Neo Ranga, Volume 1

Yushiro (Former Staff) — June 29th, 2003
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The first volume of Neo Ranga leaves me somewhat at a loss. All of the initial press and imagery I had seen of the show led me to expect one thing, but I ended up with something rather different. While I'm slightly disappointed I didn't get the type of show I anticipated, the first volume has kept me interested, nonetheless, with the actual storyline. And aside from that, this disc also tips the scales of my love-hate relationship with ADV's releases towards the good side considerably.

The story thus far centers on an ancient god of unknown purpose, Neo Ranga, who decides to take a stroll right into the middle of Tokyo. The first episode of the eight fifteen-minute chapters included begins with this very thing, throwing us right into the main narrative. As the ever-present narrator leads us through the opening movements, we see how people of all walks of life react to this event. Aside from the Shimabara sisters, whom I'll get to in a moment, this appears to be the main focus of the show, at least for the first volume. It illustrates how the various aspects of modern society - the military, politicians, police forces, press, shopkeepers, members of organized crime, tourists, and so on - deal with, for good or for ill, the 'monster' who takes up residence with the sisters. The show ends up as a drama/comedy mix through this, portraying rather realistically how modern society would react to the situation while gently poking fun at every Godzilla and bad mech show along the way. Though this can sometimes end up working well, I found myself less than amused for the most part. In my opinion, the entire premise of the show would have been far more appealing if it were presented in a more serious manner, but the quick pace the show takes has kept me from getting bored.

The second episode jumps back into time, as will be done from time to time in the show, and explains the situation in which the Shimabara sisters have become entangled. Joel, a native of Barou island, has shown up with a letter from the long-lost brother of the three sisters: Minami, Ushio and Yuuhi. Minami is the eldest, which inextricably makes her the practical and mothering one, paying the bills and looking out for the other two who are still in school. The middle sister, Ushio, is the seeming main character as she gets the most screen time. Her idealism and caring nature are a direct counter to the insensitive attitude of the youngest sister, Yuuhi. (She has a remarkably manipulative nature for one so young, even using her too-early realized sexuality to get what she wants.) The letter invites them to the island kingdom of Barou, and the girls gleefully accept - expecting a beach vacation - only to learn that through odd circumstances, they are the ruling members of the royal house. It turns out that their brother married the princess of the island years back and became its king. Upon his death, of which little is known, the proverbial crown and the good graces of Neo Ranga transferred collectively to the sisters. The islanders prove to be trying to use the sister to their own ends, and the girls leave Barou to try and return to their ordinary lives. Of course, this is where the story picks back up and we have an indestructible giant - and the military forces confronting it - wreaking havoc through the city to reach the sisters.

In a confrontation with said forces in Yoyogi Park (episode four), a link between Ranga and the sisters becomes perceptible. The god-monster utterly destroys the Japanese defense forces waiting in the park that it sees as a threat to Ushio, but stops the devastation upon her command. Once the initial shock of having the monstrosity in town has worn down and it is apparent that Ranga is going to stay in the city, Ranga and the girls become something of a spectacle and public nuisance. Things unfold from there, and the remaining episodes return to the practical matters of how The Powers That Be and the community wrangle with having a giant god in town (or rather, how they can use the Shimabara family and their 'pet' for their own gain). This is where my expectations for the show diverge from the actuality, as I expected to see more on the island of Barou. The opening credits and the character artwork lead one to believe the show is about the girls in skimpy outfits making tribal warfare, not answering questions about Ranga to the local media. Still, this is only the introductory volume, and we shall have to wait and see how the show progresses.

On the subject of that lovely imagery, the character designs and some of the scenery can be quite attractive. The artwork in the animation itself, though, can be overly simplistic, and the character designs even end up 'devolving' in detail more and more in a few later episodes. Despite being a few years old, Neo Ranga was obviously made on a low budget, and it regrettably shows. Most of the animation is plain and choppy, and the effects used in the show are rather dated.

On the other hand, the show is very easy on the ears. The score is composed by Kuniaki Haijima, known for his traditional compositions in such shows as the Noh-themed Gasaraki. The rousing opening in particular, Kaze no Nemuru Shima, caught my ear right off, partially due to the vocals by the Shimabara sisters' voice actresses. The ending is worth noting as well - a mellow tune called Prologue ~ A City in the Sky. The Japanese voice acting is generally good, but the English localization stands out in my mind. The main cast is rather well done, though the supporting and minor characters are still lacking. My regard for the sisters' voice acting made up for the others enough to make the English dub downright bearable, despite my predisposition for disliking dubs.

I have been increasingly pleased with ADV's treatment of their releases over previous years, and Neo Ranga is no exception. It is not without blemish however, as the translation is simply too loose, even when one takes into account some of the intrinsic problems in translation. The subtitle track is equivalent to 'dubtitles,' and the English dub takes even more liberties. Otherwise, the DVD and packaging are superb. The first DVD comes with extensive translator's notes, discussing various topics that were difficult to translate or could use further explanation, such as details on points of interest in Tokyo. Other special features include production artwork, a clean opening and ending, and trailers (for Neo Ranga as well as ADV's current/upcoming releases).

The first volume optionally comes with an artbox, which is covered in some lovely artwork of the sisters on one side and an image of Neo Ranga walking through Tokyo on the other. The box is of sturdy construction, and though still made of light cardboard, is of decent thickness. Also, the cover art for the first volume includes a reversible cover featuring the unedited, original artwork of the swirls covering the girls. In the original, they are nude rather than in black jumpsuits. Aside from the English in the logo, this is the only content edit made to the show that I know of - understandably so, as nudity wouldn't fly on a store shelf. But it is easily made up for through the inclusion of the original cover as a reversible, the latest trend in ADV releases which I am all for, personally.

Covering a bit of old, and a bit of new, Neo Ranga seems to be a pretty good filler series, even if it is not what I was hoping it would be. There are some intriguing directions it is going in, though, and I'm looking forward to future volumes. If it weren't for the current deluge of higher-profile titles (with higher production and artistic values), Neo Ranga would be the title to tide yourself over with. With the distribution studios' release schedules, though, there are probably better ways to spend your money at the moment.

Distributor: ADV
Creator: Studio Pierrot, Pony Canyon
Released: 2003

Video Quality: C
Audio Quality: A
Presentation: A-
Content: B
Overall: B