Review for Needless - Part 1
Have you ever been led astray by your preconceptions? I had my preconceptions about Needless, particularly after reading the PR blurb that came with the check discs. After all, given a premise that begins with World War 3, the destruction of the world’s cities and a contaminated epicentre in Tokyo from which mutants emerge with powerful abilities, mutants that the rest of the world shuns, and even hunt as Needless. That brings to mind a whole slew of similar anime, most of them dark and ominous, taking depressing and dramatic license with their stories. I didn’t want to see another Casshern Sins at this point, especially now in the season of goodwill. You can bet that I was reticent indeed about playing the first disc of this new series. How wrong could I be? For we may have WWIII, we may have nuclear Armageddon, we may have powerful and shunned mutants, but what Needless does with these ingredients is just what the doctor ordered for an anime fan who’s been dosing up on too much dark and depressing of late. Needless is a comedy.
Fifty years after World War 3, the centre of Tokyo is a no go area, a circular Black Spot in which the Needless have arisen, people with powers and abilities, a legacy of the weapon that was unleashed during the war. These people aren’t wanted by society, hence their name, and why they are confined to the Black Spot. But for some, the Needless are of great interest, which is why the Simeon Pharmaceuticals group under Adam Arklight have established their HQ right in the middle of the Black Spot. It’s why Simeon unleash their army of Testament robots in the zone, and why they for some obscure reason hunt the Needless.
When the inhabitants of the Black Spot try standing up to this tyranny, the retaliation is brutal and immediate. A young boy without any powers named Cruz manages to escape the crackdown, but only after the sacrifice of his older sister. He manages to find sanctuary in the ruins of a church, after being helped by an unconventional priest. Adam Blade’s unique power is to take on the abilities of whoever he fights, while his ally Eve has a doppelganger ability. Also on their side is the scientist Gido, and together they may be able to make a stand against Simeon. The problem is that they only think Cruz is useful for keeping the church clean and making the food, and they can’t even remember his name. What’s worse is that Adam Arklight has Adam Blade in his target sights.
The first twelve episodes of Needless are presented across two discs by MVM.
01. Adam Blade
02. Eve Neuschwanstein
03. Momiji Teruyama
04. Iron Mountain
05. Simeon’s Girl Squadron
07. Adam Arklight
08. Riru Roukakuji
09. Shelter Number 3
10. Seto x Solva
11. Black Attraction
Needless started its journey in Sentai Visual’s hands, passed to Siren who gave it the PAL transfer for Australia, and then finally to MVM who bring it to us in the UK. It’s a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, and it’s clear, sharp and colourful, with only the most frenetic of action sequences evidencing some compression. Sentai also gave it a Blu-ray release, but other than the lower compression and native 24 frame playback, it’s hard to tell what an HD treatment would offer this quite simplistic animation. It’s not the most detailed or complex visually, instead offering simple character and world designs, with bright primary colours, and bold outlines.
It’s a fairly run of the mill anime for the most part, sticking to the comedy conventions in its style and impact, but once in a while, especially during the action sequences, and most notably in the first episode, it will do something avant-garde, adopt a Western action comic intensity and visual aesthetic that really serves to wake the viewer up. These ‘Redline’ moments are few and far between, and Studio Madhouse really ought to have given the whole show that singular style, as it works really well with the shonen tropes and post apocalyptic nuttiness, a little 2000 AD in tone.
You get the choice between DD 2.0 English and Japanese stereo, with optional subtitles and a signs only track. This being a Siren authored disc, it presets to my preference of Japanese with subtitles, so it’s dub fans who will have to visit the audio options menu. The dialogue is clear throughout, and the subtitles are free of error and accurately timed, which is just what the comedy needs. On screen text is captioned as well with overlays, so you miss as little of the humour as possible. It’s a fairly standard stereo mix, which comes alive for the action sequences, while the dub cast provide the generic voices for the rather stereotypical characters.
I have to say that the dub, what I sampled of it anyway, really impressed me. In my experience US dubs of comedy anime really just equates to voice actors screaming at the top of their lungs, but there’s variation, characterisation, and nuance here that indicates a little more thoughtfulness, and I found the English dub as easy to enjoy as the Japanese. I have to admit that the heavy guitar soundtrack did begin to wear by about episode 9.
While the extras were more evenly distributed in the US release, Siren left most of the good stuff for the second half, which is why MVM’s release of Needless: Part 1 is similarly sparse in terms of extras.
The discs get animated menus to present the episodes, and each episode is followed by a translated English language credit scroll, white on black, as is current practice for Sentai releases in the US.
