Friday, January 16, 2009

GetBackers: Complete Season One (anime TV series)

I had a little debate with myself over how I would write about this series. Would I write an entry for each DVD, or would I write an entry for each boxed set? In the end, I decided to write an entry for each boxed set, since I bought the thinpaks. For those not in the know, besides conserving more space, anime thinpaks also tend to have absolutely no extras - this GetBackers set has a few previews on the first DVD but nothing aside from that. This is an important thing to know, since, if you were to buy the individual GetBackers DVDs, you would be getting quite a few extras. I checked out a few of those DVDs through my local public library back when I was in grad school, and I remember really enjoying the interviews with the English dub actors.

Well, on to the summary. The GetBackers are a team of two, Ban and Ginji. Ban has the Jagan (when he makes eye contact with someone, he can give them a dream for one real-time minute, a dream so real it's like reality) and a gripping power of 200 kg of force. Ginji can generate electricity with his body. The two of them use their abilities to get back things that their clients have lost or that were taken from them.

The first few episodes of the first season of GetBackers are pretty much "job of the week." A client comes and tells them what they need retrieved, and Ban and Ginji go and get it back. Sometimes it turns out that the client lied to them. Also, despite having an excellent success rate, Ban and Ginji rarely manage to make money. Either the deal with their client goes bad, or they take what money they get and spend it immediately. This formula sticks around for a few episodes, as the GetBackers retrieve a lost kitty thing (a doll?), a painting, a violin, and more.

These first episodes also introduce many of the GetBackers' main allies and enemies and give hints of Ban and Ginji's pasts. Before he partnered up with Ban, Ginji was the Lightning Emperor of the Limitless Fortress, a giant abandoned building that most people in the city try to pretend isn't there. Ginji was the leader of the VOLTS, a gang that kept the peace in the Limitless Fortress as much as possible. When Ginji left the Limitless Fortress, his people felt betrayed, and gradually the Four Kings of VOLTS (Kazuki, Shido, MakubeX, and an unnamed person) went their separate ways. Kazuki and Shido are introduced in the earlier episodes of this show. Kazuki, who is easily mistaken for a woman, can wield string as a weapon (he also uses it to spy on people). Shido can communicate with animals and use a beast mimicry technique.

The early episodes also introduce Himiko (a transporter, a poison-user, a person from Ban's past, and potentially an important character in the future, if someone would just explain what the Last Children are), Akabane (a transporter and creepy killer), and Hevn (a negotiator who gives the GetBackers their most dangerous jobs).

Eventually, Hevn gets everyone together (Ban, Ginji, Akabane, Shido, Kazuki, Himiko) and offers them a job retrieving and transporting something for a client. The client won't even tell them what they're looking for, just that its initials are IL (it's called "ill" - apparently, the Japanese writers liked the link to the English word "ill") and that it's somewhere in the Limitless Fortress. Everybody enters the Limitless Fortress, and almost immediately the group gets split up (the smaller groups include Ban and Shido, Ginji and Akabane, and Himiko and Kazuki). Gradually, everyone discovers that MakubeX, one of the former Four Kings of VOLTS, has IL and has plans for it that may result in the destruction of the Limitless Fortress and maybe Tokyo (where the series is located). As they struggle to stay alive and stop him, they begin to uncover more of the Limitless Fortress's secrets.

I'm so very happy that I own this entire series, and not just the first season. If I had finished this boxed set and not had the second season already in my possession, I think I would've had to cry. It's not that this season ends in a cliffhanger - actually, although it would have been annoying for the series to end at this point, it could have, and I've seen this sort of thing done in other anime shows. Mainly, I'm glad I have the whole series because I loved the characters so much.

There's so many great characters in this series that I doubt anyone who watches this show wouldn't fall in love with at least one of them. My favorites happen to be Kazuki (I've got a thing for anime pretty boys), Ban (so very cool and mysterious, not to mention funny), and Akabane (God, but he's creepy). My only complaint about the characters is that the women are far less interesting than the men - Hevn's there mainly for the sex appeal (her breast are big enough for at least two women), Natsumi's just there to be cheerful and cute (from what I've read in Wikipedia, she may be a much more interesting character in the manga), and Himiko's a relatively weak fighter compared to everyone else. Himiko would be even weaker if she were treated more realistically - as things stand, however, she somehow never runs out of her special poisons during her entire time in the Limitless Fortress.

I also enjoyed the music in the series - I'm not just talking about the opening and closing songs (I love the first closing song, sung by the VA for Natsumi), but also the background music. During the violin episodes, there were some very pretty pieces of music. At some point, I may look up the soundtrack to see if the songs I enjoyed the most are there - if so, I'll be putting it on my "to buy" list (which is, regrettably, much longer than I'll ever be able to afford).

