Review for Martian Successor Nadesico DVD Complete Collection
Can you believe that there is now a retro scene in anime? It used to be that there were the perennial favourites, mostly the films like Akira and Ghost in the Shell that would never be allowed to go out of print, but for the lesser films, and most of the television series, it was a case of limited licenses. A Western distributor would find an interesting title, licence it, dub it and create some subtitles, source some extras, and put it all out on disc. This license would have a set life span, in which the distributor might run off some more discs, re-release it in boxset form, and try and make as much money out of it as possible. Once the licence lapsed, it would either be lost in the veils of history, or the distributor might re-license it to sell some more of the same discs. Of course if that distributor went under, another distributor might rescue that licence, but the bottom line is that the series itself would only see one release in terms of video and audio transfer, no matter how it may be re-packaged.
The last couple of years though have seen the development of a viable retro scene in anime, and it’s not just the timeless classics that get spruced up to take advantage of current display technologies. It isn’t just the Akiras and the Ninja Scrolls that are getting re-mastered for HD. What used to be seen as disposable entertainment has truly come of collector age. People want their old favourites in the best of modern technology, something increasingly viable for older shows that were originally shot on film. Next year the UK will see the Blu-ray release of Cowboy Bebop, and Japan has been leading the way in re-visiting older shows to see what new life can be breathed into them. The US has also been following this trend, and in some cases leading it, using new transfers when they become available from Japan, and in some cases funding them where they aren’t forthcoming. Discotek Media has been a leading light in the retro scene, bringing plenty of cult classics to DVD with new transfers and added extras, shows of the sort that you may have thought lost to the VHS age.
TRSI too have been revisiting classic shows with new transfers, most notably with their Utena re-release. Recently, when TRSI picked up some of ADVs back catalogue for re-release, titles such as Dirty Pair and Gasaraki, rather than simply re-releasing those ADV masters on their label, they instead invested some time and money in getting the latest masters from Japan, delivering image and sound quality of the like that the Western markets had not seen. These license rescues mean that I still have a chance to see shows that I had missed out on the first time around, and one show that I have long wanted to see is Martian Successor Nadesico, and not just because its director has gone on to direct the brilliant, and forthcoming to the UK, Bodacious Space Pirates. I’ll review the movie disc after I review the series, so scroll down if you want that.
They came from beyond Jupiter, the alien invaders dubbed Jovian Lizards. At the end of the 22nd Century, the alien robots attacked Mars, and overwhelmed the human fleet. Mankind abandoned its colonies in space and retreated to Earth, where they could mount some sort of defence against the attack. And there humanity remained, fending off the invaders as best they could. For the Nergal Corporation, that just isn’t good business, so they create the Nadesico, the most advanced spaceship that humanity has ever built, intending to take the fight back to the Jovian Lizards, defending the space colonies where the Earth’s military has failed to do so. But this business has some unique recruitment standards for its prized starship’s crew, including an anime dub voice actress, a disgruntled secretary, a slightly psychopathic mechanic, an anime fan turned mecha pilot, and a mecha pilot turned trainee chef, and as ship’s captain, a ditzy rich girl.
Captain Yurika Misumaru was born and raised on Mars, and she grew up with trainee chef Akito Tenkawa. What’s more, their shared past gives them both sufficient reason to want to return to Mars, especially as Akito was there when the aliens attacked an underground shelter, an attack in which he was somehow the sole survivor. But just getting the Nadesico off the ground will be a challenge, especially as the Earth’s military has no intention of leaving the most advanced ship ever constructed in the hands of such reprobates.
This Complete Collection of Martian Successor Nadesico collects all 26 episodes, the feature film, and for the first time in the West, the Gekigangar OVA, all on seven discs, plus some tantalising extra features.
