Get Backers (Volume 1: G & B on the Case) Review
One of ADV's new properties for 2005, Get Backers is the action-packed animé adaptation of the popular shounen manga [Japanese comics intended for boys] series by Yuya Aoki and Rando Ayamine that started in 1999.
The protagonists are two perennially-impoverished slackers by the names of Ginji Amano and Ban Mido. Well, perhaps I shouldn't say 'slackers'… when they have work, they're the hardest working slackers you've ever met. Alas, they rarely seem to find assignments… and even when they do, they don't always finish them in quite the way their clients would have liked… and even if they do, their employers sometimes lack either the willingness or ability to pay them for their services. Which begs the question: just what is it that they do?
Ban and Ginji run a retrieval operation known as 'Get Backers' out of downtown Tokyo (Shinjuku, to be precise, but hardly the spectral wasteland you might remember from Demon City Shinjuku; here it's just a mundane, modern-day setting), offering the promise that 'If it was taken, we'll get it back!' and claiming an 'almost' 100% success rate. But the jobs haven't precisely been rolling in of late, and as we're introduced to our heroes they're on the brink of starvation. They can't buy a meal because they have no cash. There's nothing they can sell since they barely have any possessions. They can't even head home for some peace and quiet because they don't have a place to live. (In case you're wondering, they sleep in their scrappy little car… that is, when it's not been towed away by the police.)
Luckily they do have a few things going for them. First off, they never quite manage to waste away because they've befriended Paul, the owner of a local diner called the Honky Tonk, who not only lets them run up the occasional tab but also seems to be well-enough connected to feed them the occasional assignment. More spectacularly, however, Ginji and Ban have some unusual powers. The former can generate and discharge massive amounts of electricity at will, earning him the moniker of 'denki unagi' ['electric eel'] – and, unsurprisingly perhaps, used to head up a street gang by the name of the VOLTS. The latter is graced with super-human strength in his hands and an amazing signature talent called the 'Jagan' whereby, if he can just gaze for a moment into someone's eyes, he can force them briefly into a dream of his own devising which to them seems like a seamless continuation of the real world.
Just as their special abilities are decidedly different, so are the personalities of this two-man team: whilst Ginji is generally cheerful, optimistic, and apparently willing to help anyone just on the basis of it being the 'right thing to do', Ban is more moody and down-to-earth, and prefers only to work jobs that will pay sufficiently well and/or pose a challenge worthy of them. Although you do have to wonder how two guys with such different perspectives hooked up in the first place, there is a great dynamic between them which plays out in every episode.
This first volume ('G & B on the Case') includes a generous 5 episodes… rather more than the 3 or 4 on your average animé DVD release, but then again this show runs to 49 episodes overall, so it looks as if ADV may be aiming to fit the entire series on 10 volumes total. It also gets things moving right away with two introductory instalments followed by a 3-parter (pretty ambitious, as usually TV writers would want to squeeze in a few more one-off episodes to get the audience comfortable with the characters before trying a multi-part storyline).
1: 'The Initials are "G" (Ginji) and "B" (Ban)'
Your standard introductory episode. We find the lads sleeping in their 'mobile office' and hungry enough to accept almost any job when… lo and behold, just such a job turns up: Natsumi, a high school girl who lost a beloved keychain trinket. Of course, there's more to it than that, as it turns out she actually stumbled across a corrupt policeman receiving mafia bribe money the night before!
2: 'Get Back the Rusted Bonds'
In a slightly more-interesting setup, Ban and Ginji are hired by a destitute ex-businessman desperate to locate his only daughter, apparently kidnapped by the Yakuza some time before. Naturally the story's not quite so straightforward, but at least we get a chance to see Ban use his Jagan technique in a completely different way than before.
3: 'Operation: Recover the Platinum!'
