Jinki: Extend. 01 Review
Aoba Tsuzaki is a regular thirteen year old girl, or so she always thought. Ever since she was little she’s had a fascination with craft modelling, in particular piecing together and painting robot figurines. Little did she realise that a day would come when she’d find herself face to face with the real thing.
When she’s kidnapped by a man in drag she finds herself being whisked away to a remote location situated in the Venezuelan jungles. She manages to flee at first, but after making her escape she runs into a nearby base which is overseeing maintenance on a giant fighting machine known as the Moribito. Excited by its presence she momentarily forgets that two men are hot on her trail and when they turn up she seeks shelter in the Moribito. However, the robot is called to fight a nearby enemy and it turns out that the two men who took her out of Tokyo are in fact the pilots of this behemoth. Genta and his son Ryohei introduce themselves and explain that they belong to an organisation known as Angel, which has been initiated in a bid to stamp out an evil threat known as the Hachi Shojin who use ancient Jinki to cause devastation. It turns out that the Moribito incorporates design elements from these ancient Jinki and is the ultimate weapon in dealing with such fierce opponents.
When Genta asks Aoba to join Angel and help pilot the Jinki with his son she becomes all too willing to jump in and learn the ropes, but things are from simple for her on the base. It turns out that her estranged mother, Shizuka, is working behind the scenes, not only in running the Angel base but also reporting to a secret organisation that seems to be pulling all the strings. Reluctant to work alongside her mother Aoba is placed into the care of the Angel base team, where she soon undergoes rigorous training. As the days pass she meets new faces, not least of which are other similarly aged female Jinki pilots who have been specially selected by Shizuka, so that they may prevent the ancient Jinki from eventually reaching Japanese shores.
On the outset Jinki: Extend smells of rehashed material: the school kid being placed into a training programme in order to eventually pilot a hundred-foot-tall robot which has been designed to save the world from evil. For a mecha show that’s a concept which is undoubtedly difficult to break away from, tapping into the mindset of those who can imagine what it would be like if their toys were bigger than life itself. We’ll always be fascinated by giant walking machines and wonder if one day they’ll indeed become a reality, and what separates Jinki from the usual crowd is that it is played out with a sense of wonder. Our young protagonist Aoba is a bright and chirpy girl who upon seeing the Moribito for the first time stares in awe as the hulking robot towers over her, soon wishing to jump right in there and learn how it all works. That’s right, there’s no wallowing in self pity here, moaning about how she couldn’t possibly save mankind. Instead her natural determination and willingness to learn in a male dominated sector makes her an endearing character to watch. Her only obstacle is overcoming her own weaknesses by proving she’s more than fit enough to take over the task of piloting the Moribito’s lower half, and sure enough Genta puts her to the test time and again.
Genta and his son Ryohei, who man the Moribito togther, are also central to the first volume’s storytelling. These two however are far more complicated than Aoba, being that they each have secrets which largely remain as such - for now anyway. They seem obvious characters at first: Genta being the typical tutor and Ryohei, the brash son. Naturally Ryohei provides the antagonistic qualities that need to go up against Aoba’s positive nature and it seems obvious that as the story progresses he’ll open up and begin to respect Aoba a lot more. Elsewhere though Genta appears to have a doomed relationship with a young and mysterious man who was once a former Jinki pilot and wishes to get it back, while a young girl named Akao, selected to be a Jinki pilot, is also familiar with the two. This is where things start to become a little more complicated. The writers behind Jinki have deliberately mapped out the series in such a way that we’re not really meant to understand things at this early juncture and that any convoluted plot strands are there to test our patience. The most jarring aspect of the series so far is its ability to traverse several timelines without offering the slightest warning. From the Angel Base first getting established around 1988 apparently, through to Aoba’s arrival in ’91. During these intervals we see Ryohei travelling Japan trying to recruit cognates, particularly the young girl Akao who possesses the most special abilities of all it seems, while Aoba’s mother Shizuka rallies together several other gifted girls.
Shizuka is perhaps on of the more intriguing aspects of the series so far. She’s been estranged from her daughter for many years, having left Aoba’s grandmother to raise her, until her passing, which left Aoba, to her mind, an orphan. She’s set up as being a rather cold-hearted being who only harps on about acquiring her daughter’s inheritance and utters things about her plan coming together in relation to Aoba’s involvement within the Angel project. But she’s also a messenger for an underground top level agency known as the Shadow Administration that has some involvement it seems with the Venezuelan military. Its members wear animal masks, which is weird in itself, but there’s nothing else at this stage to suggest where things are headed.