1. To Go “Like a Man”!
2. Leave the “Blue Earth” to Me!
3. A “Goodbye” That Came Too Soon
4.”Charmed” by Sky Blue Space
5. Ruri’s Navigation Logs
6. Sort of Like a “Fateful Decision”
7. “The Song” That You Will Sing One Day
8. The Lukewarm “Cold Equation”
9. The Miracle Operation of “The Kiss”?
10. The Dangers of “Femininity”
11. Finding Yourself in a “Routine Plot”
12. Those “Unforgettable Days”
13. There is no “Single Truth”
14. Let’s Go With “Hot Blooded Anime”
15. The “Significant Other” From a Star Far Away
16. The Beginning of “Nadesico’s War”
17. It Was “A Reunion That Came Too Late”
18. The Sound of Water is “My” Sound
19. You’re the Next “Captain” of the Nadesico!
20. “Run” Silent, “Run” Deep
21. The “Meadows” We Once Ran Across
22. Protect the “Visitor”?
23. A Place We Call “Home”
24. Ubiquitous “Righteousness”
25. “Being Myself”, Being Yourself!
26. “For the Lady We Will Meet Someday”
The Martian Successor Nadesico television series gets a 4:3 regular transfer on these NTSC discs. I never saw the original release from ADV films, although I did catch the trailer on some ADV discs, indicating a show typical of the era, late nineties/early 2000s, with an obvious videotape source, soft image, and very oversaturated colours. For Martian Successor Nadesico, the Japanese company went back to the original material and created a new transfer from the ground up for a Blu-ray release. TRSI are yet to release their first Blu-ray so in the West we only see the re-mastered show on DVD, and it’s a revelation. Martian Successor Nadesico now obviously exhibits the traits of the film that it is sourced from, although any print damage and dirt has been cleaned up. The film has a nice layer of grain, the hand painted anime cels exhibit the unevenness and flicker that you would expect from such, and detail levels are high. The colours look very natural in this incarnation, and at no point overpower the image.
That said, Martian Successor Nadesico’s transfer is an interlaced one on these discs, and as such the image is prone to some aliasing artefacts, while pans and scrolls aren’t as smooth as they could be. It’s one of those things that you have to tune out at the start of each episode, although it’s really only noticeable when scaled up on an HD panel. Smaller screens should be fine. This is a sci-fi anime that exhibits a whole lot of imagination, blending the show’s starship adventures and giant robot combat sequences with a future world setting that creates a very agreeable whole. The character designs are memorable if not exactly unique, and as so often happens in anime, the budget seems to tail off in the middle of the run, but the show is never less than watchable.
You have the choice between DD 5.1 and 2.0 Japanese, as well as the DD 2.0 English dub from the old ADV release. I gave the dub a try, and was immediately hit with one of the characters sounding like a muppet, which instantly dated this dub to the bad old days. Fortunately, the original Japanese audio is a lot more amenable, especially with the surround mix bringing out the action and the music of the show, although the dialogue remains mostly front and centre. The Japanese voice performances still sound fresh, while the show gets a couple of very memorable theme songs. The subtitles are free of error and accurately timed.
Martian Successor Nadesico gets a very nice chipboard artbox in which the four thinpack cases are held. Three of the thinpacks holds two discs apiece, one on each face of the case, with the final case holding just one. There’s a loose paper blurb sheet at the back, held by the cellophane wrapping that details what’s in the collection.
Each disc presents its contents with static menus, which load up following a trailer for the Rightstuf.com website. Each disc also has trailers for other TRSI releases, including Dirty Pair, The Dirty Pair OVAs, Gasaraki, Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars, Revolutionary Girl Utena – Student Council Saga, Sound of the Sky, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Rental Magica, Boogiepop Phantom, Gakuen Alice, The Third: The Girl With The Blue Eye, Dirty Pair Flash, Antique Bakery, and Maria Watches Over Us – Season 1.
Each episode has its original language credits, so is instead followed by a white text on black translated English credit scroll that lasts a minute. Note that if you select English audio for the show, the episodes will be preceded by a caption informing that following the broadcast version of the show, some scenes were reanimated, and that the English dub may not always sync up with the re-mastered series.
Disc 1 has the clean opening credits, while Disc 2 has the clean closing credits.