The season's final revelations are pretty shocking. Throughout the series, characters talk about how horrible it was that Ginji and the others left the Limitless Fortress, leaving behind those who couldn't leave it themselves. I had thought that these people couldn't leave because there's no place for them in the outside world - a pretty lame excuse, when you watch Ginji, Shido, and Kazuki managing reasonably well outside the Limitless Fortress. However, the real reason they can't leave is much more tragic. If viewers have any trouble following what's going on, things are made painfully clear when Ren, a resident of the Limitless Fortress, tries to follow everyone as they leave the Limitless Fortress at the end of the last episode of the season. I suppose I can understand why MakubeX's actions were so extreme, if he was having to deal with the suspicion that he's not real all on his own.

Overall, I loved this boxed set. The characters are wonderful, and the story got to be pretty riveting. For fangirl types like myself, there's a lot of very squeel-worthy friendships (the main ones for me were Ban and Ginji and Kazuki and Juubei - Boys on Boys on Film even has it listed as a "Slashable Anime"). I watched the entire series through in Japanese, and I watched a few episodes in English dub. The Japanese voice actors were very enjoyable to listen to. The English dub actors weren't always so good. The subtitles were, for the most part, well done, although there was one episode (the final episode on the second disk, I believe) that confusingly had subtitles when no one was actually speaking. I checked the English dub, and someone actually did speak at that point in the dub, so I wonder if the Japanese language track was missing the line, or if the subtitlers were working off of the English dub (gosh, that'd be a horrible way to do subtitles).

My most consistently favorite English dub VAs were Jason Liebrecht (Ban), Ellie McBride (Hevn), and Matt Hislope (Kazuki). Shannon McCormick (Akabane) is pretty good, but he's outclassed by the much creepier Nobuo Tobita, who I think my be my favorite VA in the entire series. The English VA casting for this series is pretty complicated, which, to my mind, is never a good sign - from what I can tell, there are at least 2 VAs for Ban and three for MakubeX. Most of the English VA cast is people I've never heard in any of the other anime I've seen, also not something I tend to view as an encouraging sign of a good English dub. I can't say for sure, since I haven't watched everything in English yet, but it doesn't seem like it's a bad dub - only a little of what I watched was what I'd call hideously awful (the bit that tops my list is when child Kazuki and child Juubei are running away from the massacre at Kazuki's home - shouldn't someone have told the VAs that they were supposed to sound upset??).

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Cowboy Bebop (anime TV series) - Spike Spiegel is a bounty hunter with a laid-back attitude, amazing fighting skills, and a dark past. He's partners with Jet Black, a former cop, and, as the series progresses, his group grows to include Faye Valentine (a sexy, tricky gambler who can't really remember her past) and Ed (a weird and cheerful young hacker). There are a couple manga series based on this anime, but they're not nearly as good as the anime. In addition, there's a movie that takes place fairly late in the series timeline - I'd recommend watching the series before seeing the movie. Those who'd like another series about characters taking on various one-shot (for the most part) jobs and usually just barely breaking even might enjoy this show. Like GetBackers, the series has both its serious and comedic moments.
  • Staying Dead (book) by Laura Anne Gilman - Wren Valere is a Retriever, someone who finds things that are missing for people who, for one reason or another, cannot go to the police. Sergei, her partner and agent (and potentially more), finds the jobs and negotiates their fee. In this first book in the series, the two of them are hired to find a missing cornerstone with a protection spell on in. Unfortunately, they also have to deal with a dangerous runaway spirit that was freed when the spell was stolen. Wren does things with electricity that are similar to what Ginji in GetBackers does. Those who'd like something with a premise similar to GetBackers, only less light-hearted and comedic, might like this book and series.
  • Black Cat (manga) by Kentaro Yabuki - Ex-assassin Train and Sven are a bounty hunting team constantly trying to earn enough money for a decent meal. Their lives are mostly normal until someone who knew Train back when he was an assassin tries to recruit him into a new and dangerous crime ring full of people with amazing abilities. Those who'd like another action-packed story featuring a perpetually penniless team of characters who happen to have special powers may enjoy this series. There is also an anime based on this manga series, but I haven't seen it yet and can't comment on how similar or different it is from the manga.
  • .hack//SIGN (anime TV series) - This story is set mainly within a popular virtual reality RPG called the World. This particular story (there are several .hack//whatever series, manga, and games) revolves around a detached and introverted player character named Tsukasa. Many strange things happen around Tsukasa, and for some reason he can't log out of the game. Those who found MakubeX fascinating may enjoy this series - Tsukasa is a similar character. In addition, the World has some similarities with the Limitless Fortress.

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