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Has a few good moments despite many flaws, but only fans of the games will really like it.
This series of three videos is based on the old Gradius games. Being familiar enough with the original games to have grown somewhat fond of them, this attracted me as a curiosity. Video games are often adapted into animation in Japan, and these films often do a far better job than any occidental live-action attempts at game tie-ins (Street Fighter, anyone?). Alas, even a fan of the Gradius games will have to admit that there's a lot wrong with these videos.
For starters, the animation quality is rather mediocre. Granted, the series is rather old and only on a video budget, but plenty of eighties OAVs still look the part today. The frequent recycling of animation sequences and overall pretty mundane look of everything makes this look sadly below-par at moments. Mikimoto's typical character design style is the only saving grace (I'm rather fond of his unmistakeable style as well), but we've seen him do much better on several occasions.
So-so animation aside, the plot of each episode is also rather insipid. They're predictable at best, and almost completely devoid of interest most
of time. There needs to be an excuse for all the blasting, so we must have -some- kind of plot. It's just a shame that we end with some pretty rushed and dull stories that aren't even counterbalanced by decent doses of action most of the time. Supposedly dramatic scenes, attempts at character development or emotional moments usually fail pretty miserably, with the exception of some nicely psychedelic scenes for Stephanie in the third episode that actually work. As such the characters are also a really rather flat and lifeless bunch, who's development, if there is any at all, won't interest the viewer very much. All of Eddy's scenes left me entirely cold, for instance. Even a heroic death scene is somehow entirely devoid of spark and leaves little to no impact on the viewer.
So we have all the makings for a first-rate disaster here, if it weren't for the saving grace of the battle scenes. In similiar fashion to Jackie Chan films where the viewer only really goes in for the fights and doesn't care too much if the rest is rubbish, the space blasting scenes are the only thing to really hold any interest for the viewer here. Anyone who's familiar with the Gradius videogames is bound to feel a glow of recognition during these scenes. The spaceship designs stick very closely to those in the games, and such typical elements as organic corridors with throbbing, trap-ridden walls (rendered with a lot of sideways shots, which makes it look very much like a side-scrolling shoot'em up), enemy ships and big monsters straight out of the games and even the same music from the games re-orchestrated with quite some flair; it's all there.
This establishes an enjoyable enough feel of "it's just like in the games!", and the references are fun to pick out. Alas, the battle scenes aren't always plentiful enough to counterbalance the rather poor plot-building scenes. Only the third and last episode gets away with it by offering slightly more crisp animation and a decent pace to it's simple "save the kidnapped love interest" plot (the characters even begin to show some likeable traits during this episode), and a good dose of those action scenes with lots of moments lifted right out of the games. Episode three is the only one I can actually fully recommend as it's quite a fun way to kill an odd hour for a Gradius fan and suffers less from the flaws of the other episodes; it rises to the level of being unspectacular but decent.
Those who are not familiar with the Gradius games have hardly any reason to check this out, as there's far better out there if it's some space shooting you want. And even die-hard Gradius fans are advised to thread with care, and possibly better avoid the very poor second episode. As a curiosity and collector's item, this will probably appeal to them, and the game-style moments are good fun, but there's really no more to it than that.
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