The rest of the extras are on disc 7, and it gets a lot more than the average anime release, beginning with the Gekigangar 3 OVA. Through the series, the crew of the Nadesico are revealed to be anime fans, and are often shown watching the Gekigangar 3 giant robot anime. The OVA on disc 7 is presented to Western fans for the first time here, lasts 29 minutes, and is in 4:3 with subtitled Japanese audio only. It follows the conceit of Akito and friends going to the cinema to watch the Gekigangar movie and it turns out to be a poor man’s Evangelion: Death and Rebirth. The first half of the OVA is a clip show that showcases all the snippets shown in the series, while the second half is original animation for the OVA.
Welcome to Belle Equipe lasts 45 minutes, and serves as introduction to the show, with the characters of Ruri and Yurika commenting over scenes to introduce the Nadesico universe without revealing too many spoilers. This is intermixed with live action footage of interviews with the voice cast, Yumi Matsuzawa, the singer of the opening theme, and the creators of the show.
Nadesico Sorekara lasts 22 minutes, and is a promotional piece for the movie. It begins with a recap of the series in full, so avoid if you haven’t seen the series yet. There then follows a stage promotional event, followed by some brief interviews with the movie cast.
There are around 4 minutes of TV spots for the series, as well as 4 minutes worth of other promotional videos for the soundtrack CDs and the like.
Finally there is what is listed as Interviews with the Japanese Cast. These are actually 7 brief pieces of to camera material from the voice actors, running to about 90 seconds in length in average, and these accompanied the Japanese laser disc releases. Here you get everything in one lump for each actor, but originally they would have introduced each disc of episodes, and signed off at the end, and for six of the seven discs, would have popped up to tell the viewer to turn the disc over.
They just don’t make shows like this anymore. Today anime for the most part is a collection of tried and trusted clichés, tropes and character stereotypes, all held together loosely by a narrative. It’s anime built by committee to appeal to a very niche and confined audience base, very rarely straying beyond its bounds, and very rarely appealing to anyone outside that target demographic. It’s hard to remember that there was a time when anime was created to appeal to wide audiences, and that narrative was a more important factor than the fan service. Martian Successor Nadesico has the clichés and tropes to be sure, it even has a swimsuit episode, but the story comes first, and it’s a stellar one.
It’s also a story that is prone to spoiling if I go into too much detail, so forgive me if I remain circumspect, especially about the second half of the series. The show starts off innocuously enough, following the prologue that sets up the main protagonist as having survived the Jovian invasion of Mars, and with humanity retreated to Earth, fighting a faltering defence against further Jovian incursions. We meet up with Akito again, this time working as a cook on Earth trying to forget his past life. With the military content to forget the other solar colonies and intent on defending the Earth alone, it’s actually the corporate world that decides to take the fight back to the Jovians, and the Nergal Corporation begins by constructing the Nadesico, the most advanced spaceship yet built.
They need a crew for the ship, and they obviously can’t ask the military, as they would just co-opt the ship for themselves. They wind up recruiting the unlikeliest of crew, to help take back Mars from the Jovians, and given Akito’s past, he’d be ideal as a mecha pilot. He only agrees to go as an assistant chef in the galley, but there’s no doubt that he will have to face his past. When the ship’s captain turns out to be an utter ditz named Yurika, who Akito grew up with on Mars, that confrontation with the past comes sooner rather than later, especially as Yurika is convinced that Akito is in love with her. Throw in a disgruntled secretary, a former voice actress, a sardonic operations officer with a mysterious past, a psychopathic mechanic, and a fighter pilot who finds inspiration in anime, and you have the most mismatched crew in history, and the seeds for a goofy comedy action adventure that doesn’t seem all that promising at the start of the series. Truth be told, the goofiness and comic tone is never far from proceedings, but as Martian Successor Nadesico unfolds, it quickly reveals that it is far more than the sum of its parts.
