Burst Angel: Infinity
It's been two years since Burst Angel exploded on British shores, a futuristic action show that set a Charlie's Angels-esque team of cute girls, armed with serious weaponry and tooled up with roller-skating mecha, against the forces of global dominating, genetic engineering, evil darkness. It was bright, it was fun, it was action packed, it had oodles of fan service, and it meant that you could sit down in front of the television leaving the old grey matter in neutral. I loved it, but at times it felt like shouting into a gale, as few other critics shared my opinion, labelling Burst Angel, juvenile, crass, derivative and dumbed down, and for Gonzo that's saying something. In retrospect they may have had a point, as at the time even I recognised that Burst Angel owed a lot to forebears like Kiddy Grade and Bubblegum Crisis. It marked the start of a downward slide for Gonzo when it comes to futuristic sci-fi action, as cookie cutter follow ups like Trinity Blood and Black Cat have demonstrated. They are certainly sipping from the well of diminishing returns, and it's only with the recent Witchblade that they have returned to winning form. But even though it may have started a trend, I still love Burst Angel, and I have been eagerly awaiting this OVA follow up, Burst Angel: Infinity.
Burst Angel as you may recall, featured an amnesiac genetically engineered warrior named Jo, who was handy with her Desert Eagles and even handier piloting the awesome cybot Django, and her friends and benefactors, Meg, Amy and Sei, as they fought crime in a futuristic rundown Tokyo, where the RAPT police were corrupt, and even more corrupt groups fought for control of the city, the country and eventually the world. Jo had a dark past to uncover, while Meg managed to just about remain in her outfits, despite being kidnapped on a weekly basis. Well, forget all that, as Infinity is a prequel. One of the Burst Angel episodes, episode 14 - Wild Kids, took us to New York, where Meg was eking out a living on the streets with a group of children. It was where she first met Jo, and where she realised that her life could be a whole lot better. Infinity is set after that episode, although prior to the main storyline, and sees Jo and Meg pay a return visit to New York.
It's Shirley's birthday, and Meg and Jo arrive in town to give her a present, only they come during a serial killer crime spree, a spree that has left Shirley critically injured in hospital. The attacks are being carried out by a mysterious cybot, yet there is something wrong in the city, the police are being prevented from investigating the crimes, and Shirley's adoptive father Sam (the cop who rescued the children from the streets) is adamant that Jo and Meg get out of town. The girls will have to take matters into their own hands and track down the killer.
It's all little different from the series, so I can just recycle the same blurb. Gonzo have created an elaborate future world for Burst Angel, and it comes across clearly on this anamorphic widescreen transfer. There are the usual problems associated with anime, digital banding, and the odd compression artefact, but these are minor concerns with a transfer that presents the animation to good effect. It is an elaborately designed future world, and the anime blends traditional 2D animation with 3D CGI quite effectively. It's a dynamically animated show, with the action scenes impressively realised. The character designs are excellent, as you would expect from Gonzo. There is plenty of eye-candy to be had with this episode, and plenty of fan service too. In other words, given a cast of two scantily clad girls, performing athletic feats of bravado, there is enough flesh and pneumatic anatomy to satisfy many a teen.
The same cut and paste applies to the sound… You get a choice of DD 5.1 soundtracks in English and Japanese, and the choice of the signs translated or the translated English subtitles. The Burst Angel audio experience is quite explosive, with plenty of action and some toe tapping tunes, along with some incidental music that owes a fair bit to Ennio Moriccone. The dialogue is clear throughout, and it's an enjoyable experience on the whole.
One 25 minute OVA is a pretty measly offering on a full price disc, which is why Infinity compensates with over two hours of extra features.
The usual animated menus are there, the jacket picture, and trailers for Black Lagoon and Witchblade.