The extras on disc 2 amount to 4 promos for the show, running to a total of 5 minutes, plus trailers for other Siren/MVM titles, The Tower of Druaga, Welcome to the NHK, and the forthcoming Canaan.
I could make a cheap quip here about how necessary this show is to anime fandom, but the truth is that Needless isn’t that bad. It isn’t that bad at all actually, a rare anime comedy that is created for the purposes of simple entertainment. This is the kind of show for which you sit down, switch your brain off, and just take in the general silliness, absurdity, and Technicolor fan service. When the end credits offer you more soft-focus girl-on-girl action than any late night phone-a-slapper show ever could, you know just where this anime is aimed, and it isn’t at the higher thought processes. For the first few episodes, I actually thought this show was heading past the good into the memorable category, but it loses momentum and gets bound up in its own narrative at the end of this first half to a degree that is actually disappointing.
It starts off a little worryingly for a comedy, heading into quite serious post-apocalyptic territory, with a quick prologue setting the scene, laying out the Black Spot and explaining the Needless, before introducing the Simeon Corporation and their brutal handling of opposition. Two survivors are on the run, a Needless sister and her powerless brother Cruz, and the sister sacrifices herself for the brother, all dark and depressing, no matter how bright the colours are. Then Cruz runs into priest Adam Blade, and his sidekick Eve, and all comedic hell breaks loose.
Needless plays out an over-amped parody of shonen tropes, with ridiculous over the top characters, and daft situations. Cruz is the wimpy young male protagonist cliché who lacks for power, but makes up for it in determination, Adam Blade is the muscle-bound priest warrior who will succeed through superior willpower, his special power is learning everyone else’s powers, but his fatal weakness is young girls. While Eve is the brash, tomboyish shapeshifter who has to power up by drinking mega-calorific fizzy drinks, and who refuses to get anyone’s name right, giving them nicknames longer than their actual names. With the aid of the typical mad scientist type, Gido, they form the impromptu resistance against Simeon, especially as Adam Arklight of Simeon has his eyes set on Adam Blade’s body for nefarious reasons, sending more and more minions after them.
The first few episodes are fast-paced and energetic, consisting of increasing attacks by Simeon forces, as well as the group encountering more and more allies to help them in their battles, each parodying different traits common in this sort of anime. The episodes are entertaining and in nice, bite-sized chunks, and the over the top characters, the clichés that are lampooned, the wit and the comedy, and the shattering of the fourth wall all makes this great fun, the sort of show that I actually wanted Gurren Lagann to be.
Then along comes disc 2, and with most of the characters in place, we enter a multi-episode arc that sees Eve taken hostage by Simeon and with the heroes having to come up with a plan to rescue her. What ensues is one of those shonen tropes that I had hoped that Needless wouldn’t parody, those episodes spanning fight sequences which slow everything down as characters stand around talking, discussing their next move, or indulging in a poorly placed flashback as the animation budget just ran out.
Needless even devotes an entire episode to a flashback to explain the sudden arrival of two more characters on the scene, only just redeeming itself with a throwaway line at the end of the episode. But it’s a thin punchline to a gag after an episode long setup. What was a fast-paced and punchy comedy becomes thin and drawn-out, and rather than parodying all the shonen tropes, it becomes lost in its own narrative. It should be poking holes in this format, ridiculing the whole concept of stretching things out in this way, rather than aping the most tedious aspects of the genre. Needless begins to feel Endless at this point, which is to its great detriment.
Up to that point though, it’s a great comic diversion, one that had me laughing a lot more than I expected to. It’s full of larger than life characters; a gang of idiotic heroes going up against self-important puffed up villainy, with comic minions as their foot-soldiers. The one redeeming aspect of the final disc is that the bad guys that the heroes are facing are the Simeon Girls, the trio of schoolgirl warriors whose Sapphic appearance in the end credits will ensure much replay of the textless credits, should they appear in Part 2. There’s the brash and tomboyish Setsuna (one of the gags is that she’s a cheap copy of Eve’s character type), the silent Kuchinashi (she writes her lines on a convenient white board, complete with typos), and the exceedingly cute, and unbelievably strong Mio, and the three also provide much comedy value.
Needless is comic parody, fan service and absurdity, self-referential and irreverent in a way that I haven’t seen since Disgaea. Comedies are pretty rare on the ground in the UK, which make checking Needless out a worthwhile endeavour. It’s just that it loses its focus in the second half of this collection. Hopefully it will pull itself together for the second part of the series, returning to the episodic format which allows for greater parody and swifter wit. If you want this on Blu-ray, it’s only available from the US on Region A locked discs, but to be frank its animation isn’t such that it warrants that kind of treatment.