Burst Angel, Vol. 6
A region 2 DVD review by CNash
 

I feel I've made all of my most pertinent comments on Burst Angel's sound and visual effects in my review for Volume 2; if you haven't already, please feel free to read it. Also take note of my reviews of Volumes 3, 4 and 5.

2003's animé sensation, Burst Angel, concludes this month with the release of Volume 6: Guardian Angel. While in previous volumes, the general "big bad" of the series had been lurking in the background as the girls went off on vaguely-related cases and missions, the last four episodes sees it dragged bodily to the front of the action. And, as I predicted in my review of Volume 5, most of the hanging plot points are displayed and tied up in short order.

The opening episode kicks off the big changes for this volume – and with it comes the realisation that this final disc will be devoted entirely to wrapping the series up and won't follow the episodic pattern established in previous volumes. In fact, they can't really be called "episodes"; there's no gap in the narrative and they can be easily watched back-to-back as a kind of movie. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's ten-part series finalé did things in much the same way.

Those big changes, by the way, is the total shake-up of the status quo. Before, we knew where everyone stood: Sei, a member of the Bai Lan syndicate, was sent to set up a group of mercenaries in order to study the "glowing brains" phenomenon (where mysterious cybots were being equipped with advanced neural technology and sent to run riot in Tokyo). She and her group – now consisting of stoic Jo, excitable Meg and computer-whiz Amy – were also tasked with discovering the true nature of Tokyo's radical new law enforcement brigade, RAPT.

Now everything's turned on its head. Bai Lan has merged with the shadowy organisation behind the glowing brains and RAPT, meaning that the mercenaries' services are no longer required. Jo, Meg and Amy (plus resident cook Kyohei and mechanic Leo) and given their marching orders by a reluctant Sei, who finds her loyalties brought into question. She finally realises that she isn't the respected leader that she thought she was – she's just a minor player in a huge organisation, and in turn, in a plot to take over the world!

The final four episodes – 21-24 of 24 – are as follows:

21: "Bullets in the Iron Grave Post"
Sei's given the order to disband the mercenary group, which she does while reminiscing about how she found each of its members. A creature living in a subway is subdued, thanks to Jo's last-minute help – but was this all a plot to lure her into the open?

22: "Beloved Devil"
The full details of what Jo is and where she comes from is finally revealed – and the origins of her arch-rival Maria are very similar. Unsurprisingly, fighting is the key to knowing everything.

23: "Execution Ground on the Red Seas"
Maria takes Jo to an isolated submarine in order to decide who's the best, once and for all.

24: "Burst, Angels!"
Sei and Jo decide to take on RAPT at its highest levels, and with Takane returning from Osaka to help them, the stage is set for the final battle.

The first thing the volume wraps up is Jo's origin story. The previous episodes dealing with this plot thread had suggested a number of explanations: she's an actual angel (as in the title) from heaven or hell; she's an alien who crash-landed; she's some sort of supernatural fighting force. But the answer that I settled upon when I saw episode 14 – which tells of how Jo met Meg – wasn't entirely derived from the series. Rather, it was deduced from the most common element linking many animé series that I've reviewed this year: morally suspect genetic experiments and cloning technology that has created a fighting force of enhanced "war machines" – all of which, of course, happen to be scantily-clad teenage girls.

While it wasn't surprising that this was the answer behind Jo's preternatural strength and ferocity, the way it is used is completely unlike Gunslinger Girl or She, The Ultimate Weapon. The issue is never really raised as abnormal; just a strange experiment made by a scientist with enough moral bankruptcy not to care that the girls are living human beings. The scientist in question talks of the girls' irrepressable human desires and feelings as a "barrier" that he and his team weren't able to "overcome", and nobody calls him on it – not even the main characters. It's just a fact of life, these things happen – and it's something that I've always been uncomfortable with in stories like these.

Besides this, the final volume proceeds at breakneck pace, going from Jo and Maria's fight to civil uprising and the eventual high-speed chase with giant robots through the streets of Tokyo. I'd like to take a moment to further comment on Burst Angel's stunning CG animation techniques that are used to render the robots and vehicles – they're incredibly smooth, very watchable, and don't seem at all out of place. The best CGI is the type that blends with the traditional animation so that you don't know it's there, and Burst Angel consistently accomplishes this.

The major failing of this last volume is in character closure. Of the assembled main cast, only Jo, Meg and Sei get any kind of resolution to their character arcs – Jo and Meg's relationship, which reaches its apex here, and Sei's questioned loyalties, culminating in an attack on her own organisation. Kyohei and Amy are all but written out in the first episode, and while Leo gets more screen-time, he merely fills his role of "team mechanic". We know nothing more about him than we did when we first met him. Takane, of course, was too good a character not to let back into the action, but I'm disregarding her here as her story was told back in the Osakan three-parter spanning volumes 3 and 4.

Burst Angel has been one of the year's most enjoyable animé series; both as a throwback to the beginning of the decade, with its episodic sci-fi tales, and as a reflection on the state of animé in recent years – which I think I'll call the "girls with guns" era. As a fanservice piece, it's not as overt as most, focussing more upon its story and the plot of each episode while allowing viewers a little eye-candy. I can recommend Burst Angel to anyone who enjoys a solid action adventure and isn't put off by an initial lack of overreaching plot. Watching this series has been great, and I hope that if you choose to buy it, you'll find it just as good as I did.

sound and vision

Once again MVM have done well by Burst Angel the anamorphic 16:9 transfer boasting good contrast and colour, with a pleasing level of detail and solid black levels.

Both the original Japanese 5.1 and the English 5.1 dubs do a nice job, with the English track just having the edge in clarity and spread. The bass is particulkrly well reproduced.

extra features

The series' run of audio commentaries conclude with one for the final episode, "Burst, Angels!". Voice-director Chris Bevins bringing all four girls' voices into the stuido with him: Alison Retzloff (Amy), Monica Rial (Jo), Jamie Marchi (Meg) and Clarine Harp (Sei). Needless to say, anarchy ensues – the girls giggle their way through the episode's fanservice points, while a beleaguered Bevins makes wry observations and attempts to talk about some of the goings-on behind the scenes.

There's another Radio Drama, featuring the Japanese voice cast; these are generally funny, but the problem is that they're radio productions that often don't lend themselves to subtitling.

There's an alternate opening and ending compiled of clips from the series rather than the original animation used in the real ones. The Japanese Trailer for the series is present, as are other trailers for Saiyuki Reload and Paranoia Agent.  

Burst Angel, Vol. 6: Guardian Angel

Japan 2003
100 mins
director
Koichi Ohata

DVD details
region 2
video
16:9 anamorphic
sound
Dolby surround 5.1
languages
Japanese
English
subtitles
English
English – signs only
extras
Commentary on one episode
Radio drama
Alternate opening and ending
Trailers
distributor
MVM
release date
4 December 2006
review posted
10 December 2006