Welcome to the world of Aquarion EVOL, where love must yet be sin, nakedness rivets you to the pulse of life, and punches go on for infinity.
Amata Sora has the good fortune to meet a beautiful girl, Mikono Suzushiro, in the theatre where he works. However, his good luck doesn’t last long as their first date is spoiled by an invasion of Abductors, enemies from another dimension who kidnap women from his homeworld of Vega. In the ensuing fight, Amata discovers he possess the Element power necessary to pilot an Aquaria, the robots fighting against the Abductors, and unlock a forbidden, ancient power. When he and Mikono are recruited by Neo-DEAVA, the organization that trains the teen Elements who pilot the Aquaria, they’re swept into a battle to defend not only their world, but love itself.
The Good and the Bad
Aquarion EVOL is the type of show that caps grandiose speeches with space donuts and naked babies. It’s a show that embraces what would be shameless fanservice in any other show with an honest purity that miraculously subsumes naked, gasping kids into a weirdly innocent sensibility. Actually, Aquarion EVOL doesn’t know what shame is — everything about original creator Shoji Kawamori and writer Mari Okada’s world is drenched in an overwhelming authenticity of intention. On some level, the sheer volume of Aquarion EVOL’s immensity of spirit is overwhelming in its guilelessness. Even shows of comparable grandeur like Gurren Lagann preserve a sense of being awesome because they know they’re awesome. Aquarion EVOL, on the other hand, is possessed of an entirely sincere unconsciousness of its own absurdity. And, frankly, that utter lack of self-awareness lends the show a charm, likability, and general veneer of childishness that invites the audience to let go of all cynicism and simply come along for the ride.
Now, I realize this all sounds like an entirely abstract assessment of Aquarion EVOL’s relative merits, but the show’s total lack of reservations is so apparent in watching that it might as well be a character all on its own. Of course, that’s not to say that the actual characters of the show are of inferior — in fact, it is through this cast of ridiculous personages that the bulk of EVOL’s encompassing soul is communicated. Although protagonist Amata suffers the tragic anime disease of being too nice to really be all that interesting, he at least floats when he gets excited (physically or emotionally) and takes some very genuine steps towards trying to woo Mikono. Mikono herself likewise often lacks the additional facets beyond her base personality to make her truly compelling (and her somewhat uncomfortable role as the “love” interest of the beastial Kagura sometimes feels degrading), but she sticks close enough to being a cute anime girl that she’s pleasant to watch on screen.
However, it is when Amata, Mikono, and the rest of the cast step into the cockpits of the Aquaria ships that they become the vehicles for EVOL‘s unrestrained dramatic sensibilities. Lead by the incomparably verbose and opaque Zen Fudou’s brilliant speeches (“Its rhythm is the drumbeat of youth!”), when the teen pilots of the Aquaria merge in a sequence so blatantly sexual that calling it a metaphor seems entirely disingenuous, they begin to spout of the most amazingly cheesy and nonsensical lines. And it works. It really does. Even our straight-laced main couple literally cannot stop themselves, accompanied by the ebullient chorus of their classmates’ exclamations, from gasping at the sensation of “combining” with the opposite sex or from shrieking as they’re zapped by what are effectively shock collars for hormonal teens.
Aquarion EVOL (um, that’s LOVE spelled backwards, by the way) has no right to work as well as it does, but this is a show utterly uninterested in anything besides telling its story and telling it in the way it wants to. The show tosses around themes, motifs, and tropes around with the reckless abandon of a child, lashing out with an ever growing list of incredibly named techniques (“Subliminal Punch!”). Fully halfway through the cour, the plot still bordered on incomprehensible to me, with the villain’s motivations nothing more than a foggy cloud of presumed hormones, but when you have Zen jubilantly intoning lines like, “Let nakedness rivet you to the pulse of life,” all logical methods of engagement capsize amidst the rush of sheer energy EVOL generates in your soul.
To truly detail all of Aquarion EVOL‘s numerous amazing absurdities would be a near impossible task and, indeed, one that would be a disservice to the experience of watching the show. All that can really be said is that Kawamori and Okada have fashioned a narrative and a particular narrative style that is imbued with a child’s unshakeable belief in the brilliant glory of life. To be allowed to participate in that kind of superlative worldview, even in the amidst of what can only be describe as a hurricane of shockingly coherent emotional logic, is nothing short of a gift.
