If there's one thing that drives me mad, it's the idea that I've somehow missed out on something great. For the past couple of years, the hype surrounding Funimation's sci-fi epic, Blue Gender, has been one such property. Amazon reviews, message boards, even the print rags seemed to all have a lot of good to say about this tale involving incurable diseases, alien invaders, and my own personal beloved anime element: mecha.
Better still is I discovered a boxed set release of the show known as the Viridian Collection which takes and combines all 26 episodes of the series, "The Warrior" OVA, and a host of extras (including English actor commentary over one of the episodes, character profiles, textless songs, sketch collections, cast bios, and trailers).
Coming in at a total runtime of 750 minutes, The Viridian Collection spans 9 discs that come packaged in a really cool cardboard flipbook which itself slides into a cardboard outer slip case. Additionally the show wears a very generous TV PG (13+) rating considering that it runs the gambit of animated versions of what would certainly be Rated R material in a live-actor film: Female topless nudity, some foul language, and lots of blood and guts.
Language options are standard sub & dub fair with original Japanese dialog option or a solid English dub (with English subtitles available with either selection).
The story goes something like this: In the near future, an unknown disease begins to plague mankind in the form of a cellular mutation called "B-Cells". Those infected are given the option to be put into a chrio-sleep (tube and all) until research could yield a successful cure to the condition. Yuji Kaido, one of the infected, chooses this option.
The show literally opens with his rude awakening as in a sudden and sickening yank from his slumber through a bitter firefight between mechanized humans and what appear to be giant bugs. It turns out that while he slept (22 years despite the fact that he was only supposed be under for 2), an aggressive species of insect like creatures (the Blue) have appeared on and taken over the Earth. Most of mankind has apparently been decimated by these terrifying life forms and those who haven't given up the ghost are forced to live within the confides of a space station (known as Second Earth).
Yuji finds himself awakened by a forward-advance/ scouting military unit sent to the bug-infested earth from the space station. Encounters with the Blue are literally immediate and become increasingly violent as the team makes its way across Japan to the awaiting military base/ spaceport
The majority of the story actually follows this team as they make their way across the barren lands that were once the earth we currently know. Encounters (violent battles) with the Blue are frequent and definitely welcomed considering the slow plodding of the back-story. The team of rough and tumble soldiers are picked off one at a time (kind of like in the classic Schwarzenegger action flick, Predator) until all that remains is the male (Yuji) and female (Marlene) leads in their struggle to get off the planet before the Blue turn them into a green ball of fertilizer.
On the surface, comparisons to American sci-fi franchise staples like Aliens & Starship Troopers (or more accurately, Roughnecks) abound but are not entirely accurate. Sure it's the military versus giant bug invaders theme that makes such associations possible, the truth is that pacing and a hidden agenda actually pull Blue Gender off into a tangent that really works only in the anime medium.
Let's discuss the pacing first, which is not entirely as consistent as it should be. A majority of the story plays off the survival element as witnessed through the lead characters in their near real-time trek across the scorched earth. While there are action sequences to tide over even the most easily bored viewer, there are long periods where seemingly nothing actually happens. Worse still is that to break up the monotony of these sequences, the show's writers decided to work in some tangents and side quests that literally go nowhere. Examples include their teaming up with but never again encountering the energetic rogue Dice and Yuji's brief foray (and love interest) into a nomadic tribe of humans yet living on the blue planet. These little fillers would be a lot more justifiable if only they were revisited by the show's conclusion.
The second part of the grand story arc moves along at a much quicker clip than the first and takes place once the protagonists finally make it into space. Here the realities of a brittle pseudo-military outfit come on so strong that you may actually find yourself rooting for the bugs! Additionally and like countless anime titles since, Blue Gender takes a stab at the ideal that humanity is the real villain against the earth itself (environmentalism).
This would all be fine except for the simple fact that the show is a bit too ambitious in terms of magnitude than its own silly timeline can deliver. In the end what we're looking at is the evolution of an entirely new species, the near-complete annihilation of humanity, an exodus into space, then the extinction of said species within a span of 22-years. From a geological scale, this is comedic at best. Perhaps our hero Yuji should have been comatose for two thousand or even two-hundred-thousand-years instead of twenty-two.
Finally there is a creepy man-love angle that the show builds from whenever Yuji thinks back to his life prior to going under. Granted you can certainly tell the show's writers did what they could with the dialog (things like "we'll cruise the world looking for girls") to salvage the lead character's heterosexuality, the truth is that these sequences are enough to make anyone wonder what's really going on between these "friends".
Small complaints aside, the show does manage to tell a pretty dramatic (grand) tale without being forced to introduce the viewer to dozens of locales and hundreds of characters. Much of the bigger conflict taking place is told through the background while the lead characters seem to be meandering around.
The soundtrack is spectacular, especially the closing theme which is presented in a wonderful English rendition in the dub… one of few times in history that the English vocalist puts the original lyrics to shame. The dub work itself a far above average with a vocal performance solid enough to warrant going back through the show once you've enjoyed the original Japanese dialog track. Clearly special attention was given to the sound effects themselves, especially the ambient noises (there's a slightly askew (and eerie) version of cricket chirping that can be heard at all times on earth to remind the viewer that there are terrifying giant insects all around).
In all this is a show that may actually suffer from the hype surrounding it. Due to the ongoing rave reviews I fear I came in with expectations so high that no show could possibly live up. This is solid sci-fi entertainment at an absolutely unbeatable value. I will be going back through Funimation's entire library in effort to buy up every Viridian Collection they've offered.
What did you think of this review?