Released by: Madman Entertainment.
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 (anamorphic)
Disc 1: 'Deceptions'
Take one part fairy tale, two parts cold war era spy thriller, colour with self deprecating humour and shake, not stir, until the series begins to gell. Add a dash of English dubbing with genuine English accents to finish and serve in four DVD sized portions. The end result is pretty much L/R.
In many ways it is easier to tell you what the series isn't. It isn't particularly serious, no deep plot-lines or contemplations on humanity's place within the cosmos emerge. What you do have is a nice riff on the James Bond vibe where an odd couple of secret agents work for the royal family of one very ficticious country (Ishtar) to preserve law, order and the need for a shot of whiskey plus a cigarette at the end of the day. To accomplish that an arsenal of dry wit, humorous banter and a startling array of disguises & gadgets is required. The show runs a fine line between completely not taking itself seriously and still having the odd poignant moment as characters grapple with the choices they have made in life.
In fine odd couple fashion one agent, Jack Hofner, is precise and composed while his partner, Rowe Rickenbacker, is very much more laid back but brings a quick witted thinking on his feet capability to the team. And as team they are always backing each other up - just never ask which one of them is L and which is R! Providing logistical support is Claire Penny-lane (yes the Beatles references are intentional) who also frets when the two are late and Des the technical wizard whose inventions are life savers but somehow never quite seem to work exactly as planned. Running Cloud Seven, as they collectively are known, is Mister - the gruff boss who expects results but behind the scenes works hard to back his team.
It is a setup that we have all seen before many times and largely the political machinations of DTi (the largest corporation in Ishtar), the protesting Ivory inhabitants (who have been exploited mercilessly by both DTi and the royal family before them) as well as the series running plot line about the fifteen year princess all play out largely as you expect. If you go into the series expecting new twists on the old formula then most likely you will be disappointed - especially if you listen to the series in Japanese. This is a series which very much is character driven and carried by the nuance of vocal performance. As such I have to say the English dub simply blows the Japanese dub out of the water. Keeping very much in tone with where the series is pitching itself the ADR producer has been brave with this series and let the actors expand their roles by not slavishly following the exact translation of the script. All the plot points are maintained but room is given for the banter to be altered to work correctly in English.
The end result is an English dub that is light and maintains the fun tone of the series while still hitting all the right notes when it gets dramatic. It helps that the series is so clearly drawing on a British vibe that the accents work perfectly. Jack's slightly plummy and well ennunciated tones contrast nicely against Rowe's less formal more working class speech patterns. We also get plenty of cameos who provide memorable performances, indeed Mr Bubbles with his special watch cracks me up every time I see it. This really is a series that even the sub purists should watch, at least once, in English.
One other unusual thing to note with the series is the off-beat opening episode. Our heroes don't overtly appear on screen till pretty much the end of the episode giving you little time to appreciate their character and relationship. While I appreciate the structure of the episode, in particular the way in which it feels like a Mission : Impossible caper being seen without knowing what the plan was till the very end, I do have to wonder how many TV viewers in Japan never gave the series a second chance thanks to this enigmatic start. There isn't a lot of hook laid out here to invite people to come back.
There are two other detracting factors to the series. First is that one of the major plot lines that runs through the series uses a signature tune. When marathoning the series, which is all too easy to do when you have a box set, the tune does begin to set your teeth on edge a little at the repetition of it. When watched one episode at a time with a weeks seperation as it was intended then I imagine this isn't nearly such an issue. Secondly the series is a whole bunch of fun but by series end you realise that while the lights have been on, the stereo is running and the fire has been lit there just isn't anyone at home. In essence it is a nice bit of animated fluff just never mistake it for anything more than that. Mind you for plain fluff episode four, 'Sweet Enemies in the Same Desert', takes a lot of beating for being a comedy episode that pokes a lot of fun at the conventions the series itself plays to.
Technicaly we have very little to grumble about, a nice solid 16:9 transfer. 2.0 soundtracks for both languages and a smattering of extras round out the package. Given that the whole series can be bought in boxset form for around NZ$64 then it is pretty good value for money too. All in all I really enjoyed this series, it certainly isn't something that should be in everyones anime collection but it does deserve to be in many collections. It is just good clean suave fun!