It has been generations since Mars was colonized by Earth, and various colonies have sprung up on its surface and within its seas (no, really). The economy on Mars is in bad shape, and people have begun to find work scarce and life difficult.
Gram River is a skilled mecha worker in one of these colonies, and life seems pretty normal until a series of events finds him on the notorious pirate ship, the Aurora, and making friends with its very un-piratey crew - a gaggle of people who oppose the Earth military for humanitarian reasons. Along the way, he finds out that his old lover is now a pilot for the military (who naturally want to capture the pirates), and that there are people out to exploit the fragile relationship between the two planets for their own gain.
Of course, there's also a quest for treasure!
With ninja titles like Naruto being the popular trend of late (you mean it's still running?), it's nice to see another action title involving their traditional enemies - pirates.
Pirates? Traditional enemies?
Okay, maybe I got that bit wrong. Still, shows about pirates can range from the corny to the pretty exciting (let's leave Orlando Bloom out of this, please), so you can begin to imagine what would happen if we put these pirates on Mars and gave them mecha.
In this particular universe, the mecha of choice are "Round Bucklers", or RBs - humanoid mecha that are only capable of functioning underwater. Sorta like nimble submarines without the awfully large hull, sonar pings and Sean Connery. Gram finds himself in possession of one, and ends up on the Aurora through circumstances that aren't any less unusual. The crew of the ship, pirates as they are, are *not* your traditional idea of Captain Hook and his merry band of, er, pirates.
Mostly because the captain's a muscular woman named Elizabeth. She is impressed by Gram after he almost defeats her in melee combat, and hires him to assist in their "activities" - stealing supplies and materials from the military to give to the poor in the various colonies. As expected, the military doesn't seem too keen on enforced humanitarian aid, especially when it's done by people such as "Shinigami" Yagami, the ace RB pilot with a fearful reputation, Poipoder, the talking dolphin with a powered mecha suit, sentient round robots called BALLS (nicely stating the obvious), and various other quirky characters who are introduced in the course of the show.
Once the plot leaves its tired "gee, I'm poor but I find an awesome robot" beginning, it's immediately evident that the scriptwriters weren't going for a depressing, angsty plot like some other mecha show that's currently running in Japan. That's because Gram isn't a self-important, bratty teenager (but no less hotheaded), and the rest of the cast seem to want have fun more than wage war. Sentiments like these run right through the length of the series, even through the darker bits, and lend a light-hearted feel to most of its storytelling. Most of the characters are enjoyable to watch, and almost no one comes across as being genuinely evil (even though they try hard). There's a touch of romance in the form of Vess, Gram's ex-you-know-what, but this never takes over the plot entirely (which would seem awfully out of place). A couple of characters do tick me off, but not enough to compel me to drive a fork through the screen like during some To Heart ~Remember My Memories~ scenes.
Unfortunately, after a pretty interesting first half, a very obvious transition marks the start of a weaker second arc, which is compounded further with what I felt was a poor and corny ending. It's a letdown, really, as Mars Daybreak has a very interesting setting and an unusual class of mecha.
Speaking of mecha, the RBs show striking similarities with those of Evangelion, but various submarines and vehicles used have an unusual and distinct feel to them, mainly because of their underwater operation. Needless to say, the bubbly action is quite interesting, and the limitations of water combat are exploited quite often. Most of it is also animated well, and many of the RB battles are as exciting as a typical Gundam scene, though they are not the main focus of the title.
Character designs will take some getting used to, though. The rounded look of the characters' faces, akin to those in titles like Peach Girl, helps to keep the comedic feel most of the times, and the overall art quality remains consistent enough to carry it all the way.
To be honest, I don't enjoy any bit of introspective Gundangst that's present in other mecha titles, so Mars Daybreak was a soothing change. However, overall it felt like it was missing pieces of everything, or never developed what could have been expanded on - a crime rarely excusable for a 26-episode series. It's not that there's no closure to plot branches, but more like every side story or event could have been more detailed, or could have been more satisfying. Maybe it was trying to do too much at one time, and ended up doing little memorably.
If anything, we have to give the big-name cast their dues. We see people like Kuwashima Houko (most recently seen as Stellar in Gundam Seed Destiny), Seki Tomokazu, Orikasa Fumiko and various others (look Ma, I'm dropping names!) doing justice to the reputations that precede them. Most manage to voice their characters in the "Hey, we're pirates and we're cool" sort of way, almost coming across as enjoying themselves a tad more than we are.
Mars Daybreak has got almost nothing new under the sun, but it manages to boast pretty good production values and a refreshing spin on the traditional (there I go again) pirate saga. Just don't expect to walk away from this feeling very satisfied, because you probably won't. It is, however, a show to watch when you just want to relax after an exhausting day, long for some light-hearted action, or you have an overwhelming desire to force someone off a long plank.
I'm a bit generous with the rating because though it doesn't push any boundaries, it manages not to show too many of its faults, and the overall experience remains memorable, if not somewhat unsatisfying. Definitely not brain food or for someone looking for more mature entertainment (and I mean that in the wholesome, nutritious way). Minus a star if you don't like action shows or you're a sworn enemy of the pirate. — Enoch Lau
Recommended Audience: Nothing much objectionable here, except for animated violence - things blowing up and such. Maybe some people will object to the pirates stealing things from the military, or characters acting like renegades with their own form of justice. Well, whatever makes you happy.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Mars Daybreak © 2004 BONES / Dentsu Inc. / TV Tokyo
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