The largest by volume is the Battle Record of all 24 episodes, which comes in at 84 minutes. It's practically a film in itself, which had me briefly wondering why we were paying full price for Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex movies when Burst Angel could stick one on as an extra. Daft question really. There's no attempt to tell a coherent story here, it's just the choice bits of each episode for your enjoyment, a sort of feature length summary. Each episode is preceded by its title card, which is then followed by about 4 minutes of action. There's not enough to tell the story properly, but just enough to spoil it for those who haven't seen it. It's presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic with stereo soundtracks in English and Japanese (along with subtitles). There was some new music for some of the scenes, and I may be mistaken but the animation may have had a touch up in a couple of places. The image seemed clearer and brighter than in the original DVDs, but I did experience some freezing close to the layer change. I don't really see the point of this beyond an exercise in re-editing. It's pointless if you already have the discs (likely if you're buying the OVA), while newcomers will probably find it confusing and unrewarding. Either way it won't be watched more than once.
The Lightness and the Darkness of Jo lasts 23 minutes, and is another episode cobbled together from various clips. As the title suggests, it focuses on the Jo character and what makes her tick. This is actually of a little more use than the film, as it features a fair part of the Wild Kids episode, and as such serves to set the OVA episode up well. The snag is that it is presented in 1.78:1 letterbox with zoom unfriendly subtitles.
There are six minutes worth of previews for the television series, and two minutes of previews for the OVA episode.
The extras are polished off with an Ugetsa Hakua (Character Designer) Special, coming in at just under 3 minutes. This is the most tantalising, as it's a Burst Angel preview reel for the non-existent second series. Following the cliffhanging conclusion of the first series, this offers a look at where the characters are a few years down the line. It also engenders the opinion in me that they should make this series already!
I really hate this! Along comes a disc that adds more to a series that I loved, and I find watching it as enjoyable an experience as I had with the series itself. But in all conscience I just can't recommend it. Burst Angel Infinity is just another Burst Angel episode. It could slot in anywhere in the series as another flashback story, it's structured much the same as an episode, lasts just as long, and entertains just as much. It's just that being asked to pay full price for what is essentially one quarter of the usual material is a bit rich.
The extra features offset the short runtime. With two hours of material on disc, you do get the feeling that they are trying to give you value for money. But it's a false economy. Let's face it, Burst Angel: Infinity is only going to appeal to fans of the series, the people who already own the discs. That renders the two major featurettes useless. The Battle Record is just the highlights of the series cobbled together into a feature length presentation. I suppose you can save five hours by watching it, but you'll miss the story, the cohesiveness of a plot, and any sort of satisfaction whatsoever. It's a 90-minute trailer and nothing else. The Lightness and the Darkness of Jo is put together a little more creatively, offering a narrative at least, and it does complement the OVA well, but again, it doesn't offer anything that isn't in the series. All that is really new is the Character Designer Special and that is short, and only serves to tantalise at what could have been.
The episode itself is fun, although fan service aficionados will be disappointed that the prequel story means a pre-boobage Meg. It's your standard Burst Angel story, with a mysterious criminal wreaking havoc, it becoming personal for our heroines, and Meg and Jo take on the bad guys in a suitably eye-candy filled conclusion. And yes, Meg does get kidnapped. If there is a little something extra to it, there is a bit of character growth for Meg, and we see where she gets some of the steel and bad-assness from, which she usually kept concealed in the series.
But it's not worthy of being called an OVA. It's too short for one, and character development is in short supply. In the series proper, it would have been stretched across two episodes with a Meg kidnapped cliffhanger in the middle. It also would have served to allow the villains to get some much needed development, as here they are just targets for Meg and Jo to aim at, despite some hinting in the background. An eighty or ninety minute runtime, with a decent and well developed story, along with some better characterisation would have been far more satisfying, and a Burst Angel feature would have warranted the full price sticker on the case.
Burst Angel: Infinity is just another episode, and an episode price is all that you should pay for it. Wait for a decent sale and a £5 price tag.