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Deluxe Ariel: Almost

Deluxe Ariel is an old-school OAV mecha/action/comedy I picked up years ago when Rightstuf was clearing out VHS tapes for like a buck each. Watched it on a whim, and turned out to be surprisingly not-bad.

The strong point is by far the concept; it’s your classic giant robot/alien invasion deal, except the aliens are suffering from massive budget shortfall, run-down equipment, and having basically no luck with the invasion anywhere… except Japan, which has its head in the sand due to political deadlock. Its only defense ends up being a cracked secret-genius organization and their way-too-feminine giant robot (forget high heels—this one has hair). It was darn funny conceptually watching the aliens launch a completely unintentional wave of monsters due to equipment failure, then the heroes win because the baddy ran out of gas. It’s all played straight, too, making the backhanded Shinesman-style humor work.

The character animation is also very, very good—it has more frames of animation in the first two minutes of walking to school than an entire episode of Narutaru. Not just in budget, either—the visual acting is more lively and natural than the voice acting. Cute character designs (the youngest of the three random-everygirl pilots walks around for the entire episode with a goofy grin on her face because she got a love letter).  The action isn’t too bad, either, with a remarkable lack of screaming attack names (also, three tandem pilots in a non-combining mecha is rather uncommon).

Downsides are pretty much limited to weak, low-energy directing/editing/acting—hard to say in what proportion.  The dialogue has way too many awkward gaps, and feels sort of… off. Given the apparently substantial budget it really should have felt much punchier and livelier than it does. There’s almost no soundtrack, either, which doesn’t help at all (particularly after watching Godannar and its extreme overkill), plus the sound effects are quiet, poorly-timed, and kinda cheap-sounding. A bit of the blame goes to the age (coming up on 20 years… wow, the ’90s were a long time ago), but it’s mostly just rough execution.

Megumi Hayashibara appears as a likable tomboyish high-schooler (frankly, it’s one of the better casting matches for her unusual voice), and I did like some of the voices even if the execution was weak.

Already ordered myself the second tape of this one—good enough to spend twice on shipping what the tape costs, at least. I’d forgotten how awful VHS looks, though; there may not be any compression artifacts, but it’s blurry as all get-out and the subtitles look horrible.  Ah, the cover once provided by watching stuff on a budget 21″ CRT TV that wouldn’t know HD if it gave it a wedgie.

Speaking of humorous old-school giant robot series, still getting a kick out of Godannar and its over-the-top take at newlywed robot pilots and action heroes going on middle age. Basically if you took all the overblown action and scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs drama of a classic giant robot show, cranked it to ten and gave it a big modern budget… you’d be halfway there.  You’d then need to apply exactly the same blunt overkill to the fanservice end of things.

A jiggle-factor that makes Plastic Little look static (even the robots bounce), awkward cockpit angles galore, and ill-fitting uniforms designed by the same guy who does wardrobe for pin-up calendars. The overkill and antigravity cleavage is extreme enough it’s actually sort of funny in the same way everything else is, and I did get a laugh out of one scene where the most ridiculous of the lot—mom to the young bride protagonist—pivots dramatically and sends the buttons of her poor uniform spraying around the room.

The mechanic crew are also good for a laugh, particularly their merciless hammering on the male hero’s cutesy domestic nicknames.

It has some drama brewing from the looks of it, with the question being whether it’s going to keep it at an extreme enough level of overkill to be somewhat light-hearted (so far, so good—a girl dramatically orphaned nearly works as comedy) or throw a wet blanket on itself. Points for the visual darkly comic joke of superimposing the classic “they live on as long as you keep them in your heart” speech with an image of someone from the past living on in a not-nearly-so-metaphoric sense because they’re in a tube somewhere in the basement. (Actually every episode through about the fifths ends with a shot of girl-from-the-past in a tube.)

Certainly worth watching the rest of, and if nothing else it’s got topnotch animation.

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