Chad Clayton rates it:
At first I thought that I may not be the greatest choice to review this show. You see, I come from a region where the Old West history and heritage still matter - and still survive in various ways. So, when watching shows relating to the Old West, I simply can't avoid noticing stupid little mistakes and deviations from authenticity that people from other regions may not catch so readily. That isn't the ideal situation when it comes to anime westerns, because expecting an anime set in the Old West to have any level of authenticity is like expecting high-quality sushi from a Texas barbecue joint. Nevertheless, these concerns eventually ended up being a moot point, because Early Reins is pretty miserable show by any reasonable standard. Amusingly, though, my knowledge of the region and history of the Old West allowed me to get a few chuckles from Early Reins - for all the wrong reasons.
Early Reins is surprisingly short on story, even for its 45-minute runtime. In fact, the movie doesn't actually tell us a story - it shows us an event. Early Reins is an account of a train hijacking in the Old West, and how five young ladies take up arms and save the day... and that's it. There's not much substance here, but that's not the problem with this show. There's nothing inherently wrong with a little mindless, action-packed entertainment every now and then. Early Reins could have been just that, if it wasn't cooked up by a concept planner who can't come up with decent ideas, writers who can't write convincing dialogue, and directors who can't direct a good action scene.
Granted, there isn't a whole lot that one can do with a simple western train robbery that hasn't been done before, but Early Reins seems obsessed with putting forth the bare minimum amount of effort needed to get through the story. The plot contains no surprises at all (and the "twist ending" is more likely to inspire eye-rolling than surprise). None of the characters have any personality at all besides the two main characters, idealistic sheriff-to-be Margaret and world-weary desperado Laura, and the charmingly wacky train operator that's more personable than all six heroines combined. The other four heroines may as well be gun-toting cardboard cutouts for most of the show. The story either forgets or ignores most of its own setups - in one scene they complain about having limited ammunition, but a handful of scenes later they're cheerfully wasting their magically unlimited ammo stockpile. Even the action scenes, the bread and butter of short, low-budget action OVAs, are sorely lacking in suspense, intensity, or clever moments. To make up for its lack of ideas, it relies heavily on slow-motion filming and unnecessary movement, such as Margaret doing a forward roll - for no reason whatsoever - before blasting a bad guy. Naturally, she doesn't get blasted full of holes while doing that, but what do you expect from a show that has a massive train derailment and wreck in which nobody is killed or even injured?
As for the dialogue, I'm hard-pressed to think of a recent anime that does worse in that area. The dialogue's never really good, but it gets really awful during key moments in the action. For example, on a couple of occasions Laura states that she's not going to do something, and all Margaret has to do is say one stupid little line (such as "stop treating me like a kid!") for Laura to change her mind without a moment's thought. Later on in the show, after Margaret learns how to shoot to kill, Laura compliments her on her fancy gunslinging. Margaret responds with something to the effect of "...but you're the reason I was able to do it." Now that's a commemorative moment right there, folks. Thanks to her desperado mentor, the young, idealistic sheriff-to-be has finally learned the valuable life lesson on how to kill people!
Perhaps the worst thing about Early Reins is that its delivery is completely straightfaced. This show takes itself completely seriously and has no sense of humor whatsoever. Perhaps that's what ultimately kills this show dead; it needed a sense of humor to make it work. On second thought, never mind that; this show so completely butchers everything else, I don't think I'd want to see it even make an attempt at comedy.
Early Reins just isn't fun to watch. The fight scenes are far too clumsy, slow, and bland to be genuinely exciting, and the dialogue is excrement. But despite all that, it can deliver a few small laughs - simply because it gets everything so completely wrong. This show thinks the ideal quickdraw stance is to stick your butt way out to the side and position your hand two feet above the butt of the pistol. It's the type of show where the characters clearly state that they have limited ammunition - but two scenes later, they respond to an ambush by blasting two guys with roughly five million of these supposedly scarce bullets. As if that wasn't enough, Margaret wears a short miniskirt and no leggings, despite being a lawman in the Old West - where blazing sun and raging sandstorms are near-everyday occurrences. A few days of working outside in that kind of dress would leave anyone's legs more closely resembling the surface of Mars than smooth-shaven legs. She must have bought that miniskirt from the same people that brought us those chainmail bikinis that keep fantasy heroines warm in the middle of a blizzard.
Early Reins was clearly made on a small budget, and they evidently poured all the budget into animating the heroines. They actually look pretty good most of the time, but almost everyone else (particularly all the male characters) look horribly deformed, in the sense that their faces seem to be melting. The animation is full of careless mistakes - at one point, the train's brake cylinder is supposed to be damaged in an explosion, but it looks like it was ripped open by a cloud of smoke. The train, which is very obviously CG, belches smoke capable of passing right through cavern walls. I guess it's not enough that this show has no personality, it has to be ugly on top of that.
The DVD itself is completely unremarkable, save for Media Blasters' usual error-ridden subtitles (at one point, a character actually delivers the wrong line) and an extra on "The Making of Early Reins." All this special is about is how they rendered the train in the show, so it should have been titled "How Amateurish CG is Made." If you've ever seen any "making of" special for any movie involving any amount of CG, you already know everything in this special, and probably attained that knowledge in a much more interesting way. This special isn't even narrated.
At first, I was tempted to give Early Reins the lowest possible score, but I decided against it. To get such a rating from me, a show has to be either completely, transcendently awful or so creepy and/or indecent that I can't give it any other rating in good conscience. Early Reins simply isn't worthy of such an honor, dubious as it may be. It's bad, but bad in the most conventional of ways. One can point out all sorts of reasons for Early Reins' problems - budget, limited running time, the fact that it's based on a videogame that was never released - but there's really no reason for any show to be this dry, careless, and devoid of personality. The first OVA of Gunsmith Cats, another show revolving around girls and gunplay, completely buries this turd in terms of personality, action, and watchability... and it does so in only 30 minutes. The only entertainment this show offered me was a few good laughs at its mistakes.
Added: Friday, November 12, 2004
Related Link: Media Blasters