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AKA: Adventure of the Patapata Airship, Patapata Airship Adventure, Secret of the Cerulean Sand
Genre: Classic adventure
Length: Television series, 26 episodes, 23 minutes each
Distributor: Currently unlicensed in North America
Content Rating: 10+ (fighting, violence, extremely ruthless villain, death, emotional intensity)
Related Series: N/A
Also Recommended: Castle in the Sky, Nadia: Secret of Blue Water
Notes: Based on the Jules Verne novels Face Au Drapeau ("Facing the Flag") and L'etonnante Aventure de la Mission Barsac ("City in the Sahara").
Rating:
 

Patapata Hikousen no Bouken

Synopsis

Legends of an ancient "floating liquid" convince scholar George Buxton to travel to the Middle East on a quest to discover the mysterious substance. After setting on his trip, word reaches his family that he has been executed after inciting a failed rebellion. Heartbroken and after receiving a mysterious parcel one night, his young sister Jane becomes convinced that he is still alive. With the help of the loyal family butler, she will soon begin the adventure of her lifetime.

Review

Before I get into the heart of my review, I did want to note that the alert viewer who has seen Nadia: Secret of Blue Water will notice some similarities between the Gainax classic and this show. While at first I had assumed that perhaps this Patapata may have been partially inspired by Nadia, after a several hours of research into the Verne novels this show was based on, I'm beginning to think that the similarities between the two might be just incidental because of the common source author. The bulk of the show's main plot does seem to quite heavily derived from the events that unfold in "City In The Sahara" and "Facing The Flag" with many elements being directly drawn from the novels. Heck, even the main villain's somewhat goofy sounding name (which I was sure at first that some Japanese screenwriter made up), Harry Killer, was directly taken from "City In The Sahara". I'm actually curious now as to whether or not Nadia might have been based on partially on some of these other Verne novels rather then just taking elements from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In any event, even if Patapata was in fact partially inspired by Nadia, both shows are excellent, enjoyable in their own right, and different overall experiences.

As I noted above, I found Patapata to be a quite excellent entertainment experience. Generally I like to avoid watching too many episodes of a given show in a row instead trying my best to spread it out, but I was enjoying this show so much that I watched the show as rapidly as I could acquire the episodes to do so. I'm still a bit surprised, to be honest, at how much I enjoyed this show given that the only reason I even began watching it was just because I happened to acquire an episode at random just to see what it was about.

The main reason I enjoyed this show was the characters. Jane is one of the most likable anime heroines I've encountered in a while. She is idealistic, brave, intelligent, and has just the right touch of naivety to set up good character development. In a sense, this show is not just about a journey of a girl to seek her brother, but also the journey of a kind-hearted girl who has to learn about some of the darker aspects of the world at once. This is not to say that this show becomes overly dark or wallows in angst.

In fact Jane's ability to fight off angst without being some Pollyanna is one of the reasons I loved her so much as a character. When she encounters tragedy she does have the realistic reactions of sadness and loss that accompany such occurrences, but she still has a bright spark that keeps her going forward and prevents her from wallowing in angst. This show isn't just about Jane's adventure but also about her learning the adult truths of the world without slipping into cynicism or apathy.

Besides Jane, we have a rich assortment of other characters ranging from her loyal butler to the stoic military captain Marcenay. I was a bit worried when they introduced Saburi, a pickpocket with street smarts, as I've found those types of characters tend to be fairly annoying, but Saburi actually wasn't annoying at all. Heck, even the requisite cute dog, Sky, had a distinctive likable personality without sacrificing his believability as a canine.

Besides the introduction of a number of likable characters, this show did an extremely good job of developing them both in regards to themselves and their interactions with others. Relationships shift and change as characters learn to respect or in some cases, not respect, others for their actions and growth. None of it felt forced and every change was the logical result of events that unfolded and realistic reactions to them.

Even various briefly appearing side characters are brought alive by an unusual attention to characterization. There were characters introduced for just an episode or two that I got to know well enough that I was honestly surprised to see when they were just, in the end, a passing encounter. Many of these minor characters are given the chance to have scenes of surprising emotional integrity.

I should also note that many of the antagonists don't end up being flat either, whether it be as minor characters such as a pair of thieves that briefly appear in some episodes or the show's chief villain, the mysterious Harry Killer. Though he ends up doing a number of extremely brutal and ruthless things, he ends up being somewhat a figure of pity himself. While the show doesn't excuse his evil actions, they don't paint him as some evil demon seed either, but rather a sad individual who did not necessarily have to end up the man he did.

For a show that judging from various elements was aimed at a slightly younger demographic I must admit I was surprised by both how directly and frankly they dealt with the subject of death. In the first episode alone two people die (though from natural causes) and there are a number of deaths as the adventure progresses especially toward the end. None of these are graphic, in fact you rarely actually see the death, but the show also dealt rather well with the reality that death is part of life, albeit a sad and emotional one. There are a number of extremely good scenes related to that theme.