4: 'Recovery Service vs. Transport Service'
5: 'Deathmatch at Sunrise: The Lightning Emperor vs. Dr. J'
And straight for the jugular, here we have the TV series' first multi-part arc. When one of Get Backers freelance 'agents' turns up at the Honky Tonk with a job on offer (of which she of course will take a finder's fee commission), the boys really should know better. But the assignment sounds so simple… just recover a sealed crate for their client. So what if the crate in question is being guarded and hand-delivered to someone else by a trio of 'transport service' professionals with super-powers of their own? Piece of cake.
Featuring distinctive character designs by industry-veteran Atsuko Nakajima (who served Character Designer and/or Animation Director throughout Ranma ½ and You're Under Arrest, as well as lesser-known animé), excellent mechanical design by Toshiharu Murata (famous for his work in Ah! My Goddess, Blue Submarine No. 6, eX-Driver, Gad Guard, Hellsing, Irresponsible Captain Tylor, and – again – You're Under Arrest), and animation by Studio Deen (Cowboy Bebop, King of Bandit Jing, etc.), it really comes as no surprise that Get Backers has a great look to it.
Nor does it hurt that the five episodes on this disc have been given a full anamorphic widescreen presentation, of course. The picture quality here is actually top-notch, with practically no problems to speak of. Certainly the video master was in good nick, because this video contains no dust or scratches… but the fact that the actual encode shows no hint of aliasing, macroblocking, or edge enhancement, and furthermore that the colours are bright and the blacks deep, is only strong evidence that an effort was made by the team to keep things looking pristine at all stages of the production.
As is becoming a common trend in recent DVD releases of animé, this disc offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 English dub alongside the original Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese soundtrack. This is just a reflection of budget limitations during the various phases of production, as many animé have barely enough cash earmarked for them to complete the entire television series (thus the stereo audio rather than going for surround)… but when the Western licensee goes to distribute it, the call is usually made to create an English dub to secure more sales, and modern recording studios can usually knock out a 5.1 dub for not much more than a 2.0 one.
Still, Japanese-language fans need not despair, as the 5.1 dub seems to be a fairly perfunctory mix and there's not actually that much to distinguish it from the original 2.0 track. Either way, the soundstage seems fairly compact (and very forward), without much in the way of stereo separation even in those action scenes where a bit of left/right directionality could have been worked into the sound effects. And if you're hoping for a lot of bass response from your subwoofer, forget about it. All the same, both soundtracks are completely serviceable, just a bit on the basic side compared to the excellent video presentation.
Well, the disc menus are nothing very special, just bog-standard static screens with a music clip playing on endless loop beneath. Fortunately the special features do compensate amply for this. First off we have the ever-popular clean opening animation and clean closing animation. (Shame then that both the OP and ED theme songs are more or less rubbish.) More substantial is the included behind-the-scenes segment (clocking in at about 19 minutes in length), which includes brief video interviews with a few of the English dub cast. Unusually, there are also two commentaries provided, for episodes 1 and 5 on this DVD, both dominated by the English dub's ADR director and writer… but in addition to the pair also including one or two of the VAs. Although I personally didn't find the content of the BTS or commentaries to be particularly engaging, ADV does deserve to be lauded for the effort of providing these extras. Strange to find no art gallery included, but perhaps that's being held back for future volumes.
This initial Get Backers DVD was a little 'hit or miss' for me, to be honest. The episodes thus far, while reasonably entertaining, have not grabbed me the way that I would have expected a show with this premise to. I don't want to suggest that the potential of the series is being squandered (as, after all, I've only seen 5 of 49 episodes!), but rather that the series may need a bit more time to find its feet. When the show's going for one-off stories, the length seems appropriate but the action lacklustre… and when it tries its hand at multi-part arcs, the action's splendid but the story seems to drag on a bit. But we'll see how it progresses in future volumes!
I can provide a much more enthusiastic recommendation when it comes to the technical side of this DVD. Not only is the picture quality pristine and the animation outstanding, but the included special features are reasonably solid (moreso if you're a dub fan) and the audio, while more standard, evinces no major flaws either.