Darius Washington rates it:
You know, I've been having a pretty fun year as an 80s anime fan who collects DVDs. Late last year, I grabbed the re-mastered versions of Project A-Ko and Grave of the Fireflies. Recently, I bought the 2-disc set of Crusher Joe, and I've been pretty satisfied with all these products. Coupled with the fact that several other 80s titles such as Zeta Gundam, Gall Force, Aura Battler Dunbine, and others are about to see release in R1 format, I've been seriously happy about the state of the industry, because old school fans are being noticed by the importers as worthy customers to market to.
Then I watched Hyper Combat Unit Dangaioh. Sigh.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the first truly bad anime DVD of 2003. I mean really, somewhere in the ocean, there is a happy whale because this disc sucked so hard. Before I get the list of offenses this disc commits, though, I'll tell you the story behind it.
Originally a 3 part OAV series, Dangaioh tells the story of four young superpowered teens from different planets who are taken by a galactic trader named Professor Tarsan. They are mindwiped and trained to pilot planes, which combine into a huge mecha, after which Tarsan plans to sell the group to the immense Captain Garrimoth, leader of the Bunker Pirates, as a weapon. It seems like a good deal (especially since one of the teens is his daughter Pai), but unfortunately for Tarsan, one of the team, a girl named Mia Alice, starts to regain her memories and escapes to search for her home planet, Earth. Not wanting to be someone else's weapon, the others go with her, taking the Dangaioh mech with them. Garrimoth almost executes Tarsan as punishment, but he offers up his lead enforcer Gil Burg as a replacement. Gil rips out one of his own eyes as proof of loyalty, which impresses Garrimoth enough to spare Tarsan, so that he can search out the team and kill them.
Soon, after a mild internal conflict, the team makes it to Earth where they find Gil Burg wreaking havoc in a giant mecha, so they combine their fighter planes, form Dangaioh, and have a heck of a fight. The end comes when Dangaioh whips out its mighty sword (hey, every good giant mech should have one) and destroys the big bad robot, apparently killing Gil in the process. Mia decides to leave Earth behind with her new friends, with Tarsan reluctantly taking them aboard his ship. In response Garrimoth places an open bounty on their lives.
Now is when we get to the first offense the DVD commits. You see, everything I've just told you about happens in the first episode, which someone at Manga Entertainment decided viewers didn't need. Instead, we're only treated to a 10-minute recap that was part of the 2nd OAV, along with a narrator who sounds like he's doing highlights for ESPN. So anyone watching who might feel a need to connect with the characters and learn why we should give a damn about what happens to them, or who might want a sense of drama about the group's plight, well, such viewers (like myself) are apparently just shit outta luck.
So now, we get to the opening sequence of the show, for which we get no translation of the song lyrics. What we do get though is a bunch of black ink blots covering up the screen with English credits overlaid on them. This is not a pretty sequence at all, but at least it's brief.
Then, we start the second part, focusing on a 3rd member of the Dangaioh team, Lamba Nomb, who turns out to be a princess on her home world. She's discussing things a bit with her new friends when they're attacked by a group of mercenaries who've come to collect on Garrimoth's reward, one of whom used to be a servant of Lamba's family and, consequently a former friend. They eventually clash and the mercs whip out their own stack-&-attack mech, Aizam The 3rd. (No, I don't know anything about 1 and 2.) The Dangaioh team combine their planes and defeat the enemy after a fierce fight. Meanwhile, Garrimoth isn't too worried since he's got a secret weapon: a one eyed cyborg with a serious appetite for revenge. (Of course, we barely care about him because he's only seen in clips from a 10-minute recap... oh, OK, I'll shut up and continue reviewing.)
Normally, we'd be treated to a pretty cool closing song at this point, by someone decided to edit volumes 2 & 3 into a single movie... and it's not even a smooth edit. It simply jumps from vol. 2's ending into the middle of the opening song from the third video. Even if I hadn't seen this show before, I'd know something was missing because of the horrible transition here. But anyway, on to the final act.
