Get Backers (Volume 4: Battles With the Past) Review
In my last Get Backers review, I mentioned that we were in the middle of a very large single story arc and that might carry on even beyond the succeeding disc. Well, here we are at volume 4 ('Battles With the Past') and that intuition has proven to be correct. In short, our heroes spend the entirety of this DVD inside the Limitless Fortress and are still stuck there with no end in sight when the credits roll on episode number 20.
Well, perhaps I shouldn't say no end in sight. The format of the episodes is clearly narrowing its focus and leading up to what I assume will be a big payoff. After all, at the start of volume 3 we had 6 operatives clumped together in one large group, heading into the Fortress. They were immediately split up into 3 pairs, each containing two people who would rather not be stuck together (Ginji and Akabane, Ban and Shido, and Kazuki and Himiko). The following episodes each set one such pair against one or more of Makubex' lieutenants… I assume to let both get a chance to recognise in combat the strengths of the other (in time-honoured 'I may not like/trust you, but I respect you' fashion).
Having now introduced all of the key players working for Makubex (and thrown in a bit of character development in the process), abruptly the entire team is brought together again briefly, then forced to part ways once again… and this time we launch into a series of episodes where each covers a single confrontation between one of our six principals and one of the 'bad guys'. As only three members of the IL retrieval operation get to their epic battles on this volume (Shido, Kazuki, and Himiko), my assumption is that we have at least three more instalments before we can possibly reach the end of this particular arc. Naturally I predict that the final 'big fights' will be Ban versus Fuduo followed by Ginji versus Makubex.
So we are, arguably, making progress here. But the formula to me is starting to feel a trifle stale. I know that this 'Fight! X versus Y!' scheme is the bread and butter of shounen [male-oriented] animé series, where basically the writers work their way down the list of protagonists and let each of them have a go at a member of the opposing team (who then, about half the time, has a change of heart and decides to throw in with the 'good guys')… but it doesn't offer much in the way of variation. Although the battles themselves are reasonably well choreographed and interesting to watch, the only thing that really makes these segments worthwhile to me is the accompanying character development.
Yes, that's right; Get Backers has once again begun to remember the importance of characterisation (after the slight hiatus exhibited on the previous volume), and in particular the bouts between Shido and Emishi and between Kazuki and Juubei reveal a wealth of backstory regarding all four combatants. The history of Makubex and his motivations for pursuing his current course of action are also examined again, but less successfully… but then again, that's a dénouement that the writing team is probably saving for the very end of this massive arc. Similarly, we're given an inkling that there is more to the Limitless Fortress than at first meets the eye – for example, that it is divided into three distinct strata, with the topmost (Babylon City) being so well protected that none of our heroes has ever managed to reach it.
Episode Guide (With Very Minor Spoilers)
16: 'Explosion! The Lightning Emperor Angry'
When Ginji and Akabane come face-to-face with Kyouji and Juubei, the latter makes the mistake of revealing that he killed Kazuki earlier on. (Naturally, he's mistaken; but he doesn't know Kazuki tricked him into believing that.) Ginji predictably loses his cool and whilst he lays into Juubei, the enigmatic Kyouji – a resident of Babylon City who is mysteriously working hand-in-glove with Makubex – and Akabane face off in what quickly becomes, for the latter, a fight in a house of mirrors.
17: 'Recovery Team, Rendezvous!'
The scripted 'two-on-two' fights now dispensed with, the writers allow the six protagonists (seven if you toss in Hevn, their negotiator) to once again find each other within the maze that is the Limitless Fortress. But the room they discover at the end of their journey only has 6 numbered exits and a single die. Which path leads to the IL and the conclusion of their assignment? The suggestion is clear, and they (quite miraculously, considering the odds) each roll consecutively the numbers 1 through 6 and pick a different portal to pass through… leaving Hevn behind to, well, guard the empty room, I guess.
18: 'Crash! Shido vs Emishi'
For a moment, it's almost as if the writers just couldn't break old habits, because abruptly Kazuki and Shido (who passed through different doors, mind) are in the same area, facing off – respectively – against Juubei and Emishi (the latter having merely pretended to be on the protagonist's side earlier). But soon that chamber fades out, and the four find themselves in what appears to be the Grand Canyon (!) before Shido and Emishi square off for one final fight.
19: 'Oh, My Friend – Kazuki vs Juubei'
The battle between those two finally concluded, it is now up to Kazuki and Juubei to settle old accounts. In a backstory that actually makes very little sense, we discover that these two have known each other since they were children, and that Juubei comes from a family rich in medical lore, and one that traditionally provided the personal physicians to Kazuki's clan of threadmasters. How these pastoral scenes of yore (and their continuing friendship over the years) fit in with either of them ending up in the deteriorating urban labyrinth of the Limitless Fortress at their current age isn't really given a look-in.
20: 'The Man From Babylon City'
The final episode on this DVD begins with an intriguing dialogue between two of our principal characters, but to reveal any details would count as a major spoiler. So, moving right along, we come to the big fight between poison master Himiko and her adversary for this round, Kyouji with his ultra-dangerous 'diamond dust'. If you thought the Grand Canyon was an odd setting for a fight, how about an ancient South American ziggurat, replete with the promise of a human sacrifice?
Not much new to report on any of these fronts. The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer remains gorgeous. The character designs are still fab, the battle animation still fluid and detail-rich, and the colours remarkably vivid. The DD 2.0 (Japanese) / 5.1 (English) soundtrack continues to sound great, with decent voice acting in either flavour. The Get Backers theme music remains rubbish. (Oh, sorry… got a bit carried away there.) As for the disc menus, they get the job done without too much fuss, about the most technically-advanced example being the 'Scene Selection' sub-menu with its fully-animated chapter break previews.
This fourth volume slips another rung down the 'special features' ladder, the episodes here giving up on the idea of an audio commentary altogether. However the core features seen on the previous trio of discs are still available here: the clean opening animation, clean closing animation, and behind-the-scenes. For the curious, the BTS segment includes a lengthy interview with Dan Dietz (25 minutes) and a shorter one with John Minnich (5.5 minutes).
Get Backers has more or less plateaued between the last disc and this one. The episodes are very similar in feel and whilst there is some whittling away at the backstory and character development, the fights here – despite looking good – begin to feel just a bit like a grind. I'm keen to move on to the 'big finish' of this longish story arc, and to discover just what will become of Makubex' ploy to try forcing the hands of those hidden masters of the Limitless Fortress sequestered away in Babylon City. It has to happen on the next volume. It just has to. Please.