Last weekend, as I sat back waiting for the start of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I saw a trailer for the latest film from Robert Rodriguez. Following in the vein of the Spy Kids flicks, his latest captures the adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl. It looks awful...beyond bad, the trailer ventures into sheer agony. But later, after enjoying the adventures of Arthur Dent and company, I thought back on that trailer and had to wonder if my age made it look worse than it is. Would young children appreciate it? Is it because of the stories I've already seen that a tale about Shark Boy and Lava Girl looks stupid? Is it meant for those with less life experience? Or will it be a terrible movie regardless of age?
I ask all these questions because some of the same questions came up when I watched the first five episodes of E's Otherwise, released recently on DVD by ADV Films. Now E's Otherwise is not terrible by a long shot. It's vaguely entertaining at a surface level. But as I was watching it, I realized that this show exists on a completely different level than most of the programming I review. Simply put, it's made for young kids who've not seen much anime.
In the world of E's Otherwise, twelve huge corporations have taken control of virtually the entire socio/economic system. If you work for one, you're set--if not, too bad for you. One of the most unique things about this world is the presence of espers, unique individuals with the mental power to exert physical force on objects around them. Kai is one such young man who has lived his life in the shadow of the Ashurum company. Thankful for the support his sickly, frail sister Hikaru has received from their medical technicians, he volunteers to be a part of the AESES branch under the guidance of an encouraging supervisor named Eiji. After a year of training, AESES starts sending him out on missions using his psionic powers.
Popular with virtually every woman who bumps into him, Kai is nevertheless a kind soul who wants to make a difference in the world. Until a rival esper points out some key issues about Hikaru's treatment, Kai never questions the company to whom he's sworn his loyalty. However, when an assigned hunt for guerilla operatives ends tragically, Kai starts to wonder if Ashurum is really all that wonderful a place to be. Aided by an odd man named Yuuki who's secretly after the mysterious Sacrament of Calvaria, Kai winds up looking at Ashurum from the outside...and no one is certain if he will like what he sees.
E's Otherwise is a mixed bag of animation tricks. It is clear that the team designing this thing built in more motion than the standard TV anime; however, from the looks of things, they didn't have the budget to cover it. Some movement is missing a frame here or there, making the action a bit jerky. Character faces wind up being less than perfect, and the production feels rushed. Though the opening and ending themes are good rock songs, they are the only part of the overall artistic quality that feels completely together.
In some ways, this also expresses my problems with E's Otherwise. It doesn't presume the audience's familiarity with other shows that have similar themes like Fullmetal Alchemist, Witch Hunter Robin, or Akira. In fact, it doesn't presume you're that familiar with science fiction! The exposition is painfully slow. Each episode does have some action, but even these scenes wind up having too much dialogue. And unlike the dialogue-heavy Robin, the conversations really serve little purpose. At the end of the five episodes, I had virtually no background information on any of the characters and little emotional reason to continue watching.
That isn't to say that the show doesn't have redeeming values. In fact, when viewed as a show for middle school children, the tone might change a bit. Despite one character death and some considerable fantasy violence, the show has virtually none of the objectionable material found in other anime geared for teenagers. From this perspective, the show is more of a gateway title into science fiction worlds the audience has not yet experienced.
But does it work at this level? A bit more, perhaps. Though the show was slow, its central problems stemmed from its unoriginality. After reading the old manga Mai the Psychic Girl, this is paltry. But if you'd never seen anything like it? Kai is a sympathetic hero, and there are some possible relationships that will build over time. Part of the fourth episode and all of the fifth episode started to head into unexpected territory, and so I do hold out hope that the show might yet find its stride. Because it ends on a higher note than when it begins, I would still give it a chance if the second volume were available to watch at little cost. But as a DVD unto itself, it misses the mark.
At this point, I have to say that E's Otherwise has a lackluster opening with some minor signs of improvement near its ending. Will it get better? Quite possibly. Will it entertain those with a thorough sci-fi and anime background? I doubt it.
E's Otherwise Vol. 1 -- fantasy violence (including one character death) -- C+