Making the relationships between these characters all the more interesting is the strong sense of family related issues. Jinki does play around with a few ideas; while it initially seems to try and pair together certain characters, such as Aoba and mechanic Kawamoto, or later on by introducing a young orphan boy named Kouse, it isn’t really about strengthening romantic ties, but more about showing the admiration that people have for one another; from the Angel Base team who quickly embrace Aoba as being one of their own, to Genta providing the fatherly bond that Aoba so desperately needs in her life, and Ryohei being something of an older brother who doesn’t really seem to dislike her as much as he’s letting on. This contrasts nicely against the strained relationship between herself and her mother, while in addition she finds healthy rivalry in the sister-like Rui and Minami, the latter of whom is Captain of recovery unit, Heavens. Although all of this might sound deadly serious Jinki is a very playful series that shares a tone almost in line with the likes of Full Metal Panic and Angelic Layer; its heart is certainly in the right place and it tackles a variety of issues, but it never takes itself too seriously and often allows its central characters to make fools of themselves, which brightens up proceedings after specific turns of events.
Jinki is also helped out with a pleasant change of scenery, with most of the action taking place in the Venezuelan jungle - though the reasons for setting up shop here are unknown - as opposed to Tokyo providing the ground for mass destruction. Although Japan is clearly mentioned as being a prime target for the Hachi Shojin, and several homes are visited throughout the shifting timeline, the series keeps to itself for now and dwells only on the mysterious aspect of the storyline, with primary focus on Angel Base’s surrounds being made up of table mountains and open blue skies. So when we get to witness the Moribito and other mecha in action they’re usually trampling through forests or flying over rocks. Naturally then, the animation stands out in this unique environment. Jinki is a handsome looking series, featuring some attractive robot designs and pleasant character models. There is a large emphasis on young girls who are aged as early as eleven, being that these children are the keys to mankind’s survival, but they’re each given their own unique personality, although most haven’t been explored as yet, and there’s a strong colour palette throughout which brings them fully to life. Jinki is never a bore to look at, offering some striking animation and focusing on minor details that raise its worth significantly.
And that just about finishes up with the immediate positives. What volume one fails to address in any detail is the Hachi Shojin and the ancient Jinki they pilot. We see a couple of ominous characters, mainly a shadowy purple-haired woman and the aforementioned boy who Genta knows, but for now it’s all about gathering together a band of heroes and less about why the Jinki are intent on destroying everything in their path. Likewise we don’t truly understand how cognates are chosen or what the significance of the Alpha keys is. Moreover there has yet to be any light shed on the Shadow Administration and whether or not Shizuka’s intentions are good or bad. Still, there are thirteen episodes in total, so hopefully things will pan out nicely, although at this point I’d be a little concerned in wondering if the series can handle everything in such a short period of time. It does look like it won’t be padding things out for the sake of it, but the next volume will be critical in getting the entire team together and begin unravelling the less than straight forward plot.
The Battlefield the Girl Saw
When making her way home one day, young Aoba is accosted by a fellow in drag, who insists he’s her estranged mother before snatching her away and taking her to an undisclosed location somewhere in a jungle. When she arrives at the destination she makes a valiant escape, spying a series of giant footprints which eventually takes her to a giant robot. Excited she momentarily forgets that she’s being chased; stowing away onboard the robot she ends up getting trapped, just when its pilots take off to engage an enemy. Eventually the pilots - Genta and his son Ryohei - discover the girl on board, which is just as well as they were the ones who took her in the first place.
After the Tears
Genta and Ryohei introduce themselves to Aoba and inform her that she’s now in Angel Base, located in La Gran Sabana, Venezuela, where they house the Moribito: the robot she entered earlier, which copies the design of the ancient Jinki. It also turns out that her mother Shizuka is working at the base, much to Aoba’s chagrin as she doesn’t wish to have anything to do with her. Aoba is soon put up in Angel’s quarters, which she must share with the male workforce. It’s here that she meets a mechanic named Kawamoto, who takes an instant shine to her, while the other guys slowly adapt to her presence. Soon the Moribito is called into action once more and Aoba takes flight, but when the robot takes a hit Genta places his life on the line to protect the girl who shouldn’t have been there.
