by Timothy Georgi
I've been pleasantly surprised many times through the years, especially in the world of anime. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to think of this month's feature series, s-CRY-ed. I had first heard about it at the Bandai Entertainment panel at the San Diego Comic-Con but I was wary to get into a series that I wasn't sure about. My initial impression was that it seemed to be a typical, full-blown action fest that would be over the top with the amount of fighting scenes. It's amazing how wrong some initial thoughts can be... But first, some background on our story.
Twenty-two years ago, a catastrophe occurred in the capital of Japan. The Kanagawa Prefecture was wracked with a great shifting of the earth's crust and an area for a 20 kilometer radius was thrown into a world of chaos. The phenomenon created a near-desolate, hostile island located just off the coast of the Tokyo area. As a result, the day-to-day operation of the Japanese government was severely hindered, so the capital was relocated South to the Mie Prefecture. The island was later abandoned during the recovery of the government and was dubbed "The Lost Ground."
When the reclamation of the The Lost Ground was underway, the island was divided into two regions, the city area and the undeveloped district. The city area became the urban center of the island, redeveloped by funding from the Mainland and the United Nations. Redevelopment of the area outside the city never proceeded due to financial issues. That left the undeveloped region to the devices of the people that were left outside the walls of the city.
Along with the physical transformation of the land, another unique side-effect of the unexplained phenomenon began to manifest itself. A small number of the children born on The Lost Ground began to show signs of extraordinary powers. They were able to rearrange the matter around them into all sorts of different things, typically machine-like objects that would protect the creator. The created objects came to be known as Alters and the children that created them called Alter Users.
As is typical with something that people don't understand, the Alter Users began to be persecuted and feared by the people living on The Lost Ground and the Mainland. Prejudice and hatred enraged as the Alter Users came to learn of their strange powers. Eventually Alter Users had to use their Alters just to survive, which propelled their separation from "normal" humans to a higher level.
In an effort to bring order to the world of The Lost Ground, the government created a policing force known as HOLD. It was there responsibility to keep the peace throughout the island, both inside the City and in the undeveloped district. With the number of Alter Users growing, HOLD had to find a way to combat the threat of the destructive Alters. As a result, a small arm of HOLD was created, called HOLY. HOLY is a task force made up of a number of Alter Users dedicated to capturing any rogue Alter Users in the undeveloped district and re-educating them to be a normal member of society. With the formation of HOLY, the Alter Users left outside were called Native Alters to differenciate them from the Alter Using members of HOLD.
Volume 1 of s-CRY-ed is a bit harder than normal to do a review on due to how the first few episodes are set up. It's a very unique experience as the first 2 or 3 episodes show you the same set of events from different points of view along with flashbacks to fill in some of the gaps that arise. But, lets see what we can come up with...
It's one of Kazuma's biggest paying jobs yet! He was called upon to rescue someone that had been kidnapped by a group of punks. Unbeknownst to him, the victim is the director of HOLD, the policing organization charged with keeping Alters Users in check. A group of thugs from the undeveloped district have him tied up to a steel girder on the top of a building. At the same time, a special charted plane flight is on its way from the Mainland to the City Area. On board is the daughter of one of the financiers of HOLD, Mimori Kiryu. As the plane is on approach, it passes over the building where the kidnappers are waiting...
Our Alter-For-Hire is waiting for the plane to reach a position just above the building, intending to use it as a cover. A spectacular jump and a blinding flash later, the building has been demolished and the kidnapped victim has been rescued. Just another day's work for Kazuma.
The Lost Ground. It's a hard place to live in if you're in one of the rural towns in the Undeveloped District. Young Kanami, Kazuma's "significant other", is waiting for him to return after being gone for the last few days. Kazuma returns home after his job with little more than he started with, having given the bulk of his earnings to a young man who's father had been injured iin a construction accident.
Kazuma's friend Kunihiko arrives with news of another job involving battling an Alter user that's harassing a small group of their friends. As the storylines of our first few episodes converge, Kazuma defeats the punk Alter User when he's overtaken by a large transport filled with soldiers and several of HOLY's Alter Users. Mimori is looking on at a distance when the fighting begins. She sees everything that transpires...
Enter the top Alter User of HOLY; the cold, calculating Ryuho. Mimori watches the battle as Kazuma takes a defiant stance, signaling that he's ready to battle Ryuho in order to buy his friends time to get away. Kazuma and his alter Shell Bullet start the battle, but he is defeated easily when Ryuho's Alter, Zetsuei, appears. Kazuma is captured and taken hostage back to HOLD headquarters.
Back in the City Area, Mimori begins to adjust to her new position as a member of the HOLY team. She's working through her new duties as she wonders what happened to change Ryuho from the sweet young man that she knew to the heartless individual that he's become.
Ryuho seems obsessed with Kazuma as he's unable to break him down. After some good torturing and interrogation, Mimori decides that Ryuho is going too far with Kazuma. She helps him escape, leaving Kazuma open to help the people of the Undeveloped District combat the increasing opression of HOLD and HOLY.
Kazuma is now one side of a battle of Alter wills as he must do what he can to keep Ryuho at bay and keep the iron fist of HOLD from strangling the way of life of the people in the Undeveloped District. Will Kazuma and his friends be able to keep HOLY from destroying everything they know? Only future volumes will tell!
The DVD is presented with some excellent features. Bandai generously provides the viewer with five episodes on this first DVD. For the suggested retail price of $29.98, that's already getting more than your money's worth. As we get into the disc features, we're presented with some nice pieces. As each episode concentrates on a different element or person in the story, there are five different versions of the opening title sequence. Each is included in a non-title version, as well as the textless version of the end title sequence. There's also a fairly extensive design gallery with artwork for a lot of the major characters. The most informative extra on the disc is called the Lost Ground Express #1, featuring a small encyclopedia of information on the background of the series. LGE #1 gives you the background on the origin of The Lost Ground as well as a brief history of HOLD and HOLY. Overall, the set of features is very good. Add that to the great story in the anime episodes and you have one killer DVD.
As I take a look at this first volume, I was expecting something on the overly serious side, full of battles and dramatics. While s-CRY-ed does provide that, what I wasn't expecting was the fun, comedy elements. Kazuma and Kunihiko have their bouts of silliness and the wacky members of HOLY give you enough of a break from the serious to make the series somethign to look forward to.
Overall, the first volume of s-CRY-ed is a fabulous, action-packed ride with surprises and a whole lot of comedy to boot. All in all, .hack//SIGN is something fresh and definitely worth a look from fans of all types of animeThere are little bits of everything that makes a great anime series. Action, comedy, feeling, a good story, and more than enough mystery to go around. If you're looking for great action fest with twists and unexpected turns, s-CRY-ed more than fits the bill.