One of the other aspects of this show I found appealing was that it presenting an engrossing classic adventure set in an interesting slightly alternate history world. While the show is a bit coy about being too specific on dates on places, the general setting is obviously the 19th century, and once Jane leaves her home country (which I assumed to be England) we find her trekking through the deserts sands of North Africa and Asia Minor. I only call it alternate history just because the show uses many types of interesting fictional vehicles such as gigantic iron clad steam powered sand battle ships before even considering the mysterious floating liquid and its capabilities.

While even excluding the science fiction elements this show was obviously not historically accurate, I found that the writers were unusually interested in maintaining the general integrity of their fictional historical world. Despite the obvious fact that the spoken language of the show was Japanese, they still made an effort to make the obviously Western characters write with Western alphabets for instance. There is one scene were they encounter some kanji and they can only translate it because there is a member of the group that happens to be part Korean (well I assumed he was Korean given his surname). We also have the example of Jane, who is intelligent and because of her brother good at mechanical matters, but she is still a sheltered daughter of an aristocrat and has various holes in her knowledge and ability. There are a number of other small touches like that that I appreciated.

While they had a few elements that were a bit overly Japanese for the setting (I'm not sure if cutting your hair has the same meaning in Turkish tribal culture for instance) or slightly out of place, I appreciated that the writers were doing their best to maintain the feel of this show as a sort of classic 19th century adventure. The design of many of the vehicles even the retro-steam punk airships that are "futuristic" in the context of the show's setting seemed to fit in. This show does an excellent job of being "classic" science fiction, in that sense. While when one thinks about the technology of our 21st century and looks at what they have in the show, it doesn't seem all that impressive, the atmosphere, writing, and characterization of the show help the viewer understand the character's sense of wonderment as they go through their travels and encounter so many unusual inventions, people, and events.

The pacing on this show was rather interesting. It actually starts out a bit slow and the main character isn't even born until halfway through the first episode. They spend the first few episodes showing the Buxton household and its individual members as they will all play intimate parts in the events that unfold over the next twenty six episodes. I'll admit that some people might find the opening episodes a bit slow, but I found that the character development offered by these enhanced the overall experience of the show. After that point, the show offers enough minor adventures and encounters to help point to some of the mysteries of the show while giving us a bit more insight into Jane and some of her associates. I will note that the identity of Harry Killer, which was played like it should be mystery, is pretty blatantly obvious in my opinion even to a younger viewer though I still think they did a good job of maintaining the dramatic tension concerning that plot point especially in regards to Jane.

Patapata is more about adventure and characters than theme, but they do manage to touch on a few thematic issues ranging from the relationship between morality and technology to the economic exploitation of others. The issues are raised more as they relate to Jane than any deep exploration of the issue, but they are present and many are still quite topical when discussing applications of today's technology or the nature of success at the cost of exploiting others.

I liked what they did with the music of this show. Most of the background music was orchestral and fit in perfectly with the general desert adventure atmosphere of the show. I'll admit since I watched so many of the episodes in rapid succession, some of the music got a bit overly familiar, but I still thought it was good for setting mood. The opening and ending themes aren't particularly spectacular in and of themselves, but I did feel the somewhat rousing opening theme was perfect for capturing the overall mood of the show.

The visual aspects of this show were a bit unusual. Almost all the background work was done with CGI and is surprisingly well integrated. Though character designs tend toward a bit more on the simpler side, they were also individually quite distinctive. This show demonstrated an unusual diversity of basic character design. The 2D animation work tended to be fine and many of the action scenes featuring small vehicles (such as the some of the sand yachts featured early on) are well done.

I wish I could say the same for some of the vehicles done with CGI. While the design work itself is fine, many of the vehicles, particularly the larger airships are not well integrated with the rest of the artwork and their movement is not smooth. Honestly that is one of the few negative points about this show and I enjoyed all the other aspects so much that I'm willing to overlook it.

One of the most enjoyable series I've watched in a while. A classic adventure populated with a large number of likable characters, interesting locales, and a good balance of exciting successes and sad failures. This show is mainly an old-fashioned adventure centered around Jane and despite some brief philosophical questions raised, isn't particularly deep in terms of thematic issues. If you are the kind of person who wants your anime to explore deep existential questions subtract a star. I also suppose if you like your anime a bit more directly brutal or dark, subtract a star. Jeremy A Beard

Recommended Audience: There is a lot of fighting, though you see very few occurrences of people actually being killed on screen. As I noted above there are several deaths that occur in this show including some major characters toward the end. There is one instance of brief rear nudity but there is nothing remotely sexual about the scene. Harry Killer is extremely ruthless and this is demonstrated rather directly toward the end of the show. While this is all a bit too intense for young children, I feel it should be fine for older children. In fact, I think this show would make a wonderful "family" show for both the kids and the parents to enjoy and discuss.



Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Patapata Hikousen no Bouken © 2001 Telecom Animation Film / TMS / Wowow / Koko / Sega / ZET