Quality and Quantity
With Genta injured he asks Aoba to take over pilot duties for the Moribito’s legs, but she’s apprehensive and blames herself for his current situation. Ryohei and the chief also pin responsibility on her and feel that she’s a lost cause. But Aoba carries on and is soon involved in her first battle under the guidance of Genta. Shortly afterward Aoba is whisked away by captain of the recovery unit, Heavens, Minami Kousaka. She introduces Aoba to her partner Rui - a competitive pilot who insists that Aoba doesn’t have what it takes to pilot the Moribito, pointing out a fatal flaw. Desperate to prove her wrong Aoba goes into intensive training for seven days before accepting Rui’s challenge: robot football!
While Aoba’s rivalry with Rui is as strong as ever, and with Ryohei still not taking her seriously, Aoba has her work cut out. But Kawamoto shows his affection and urges Aoba to fight on and show everyone that she has what it takes to become an ace pilot. Meanwhile the Shadow Administration continue to press Shizuka for answers, while Aoba learns of the Hachi Shojin.
Of Enemies and Allies
A girl priestess named Akao is slowly talked around to pilot a Jinki. She is believed to have great powers which will aid the fight against the ancient Jinki, while elsewhere Genta senses the arrival of an old acquaintance: a young man who shares a past with him and Akao. Meanwhile Aoba confronts another Jinki and after a fight she heads out into the jungle. There she runs into a boy named Kouse, who also turns out to be an orphan with no friends. They quickly form a bond, but then Aoba discovers that he was the Jinki pilot who has been ordered to hunt down and destroy the Moribito.
Jinki: Extend volume one is the first of three released by ADV in the UK.
Presented anamophically in an approximate 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Jinki: Extend is your typical looking ADV effort. While their UK transfers are generally strong they’re standards conversions and as such you can expect to notice ghosting on Hi def displays. Otherwise we’re looking at a great looking series, showing no sign of unsightly artefacts. Aside from a spot of banding, which is no doubt brought on through the use of digital colouring, the transfer copes well, bringing out enough detail and pleasing tones which are of almost quaint pastel shades, leaving strong black levels and nice contrast.
Audio options consist of Japanese 2.0 and English 5.1. For primary viewing I’ve stuck with the Japanese track and sampled the English one. In all there’s very little difference; the 5.1 English mix is a little more bass heavy and I find that ADV can tend to get a little carried away on this front when they try too hard. But essentially they’re the same, with the Japanese track still making use of the rears by providing ambient effects, while dialogue is naturally forwarded. The series has a good soundtrack, which is brought to life mainly during the mecha battles and the opening and closing credits. Another solid effort all round.
In a nice change ADV provide original Japanese materials for their release. The biggest extra on the disc is an interview with Fumiko Orikasa (Aoba), Takuma Takewaka (Ryohei) and Kazuhiro Wakabayashi (Sound Director), which runs for fifteen minutes. I like these intimate sessions whereby the cast and crew chat amongst themselves; it’s always been interesting to watch when we see these added to DVD releases. Wakabayashi, who has also worked on Stand Alone Complex and a number of Ghibli features, leads the discussion well, using his seniority and experience to fuel an engaging conversion on casting the series and bringing out the thoughts of the two actors sitting opposite him. The nice thing about Wakabayashi is that he comes across as such a wise and sincere fellow, especially when he begins to talk about the importance of family unity, not only in relation to the series, but in life itself, and he clearly has a comfortable enough relationship with Orikasa and Takewaka to be able to give them his honest thoughts in regards to their overall performances. The trio discuss how they got the roles, how they subsequently approached the characters and what the most difficult aspects were. There are also some nice bouts of humour exchanged between them, which also make this an enjoyable piece.
The rest of the bonus features are pretty much standard, with clean opening and closing credits, On Air opening and close, a glossary featuring info about Angel, cognates and Jinki and location notes on the Venezuela backdrop. Finally we have ADV trailers for Gad Guard, NGE, Dai Guard, FMP and FMP: Fumoffu.
The first volume of Jinki: Extend makes for a fine introduction to the series. Its characters, humour and animation helps it to get through an ambiguous storyline, which just begs of our attention in the next volume.