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Mania Grade: C

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B-
  • Age Rating: All
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Air Gear

Air Gear Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     December 21, 2006
Release Date: February 06, 2007

Air Gear Vol. #1
© ADV Films

What They Say
Welcome to the world of Storm Riders, where motor-powered inline skates called "Air Treks" take extreme sports to a whole new level. Those who dare to ride with these high tech devices risk life and limb in a struggle for fame, power and wings to take to the sky.

Enter Ikki Minami, the toughest fighter on the east side of town. He rules his school, takes on violent gangs single-handedly and lives with the Noyamanos; four sexy sisters with a surprising secret. And after a humiliating defeat to a terrifying gang of Storm Riders, the sisters welcome him to the world of Air Trek, where his strength, speed and ambitions soar to brand-new heights.

Now, with powerful new wings, he must protect his friends, his school and his pride in fierce Air Trek battles known as "Parts Wars." One mistake could cost him everything, but each victory brings him one step closer to becoming the king of the sky.

The Review!
When Itsuki finally manages to get a pair of Air Treks, he takes to the skies and revels in the freedom " and in the gang matches that quickly ensue.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The Japanese mix is a solid stereo piece that does a really good job with the music score as well as in general dialogue placement throughout. With a fair bit of action and characters at all different locations, directionality is good and well placed. The English mix is done in a 5.1 format, something ADV hasn't done too much of lately, and it adds some better clarity to the dialogue as well as placement. Both tracks are solid though and we didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this show is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The source materials for this release are in very good shape with a very clean and smooth look. The show is done with a lot of bold colors across wide areas and they come across very solid here though there is some minor noise to be found if you're close enough. A good deal of the scenes take place at night with very dark blacks for the sky as well as some greens to highlight the lights from the city and there is very little visible banding in most of this. In addition, they also look very solid while still providing detail. There is some minor aliasing in a few scenes though cross coloration is mostly absent. The worst looking area tends to be the opening sequence where they decided to do the replaced credits to match the original. The credits look fine but they aren't able to do it as smoothly which results in some stuttering as the camera moves around.

Using artwork that wasn't on the Japanese retail release cover, the first volume is another sign of ADV's apparent interest in using foil covers in 2007. The central focus is on two of the lead characters as they flit about in their skates while the background is made up of a grid piece from part of the show. The cover uses a fair bit of text to it, pushing "Oh Great"' along the top but not strongly while also having a very noticeable spot that indicates that it's uncut. Fallout from Tenjho Tenge continues apparently. The logo along the bottom is decent along with more text for the volume name. The foil aspect sort of works but it doesn't really jump out a lot and just feels kind of superfluous in a way. The back cover is decently laid out with two strips of shots from the show along the left and right while a surprisingly text heavy summary covers the premise of the show. The discs features aren't given much notice here alongside the number of episodes while the remainder of the cover is filled out with the production credits and a solid looking technical grid. No insert or reversible cover is included for this release.

The menu layout is rather simple and fairly bland with just a still shot of Ikki leaping forward with his Air Trek's on. The background is a blue CG piece that kind of gives hint to buildings which looks decent but the mixture of it and the character artwork just doesn't really do all that much. There's a bit of fast paced hard instrumental music with it and the navigation is straightforward enough that everything works well and is easily accessible. Submenus load quickly and the disc correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.

The only extras available on this volume are the clean opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After taking in the first four episodes of Air Gear, I again find myself lamenting the slow spiraling downfall of a writer I once enjoyed. Not Oh Great, as I do find that I'm still addicted to Tenjho Tenge and I'm getting into Air Gear in its manga form slowly but surely, but rather the man in charge of the series composition here, Chiaki Konaka. Ever since I saw his stuff in Serial Experiments Lain I've liked a lot of what he's done. But the bad is outweighing the good these days and Air Gear is leaning on the bad side already.

A lot of it isn't specifically his fault though, but rather the choice in animation style. Done by Toei Animation, it has its moments where there are some really good bits and designs, working off of the original manga character designs of course, but then a good deal of it seems to shift into something far more cartoonish and less than fluid. Some of the rawness and edge from the manga doesn't seem to have translated into the show either. There's certainly enough comedy to be found, between the gang types and the way Ikki handles himself, but something about the way Air Gear presents itself just doesn't work right.