Visually, Aquarion EVOL is nothing short of gorgeous. Although Funimation’s DVD release is quite serviceable, it’s almost a crime not to be watching this show in 1080p. Although color is never appropriated as a theme the way the show’s music is, EVOL’s color work is beautiful — from the lovely backgrounds to the character designs to the mecha transformation sequences, every moment is awash with color. Unlike a lot of modern anime, where color palettes often tend towards brightness, Aquarion EVOL invokes a sense of richness with the varying hues of its color work. In terms of actual animation, EVOL leaves the bulk of the impressive action to Satelight’s 3-D CG work which, while certainly not the most smoothly integrated CGI I’ve ever seen, does a good job of keeping 2-D and 3-D separate, avoiding awkward cross-style exchanges. Perhaps more importantly, the CGI itself looks very good and is used to produce some of the coolest CGI robot battles I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.
Taking the reigns from an all-star Japanese cast (Yuki Kaji, Ai Kayano, Kana Kanazawa), the Funimation dub cast turns in generally strong performances across the board. Although Christopher Bevins is less than convincing in his role as awkward nice guy Amata, he’s surrounded by strong performances on all sides to support him. Brina Palencia, aside from the occasional odd delivery, is stellar as Mikono and Caitlin Glass nails her performance as the friendly Zessica Wong. Among the side cast, Josh Grelle and Alexis Tipton ham it up as Andy and Mix, respectively, demonstrating a vocal chemistry that greatly enhances the relationship between the two characters. Other noteworthy performances are Todd Haberkorn’s Jin and Carrie Savage’s knockout performances in limited screen time as loli chairwoman Crea Dolosera.
With Yoko Kanno and Ayako Otsuka working together on Aquarion EVOL’s music, the soundtrack for the show is predictably great. With music serving as one of the many metaphors EVOL throws around, as well as being the manifestation of Schrade’s Element power, the soundtrack is diverse and dynamic. From J-pop guitars to majestic organ pieces to pop-choral pieces, Kanno and Otsuka pull out genre after genre the way the show pulls out tropes and use each song well.
The OP, “”Kimi no Shinwa ~ Aquarion Dai 2 Shou” by Akino with bless4, and ED, “Gekkō Symphonia” by Akino & AIKI of bless4 showcase both ends of Akino’s beautiful range. The OP, a triumphant and “spacey” pop ballad headlined by Akino’s lush high tones, is a perfect match for the unrestrained nature of the show and gets better with each consecutive listen. The ED features the lower end of Akino’s vocal prowess in a celestial, rich meditation. The very beginning and very end of the OP and ED, respectively, are the best parts of each song, kickstarting and capping off each episode brilliantly.
The first disc only holds the episode 1 commentary with voice director and actor for Amata, Christopher Bevins, writer and actor for Mikage, J. Michael Tatum, and Brina Palencia, who voices Mikono. Although they provide some interesting thoughts on the casting of the show (many voice actors from the original Aquarion returned for the sequel series), it’s mostly standard Funimation episode commentary with a lot of joking around.
The second disc hosts the episode 9 commentary with Bevins, Josh Grelle (Andy), and Alexis Tipton (Mix). The trio ends up doing a lot of commentary on the actual episode, while avoiding too many inside jokes, making it one of the more pleasant Funimation commentaries I’ve heard. Also on the second disc are the clean OP/ED (both of which are well-served without the clutter of the credit) and a translated program that aired in Japan prior to the broadcast of the show. The program includes short interviews with original creator Shoji Kawamori, director Yusuke Yamamoto, and five of the voice actors from the show (including perpetual fan-favorites Kana Kanazawa and Yuki Kaji). It’s a neat look back at the origins of the original series and a cool experience to see the familiar names in the flesh.
Pretty stellar fun thus far. In no other show would you find a creative staff willing to devote an entire episode to completely straight-faced “hole” jokes, complete with existential reflections facilitated by donuts. DONUTS! Aquarion EVOL believes in its own absurdities absolutely, and so do I. The only thing that would make it better would be seeing it in full HD.
Final Grade: B+
This review was initially published on The Otaku Review. The original article can be read here.