Initially, the war with the Jovians feels like a game, especially as all that the enemy sends into battle are unmanned robots and spaceships. There’s no internal conflict for the characters as they battle a faceless enemy, and soon Akito too is inspired by the same anime that fellow mecha pilot Gai is a fan of. Gekigangar is an old giant robot anime that espouses justice, freedom, self sacrifice and loyalty, and these aspects of this fictional show are easy for Akito to identify with as he faces the Jovians in his own Aestivalis mecha. It’s all fun and games with few consequences, even though the Nadesico has to flout Earth orders and go against the military, to escape the Earth and help the colonies that Earth has abandoned. And then a dose of reality hits in episode 3 when one of the crew is killed, and it isn’t the Jovians that are responsible.
That is how Nadesico continues. It’s still an anime for a broad audience, and most episodes will comprise of comedy and silliness, interspersed with action and excitement, but every so often it will throw a bucket of cold reality over proceedings, which serves to kick the viewer in the gut, and make them pause for thought. The comedy comes from the unconventional crew and their interpersonal relationships, as well as the idea of serving on a military ship with a corporate command structure. It wouldn’t be much of an anime comedy without a harem, and it isn’t long before Akito inexplicably picks up a gaggle of female admirers. Most episodes will continue in a light and humorous vein that will appeal to a wide viewer base, but the fact of the matter is that they are fighting in a war, and that war does take its toll, win or lose. In episode 5 Yurika, who up to that point has been something of a figurehead leader, has to make her first real decision as a captain, that of saving the lives of innocents, or saving her own ship, and the pragmatism is another dose of reality that you just don’t expect in a light, frothy comedy.
Then halfway through the show, the true nature of the Jovian menace is revealed, and the whole tenor changes, and changes for the better. The light comedy is still there, but the narrative becomes a lot more complex and intricate, with layers of meaning and allegory, and the challenges that the characters face, become a lot more conflicting and heart-wrenching. Nadesico has a lot to say about the nature of war, about how wars are sold to the public, the way that information is twisted and manipulated, and how nothing is as it appears to be. Into this all, it also throws in some compelling sci-fi concepts and some excellent character development. And yet it all appears to revolve around a fictional anime show that the characters love to watch. Incidentally, Nadesico has one of the best recap episodes I have seen in anime. The recap episode is that staple of the anime year, the animators’ week off, when they put together a clip show summarising the story so far. In Martian Successor Nadesico, the characters are shown often watching the Gekigangar anime. For the clip show, the Gekigangar characters are shown watching clips from the Nadesico anime.
Martian Successor Nadesico is a great sci-fi anime which gets better with each successive episode, leading to one of the most satisfying conclusions in anime. It’s got it all; action, sci-fi, comedy, romance, politics, and tragedy, with a cast of very engaging characters, all with a surprisingly mature take to its story, despite a very appealing tendency towards silliness. It’s an anime Swiss Army Knife, does a little of everything, and Bodacious Space Pirates has a lot to live up to when it comes to its predecessor. After 15 years, the new transfer sourced by TRSI isn’t perfect, but it’s a world away from the old ADV release, with a clearer, more filmic image.
Nadesico the Movie: The Prince of Darkness Introduction
Just as it is today, so it was before, that popular anime shows would get feature spin-offs to satisfy fan fervour for the show, or just for the chance for the creators to milk their cash cow a little further. The exploitation form would usually result in edited together versions of the television episodes, while fan loyalty would often be rewarded with all new stories featuring their favourite characters, or sequels revealing what happened after the ‘happily ever after’. Nadesico the Movie: The Prince of Darkness is an example of the latter, but it feels more like the former. It was released to Japanese cinemas in 1998, over a year after the television series concluded, and is presented here as disc 6 of the Martian Successor Nadesico collection.
Four years have passed since the events of the Martian Successor Nadesico series. Ruri is now the Captain of the Nadesico B, and Yurika and Akito are missing, presumed dead. But the war is over, and the solar system is united. Humanity is tentatively working together to explore the universe, and at the heart of their expansion plans is the Hisago project, a massive construction in outer space centred on several colonies. When the colonies come under attack by a rumoured Ghost Robot, the Nadesico is sent to investigate. What Ruri finds is a hidden conspiracy, centred on the disappearances of boson jumpers that began with Yurika and Akito’s loss. Boson Jump technology is still the golden goose that will determine the future of mankind, and this time there is a new faction, the Martian Successors, who look set to plunge the solar system back into war. To stop them, Ruri will need a better ship, and she’ll need to put together the old Nadesico crew.
