Mezzo: Shells 2 & 3
I have been taken to task on occasion by readers who aren't happy with my review of the first volume of a series. There's really only one of two ways the discussion goes. In the first, the reader criticizes me because the show gets better -- if only I'd watched until episode 47, then something good finally happens! Sorry, but I've got too little time to be that masochistic. In the other discussion, though, the reader lambasts me because the show nosedives. Sure, the series roars out of the gate, they say, but then it turns into a shadow of its former self by the conlcusion. When this happens, I sit up and take a little more notice -- especially since it's true that some programs exhaust their best material within the first episodes and peter out. This is an all-too-real hazard of reviewing single volumes and sampling everything rather than watching a full series at a time.
And, sadly, that is the case with Mezzo: Shell Two. Although the first episode is OK, by the fourth I was just bored stiff. All of the promise of the first disc just got sucked right out the window. That same suckitude continues through the beginning of Mezzo: Shell Three, but it does end on a high note -- the two episode story arc that concludes the series is very nearly as good as the opening salvo. Since the series is episodic except for the final narrative, I'm actually keen to recommend my readers skip disc two entirely and just watch discs one and three. (And if you've not seen any of the series, I suggest you check out my review of volume one, which will get you up to speed with the characters.)
Mezzo: Shell Two starts off with a story about Harada's doomed romance from back in high school. It's done reasonably well, though it ends rather predictably, and while it's an episode that is all about background exposition, nothing from this episode ever connects to Harada in later storylines. What good is character development that never again affects said character? It only gets worse from there with an episode about an evil developer who trials a dream machine on Mikura. It's a good idea totally wasted by a lack of imagination. Then we get yet another ghost story, followed by a story about a menacing serial killer and a man who wants the DSA to protect him, since it looks like he's next on the hit list. These episodes are all cut-and-dried formulaic pap. And worse than that, perhaps, is that the action gets dull. In my review of the first disc, I compared the series to the original Dirty Pair. That's no longer the case, for the level of excitement just gets flushed down the drain on this outing. Seriously, my enthusiasm went from red-hot after the first disc to iced coffee cold after these four episodes. On top of that, the animation is often junk; it's as if the animators knew that they were creating filler. I honestly believe that this disc could be ignored; your opinion of the series might be a lot better if you did. I've actually seen anime that's a lot worse, but it is deadly dull. (The grade, by the way, is higher than perhaps it should be solely on the first episode on this disc.)
Now it would be dishonest to say that Mezzo: Shell Three is great; it's not. The first episode, in which the DSA transports an ancient mummy with a dangerous curse, is more of the same lameness. Even a multi-car chase plays out in pedestrian fashion. The second episode, where a member of the DSA has to die to throw off an assassination plot, is quite a bit better though by no means spectacular. Then the last two episodes settle down into a strong story where the sinister barber across the way from the DSA finally puts his plan into action to take down our three heroes. Suddenly the animation gets stronger again, and the night sequences are superb. It's a satisfying conclusion where lots of plot threads get resolved; even the young girl who's been tagging along on the missions comes into her own. I can actually recommend the third disc based on the strength of these last two episodes alone, and the rest of it isn't terribly hard to watch.
Normally, a series that ends well tends to get a good review from me. However, the terrible middle section (which lasts at least five episodes) really diminished the property's value in my eyes. The creativity that was found in the first disc is simply gone. It's as if the crew was ready to make another couple of OVAs after Mezzo Forte and were given the opportunity to make a TV series instead. The budget and writing went into the opening and closing, and the rest is just an excuse. I wish that wasn't the case, but there you have it. On the whole, I don't think it was a total waste, and I'm giving the series a B- for the enjoyment I did get out of the first five episodes and the last two. Nevertheless, I wish that so much of it hadn't been so bad.
Mezzo (series whole) -- B-