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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Next Senki Ehrgeiz: The First Late-Night Mech Anime?

Today I'm going to talk about Ehrgeiz... No, not that Ehrgeiz!  I really can't talk too much about this show using the name Entertainment used. Yes, it is part of the full title, but when said alone most people are going to think about Square's collaboration with Namco that led to the title infamously known as "that fighting game that has Final Fantasy VII characters in it". And to make it all the more confusing, both this anime and that game came out in the very same year!

Next Senki/Record of Next War Ehrgeiz, translated as Ehrgeiz: The Next War in its North American release, is one of the early examples of late-night anime, which got their big start in 1997. The animation budget is low, as were most of them at that time, it's mostly obscure now, as a fair number of them also are, and the story isn't anything amazingly special... But I can't help but really enjoy this title.

In the future the people of Earth start expanding into space by creating the "Next" colonies. Years later Next would rebel, forming the Next Government and starting a war with the Earth Government. This prompted both sides into modifying their MVs/Metal Vehicles, the giant mechs of this title, for battle use. In the meantime, a third force appeared in the form of Terra, who rebelled against Earth and wanted peace to return. Throughout all of this, Next started experimenting and created S.A.C (System of Absolutely Conscience [ah, Engrish]), or "S" for short, an MV-like being that broke free and escaped from Next. All the meanwhile, a small batch of unknown outlaws make their living pilfering weapons & rations from any nearby ships that come by their home of Next 7, a colony which was ravaged during the war.

OK, now I'll say right here that from all of that story the only important things are Next, Terra, and "S". Yeah, the Earth Government becomes unimportant after episode 4 when they force Terra to escape to an abandoned Moon base, and the whole idea that there's a war going on is just a backdrop to the main story, which is all about "S" and how its existence affects not only Next and Terra, but also that small group of outlaws who live on Next 7. All I'll say about the story is that, while it's not amazingly written or anything like that, it is a mostly interesting story, especially in the second half of the show. Unfortunately, the story doesn't really hit its stride until about half-way through episode 4, and by then most people would have stopped watching. Those early episodes aren't bad, mind you, but they are mostly in the "something-of-the-week" style, and are only important in that they introduce the characters and get them ready for the main story.

But the appeal of the show isn't exactly in its story, though, but rather the characters themselves. The characters are mostly an interesting lot and are the main reason to watch the show. The main characters from Next are Akane Aoi, a higher-ranking soldier whose main goal is to do the impossible and capture "S", even when she gets demoted to a point where it should be impossible for her to do so, and Arnold, a mysterious man who was involved in the creation of "S" and is brought into the story by Akane in episode 1. From Terra there's Hal, the child leader who has psychic powers and ends up gaining a psychic link with "S", and Galbraith, Hal's second-in-command. Finally, from the outlaws you have Jay Striker and Balzac Gaillian, ex-Next soldiers who were thought to be dead (Balzac being a war hero), Roddy and Gord, ex-Earth soldiers, Ken and Ann, two kids who were orphaned by the bombing Next 7 suffered, and Camel, a mysterious man who's the group's radio operator. During the middle portion of the show there's also Carl, one of Akane's subordinates  whose involvement in the story makes it so that the outlaws can no longer live their normal life while "S" is running around space.

Akane is interesting in that she continually is punished for not capturing "S", even though no one else in Next can do it either, but that just makes her want to capture "S" all the more, even when she's taken off of the project. Arnold's development is scarce and mostly happens in the second half, but it's the mystery behind him, as well as his somewhat creepy look, that actually makes him interesting to watch. Hal and Galbraith are actually two of the most interesting characters because as Hal's psychic link with "S" strengthens it starts to destroy his sanity and warps his goal of peace, and Galbraith becomes conflicted in what he should do: Should he continue to follow Hal's orders or should he start to think for himself? The outlaws are probably the least changing of the group, but at the same time they are the most enjoyable, as they are fun to watch, full of life and energy, and when "S", Next, and Terra do end up interfering with their lives it does bring about a mostly well-done shake-up to their dynamic. This is definitely more a show about the characters and how one thing, "S", brings them together and changes their ways of life. Another theme is ambition, as Akane, Hal, and Jay each have an ambition that they want to fulfill, and "S" acts as the catalyst that brings the three of them against each other. Considering how the word "ehrgeiz" is German for "ambition", you do see that the title is actually really fitting and not just used randomly. I felt that the ending really was well done and while not a happy ending for all I can't say that I wasn't disappointed by it.

The music is actually another nice piece of the show. Shiro Hamaguchi, whose most recognizable work is probably from the One Piece anime, does a pretty good job here alongside Akifumi Tada, who did the music for The Law of Ueki, Samurai Gun, & Haré+Guu. None of the music feels really out of place, and I especially like the song that plays when the outlaws are hanging out at Next 7. Another great piece of music is the opening theme, "Dream Jack" by HUMMING BIRD, a.k.a. the group that Yoshiki Fukyama headed up before joining JAM Project. Fukyama is just an excellent singer, and his band was just great. It's easy to see why HUMMING BIRD was used for the performances of Fire Bomber's songs in Macross 7, and "Dream Jack" is probably my favorite of them all. The ending theme, "One Voice for EHRGEIZ" by Mariko Fukui, is a slow theme that does its job and is also enjoyable.

The mech designs are also worth mentioning a little bit, as the main characters all have MVs that have different styles to them. Jay's MV, for example, has that easily identifiable clover-leaf on it and has a lot of sleek lines, whereas something like Galbraith's MV is big and blocky in comparison. It's not all too surprising then to find out that the mech designer was Takahiro Yamada, whose most identifiable designs are those of the Zonder Robos from GaoGaiGar, but has also done the designs for shows like Borgman, Dragon Drive, Machine Robo: Revenge of Chronos, and every Eldoran show after Raijin-Oh. The man is able to deliver a nice variety of styles within one show, making the Metal Vehicles fairly distinguishable from each other.

Like I mentioned early on, Next Senki Ehrgeiz was licensed before. licensed it back in the late-90s as part of a package deal from d-rights, which also included both Eat-Man animes, the absolutely horrid AWOL: Absent WithOut Leave, Haunted Junction, and Don't Leave Me Alone, DaisyEhrgeiz was released across six subtitled VHS tapes, and in 2000, when the company became Bandai Entertainment, the first two episodes were given an English dub by Ocean and released on VHS. The dub isn't anything to talk about at all; the best way to describe it is that it's "just there". Mike Toole, who just loves obscure English anime dubs, even covered it at the end of his Dubs That Time Forgot Part 2 video, which can seen here. There seemed to be at least some sort of plan for a DVD release of Ehrgeiz, as a trailer for it was included on Eat-Man '98's DVD release (complete with a Steven Blum narration!), but nothing came from it. In fact, Japan has never received a DVD release of the show, either; the best-quality you can get is the laserdisc release, which itself is pretty hard to get all of. It's also available via streaming in Japan through the Bandai Channel.

Next Senki Ehrgeiz is by far a show that will probably never get a license rescue. It's too "old" by today's standards, it's obscure as hell, there isn't even a DVD release of the show in Japan, and laserdisc masters can only give you so much in terms of video quality for a Region 1 DVD release... But this is exactly what the type of anime that The Land of Obscusion is for. I can only appropriately end this review with a quote from an old review by "Lord Carnage", because I think it describes the show perfectly: "Ehrgeiz, while being far from a classic, is still worth watching."

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