The show is centered around an advancement in technology that refined an ultra small motor that has revolutionized extreme sports. One in particular has had the technology put into roller skates which now gives them an immense amount of power, so much so that those who master how to wear and use them are able to practically fly across the rooftops. This kind of extreme sport isn't exactly welcome within the city and the cops pursue them relentlessly but they make a very minor appearance early on. What the show deals with more so are the various gangs that are built up around this concept of Storm Riders. When extreme sports people get together, it leads to some creative kinds of pairings.

Itsuki, an eighth grade student, lives with the four Noyamano sisters who have taken him in for reasons not really discussed. The women, ranging in age from twenty-two to ten, are all quite interesting personalities as you'd expect. Itsuki, better known as Ikki, is a rough and tumble kind of guy who ends up in plenty of scrapes and lives for the day when he can finally afford a pair of Air Treks' of his own so he can find the freedom he's looking for. One of the women in the house happens to have a lot of recordings of various gangs that roam the city and he's lived vicariously through those for some time, likely going through them frame by frame.

With the way Ikki carries himself, it's not long before he gets into a bit of a rumble with one of the nastier AT gangs out there. The Skull Saders put him through his paces and rough him up quite a bit, but it's an event that gets him some sympathy from one of the Noyamano sisters who gives him his own pair of Air Treks. A whole new world opens up to him and once he hits the rooftops, sides of buildings and elsewhere, he feels alive like he never has. Unfortunately he hasn't learned to control them to well so it's all rough going but he has something of a natural talent for it that gives him an edge. Combined with his sense of confrontation, it doesn't take long before he's taking on the Skull Saders again and trying to win the emblem's of other teams.

Naturally, there's plenty of female interest in the show as well. The one that lights Ikki's fire is a mysterious pink haired girl named Simca and she's one of the best out there, though something of a rogue among the gangs. Everyone wants to take her emblem but she's found that Ikki is completely easy and fun to toy with. The Noyamano sisters are also good with the Air Treks and have their own gang that is mysterious and infamous among the Storm Riders, which means they get to show off some good tricks and fanservice along the way. The character designs for the women tend to come across better than the men in the series and since they have more obvious fanservice moments, they tend to get more attention and time spent on them than a lot of other scenes.

The designs for the various gangs is where a fair bit of creativity does come from as they're able to have a bit of fun with it. While the Skull Saders are fairly bland and obvious, the Rez-Boa-Dog gang is amusing as they have oversized masks like Doberman's on their heads. The gang leader even goes so far as to have the old punk style hairdo that fits into the mouth section of the mask which just adds a bit more humor to all of it. The Noyamano group, Sleeping Forest, doesn't have any sort of real sense of continuity among them but they have one of the better looking emblems. There are glimpses of other gangs and their designs in some of the larger group sequences that give hint of what we might see in the future.

Something about Air Gear just doesn't seem to click well with me though and I can't quite pin down what it is. Only two volumes of the manga have come out in the US and up to thirteen in Japan, but the first two US release releases just haven't had enough time to really make it a strong title yet. It does feel a bit darker and less comedic than the anime version though, a lot of that simply coming from the differences between black and white and full color. It also suffers similarly to Tenjho Tenge in that one of the things that helps to really sell the manga is the layout design, character artwork detail and the stronger sense of fanservice. Air Gear in its anime form feels like it's more of a mainstreamed product that strays in some small ways from its source, but enough so that it loses some of what made it interesting.

In Summary:
As much as a fan of I am of Oh Great's manga, the anime adaptations of his work generally come across as weak or incomplete. With this series still ongoing in Japan, the anime side of it obviously won't have any major conclusion to it which is fine for some but problematic for others. The concept of the show is one that is pure anime though and something that visually can be done very well, but these first four episodes will be something of a hard sell for people. The brighter nature of it, the weaker animation in a number of areas and the sometimes rather basic character designs just don't do the original material much justice. There are flashes of greatness throughout here but a lot of it could just be done far better both in animation and scripting.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,Production Gallery

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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