In this part, we learn more about the team's lone male member, Roll Kran, who takes the Dangaioh team to free his homeworld from the Bunker Pirates rule. He gets a hero's welcome from most of his people, except a couple who wonder why he deserted the cause. It causes particularly troubling sensation in Roll for reasons he's unsure of. Still, he decides to infiltrate the Bunkers' headquarters with 3 of the rebels, one of whom is a large masked man. Meanwhile, the rest of the Dangaioh team talks to Tarsan and learns Roll had been in "a state of suspended animation like death" when he was found by Tarsan, and he might experience some shock from being on this world.
Roll does experience this shock when he finds two of his fellow infiltrators dead, as well as two others whom he sort of remembers・painfully. The masked man comes to seemingly help Roll, when his mask falls off to reveal... three guesses who it is. Yep, ole Gil just wants Mia to come down and see him for a visit... alone.
At this point, we get some pretty kick butt action sequences, but they can't totally make up for the massive irritation I felt when this DVD was finished. I found myself cursing up a storm the whole time with my friend having to endure it. (Sorry, Madeline. No lady should have to hear me curse like that.) The lack of a Japanese track (you'd think they'd have learned from that Devilman mess) meant I had to persevere through the big problems the English audio assaulted my ears with.
Remember the days of watching Voltron when all the good guy characters sounded either really squeaky or really old and unnatural, while the bad guys all grunted worse than Macho Man Randy Savage on the toilet? ("Ohhh, yeeeeeeeah... get em!") Well・yeah, you've got the idea. Also, the English dialogue is poorly mixed with the Japanese foley so that the characters sound like they're nowhere near whatever sound effects are taking place in the show.
And then there's the dialogue. I don't mind it in English dubs when re-wordings are a bit necessary to match the mouth movements and get the intent of the translation across. I can understand that. However, I do hate it when the English dialogue writer changes the intent of a script just because his version is cooler or something. I counted at least ten different times when the dialogue completely differed from the Japanese intent in "How-They-Lied-O-Vision" and seriously thought about asking the makers of the Bad American Dubbing parodies to come out of retirement just for this DVD. For example, when I mentioned Roll had been put into a state of suspended animation, um・Roll had had a flashback to where one of the people who had assaulted him had stabbed him with a KNIFE! Now maybe I'm just a bit off here, but I don't think deep puncture wounds are meant to merely stun someone into submission. Besides, the Japanese version clearly states that Roll was truly dead and Tarsan had brought him back to life. I could rant more about such changes, but I think the point has been made here.
Instead I'll talk about the video quality, which looks okay for a VHS tape. In fact, it looks like that's exactly where this series was transferred from. No clean signal or color enhancement of any kind. I've seen fog that looked clearer than the picture shown on this DVD. Hell, I tried cleaning my TV screen with windex and it didn't help, and that's a shame. An 80s mech show directed by Toshihiro Hirano (Fight! Iczer-1, Magic Knights Rayearth) with support work from Masami Obari (Detonator Orgun) when he was doing quality work is a great reason to have polished eye-candy for the fans to watch. Dangaioh wasn't necessarily a great series, but it deserved a better release than this.
All this brings me to my message for Manga Entertainment. I've long since lost faith in the company, because they've been putting out some incredibly bad DVDs over the last year or so. Recently though, they seem to be taking the initiative to communicate with the fans, garner feedback, and take steps to ensure we throw a few bucks their way. Okay, I shall take their initiative at face value and offer the following advice: NEVER RELEASE ANYTHNG LIKE THIS AGAIN! Give us a full version of whatever show you license and don't cut out anything from it. If you can't get the full materials (or at least a sufficient chunk of them), then don't bother releasing the show. Devote time and energy to the ones you can release fully. Don't go for a quick buck by throwing out a half-baked product in hopes of possibly cashing in on a vague namesake to a modern remake like Great Dangaioh. Modern anime fans will just say, "God this looks crappy!" while older fans will go, "WTF? Where's the rest of it?!" Give the customers what they want, and they'll be happy to support you. It's as simple as that. And when the company does that, I'll be happy to recommend their good product and plunk down my cash.
Until that day happens, however, I'm going to give this DVD my lowest possible non-recommendation.
(Addendum: Readers have reported that the Dangaioh DVD was released in this condition because Manga Entertainment lacked the proper materials to create an uncut, dual-language version.)
Added: Friday, October 17, 2003
Related Link: Manga Entertainment