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volume 3 issue 9

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Saber Marionette J to X Vol.2
Bilingual DVD
125 minutes
Humorous and tender with some well-endowed female characters to draw in those who look for more than just a good plot, Saber Marionette: J to X is a great show to watch when your spirits are down. Luckily, there's more depth here than the initial layer of cuteness suggests.
Overall Rating:

Animefringe Reviews:
Saber Marionette J to X Vol.2
By Patrick King

Having no prior experience with the Saber Marionette world, I suddenly found myself in possession of the second disc of the J to X follow-up series. Much to my checking account's dismay (when I mention anime, manga, or video games, you can actually hear my savings scream), I enjoyed it enough to want to go back and pick up everything I've missed.

What makes this series worth buying? Well, it's cute for starters, but there's a good amount of drama thrown in for good measure, and the (initial) episodic nature of Saber Marionette: J to X makes it easy for newcomers to get to know the characters. Saber Marionette takes us to a world practically devoid of female inhabitants - the only woman in the show so far is Lorelei, a highly protected person that also helps maintain the Marionettes. The Marionettes - going by the names of Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry - are artificial life forms that could easily pass for human women except for their extraordinary strength (and the visible joints on their appendages). There is a very interesting relationship between Otaru and his Marionettes, for while he is their master, they frequently run off and follow their hearts rather than his commands.

I was glad to discover that Otaru is not the typical anime male - you know what I'm talking about. He's a nice, more subdued than average guy with a talent for battle and a good head on his shoulders. It's a refreshing change from the woman-hungry (see anything by Rumiko Takahashi), repressed shy boy (Shinji from Evangelion anyone?), or invincibly capable types (Vampire Hunter D, Rurouni Kenshin) seen frequently in shows. Otaru is one of the few characters I can recall in my anime experience that is not really exaggerated in one obvious way or another...and I like it. This point in the story finds our heroines, the Marionettes, (and our hero, Otaru) slowly adjusting to a life of peace after a long war. The first four episodes in this volume do an admirable job of developing the stars of the show, and it's not really until the last episode that we are given a hint of a continuing storyline. As it turns out, the newfound peace in the realm of Japoness might not last as long as Otaru and his entourage had hoped...

Visually, the show is a treat, with a large palette of colors used and very unique character designs a la Tsukasa Kotobuki. The animation is consistently smooth and the images are always clear and sharp, so there's no slack on this show when it comes to the graphics department. Computer graphics are used sparingly and to a non-intrusive effect, something pivotal when animators want the audience to be immersed in the show rather than noting technical details. Some of the Marionettes (all female) are more...ahem...endowed than others, but rather than come across as something lewd, it's presented as a tongue-in-cheek type of fan service, and shouldn't offend any but the most sensitive viewers. (Those are the types that can't stomach anything racier than Speed Racer.)

Aurally, I'd say the quality of the show in this area is just as its visible aspects. There's a good use of stereo sound for effects and speech, and I'm game for any show that features Megumi Hayashibara as one of the voices or a singer...and she does both for this series. The opening and ending themes are catchy, and other original songs pop up here and there in some of the episodes - certainly a plus. The background music is cute and perky, matching the mood of the show perfectly. Every aspect of the Japanese soundtrack adheres to a high standard.

The disc also includes an English language dub, yet I can't help but feel that the English voice actors change the mood from excited and cute to bored and valley-girlish. Aspiring voice performers, take note: yelling every line is not the same as putting emotion into a recording, despite the example set by many current voice actors and actresses. Of course, it's hard to compete with Megumi Hayashibara in terms of cuteness (her performance of Ai Amano in Video Girl Ai defines the word kawaii), but I can't say the English actresses come close. Maybe it's a cultural thing. The voice actors for the dub simply sound like they're reading a script with random changes to the original dialogue whenever they feel like it. It sounds too much like dialogue from a child's video game - sure, they say all the words, but the soul of the Japanese work is simply lost in the domestication process. Most lines are given painfully slow, sounding like grade-schoolers reading out of a textbook. This is not necessarily the fault of the English-speaking voice actors and actresses - perhaps they had a hard to follow script or lackluster direction, but the result is nothing to rave about. But then, that's why bilingual DVDs are so wonderful - if you really can't stand to read (or don't feel like learning Japanese - but why wouldn't you?) then there is a dub track. Otherwise, there's a fantastic vocal performance on the same disc. Let's all do a dance in homage of the technology gods.

This volume of Saber Marionette: J to X follows the standard set forth by the first to include five episodes on the disc - a treat for those of us who like our DVDs filled to the brim. There's a single extra - an informative interview with Tsukasa Kotobuki, the character designer for the series. I'm glad that Bandai decided to list it as the only extra; it's a little silly when companies list trailers or multiple language tracks as extra features. That said, I do appreciate the inclusion of previews for other series, and there are three trailers on this disc. The DVD case features Cherry, though she really only has one episode where she is the focus of the plot. The case includes all the pertinent information and provides a good number of stills from the series. This show does a good job of being attractively cute without the threat of a saccharine overdose. There is certainly more here than well-endowed Marionettes - the series features well-written stories, interesting characters, and is a visual and aural feast. There's even a good amount of fast-paced fight scenes. I'd recommend this to anyone who wants a lighthearted and attractively animated series to watch with some friends; it won't disappoint.

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