Technically it’s not a TV series, but it is brand new this summer. Did any of you watch Psalms of Planets Eureka Seven on the Cartoon Network? Yeah, that show was a total mess, wasn’t it? It sure was pretty and fun sometimes, though! Studio Bones, the folks behind Eureka Seven, are back with a new show that looks and feels a whole lot like it, but hopefully with a bit less of the awkward shout-outs to prior giant robot shows and more shout-outs to transforming hero shows and Studio Ghibli’s productions. Unfortunately, you’ve got a bit of work ahead of you to watch this show. It’s only available on PSN, i.e. the Playstation 3’s online store, and it’s only available as a 24-hour rental ($4 gets you the gorgeous 1080p HD version). Oh, and it’s only available in the United States of America for the next few months.
Let me say that again, because I think it’s pretty funny: A brand-new Japanese cartoon show premiered in English-subtitled format exclusively in the United States on a game console’s pay-per-view service. If you’re a foreigner, like my good buddy duckroll, you should take care – unless you’ve got a good proxy you might not be able to download the episodes even if you’re able to pay for them. Or you can do what I did and download the totally watchable standard-definition version of the episodes which are floating around on your favorite Bittorrent repository. Not that I am in any way suggesting that you pursue such a course of action – we at Colony Drop support the men and women who produce the cartoons we love and love to hate, and they deserve to be compensated for their work. I’m just saying the option’s available.
Xam’d‘s first episode is mostly world-building and character introductions. Our hero Akiyuki is a typical (and apparently perpetually tardy) high-school student trying to catch the bus before he’s late for school while running errands for his separated parents. We also get to meet the crew of a postal service airship who Akiyuki ends up joining up with in the second episode (as telegraphed by the opening sequence). Like the crew of Gekko State in Eureka Seven, or the crew of the Daybreak Ship in Kenran Butousai (another Bones production), they’re a varied and distinctive bunch, featuring old guys, women, and children. It remains to be seen if they’re going to be able to distance themselves much from their stock personalities.
Unfortunately for Akiyuki and friends, his lovely neutral home of Sentan Island is about to get the hell bombed out of it by an approaching fleet of airships. As if that weren’t bad enough, in a fit of thinking with his other head, Akiyuki helps a strange young woman get past the wartime security check and onto his school bus. Turns out she’s a suicide bomber, and while many of his classmates are lying around bleeding, a strange green orb blasts Akiyuki in the arm. When he goes to check out the remains of the bus, the suicide bomber, still alive for the moment despite her proximity to the explosion, informs our hero that he’s now in charge of the titular “lost memory,” Xam’d. One gooey transformation sequence later, Akiyuki turns into a big white-and-orange creature and is promptly shot by a soldier.
He’s not having a good morning.
The second episode features some exciting and gorgeous action sequences and various groups whispering in dark chambers about the repercussions of the mysterious powers our hero and his opponents have been wielding.
Have I mentioned yet that this show looks great? Not “good for a Japanese TV cartoon,” but legitimately great? I have no idea if they can afford to keep up this level of motion and detail, but there are so many great little touches in these first two episodes. There’s just something about the design of the town, its buildings and technology that make it seem like a real place. There’s a lot of cribbing from Studio Ghibli’s notes, especially with the world design. Almost-silent gal Nakiami’s outfit and personal aircraft scream Nausicaa, too. Director Masayuki Miyaji worked as an assistant director on Ghibli’s Spirited Away, so I guess all this isn’t too surprising. I was surprised to find that character design duties were handled by frequent Eureka Seven animation director and key animator Ayumi Kurashima – I had figured that Eureka Seven and Overman King Gainer designer Kenichi Yoshida had been called in once again. The designs are a bit more restrained than Yoshida’s work, but they’re still quite lively and varied. The animation budget’s nice and high, and Bones apparently started production on these episodes sometime last year, so characters are very expressive and prone to gesturing. There are a lot of great details, like how Akiyuki stumbles and dances around a lot as he rushes down the hill and through his father’s cluttered house. I’m so used to crappy looking TV cartoons that watching something with real effort and spirit put into it is a joy. I really hope they can keep this up for the rest of the series.
The soundtrack doesn’t warrant as much gushing and frothing, but it works excellently. The score features a lot of percussion-heavy, sort-of tribal tracks. It adds a calming-yet-mysterious aura to the peaceful scenes while ramping up nicely when things get serious. The opening theme, “SHUT UP AND EXPLODE” by Boom Boom Satellites, is also really darn catchy. This is a show which makes me wish I had a nice surround-sound setup to enjoy during the big action sequences. The main cast turns in fine performances, but most of the work is done by the visuals this time around.
This is easily the show I’m most enthusiastic about that’s currently running and I’m even willing to pay $3-4 to watch them if someone gets the PC download service working with hacked PSPs. I’d rather buy it for that price than rent it for a day, but I want to support a business model that supports rapid English releases of awesome new Japanese cartoons. Kudos to Sony Computer Entertainment for trying something new by sponsoring this show, even if you neglected to mention this exciting brand-new exclusive PSN content in your E3 press conference.