Blue Gender (1999-2000)
Directed by Abe Masashi

Artistic Value: * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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Having been diagnosed with an incurable disease, Yuji, a teenaged boy living in Japan, is frozen in the hope that can be revived and treated in the future. When he is awakened, some thirty years later, by a military team headed by the rough and cold Marlene, Yuji learns that the world has been overrun by gigantic insects called the Blue and that most of the remnants of mankind have retreated to space stations, which they have named Second Earth.

Abe Masashi's twenty-six part animated television series Blue Gender is, despite its flaws, consistently fun and exciting.

Much of the program's narrative is fairly amorphous. The entire first half of Blue Gender is given over to Yuji and Marlene's race from Japan to Baikonur, whence they plan to escape to Second Earth, and consists of little more than a succession of largely unrelated encounters with different persons and varying breeds of Blue. Fortunately, the protagonists' confrontations with the horrific insects are always thrilling, and their interactions with the human survivors they meet are often genuinely affecting.

Once the heroes have arrived on the space station, however, the story the director tells becomes more coherent and allows for the development of a number of intriguing threads. The viewer is thus made aware of the connection between the condition from which Yuji suffers and the Blue, of the sad fates of a number of other persons afflicted with that ailment who have also been awakened, of the diverse political machinations of the rulers of the space stations, of Yuji and Marlene's deepening affections for one another, of the latter's moral growth, and of still other themes besides these.

What is more, both of the series' protagonists are relatively well realized characters. At first, Yuji is shown to be a caring, decent person who is shocked by the callousness of those around him and who is concerned with helping others, even when it is not practical or wise to do so, and Marlene is revealed to be a gruff, hard individual who is absolutely devoted to doing her duty. However, as the series progresses, both of these two are allowed to grow. Having seen Yuji's humanity, Marlene is moved and gains considerably as a person, while Yuji, horrified and shaken by the brutal world in which he has found himself, becomes as cold and violent as Marlene had previously been. Witnessing how the pair change, and the various personal difficulties they face as they do so, the viewer is likely to be genuinely touched.

Such elements, however, are usually subordinated by the director to the innumerable action sequences with which he has filled his series. Happily, these are, almost without exception, well done and even exhilarating. The Blue themselves are utterly loathsome and able to elicit poignant feelings of horror from the viewer. Having been enthralled by their repulsiveness, he is then made to relish the excitement of the series' characters' battles with these monstrosities. Moreover, Masashi has given these conflicts a real harshness that greatly contributes to their emotivity. He, for example, does not spare many of his characters, or even children, from being torn apart or devoured by their huge, carnivorous opponents.

Sadly, the visual quality of the program is extremely inconsistent and does sometimes detract from the appeal of the elements noted above. The designs used for the enormous insects are so fascinating and revolting that they are likely to keep the viewer's interest. Those of the human characters, however, are far less appealing. What is more, the quality of the draughtsmanship, while generally competent, does at times decrease dramatically. There are, consequently, moments at which characters' features will be rendered extremely crudely or their bodies will not be correctly proportioned.

Although it is inconsistent visually and its story is often shapeless, Blue Gender is, nevertheless, a thrilling and fascinating series.

Review by Keith Allen

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