is still called the Lightning Emperor by many in Shinjuku). This includes 'Threadmaster' Kazuki Fuchouin, a guy who - in true animé fashion - looks like a girl and employs a special paralysing thread attack and 'Beastmaster' Shido Fuyuki, who can understand animal speech… and who holds a heavy grudge against Ban Midou for taking Ginji away from the VOLTS. These are both excellent characters, albeit - perhaps intentionally - considerably more interesting than either Ban or Ginji themselves. (Though we also begin to learn of the limitations of the lads' powers; for example, the Jagan can only be used three times in a 24-hour period, and only once on any given person in that time.)
Some things remain the same, however. Get Backers continues its established trend of multi-part episodes, this DVD featuring a 3-part arc followed by a 2-parter. However, the plot concepts are rather more interesting and better executed than before. In particular, the writers seem to be learning the joys of a diversionary act structure, where the goals of the protagonists (and sometimes antagonists, as in episode 7) abruptly shift halfway through a storyline.
6: 'Get Back the Divine Melody'
Getting this disc off to a good start is an exploration of some of Ginji's backstory, particularly concerning a growing schism between the various key power players within his old gang, the VOLTS, as they attempt to hold things together at the Limitless Fortress after his abrupt departure. However, holding to the show's premise, the main plot focuses on the theft of a violin from a blind prodigy named Madoka Otowa by Shunsuke Akutsu, a rival performer with yakuza connections.
7: 'The Animal Transformation of the Beastmaster'
Continuing the action of the previous instalment, we have a showdown between Ban and Shido in the gardens of Akutsu's estate. With the former having expended his three uses of the Jagan for the day, will he succeed against an opponent who can summon endless animals to protect himself? And, equally important, will the Get Backers be able to recover Madoka's Stradivarius?
8: 'Timbre of Life, Resound!'
In the final section of this 3-part arc, things come to a head between Akutsu's yakuza minions and our heroes… but the real action of the episode revolves around Shido and the connections he shares with Ginji, Ban, and even Madoka.
9: 'Get Back the Phantom Sunflowers! (Part One)'
A mysterious art thief known as the Clayman has stolen a recently-discovered 'thirteenth' Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh… but didn't pull off the job alone, as help was forthcoming from Get Backers' old nemesis Himiko Kudou (the poison specialist amongst the 'transport service' professionals that the boys went up against in the conclusory trio of episodes on volume 1). Thank heavens, then, that there's a successful recovery service the victims can turn to… erm, Shido's?
10: ' Get Back the Phantom Sunflowers! (Part Two)'
As usual for this series, things aren't quite what they seem here, and it's not long before a quick role-reversal takes place. Are Ban and Midou's skills sufficient to counter a corrupt art dealer and his army of 'disposal service' agents?
There's not much to add to the video/audio comments I made in my review of volume 1 of Get Backers. The picture quality of this widescreen anamorphic presentation remains sharp as a tack and the soundtrack (variantly rendered in Dolby 2.0 Japanese or Dolby 5.1 English) is crisp and clear with no dropouts lurking amongst the dialogue… though it also isn't the sort of sound experience that's going to be putting your home cinema speaker system through its paces, either. The disc menus follow the model established on the first DVD, with static screens (no animation, no transitions) underpinned by looped music clips. Pretty basic, but they get the job done.
This second volume features the same sorts of special features that made it onto the first DVD, namely the clean opening animation and clean closing animation, a behind-the-scenes, and two commentaries. This time around the BTS segments total a very generous 29 minutes in length and feature slightly more interesting interviews with Jason Liebrecht (Ban Midou's English dub VA), Deanna Shoemaker (Himiko's), Katherine Catmull (Clayman), Matt Hislope (Kazuki), and Omar Gallaga (Shido). The pair of commentaries (for episodes 6 and 9) are again restricted to Lowell Bartholomee and Dan Dietz (ADR director and script writer, respectively) and as such still didn't come across as very interesting to me; listening to them only made me wish they had rolled out some of the voice cast instead – particularly the VAs of the new roles introduced on this volume.
All in all, this second volume of Get Backers has renewed my faith in the series. While the characters of Ginji and Ban are entertaining, they weren't strong enough to carry off the show by themselves; the writers seem to have realised this and are now gradually bringing into play other key roles which make the show considerably more interesting. Kazuki and Shido are superb additions and there's a bit of foreshadowing to suggest that the remaining pair of the Four Kings may soon make an appearance too (though perhaps as pure antagonists). That, coupled with multi-episode stories which successfully balance running time with solid action and good character development, makes for a very viable animé after all. More info will follow as I watch the coming DVD instalments from ADV.