For as long as they can remember, the men of Talark and the women of Meger have never met and have been at war with each other. Each has grown up with the other gender portrayed as monsters and the sexes have never met. When Hibiki Tokai and his two friends find themselves on a ship staffed only by women due to a freak accident, their troubles have only begun as they discover an enemy threat greater than the gender wars and at the same time explore relationships with these...these...women.
This TV series is another offering from Studio Gonzo (which brought us Gatekeepers). The plot itself is quite an interesting one: men and women growing up on separate planets and having to meet for the first time, then being forced to work together to fight a mysterious enemy (that's the corny part).
The focus of the series is of course, Hibiki Tokai - a rather short man with a loud mouth and rude actions. Formerly a mechanic, he finds himself a pilot of a Vanguard, the men's equivalent of a Gundam. He is not the only man on the ship, though. There's bumbling Bart who is forced to pilot the ship for no other reason than being a man (you'll find out why in the second episode), and Duero, the doctor who mirrors Trowa Barton from Gundam Wing up to the hairstyle. Bishie. Yes, definitely bishie material.
The cast of women is also varied in character and personality. Dita, the girl who first found Hibiki, has a crush on him and waits on his hand and foot - biologists can probably find symbiotes easier to separate than these two. Then there's Meia, the leader of the Dread pilots (Dreads are the women's fighter craft) who first strikes you as being rather cold, but later begins to soften. This cast of women would not be complete without the beauty and fame-obsessed Jura, who sees the idea of being with a man as a way to enhance her social standing. And yet, these characters are far from being two-dimensional. Some episodes focus on certain characters and their pasts and sometimes draws hidden feelings or motivations in them.
Though it is rather episodic, the series does have an underlying plot that the cast begins to unravel as the show progresses. It involves a nameless and faceless enemy who attacks with remotely controlled fighters and mecha and is the main 'evil' to the crew. Not all of the focus is here, as most of the story is on the relationships forming between the men and women. There are plenty of jokes involving ideas about the opposite sex (like the girls wondering how men walk around with a "tube" between their legs) that lend an overall comedic awkwardness to their interactions. The female crew is at first opposed to the idea of letting the men on board their ship, but as they begin to interact, they find that their views and opinions begin to change. However, the 13-episode length does not allow for much long-term character development.
Computer graphics are used for the space battle scenes and are absolutely gorgeous. The pace of the battles is fast and exciting, and coupled with stunning effects is enough to silence any criticism from Gundam or Macross fans. After a couple of scenes it manages to give the impression of a massive space battle and yet pay attention to detail. Each Dread pilot flies her own custom design and the craft look sleek as opposed to the men's blocky Vanguards. One interesting concept used is that the Vanguard piloted by Hibiki is later found to be able to merge with any one of the female's Dreads and yields different mecha configurations each time. This allows for different strategies to be used and also makes room for more close proximity jokes (you'll see).
The animation quality is exceptional, and the standard does not drop throughout the series. The design of the ship's bridge and interior is worthy of a Star Trek episode, and CG graphics are blended well into various scenes in the ship.
And yet, there are little bits that annoy. Dita's character is basically carefree and optimistic, but to me she's just dumb and extremely annoying. People who say that superglue doesn't stick should watch her follow Hibiki around. Basically she goes around acting lovable and behaves like a small child stuck in a teen's body. It's no surprise to me that Hibiki yells at her all the time, since I'm already yelling at the screen anyway. Then there's the little girl, Pai, who goes around taking pictures of people and writing things down in her notebook.
The length of the series is one hindrance to character development, although a lot of it does happen. This is where Vandread Second Stage comes in. It was released not long after the end of this series and the plot takes off right at the point where the first left off. In a sense, Vandread is just one big TV series split into two. After watching the second season, you will find that the two fit seamlessly together and the character development is more prominent. When nearing the end of the first season, you can tell that the director intended to do this in the first place, and so viewers can jump right into the Second Stage straight away.
In summary, this is a great space opera anime that I would recommend to fans of Gundam or Macross. However, to get the most out of this series, you should watch it together with Second Stage to get the "full effect".
It's fun, exciting and visually impressive. Come on, people - put down your Gundam and Macross DVDs for once and go for this. Like I said, though, you should watch both seasons if you do. I would give it five stars if Dita would just shut up and grow up. — Enoch Lau
Recommended Audience: If you don't mind a few implied jokes about gender and can tolerate some rough mannerisms from Hibiki, then you can consider this a show suitable for family viewing.
Version(s) Viewed: TV (AXN-Asia), Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Vandread © 2000 Mori Takeshi - GONZO/MEDIA FACTORY - GDH
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