Power Dolls

Power Dolls is a mysterious beast. As far as I know, it doesn't have its basis in a manga or a video game. It has no other incarnations. And yet, as I watch this 2 episode OVA series, I can't help but feel that this "women with mecha" show is essentially a tiny bit of a much larger epic that's never been told. It's an interesting piece that takes the girls-with-guns genre into darker territory than we've come to expect from these releases. However, its problems with establishing what it wants to be as a series diminishes much of its power.

Power Dolls takes us to the 26th century as the space colony Omni attempts to break apart from the control of the Terran government. Helping head the revolution for Omni is an all-female team who pilots the DoLLS, a specialized variant of mecha put into service to help stop the Terran threat. Before you get too excited, there's a lot of unresolved history to these folks that makes this quite the downer of a show. In the first episode, the story involves the team having to take down a dam...only problem is that some sentimental attachments can't easily be broken, and the team will have to not only destroy the facility but save its own members from themselves during the op. The second episode moves us ahead four years past the end of the conflict. A mysterious prototype that disappeared years ago is back, and it's in the wrong hands. The DoLLS are called out to stop the threat and to find who's behind this ultimate "power loader" machine.

Power Dolls feels very much like a couple of overlooked Gundam side stories. Move the era and location, and you've got the background for every Gundam tale ever told. Truth be told, they could have worked better with the weight of that story behind it. Here, we get a lot of angst about a conflict we know next to nothing about, so it's not particularly engaging.

There's also a major problem in that the two shows are wildly different in tone, pacing, action, and animation. The first episode has some serious animation problems. It looks all right, but the character animation shows serious issues that prove they tried to do too much on their budget. (When one character's arm swivels in the same way three times during a speech, you know somebody wasn't getting paid enough.) The first episode has some action concepts, but it's really a character drama about one character, Yao, who's suffering with reconciling the loss of her father with destroying the dam he helped create. It would work if it didn't directly parallel the seventh episode of Macross to the point of plagiarism. It works OK as a personal story, and it does have the good sense to focus on just a couple characters. But as an action bonanza, it's anything but. It's also wildly clichéd. Between the unnecessary shower scene and the gung-ho commando language, we wind up laughing at what wants to be a serious action drama.

Meanwhile, the second episode actually looks really good. The combat sequences are sharp and the animation leagues above the first episode's disaster. It also starts well, setting up its scenario to prepare us for a solid conflict. And the battles here are in short bursts, but it works really well. But that's about all it really has going for it. All the character drama of the first episode is dropped in favor of nailing all-out action. That's OK, but the action without any dramatic weight gets boring quick. The "mystery" of the power loader is so obvious as to be insulting. It looks good, and it moves quickly, but beyond that, we don't really care what happens. Having no main character in the second episode is also a huge misstep that cut my connection to the show entirely.

Ultimately, this show might have been better had they taken the dramatics of the first episode, combined them with the action and animation of the second episode, dropped the cheese, and made something really worthwhile. As it stands, Power Dolls is a mediocre mecha entry that shows marks of potential but suffers for not following through. If you can't find enough Gundam around to satisfy your need for mecha action and like having cute women at the helm, it might be worth a look. But I wanted to like it more than I actually did, and that's not a great sign.

Power Dolls -- brief nudity, violence -- C