L/R - Licensed by Royalty Mission File 01: Deceptions Review
Jack Hofner and Rowe Rickenbacker, agents for the Cloud7 organisation are Licensed by Royalty and go by the codename of L/R. So which is the L and which is the R? "Such a lame question" is the reply you will get, for it really does not matter...why? Well that is open to debate but as you watch the opening credit sequence (and I guarantee you will watch this one repeatedly) the visuals suggest the line that separates the two characters we will come to know over the course of this series is a very blurred one for these agents are a suave duo in perfect harmony with each other.
Throwing us straight into the action the opening episode introduces us to these intriguing characters by showing them tackling an everyday mission. An artefact wrongly approved by the Royal Family has been stolen. Were it to fall into the wrong hands it would bring shame upon the families name and it is the job of L/R to prevent this from happening. Jack Hofner is first on the scene, calmly introducing himself to the unlikely culprits and politely requesting the object be returned. Smooth, calculated and above all debonair, Jack is the secret agent character we most associate with. However, events soon escalate to the point where Rowe must intervene as Jack lights up a cigarette and sits back to admire his partner at work. Sporting a trench coat and ponytail ensemble Rowe flies into action and we immediately identify him as the more physical of the two as he takes on the enemy with a playful, but fully assured approach and is as confident in his own ability as his partner who enjoys the show.
What really stays with you after this first rate opening is not the action, nor is it the twists and turns in the script that often make or break a secret agent story. Instead it is the interplay between the leading characters and those around them as Jack and Rowe approach their work with a style and wit that immediately endears you to their endeavours, while the gags and humour injected into the writing often had me rolled up with laughter - something I was not at all expecting as I went into the show.
Having already identified with the main characters, episode two pulls us in further as it opens with those secondary to the action, but integral to the overall feel of the show. Claire, the agencies secretary, Dez, the technical guru and Mister, a retired agent now in charge, and though not seen Ms Camille is referenced and given a proper introduction later as the agencies budget manager and liaison to the Royal Family. These characters are the backbone of the operation and generally fit into their stereotypes but through the level of characterisation present and the quality of the voice acting throughout they are all firmly established by the end of episode four (and the end of this volume). Claire in particular stands out, and the description of 'secretary' feels like an injustice for even at this early stage she is already shown to be so much more as her character grounds the shows often heightened sense of reality.
Bringing it all together is not just the writing, which really is very good, but something that is possibly more important in a show of this nature, and that is the style in which the episodes are presented. The character design throughout is very accomplished, simple but elegant while the quality of the background design and animation is very high for a television production. Adding to the visual appeal is the shows setting, a hybrid country of sorts by the name of Ishtar that owes more than a little to European villages, and the decision to use a widescreen frame is a real treat bringing an extra dynamic to the shows style. Even more impressive however is the soundtrack, which consists almost entirely of songs performed in English that cover a range of styles but fits mostly into a retro jazz/blues theme, though certain tracks verge into sixties popular music reminding me of groups such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys. Initially slightly jarring as they occasionally play the tracks below the Japanese dialogue it soon becomes something of a trademark, while the timing and selection of cues taken from these tracks is exquisite and consistently brought a smile to my face as it matched the visuals perfectly (be they subtle string ensembles that nod to a characters emotion or a corny rock track that kicks off a mission outline).
If there is one possible negative I could give you, then it would be the current lack of an overall story arc to the series. Personally this is not something that concerns me a great deal, especially when the characters and individual plotlines are as good as they are here, but for some it may be issue. However, there are certain elements to these opening episodes that hint at possible developments further down the line, such as the identity and whereabouts of Ms Camille’s brother, and the search for the unknown rightful heir to the throne. With only eight episodes left these may be the only underlying story-arcs touched upon, but if the standalone episodes continue to entertain as much as the four detailed below we should be in for a thrilling ride...
Episode 01: Be traced
To preserve the Ishtar Royal Family’s name L/R are put into action as they must reclaim the ‘Mermaids Foot’. Boarding an airship Jack confronts those thought to have stolen the item when an unexpected murder disrupts their course of action.
Episode 02: A taste of secret
The media is rife with news on the search for the true heir to the throne, nicknamed the “15-Year Princess”. L/R on the other hand have more important issues to deal with as one of their fellow Cloud7 agents has been captured by the Hornet crime syndicate. Making matters more delicate is the information the enemy may have secured about a secret conference, so Jack and Rowe must go in to extract their man and be sure the correct misinformation has been passed on.
Episode 03: A girl goes to the city
While out on a joyride L/R are called in on a mission they initially begrudge taking. One of the “15-Year Princess” candidates has been proved a fake, but the media coverage has reached boiling point making it unsafe for the young girl to travel back to her village through conventional means. Essentially blackmailed into taking the job Jack and Rowe soon take a liking to Noelle whose heart is in the right place and with their help, she takes a more honest approach to achieving her goal. Another fine addition to the growing cast of characters Noelle is sure to appear later in the series (or at least the opening credits would suggest).
Episode 04: Sweet enemies in the same desert
On a mission to retrieve a Royal Treasure L/R soon discover they are not alone, but are the other treasure hunters friends or foe? Needless to say this mission escalates beyond their initial expectations and sees the suave duo on a race against the clock to retrieve what they came for and maintain their good name.
The first volume (of four), L/R - Licensed by Royalty Mission File 1: Deceptions is available in two versions. For $29.98 you get what is reviewed here, just the DVD but for an extra $5 you can get the Limited Edition that comes with a Box Set designed to hold all four volumes. Though I have not seen the box it is without doubt the recommended version as the price difference is negligible, and is by far the best way to collect any Anime series.
Presented in 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen the transfer seen here is superb throughout the main show, but then you would expect nothing less for such a recent production. There is not a great deal to be said really, the print sourced is clean, colours and detail vivid throughout while the compression is of a very high standard with no real quibbles to speak of. That is until the end credit sequences play, where the encoders appear to have been slightly lax and allowed numerous compression artefacts to impose on an otherwise fine transfer.
The original Japanese language track is presented here in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, which is how the show was originally broadcast and the way I enjoyed the show. Again, as this is a recent production the audio quality is top notch with both the dialogue and soundtrack coming through your speakers with great clarity. Also present is an English dub track in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo.
Optional English subtitles are provided for use with the Japanese language track and offer a literal translation of the show.
Before I get into what little bonus features there are present on this disc I want to give a brief mention to the Menu system. Created by Nightjar the menu design exudes the simple elegance seen throughout their work and is a genuine joy to navigate thanks to the speed and fluidity in which you can do so, while the look is in keeping with the shows themes.
Moving on to the extra features then, we have the Japanese Opening/Ending and Non-Credit Opening/Ending available to view. Presented in 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen with Japanese DD2.0 Stereo audio these make for an interesting reference and in the case of the Japanese Opening/Ending show the work Pioneer put in to matching the credit design for the English version used on the main show. The only other bonus feature is a 13-minute Pioneer Previews reel.
Also worthy of mention is the insert, which not only carries Chapter Stop information but folds out into a superb A5 poster for the show.
This first volume of L/R has me well and truly hooked, and though I hate to draw comparisons I suspect that anyone who enjoys shows such as Lupin the Third and even Hellsing will agree for it shares the formers use of assured characters and comedic overtones while offering the same level of style and musical extravagance as the latter.