animefringe february 2003 / reviews

Armitage III: OVA Perfect Collection
Format: bilingual DVD, 4 eps., 140 min.
Production: Pioneer / AIV / Oniro / Taro Maki
Comments: More than merely Blade Runner with a main character in skimpy red leather.
Animefringe Reviews:
Armitage III: OVA Perfect Collection

Before I started watching anime regularly, I'd seen displays featuring Armitage III in various video stores. I was always curious about its content, but usually too poor to do anything about it. Back then, I thought that the roman numerals in the title implied that it was the third in a series of movies, and that even further dissuaded me from wanting to see it. After all, how could I get into a movie without seeing its predecessors? Much later, after I started buying anime DVDs like a madman facing the end of the world, I was still repelled by the show due to it's conspicuously big-name casting of Elizabeth Berkely and Kiefer Sutherland for the primary characters. Its blatant Americanization bothered me enough to keep me away from it.

Now that I have the OAVs in hand, I feel pretty silly. As soon as I can find a Japanese-language subtitled version of the Armitage III movies, I'll add them to my collection as well.

The tale of Armitage, a third-generation artificial human (hence the III in the series' title), is an entertaining cyberpunk story that delves into many of the same philosophical wells that others have drawn from before, and yet it is told well enough that it maintains its uniqueness. There's more brutality and nudity here than there is in other comparable series such as Bubblegum Crisis and Cowboy Bebop, and as such, this may be inappropriate for younger viewers. However, I never found any of the more "mature" content to be gratuitous; it was simply a part of the world the writers wanted to depict.

Set in a future not too far from our own, the story begins from the perspective of Detective Ross Sylibus as he's on his way from Earth to Mars. What should've been a routine interplanetary flight ends in violence as one of his fellow passengers is murdered by a mysterious man who calls himself D'anclaude. His first encounter with Armitage is also her first chance to show the viewers how much she kicks ass, and it quickly establishes the surface traits of her personality.

The show was heavily influenced by Phillip K. Dick's Blade Runner (known in book form as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), and there are even subtle nods to disturbing science fiction classics like Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (incidentally also based on a book). Yet, this doesn't lessen the respect I have for the creators, but rather magnifies it thanks to the considerable love I have for the works that the series is inspired by. Armitage III doesn't pretend to be original, but it does a good job of being entertaining. At first glance, this may seem like a mindless explosion-filled hottie fest, but as Armitage's character progresses through the story, she takes on a greater degree of depth than I would've expected. There's more than just guns and robots here, and it's the primary reason I enjoyed the series so much.

There's plenty of action here, with well-animated fight scenes mixed with more subdued moments featuring story exposition. There's also quite a bit of plot to cover, and even with the entire four episode OAV series on one disc, I still wanted to see more about Armitage's world. Sadly, while the fight scenes usually ran smoothly, the remainder of the animation wasn't fantastic. Still, there's a well-designed and believable world contained on this DVD, and it's certainly worth checking out.

The dub for the most part is well done, with the occasional (and bothersome) changes to Japanese cultural references not serving as too much of a distraction. When I first heard Armitage's voice in Japanese, I was struck by how incredibly cute she sounded. She's the embodiment of spunk, and when you mix that with her ability to fight like a machine of war, you get one hell of an attractive lead character. Sylibus's Japanese voice actor seems to have nailed a perfect deadpan tone, and that really helped to draw me into the story. It always helps to have a character one can identify with, and his levelheaded "what the heck" attitude was close to mine as I was playing the DVD.

Extras exist here, but there's not too much to rave about. There are some trailers (in English...isn't that special?) for each of the Armitage releases, and some other interesting features that didn't take too long to flip through. Still, extra content is better included than left out, so no complaints.

The box was well decorated, with a shiny front cover featuring Armitage in a teasing pose. And she's really cute when she's sticking her tongue out like that. I guess we know what the target audience for this series is, eh? The menu works fine, and it sports a slick design. It's not any more functional than anything I've seen before, but it did make my eyes happy. There weren't too many noticeable problems with the subtitles, save for little mistakes such as the omission of the word "a" in the second episode. But who would notice that? Besides me...

So, if high-tech action is your thing, then do yourself a favor and grab this DVD. Armitage is a good series to have under your belt, because it's mainstream enough that you can talk with strangers about it (assuming you talk to strangers about anime, you weirdo) but it's also good enough that you won't be embarrassed to admit you've seen it. For me, this release seemed less Americanized than the movies, and that's a very positive factor for my purchasing needs. This may be more guy-oriented than lady friendly, but my girlfriend got a kick out of Armitage, so I'm sure there is a good following of female fans out there somewhere. It all depends on if you dig cyberpunk sci-fi or not. Personally, I'm counting down the days until Bubblegum Crisis: 2041 is released, so perhaps I'm a bit biased. Either way, this is an action-packed series with a surprising amount of heart to it, so you shouldn't be disappointed.