April 27, 2005 on 10:04 pm | In Vandread | Comments Off on Vandread

In the future, men and women have had a falling out … to the point where they have split planets and are perpetually at war. The men live on Tarak and the women on Mejale. Tarak babies are produced in factories, and Mejale babies are produced internally by some scientific process with special words that probably make sense to someone.
This is not their story, but it is the context from which this story springs.

Vandread opens with the Tarak forces launching a new space station filled with new ships known as vanguards. Only moments after lift-off, they are set upon by pirates – female pirates! Realising that the old part of their station has been lost, the Tarak jettison it, leaving the pirates and three unfortunate male stow-aways on board. The Tarak blast the old station with a “Paksis” beam, which does not destroy it but rather fuses it with the pirates’ ship. The Paksis also changes several key areas of the ship, including the engine and all of the mech units on board.
Escaping in their new ship, the Nirvana, the pirates keep the men prisoner but realise in time that the unique services offered by the trio are necessary for smooth running: Hibiki on vanguard, Bart as the helmsman, and Duero as doctor (women of the future can make children by themselves, but cannot perform medical checks without machines). They also realise that the new vanguards can combine with the women’s dreads to form ultra powerful vandreads.
This is useful, because they also have the matter of attacks from unknown alien forces to contend with!

The story of Vandread is developed fairly well, with this thirteen episode series tightly directed and featuring a cute Christmas episode (beware SF anime with nice Christmas episodes!). The final three are quite dramatic and conclude fairly well, then do that classic “lead-in to a sequel” that everyone loves so much (Second Stage followed soon thereafter). The only point of contention is that the final dramatic push is set into motion on a fundamentally flawed premise that involves wild character irrationalities. Still, this amounts to less than half an episode and can be overlooked; the majority of Vandread is fun with a splash of intrigue simmering in the background.

Much is made of the fact that this is a war of the sexes; while there is tension on the ship, it is not to the extent that one might expect. The men and women featured in Vandread are all atypical of the society they live in: the women are pirates, and the men are all outcasts in Tarak. Standard Mejale and Tarak would kill each other on sight; naturally, this would not make for a great series.
Interestingly, in a society that would by default suggest all of its members are homosexual, there are only a few clearly defined lesbians. Men on Tarak have conversations along the lines of “When this is all over, what say we make a baby together?” “A baby with you? That sounds like a great idea!”.

Despite the large cast of women, there are clearly defined important characters: the core Dread team of Jura, Dita and Meia; pirate captain and sole old woman Magno (more commonly referred to as “Old Hag”); and Hibiki. Duero and Bart have important roles as well, but they get significantly less screen time, as does ship mascot Pyoro.
Dita is the old-fashioned enthusiastic, dedicated-to-one-guy girl who cheers the ship with her endless vitality. She also has feelings and is not completely oblivious to those of Hibiki. Meia has her own past and Jura is an excellent comedy foil as well as sometime lesbian.
Hibiki is plagued by class-consciousness, an inferiority complex and an impatience when it comes to women. Yet somehow he manages to have a heart of gold and a stomach of cast iron. He is a character that has self doubts without being a whiney crybaby.

The OP and ED are perhaps too dramatic for their own good, with the ED sounding like the equivalent of an aural drowning. This is a Gonzo program, so it is packed with CG. The amazing thing is that the CG is actually quite good, as TV of this 2000 period really shouldn’t have had much CG thrown into it. The action scenes look pretty damned nice; not much TV seems to do the CG kick lately (that I have seen, anyway), and in many cases it seems pretty … lame … but Vandread pulls it off elegantly due to its lack of attempts to blend: every scene is either all 2D or all CG. The characters are really quite attractive, and there’s quite a bit of bounce going on. This is fan service at the high class level it was before the modern saturation point.

Vandread is the right sort of anime, created at a time before this sort of anime went bad. The level of fan service is just right, the characters are fun and the CG is surprisingly not bad at all. Add in a little bit of drama, and some excellenté discussions of the rights of orangutans in space and you’ve got a nice series to watch.

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