With the success of the X-Men movie, a sequel on the way, a Spiderman movie around the corner, and a re-imagining of Superman with Smallville on the TV, there's no doubt that superhero stories are still appreciated within our culture. Created in 1993, Moldiver brings the superhero concept to life within anime, which is indeed a rare thing. At times tedious, at other times unexpectedly engaging, Moldiver is a mixed bag that starts strong, gets struck with kryptonite about forty minutes in, and recovers near the end.

The Moldiver suit is the creation of Hiroshi Ozora, a lovable if quirky twenty-something who plans to use his invention to save the world from evildoers and soak up the publicity. When his sister Mirai finds out about it, however, she makes some modifications to make the suit more fashionable in her eyes, and winds up creating Moldiver 2. When a crazy professor and his gang of sexy androids starts attacking the globe in an attempt to steal valuable collectibles (like F1 cars and a space shuttle), it becomes clear that Mirai has a better handle on the whole superhero thing. The Moldiver suit has no fatal flaw, but Mirai does--she's infatuated with Misaki, a young pilot who may become the first man to attempt a multi-dimensional spaceflight to untold galaxies. Before it all ends, Mirai will be forced to choose between her allegiances to family, to Misaki, and to the lives caught in the balance.

Moldiver is a bright, colorful show that attempts to zip along with humor and vigor, at least through its opening three episodes, and then it settles down into a relatively serious bent. The production values aren't big, sacrificing detail at times, but the character designs are friendly and cute. Nothing about the way the show was made itself bothered me at all, except perhaps for the mediocre J-Pop that appeared occasionally. At first, the show is quite amusing and certainly refreshing, especially since we rarely see a true superhero element in anime. (Sure, there are plenty of characters with second identities they can't reveal, but they don't exactly follow the superhero format.) However, things break down midway into the second episode, where the concept falls prey to status quo action-comedy anime plotting. When a comedy's not that funny, it tends to bore quickly. After the first three episodes, I was about to give up, but then the fourth episode went in a completely different direction. That caught me off-guard, and although the fifth and sixth episodes weren't fantastic, they took things to a different level and gave a solid wrap-up to the whole thing. When Moldiver is not on track, it's not interesting, but once it gets back together, it's not bad.

Moldiver does have some issues in the believability department. This doesn't have to do with the suits themselves, which are designed in such a way that you really can't argue with them--they are multi-dimensional and don't conform to 3D physics. What I do have a problem with is that certain segments strain credibility. For example, in the fourth episode, the professor starts to explore the wreck of a ship sunk a hundred years prior. Then why isn't the ship filled with water? No explanation. There are more things like that, and if you're on your toes, you'll probably find them annoying like I did. You might also be frustrated that the show never really deals with much of the human side of having superhero abilities, a hallmark of most live-action shows in the genre. If such inconsistencies and issues don't bother you, you'll be that much further ahead. (And if you are a sub-only fan, forget it--the version available in the US is a dubtitle that is really pretty bad. On the other hand, the dub is quite good, and I watched over half the show in English without cringing too badly.)

With its nude transformation sequences, this show will be hard up to find an 8-14 year old audience, which is really the age group that will get the most out of this show. Sophisticated anime audiences have seen most of this before, but kids might find it a lot more amusing. I can't say I didn't like it, but I can't say I thought it was compelling, either. Although I give it credit for trying a few new things, had it not been so thick with standard anime clichés otherwise, it could have been top-notch. Still, it deserves a rating a notch up from mediocre.

P.S. Do make sure to catch the "Secrets of Moldiver" special on the DVD. It's got extra footage and is actually funnier than anything within the series itself. The special gets an A- from me, and I wish the rest were as entertaining.

Moldiver -- brief (but frequent) nudity, violence, mild profanity -- B-