Matt Brown (Editor in Chief) — March 4th, 2006
Text Size: smaller text normal text size bigger text

Revenge plots are a well-established cliché; one that is seldom ineffectual. We sympathize with the main character's plight, without endorsing his chosen course of action. After all, he's been dealt a bad hand; he lost everything that meant anything. We're impressed by the character that keeps the protagonist in check, because we wouldn't be that strong when faced with the same circumstance. The whole thing hinges, however, on whether the protagonist's motive is believable. Failing that, the story offers little value to speak of. This is Avenger's problem.

The creative team at Bee Train managed, somehow, to craft a vengeful main character that I couldn't possibly care about, in a setting that could scarcely be less interesting. In fact, the only clue we're given in the beginning that protagonist Layla Ashley is out for revenge is the title of the series. Well, that, and the fact that she goes bonkers whenever the name "Volk" is uttered. Apparently the writers felt that this was enough, and declined to provide any clues or background as to why Layla was after this "Volk" person, or why we should care.

It's true that a lot of Japanese storytelling tends to ease an audience into the plot instead of thrusting them into the middle of the main character's crisis, but Avenger takes the idea to an extreme. The series has another critical flaw, in that the main character has no observable qualities that justify further exposure. Layla is cold and lifeless, devoid of the anger and emotional turmoil one might expect of somebody seeking revenge. Even late in the series, when the reasoning behind her actions becomes known, her demeanor prevents any emotional connection to the audience.

Meet Layla, the "Avenger." Meet Nei, the "other character."

The setting is as lifeless as the main character, but there is at least an explanation for some of it. The series takes place on Mars -- a future version thereof, but still the barren, infertile land we're used to seeing. Fertility is a primary theme of the series, prevalent in the landscape but ill-explored by the plot. For reasons unexplained, no children are born on the Martian surface, even within the sanctuary of massive "dome cities," where most of the humans live. Humanoid mechanical "dolls" take their place, but in a subservient, decidedly non-childlike capacity. Enter the requisite Bee Train preteen co-star Nei, a doll with the exciting distinction that it looks funny.

Nei was supposed to be the check to Layla's imbalance, I gather. The writers try hard to portray Nei's presence as having some positive influence in Layla's behavior, but their interactions come across as a device -- one that couldn't function well due to Layla's rigidness.

The man named Volk sees himself as the stalwart protector of Mars. In a nutshell, he's a bruiser who settles every problem with a show of muscle, which at one point involved earning the wrath of a young Layla. (As a side note, disputes over available resources are settled via roman-style gladiator matches, for which Layla has gained an exceptional ability. Sadly, these fights are the only real entertainment we get out of the show.) I wish I could say more about Volk -- to make up a heartbreaking story about child abuse and Barney episodes, leading into a tumultuous adolescence of fighting lions with nothing but a swiss-army knife, and finishing with a hardened war hero fending off aliens with his paralyzing gaze -- but alas, there's nothing there. He exists merely as the final boss to Layla's little game of revenge.

In the end, I'm left with nothing positive to say about Avenger, which is surprising to me (though I will say that the background music for the series manages to win neutral appeal, outscoring most other elements). Even in noting the fact that the series wraps up in an appropriate manner, there's still the issue of the whole journey lacking in substance. There's no reason to feel for any of the characters, nor to even give attention to most of them. The setting contained elements that could have been interesting, but the writers bet all of their chips on Layla. The cards weren't kind in this round.

Creator: Bee Train
Distributor: Bandai
Released: 2003