I had read somewhere that this release of the Nadesico movie was a progressive transfer. Alas, on closer inspection, it turns out that this 1.85:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer is anything but, and it’s just as interlaced and prone to jerkiness as the television episode discs. Worse, it exhibits significant compression in the form of pixellation at shade boundaries, particularly in colours towards the red end of the spectrum. Borders around reds have a checkerboard effect which is quite distracting, and I was surprised by the layer change as I was convinced this would be a single-layer disc.
It’s a very poor transfer given that there is a theatrical quality budget on this film, giving it the full space opera scope that it needs, lots of action, imaginative world designs, and very appealing spaceship designs. The new Nadesico looks fantastic, and is a world away from the simplistic images of the television series (it’s like the difference between the TV Enterprise and the one in Star Trek the Motion Picture). The action sequences are very strong, imaginative and fluidly animated, while the character designs are familiar from the series, but have the extra motion and expressiveness fitting of a feature film. Once again it’s a shame that the image quality of the disc is so abysmal.
Fortunately the same isn’t true for the audio, with the film offering DD 5.1 English and Japanese, with optional subtitles and a signs only track. It’s a full-blooded surround experience this time, with discrete placement of dialogue and effects, while the theatrical music score envelops the viewer and drives the emotion of the film. I only listened to the original language track, and found the subtitles accurately timed and free of error.
The most substantial extra on this disc is the 5-minute Yumi Matsuzawa music video for the film’s theme song “Dearest”. Otherwise you’ll find a brief promo for that single, and similarly short trailers for the movie.
I hate sequels like this. There ought to be a law against cruelty towards fictional characters. It’s as if they said, “Hey, Yurika and Akito. You know we gave you that ambiguous, but romantic happily ever after at the end of the series? Well, we were just kidding about that. Have four years of torment and anguish instead. And then, when the movie comes around, we’ll make it even worse!” No matter how good the story may turn out to be, how satisfying the movie experience, if you have at all invested in the characters, it’s bound to feel like a betrayal.
But this movie is about the new Captain of the Nadesico, Ruri Hoshino, not so much about Akito and Yurika. Except Ruri is no longer the dry sarcastic kid from the show, she’s grown up to be a somewhat bland and non-descript Captain, and with her comes a whole new crew. We have to get to know her dandy-esque second in command, and bratty and androgynous ship’s operator over the course of the film, and given the density of plot and exposition, there isn’t really enough time to appreciate these new characters.
It is an interesting plot though, cloak and dagger, a little mystery, conspiracies and plots, and the return of an old threat, tied into the adventure that the original Nadesico experienced in the series. The problem is that the film is just far too short at eighty minutes to develop this story, especially as the final half of the film is devoted to the sort of fan service that fans of the series expect, a series of character cameos to make sure that everyone in the TV show gets a name-check and a little screen time in which to shine.
The Prince of Darkness is like a lot of disappointing anime film sequels in that respect, in that the plot dissolves into incoherence in a deluge of character cameos to satisfy long term fans, which in the final analysis really satisfies no one. The film is of theatrical quality though, and the upgrade to the big screen really does suit the world of Nadesico fine. It looks epic, and the action sequences do satisfy. The story does not, and what it does to the characters is heart-breaking.
The film may not be up to much, and its video quality is certainly lacking, but if you just think of it as a bonus to the series, then this collection is a must have. The Martian Successor Nadesico series is an excellent slice of life sci-fi, which gets the balance between comedy and drama just right. It has a cast of very appealing characters, some sharp and witty writing, and it builds and builds to a worthy climax without ever putting a foot wrong. It comes with an impressive selection of extras in a nice sturdy box, and the re-mastered version that TRSI present here, while not perfect, is certainly a massive leap up over the old ADV release trailers that I have seen.