Photon vol. 1
Mike Toole rates it:
Remember Photon? The predecessor to Laser Tag that started with mall-based "arenas", continued with toys and shit, and ended with a lame live-action TV show? Well, prepare yourself, because this show has nothing to do with that at all.
Photon opens with a mysterious, beautiful girl fleeing from a powerful attacker in her spaceship. She's forced to bail (after an amusingly-gratuitous sequence in which she searches herself for an electronic bug) and ends up crashing on a dusty, desert planet on the edge of civilized space. Hey, that sounds really familiar!
Fortunately, the similarity to Star Wars doesn't really go beyond that point. Meanwhile on the incredibly creatively-named Sandy Planet, an obnoxious, pink-haired farm girl is rushing off to court her favorite pop singer. This girl, Aun, happens to be the village chief's daughter, however. Enlisted to go and retrieve her is a certain Photon Earth, a baby-faced, nearly silent young man.
Photon eventually rescues Aun (who exhibits the most curious ability to stop time immediately around her-- only Photon is unaffected), but she ends up bolting the next morning. And before he can catch her again, she knocks him into a deep crevice.
You'd think that Photon would fall to his death and that would be that, but the thing is, Photon seems to be completely indestructible. That's not quite it, though, he simply seems... inert, somehow. Aun's time-stopping power doesn't affect him, he's virtually immune from physical harm, and even energy blasts don't do much more than knock him over.
However, at the bottom of the pit, Photon discovers the fugitive from the beginning of the show. Asleep. Naked. Photon is pleasantly naive, so he just curls up next to her and goes to sleep, whereupon she wakes up. She's not very happy to be naked in bed with a foul-smelling stranger, so she attacks Photon. Her name is Keyne, and she ends up being totally taken aback at Photon's casual resilience to her attacks, not to mention oddly charmed by his earnestness. She also thinks she's married to him, but that's a subplot that's too hilarious to spoil by talking about it.
Keyne's revival, however, attracts the attention of Papacha, the imperial attacker from the beginning of the show. He blasts off for Sandy Planet, with cheerfully-oblivious girlfriend and bizarre cloned henchmen (called "Pochis") in tow. Upon arriving, however, he's baffled and annoyed by the hicks that populate Sandy Planet, and enlists the aid of... Aun, no less, who turns out to have such a forceful personality that soon even Papacha's eating out of her hand.
Of course, the two duos eventually meet, and Photon is thrown into battle against Papacha. He just kind of shrugs it off, and spends most of his time watching out for Keyne and Aun, who decide that sharing Photon between themselves is absolutely out of the question. This is shades of Tenchi Muyo (not surprising, since Photon has the same creative staff), but fortunately, Photon is a bit more decisive (and a lot tougher) than Tenchi ever was. He doggedly protects both girls, stoically ignoring their bickering and demands to choose which one he prefers.
That's why I like Photon-- the title character's just a good fella. He's honest, helpful, strong as an ox, cannot be killed by conventional weapons, and he also sleeps in a drawer. But that's not the only reason to like Photon-- the animation is smooth and sumptuous, the harmonica-driven soundtrack is catchy, and the supporting cast are also a lot of fun. Aun is a little annoying, but the comically-unthreatening Papacha is a great villain, Keyne makes for some nice eye candy, and the relentlessly helpful Pochis have their moments, as well.
The box for Photon advises that is has "brief nudity", and I guess this is true if, by "brief", you mean "about five minutes". Keyne seems to spend about half of the show naked, and a good part of that is spent stripping down the reeking Photon and hurling his naked ass into a bath. Papacha spends several minutes prancing around after being interrupted in bed, his manhood only hidden by a floating black dot. Even Aun takes a brief swim in a well. But I don't generally complain too much about pointless nudity, and Photon's no exception.
I was surprised at how well-acted the dub was, particularly Scott Cargle's Photon-- he projects the same kindly earnestness that the character does onscreen, it's a nice fit. Also good is Suzy Prue's Keyne-- she has a deep, sultry voice that does the character justice. There's even a song by Aun's favorite singer and his girlfriend (who, tragically, is not Aun), which is inexplicably left untranslated-- no dubbed singing, and no subtitles. Kind of unfortunate, because the song (which seemed to be a duet about love) sounded pretty hilarious to me.
It looks like Photon's another winner. It's a successful and entertaining departure from the classic Tenchi formula. It's consistently very funny, has engaging characters and good production values, and is even dubbed decently. This is one show that definitely deserves DVD treatment, and soon. The only real strike against it is that it's not particularly innovative, but I can't really grumble about it too much-- Photon is zany and funny, and doesn't require a lot of concentration to enjoy. My only complaint is that I'd like some more, please.
Added: Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Related Link: U.S. Manga Corps.