In the world of giant mecha and space opera, it’s hard to find anything genuinely new. The genre is so defined, there are few trails left to blaze, and so a new series will most likely develop along one of two routes: it can either ride the coat tails an already established franchise, and present itself as a sequel/prequel/reversioning (the new — and EXCELLENT — Evangelion titles are great example of this), or a show can strive to be a parody, preferably a really GOOD one, such as Galaxy Angel or Martian Successor Nadesico.
Vandread is in this latter category, and it doesn’t take long (approximately five seconds) to find out that this is space mecha action with a twist — forget aliens or angels, this is boys vs. girls! Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus, but after decades in deep space, the two don’t even know what each other LOOK like, much less how to make friendly conversation, so they’ve decided to shoot each other instead. But what will happen when the space suits come off, the artificial atmosphere gets thin, and the hormones get thick?
Vandread is, in many ways, exactly what one might expect. It follows the script — if wackiness can ever be said to have a script — with all the usual elements of your average science fiction space harem show (yes, we just said that). Our underdog hero, Hibiki, starts off as a “third class citizen”, who works in a factory, but dreams of a better life. Those dreams — and Hibiki’s big mouth, get him into trouble when he vows to bring back one of the giant combat mecha his factory makes parts for. Joyriding space combat vehicles is a bad idea for a lot of reasons, but things go from bad to worse when the launch date for mankind’s date with destiny is stepped up by a few hours, and the ship takes off with Hibiki inside!
The ship was SUPPOSED to be on its way to confront man’s age old enemy: women, but like most plans, good or bad, all that goes out the airlock on first contact. It seems the girls are a lot cuter — and TOUGHER — than anyone remembered, and Hibiki finds himself running for dear life after his close encounters of the feminine kind. But when he and the girls are accidentally sucked into an inter-dimensional space portal, they come face to face (the eyes are up here!) with a new, even deadlier enemy. Will they work together to survive? Or will they fight to the death over the proper position of the toilet seat?
While Vandread is a spoof, the staff sports some pretty serious artillery. Script writer Natsuko Takahashi has worked on some of the sci-fi legends, including Akira, part of the Gundam universe, and Guyver. Script writer Atsuhiro Tomioka has also written scripts for Glass Fleet and wrote the screenplay for a Space Battleship Yamato movie. And with mecha designs from the likes of Kanetake Ebikawa (Mobile Suit Gundam 00), Shoichi Masuo (Akira, Evangelion 1.0, 2.0) and Yoshikazu Miyao (The Big O), Vandread stands in good stead with very high production value.
The stars are definitely out in terms of the cast. Lowly Hibiki gets his voice from the laudable Tony Oliver, who has appeared in Robotech and Tenchi Muyo, two cornerstones of the genre. Oliver also has some very respectable staff credits to his name: he has directed and written script for Eureka Seven, Gurren Lagann, and both seasons of Mahoromatic. Dita, the perky young cadet who makes first contact with Hibiki, is voiced by Julie Maddalena (Ghost In The Shell SAC, Chobits). Meia Gisburn gets her voice from Julie Pickering, who was also the talent behind Sohpia in Last Exile (a decidedly more serious space drama) and Rozen Maiden’s Souseiseki. Femme fatale Jura Basil Elden is voiced by Melissa Williamson, whom you may recognize as none other than Ghost In the Shell SAC’s Motoko Kusanagi!! In addition to her portrayal of the famous Major and quite a few other anime roles, Williamson also has a prodigious career in the gaming industry, and a slew of directorial credits, including GITS, Naruto, Wolf’s Rain, and the movie for the legendary space epic, Cowboy Bebob.
While Vandread is admittedly a harem show, there ARE guys on board. Resident badass Duero, complete with hair that covers one eye, gets his voice from the inimitable Stephen Blum, who has played some of the most memorable characters of all time, such as Cowboy Bebop’s Spike Spiegel and The Big O’s Roger Smith. But what really blew me away was hearing Beau Billingslea as The Premiere. There’s nothing like the voice of Cowboy Bebop’s Jet blasting away about the evils of womankind. If only Faye could hear him!
As a complete set, Vandread The Ultimate Collection spans five discs, and contains two seasons, which run 13 episodes each, as well as two new OVA’s, Integral, and Turbulence. Sadly, these last two are subtitled only, but they still provide some new material for veteran fans. The cover is double sided, and while not truly reversible (half of it is an episode directory), it sports some spiff art none the less.
There are a lot of sci-fi titles out there, but Vandread stands out, being reminiscent of classics like Cowboy Bebop or Outlaw Star. The production values are high, the art is beautiful, and the jokes are hilarious. If you’re a fan of space shows, especially a good space comedy, Vandread has a place on your shelf. We give it two giant mecha thumbs up!