In a distant future, the war of the sexes has taken on literal proportions. Having decided to go on the offensive, the men of Taraak launch a preemptive attack against the harpies’ home world of Mejere. But no sooner do they break orbit then a band of independent female space pirates interrupts the fanfare. Chaos ensues, during which three of the men (including accidental stowaway Hibiki) end up pirate prisoners-turned-crew as circumstances force them all to work together against a common foe.
Much of the fun in this sci-fi / action / comedy series stems from the extreme naiveté of the characters and their wildly inaccurate ideas about the opposite sex. The opening sequence (exposition cleverly disguised as a propaganda film) overflows with hyperbole about the evils of those man-eating monsters, women. And while both societies engage in romantic relationships and artificially-assisted reproduction among their own, the notion of sexual–or really, any–compatibility between genders isn’t even on their radar. They may as well be different species. Dita, the most innocent, bubbly, and open-hearted of the pirates, even calls Hibiki “Mr. Alien.” That collective ignorance effectively counters most of the rampant fanservice–largely consisting of impractically revealing outfits, occasional slapstick, and Bart navigating in his birthday suit–all of which comes off as silly rather than offensive or suggestive (except for the first season end-credit sequence, which is most definitely suggestive).
In the heat of battle against the deadly forces of the Harvest, Hibiki and Dita discover that their fighters (a Taraak Vanguard and a Mejere Dreadnaught) can mysteriously combine to form a single, more powerful vessel (a titular Vandread). Suddenly, the more ambitious and competitive pirates start clamoring to “combine” with Hibiki, too. They may only care about the added firepower (with one semi-exception), but the symbolism here is pretty clear. Happily, the harem factor is kept in check by the amusing presence of the other two equally naive men (a flashy goofball and a quiet doctor) and the crew’s slow-to-improve perception of all three as nothing but dangerous yet useful curiosities. As the show progresses, the ship- / gender-merging theme shifts and the Vandreads go from coupling metaphors to generic symbols of unified strength and bonding among the various principals and the diverse peoples they encounter on their journey.
The animation quality remains fairly steady throughout and the flat, old-school character designs (including classic ribbon-like hair) mix with blended and straight-up CG for some interesting visual aesthetics that work well most of the time, though the contrast between the 100% CG firefights and nearly everything else can be distracting. I did find it frustrating that the display was window-boxed, so to avoid distorting the image on my widescreen monitor I had to settle for a lot of wasted black space around the edges. Both sub and dub casts perform well, with only Hibiki’s cranky whining and robot Pyoro’s possessive shouting wearing a little thin towards the end in the English track. Surprisingly, Dita’s perpetual pep and childish energy didn’t bother me at all in either. The only special features are a few trailers.
This collection includes both seasons of the anime (26 eps total) along with two sub-only, seasonal-recap OVAs consisting mostly of material taken directly from the main series. The first has a few newly-animated battle scenes and the second a wholly-new hot springs sequence which clearly only exists to entice drooling fanboys (not that they’ll see much detail through all the steam). Not being a fan of recap OVAs, I don’t consider these an asset to the set, particularly since they don’t add anything significant to the plot or characters and actually detract from them in the case of the second, which has the male trio behaving completely out of character by imagining the effects of the hot springs on their female companions’ physiques (None of them even knows what a “bust” is, and yet here they’re deliriously exchanging estimated measurements? *sigh*).
Tonally, Vandread presents a bit of a jumble. Emotional conflicts flare up and resolve themselves with little provocation or effort. Serious depictions of same-sex relationships are tossed in alongside stereotyped ones played solely for laughs. And melodrama mixes with lowbrow comedy, earthy spiritualism, incomprehensible science, improbable physics, convoluted history and politics, action-packed battles, powerful women, unevenly distributed character development, clichéd and random plot devices, and plenty of feel-good fun.
What begins as a joke-fueled, yet potentially pointed commentary on gender and society, ultimately takes the easy road and plays out as simple fluff entertainment. And while I may wish it had tried to be a little something more, the series is still fun and its teen male target audience will no doubt appreciate the abundant action and wink-driven humor.
Vandread: The Ultimate Collection
directed by Takeshi Mori
760 minutes, Number of Discs: 5, Box set includes: Vandread, Eps 1-13; Vandread – The Second Stage, Eps 1-13; Vandread Integral OVA (sub only); Vandread Turbulence OVA (sub only)
Company Age Rating: TV-14