ANIME REVIEW: VANDREAD
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi
Original year of release: 2000 – 2001
Director: Takeshi Mori
Writer: Atsuhiro Tomioka
Number of episodes: 26
Runtime per episode: 22 mins
STORY AND CHARACTERSVandread takes place in a universe in where men and women have separated to start their own civilizations on their respective planets. Ever since then, a massive war has been going on between the two species. That is, until a third species shows up that seems bent of massacring both men and women alike with the intent of harvesting their organs. Now it’s up to the brash and headstrong young man Hibiki and a crew of female pirates, including the ace pilot Dita, to put a stop to this menace and save mankind from extinction.
Vandread is directed by Takeshi Mori, probably best known as the director of Gunsmith Cats, and it’s a show that really fascinates me. Mostly because it’s a prime example of how personal enjoyment and actual quality aren’t always connected.
I enjoyed the hell out of this show! In fact, I started streaming it on Crunchyroll but after having seen only two episodes I decided this show was worth my money and bought the box set. However, the problem with Vandread is that the show is clearly targeted towards a very specific audience, which I just so happen to be a part of. But it’s certainly not a show that’s going to appeal to everyone. Vandread can best be described as a sci-fi adventure with very offbeat comedy verging towards absurdism. To be honest, I am somewhat surprised this show is not more well-known as a lot of the more niche shows from the early 2000s have gone on to become cult classics. But I rarely ever hear anyone talking about Vandread, let alone passionately recommending others to go see it because they’re missing out on a real hidden gem. Not that I consider it a hidden gem, but with a show like this, I’d expect there to be people who do.
Perhaps this is simply due to the fact that the show does suffer from a myriad of problems. For starters, the show’s actual plot is very flimsy and never develops into anything noteworthy, serving more as a red herring to get characters from one place to another. Tonally, the show is also rather disjointed where the first season is mainly lighthearted and comedic, the second becomes increasingly serious in tone with some very big twists and reveals and a lot of character drama.
This doesn't really work because the characters could have done with a lot more work. The main character Hibiki is a likable and somewhat charming protagonist, but he’s not what I would consider a true hero. Yet the show seems hellbent on turning him into this ultimate badass and savior of the galaxy - something he is so very clearly not cut out to be. This made a lot of his character development feel very forced. Dita comes across as a somewhat more capable lead but even with her, it feels like she’s just there to be cute and adorable without really serving any real purpose to the story.
ART AND ANIMATION
The first thing you should know about the visual aspect of this show is that there is a metric fuckton of CG in this and some of it looks downright awful. On the other hand, the 2D parts look absolutely terrific. The backgrounds are much more detailed than you’d expect from a show of the early 2000s and actually look like places that are inhabited by real people instead of just random sound stages. The 2D animation is also very fluid, running at a much higher framerate than usual for a good chunk of the show. Meanwhile, the character designs are uniformly excellent. Special care has been put into designing the uniforms and casual clothing of both cultures and making each character in the show’s rather large cast stand out. It's little details like that, that really show the passion that went into a show and make me appreciate it so much more. The show’s color scheme is very well thought-out and makes for an overall very consistent visual aesthetic that’s pleasing to the eye.
The action in this show is definitely a highlight thanks to strong visual direction and very cool sound effects. More often than once, I found myself at the edge of my seat completely invested in the cool space battles, despite the fact that most of them are animated in horribly outdated CG.
One last thing that is worth noting though is that there is a good amount of fanservice in this show with most of the female characters being clad in rather skimpy outfits. Something that could, understandably, turn off some viewers. On the other hand, one of the male characters spends the vast majority of the show butt-naked. So at least it’s an equal opportunities thing.
As I said, I really enjoyed this series. The story is paper thin and ultimately goes nowhere, while the show shifts tone and direction drastically between its first and second season, giving you the emotional equivalent of a whiplash. But at its core, this is still a very enjoyable show full of, not very complex, but charming characters, and genuinely funny comedy. Admittedly, the comedic aspect does get diminished considerably in the show’s second season but that doesn’t really become an issue until the show’s final episodes that seem to exist merely to make Hibiki the most OP character in the universe. And as mentioned, this was a development I was absolutely not on board with and, to me, made no sense from a narrative or character perspective.
At the end of the day, I have to say Vandread is a show that’s a lot of fun to watch if you’re the right audience for it. If not, you’re probably better off steering your viewership in another direction.
Vandread has been licensed by Funimation and is available on DVD. You can also stream it on Funimation’s own website and since a few months ago Crunchyroll due to that wonderful agreement that Funimation and Crunchyroll have.
As far as this segment goes, there are two anime I'd like to recommend that are somewhat similar to Vandread. In my opinion, both exceed it in terms of overall quality.
First of all: Expelled from Paradise. This is also a somewhat niche anime with the same kind of combination of sci-fi adventure and offbeat comedy. Personally though I felt this one pulled off the transition between the two much smoother.
The second recommendation is an even stronger one: Black Lagoon. Like Vandread, Black Lagoon revolves around a ship and its crew of pirates. However, in this case, they’re not space pirates but actual pirates, terrorizing the South China Sea with their audacious and often over-the-top crime capers. This is a fantastic show which I highly recommend checking out if you haven’t done so yet.
Special thanks to @Tonto-banchou and @Kuze for editing and feedback.
See you space cowboys…