Mezzo DSA: Shell One Review
The Danger Service Agency (DSA) of the title comprises of a trio of happy-go-lucky hired guns taking on jobs others frown at. Working outside of the law they are deemed the 'bad guys' and are quite happy to accept this fate, yet despite there nonchalant attitude to the pickles they find themselves in the group always manage to offer service with a smile even when the weight and indeed fate of the world is upon their shoulders. With such a small team there is no leader as such, just predefined roles in the tasks money buys them to perform. Mikura is the feisty young cover girl for DSA, often seen sporting a skin tight orange suit designed for action which just so happens to be her department, knocking heads with guys twice her size and always coming out on top. Harada is a jack of all trades, specialising in technical services both onsite and behind-the-scenes he's also not afraid to get his hands dirty and jump in when Mikura requires some assistance. Running operations in the background and using his ties to the underground for vital intel is ex-detective Kurokawa, lovingly referred to as 'Pops' he is the closest thing DSA has to a seniority figure.
Essentially a private detective agency series Mezzo DSA often ventures into familiar territory pioneered by the likes of the City Hunter series as it throws out plot threads familiar to shows of this genre such as the group struggling to make ends meet or keep their stomach’s full. In spite of the frequency in which their jobs turn out to be decoys or wind up being resolved in a manner which means they lack a payout regardless of any success they may find both of the classic plot threads are kept to minimal, background levels. That's not to say the DSA team are well funded or completely foreign to mentioning profits, with their base of operations a quaint little red bus parked atop a mid-rise building block the group often give way to the occasional slip as they are prone to get excited at the prospect of easy money (not that the jobs ever work out that way). Another mainstay of the genre is the central characters' love for food, making sure their rumbling tummies are well stocked and though maintaining energy levels are never a problem for the gang we are frequently privy to their love for food and eating habits, particularly 'Pops' infatuation with all things noodles.
Despite utilising the familiar mission-of-the-week structure the show's writers have implemented a compelling running storyline over the course of each episode’s events. This creates the illusion of a living breathing world in which the stories take place, playing out over days in a week rather than weeks and months in a more sprawling disconnected timeframe usually seen in television shows. The connections are minor enough to allow the episodes to work in a standalone context, as the DSA team set about their mission-of-the-week but in the background from the very first episode there are lesser events playing out such as an unknown hitman targeting Kurokawa and little Asami, a shy schoolgirl whose brief but unforgettable run-in with Mikura sees her begin stalking the team as she idolises a girl who is everything she is not. These elements gradually take on shape and become a greater part of the overriding story taking place in any given episode, while the director uses a few tricks of the trade by unravelling events involving these characters through a time shift so the information and connections are only imparted upon us when at their most relevant.
Indeed one of the most impressive aspects of the show is its ability to focus on the central story at hand and then offer another vital side of that story through a different character perspective. The final two episodes on this volume take this one stage further, presenting one very eventful day in the life of the DSA team’s members through two very different perspectives that each have their own central premise with frequent connecting events and themes. These episodes also split the team up for the first time and give the audience a chance to connect better with the two sides, appreciating the quirky humour that Harada and Kurokawa exude as they fumble their way through an investigation and then show us a deeper side to Mikura's personality by delving into her chequered past that catches up with her in a genuinely saddening way. The events we see here also tie in to the original Mezzo OVA, a two-part series with hentai origins that I’ve yet to see but from a brief taster would appear to be on the more edgy - and slightly unnecessary as most hentai tinged OVA series often are - side.
Asami's introduction to the series in the opening episode initially hints at the frequently seen method of using a new recruit to infiltrate a group's inner-workings taking the audience along for the ride, but rather than take this route she is quickly pushed aside to allow the DSA team to make their own mark on the viewer as they undertake a mission that makes for one of the most action-packed episodes of the volume. The young schoolgirl is then gradually introduced further as she takes a liking to Mikura and wishes to become her pupil, no doubt an attempt to become accepted and get one over on the bullies we see taking advantage of her in the opening stages of episode one. From here though her character is relatively undeveloped, merely shown to be quite the stubborn young thing as she imposes herself on the male members of the group who are ill at ease with children and unable to prevent her from tagging along no matter how dangerous their work may be. That she gets her own spot in the rather fetching opening title sequence suggests there is far more to come from this character, and despite her quiet ways she is certainly appealing in a potential Natalie Portman/Matilda-esque way so could become quite the promising little protégé.
A 13 episode series set to be released over 3 volumes this opening offering from ADV Films spoils us with five episodes that offer plenty of excitement, adventure, comedy and even a touch of sci-fi as the world DSA inhabits is somewhat distanced from our own. Set in the near future the world is not unfamiliar to lifelike androids and an increase in technology crimes, aspects we bear witness to along with forays into alien visitor storylines, bio-weapons and the more familiar crime organisation woes seen throughout the world of the current day. These episodes serve well to develop the characters beyond their initial stereotypes, building up layers through subtle character traits (Kurokawa's obsession with his ageing looks, his hair in particular or lack thereof; Harada's own unique hairstyle and interest in Mikura; and Mikura's past exploits and inability to share them with even her closest allies) while using the cases they take on to develop their personalities and show just where their hearts lie with regards to numerous situations.
Presented in a clear amaray the fetching cover-design suggests a show with more fan service than what you actually get, but along with the back cover does well in depicting the colourful and frantic action series you will find within. The inside cover art gives us another look at the central characters and provides the finishing touch to a well presented package design.
Produced in 2003 this modern series looks exactly as you would expect on the DVD format, bursting with colour and free of print damage the 1.33:1 Full Frame presentation looks very good indeed with no compression quibbles of note to bring up. That is until you decide to watch the end credits, which feature some pretty serious dot crawl throughout. The NTSC>PAL conversion is to a high standard but worth mentioning for those with a particular dislike for the process.
The original Japanese language track is presented in a bold DD2.0 Stereo mix with good separation across the front speakers and pleasing bass during the many action set pieces. An English dub is also available with an upgrade to DD5.1 Surround.
Two sets of optional subtitles cover the English Dub (Signs only) and Japanese Dub (full translation) and use the familiar yellow font. Spelling and grammar are for the most part very good, though I do recall spotting a few more errors than usual.
Extras are minimal but do include a clean version of the excellent opening titles that setup the energy levels of the show through some wonderful animation frantically edited together along to the Barnaby’s wildly punk performance of “Sukimamimaitai”. The clean version of the closing animation continues with more of the kinetic music but calms the air with just a static image of Mikura interspersed with some scenery for the duration. Also present is a 7-minute video reel of production sketches looking at the many character and accessory designs complete with artist notes in English. Rounding out the disc are some ADV Previews.
Five episodes of unadulterated action-packed adventure brought to life through a trio of quirky and likeable characters is a great way to establish a series, one that may or may not develop beyond its episodic boundaries over the next two volumes but should provide plenty of entertainment regardless of the route it takes. Highly recommended.