Review for Release The Spyce Collector's Edition
One of the things I love about anime is just how ‘exotic’ it can be, just how imaginative and challenging a story can be offered. There’s something about being exposed to new ideas, different cultures, different ways of thinking that really appeal to me. Having said all of that, it’s also a bit of a buzz when a show offers a perspective on my own cultural upbringing, as you can see yourself through someone else’s eyes (It’s also fun noting when they get things wrong). It can also be a pleasant surprise, as when NieA_7 used a Sikh expat in Japan to do the next episode previews. The makers of Release the Spyce are also playing to my cultural sensibilities, featuring a futuristic ninja team with a secret base under a curry restaurant of all places, boosting their abilities by biting into curry spices. I’ve never been enthused by the Japanese version of curry, but Release the Spyce’s efforts don’t look quite as generic on the surface.
Momo Minamoto is a high school student in Sorasaki City, but she had dreams of upholding justice and protecting the city the way her late father did as a policeman. But it’s another group that comes calling after Momo witnesses some strange activity on a rooftop one night. Tsukikage is a ninja spy group that protect the city from the depredations of the criminal Moryo syndicate. Momo might have found her true calling, but there’s more danger than anyone expects, as their might be a traitor in Tsukikage.
The twelve episodes of Release the Spyce are presented across 2 Blu-ray discs from MVM.
1. Golden Spirits
2. First Challenge
4. Never Say Never Together
6. The Rewards of Friendship
7. From Natsume With Love
8. Intelligence on Organisation N
9. Destiny Group
10. No Response From Sorasaki
11. Operation Gekkako
12. Tsukikage is Forever
Release the Spyce gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these discs. It’s a fairly middle-of the road modern anime, which means that the animation is excellent, the character designs are appealing and stay on model, and the world design is detailed enough to be immersive. Detail levels are good, and colours are rich and consistent. The characters move well and the action does enough to impress. But the show does nothing much to stand above its peers, or really establish an identity of its own.
You get DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese audio with translated subtitles and a signs only track all locked during playback. I stuck with the Japanese audio, and was happy enough with the experience. The dialogue was clear throughout, the subtitles timed accurately and free of typos. The action comes across with impact even with the stereo presentation, and the show gets some appealing music, with one action theme particularly inspired by the music from the first Matrix movie. The show gets some engaging theme songs as well.
The discs present the episodes with static menus, and each episode is followed by a silent translated credit scroll. There are more than the usual extras with this series release, all on disc 2.
These are 34 picture dramas to accompany the series.
Episode Previews (3:20)
Japanese Promos (4:37)
Trailers for Princess Principal, Tsurune, Golden Time, and No Game, No Life
I haven’t seen the Collector’s Edition packaging or the physical extras to comment.
Note to the MVM scheduler... Don’t release another spy anime series so close after the release of the first Princess Principal movie. There are always pinnacles of genres that you wind up comparing other shows to, and it usually ends up unfavourably. That’s even more of an issue if there’s less of a gap between releases. Princess Principal was for me the best spy anime series since R.O.D. The TV, and there was a gap of over ten years between the two. And now, sandwiched between the first two Princess Principal movie releases comes Release the Spyce, and in comparison, this is a fairly generic, if well put together, action adventure show, which predictably doesn’t deliver on all that it promises. The first episode is so loaded with possibility, that I briefly got a Dirty Pair Flash vibe from it, but the rest of the series doesn’t quite live up to that.
We’re in James Bond territory here, with secret organisations in conflict over the fate of the world. Tsukikage are the heroes, a group of ninja style warriors who power up when they consume spices, an ability that only manifests in girls of a certain age. There are three pairs of mentors and apprentices in the team that work together to protect Sorasaki City. And they need to protect it from the Moryo group, an organisation of villains who scheme and plot to take over the world, and need to take down Tsukikage to get their plans enacted.
We see all this through the eyes of Momo Minamoto, a schoolgirl who has ambitions of serving and protecting the city, just like her late policeman father, but who instead gets recruited by the Tsukikage group who protect the city by more clandestine means. They’ve seen the latent talent in Momo (she can ‘taste’ people to see if they’re telling the truth), and she can be trained up in combat skills to become one of the team as well. Momo is teamed up with warrior strong Yuki Hanzomon, who starts giving her relentless training. There’s also the maternal Hatsume Aoba who’s paired with the powerful but shy Goe Ishikawa, and there is the playful Mei Yachiyo who is sensei to the prideful if bratty Fu Sagami. Together they operate from a secret base under a curry restaurant to defeat the plans of the insidious Moryo group.
It sounds like a great setup, but as so often happens with shows that come through the committee system, it tends to aim for all the right notes to please the target demographic, rather than having the faith in the power of the narrative, and development of characters. For the most part, it alternates between undercover action stories, and episodes devoted to the domestic silliness that ensues when cute modern-day ninja girls do cute things. An overall narrative does develop, and there is direction and momentum to the story. It’s just that it never does enough to really invest you in it. It’s only for the last three episodes that the story does pull together enough to deliver something worthy of the premise, and while my eyelids might have felt heavy during the first half of the show, that certainly wasn’t the case for the conclusion.
Release the Spyce is like so many other anime shows, in that it takes a promising concept and delivers something run-of-the-mill and predictable. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as in this case run-of-the-mill and predictable is still entertaining. Just make sure you are in the mood for something mediocre, and not be expecting anything special, and Release the Spyce will do you well.