Anime can be a wonderful thing. On the whole, the Japanese take animation more seriously than Americans. That's not to say that Americans can't make dramatic animation, but rather that it seems to be the exception, not the rule. Japanese animation has a reputation for being more adult, darker, more complex than typical American cartoons. However, that doesn't mean that there's no juvenile anime. In fact, even some of the most acclaimed anime series feature "fan service," or shots of the female characters in provocative poses. That being said, I've never seen a show go so far for fan service as 'Aria: The Scarlet Ammo'.
In the near future, crime has become so rampant that the police can't handle all of it. In response, schools form to train ordinary citizens to become freelance police, or Butei. Kinji Toyama is a Butei-in-training who feels the life isn't for him. But he can't afford to quit when a mysterious assassin targets him. He attracts the attention of Aria, a brash but talented Butei, who takes a shining to Kinji and decides to take him on as a partner, whether he wants it or not. Meanwhile, Kinji must juggle the advances of two fellow students while deciding how he feels about Aria, and of course keep the killer off his back.
'Aria: The Scalet Ammo' has an interesting premise, which it squanders almost immediately. Things start off promisingly, with Kinji missing his bus and as a result being attacked by a series of mobile machine guns. He's saved by Aria, who leaps off a roof in a stunning character introduction. From there, it's all-downhill, as Kinji spends more time staring down Aria's shirt than he does fighting. Turns out Kinji has a "hysteria mode" that turns him into an unparalleled fighter, but it can only be activated when he's strongly aroused. Yes, they actually write fan service right into the show's main concept.
It's hard to explain just how over the top and maddeningly constant the fan service is. Breasts get their own sound effects when they move. One of the big plot points is that Kinji has three girls vying for his attention, just like any normal high school guy, which leads to plenty of awkward come-ons and girls being caught coming out of the shower. It gets tiring early on, when you realize the creative team is putting more effort into the sexy girls than they are into the story.
Despite the overwhelming amount of female body parts, 'Aria' does try to maintain a serious storyline. Aside from the mystery killer, Aria's mother is also in jail, framed for crimes that might be related to Kinji's case. The pair must also deal with their budding feelings for each other, and manage to get a few scenes in that don't feel like obvious pandering. Unfortunately, the tone shifts wildly, often from shot to shot, from ultra-serious to absurdly silly. Even some of the more dramatic elements are inherently silly, like a girl threatening to blow up a plane, and then escaping by turning her school-girl uniform into a parachute, exposing her underwear to Kinji.
The show goes so far as to introduce Shirayuki, Kinji's childhood friend, who is so desperate to be with him that on more than one occasion she offers to give up everything she's ever worked for in her life. It's not only unnecessary, it’s such an unflattering portrayal of women as nothing but lust objects that it made me uncomfortable. And even if you do manage to make it through all of this to find something to enjoy in the story, the final twist is so preposterous and unabashedly idiotic that it will take everything you have not to throw your remote through your TV in disgust.
'Aria' also suffers from bland, awkward dialogue that sounds like it was tough for the voice actors to even get out. Aria's catchphrase, "I will pump you full of holes," is repeated a minimum of three times per episode, and it gets no more enjoyable the fiftieth time than it is the first. The animation is no better, feeling uninspired and often static. Frequently only one element within the frame will move, all the rest being wholly still. The character designs look like anime parodies, with the girls all sporting gargantuan doe eyes and impossible cup sizes.
All of these elements and poor decisions add up to one of the worst anime series I've ever had the displeasure to watch.
FUNimation presents 'Aria: The Scarlet Ammo' in a 1.78:1, AVC-encoded, 1080p transfer. Animation generally looks good in high def, because it has large patches of solid color without much deviation. 'Aria' benefits from this in many shots, with solid clarity and contrast. Of course, a new anime series serves for a great source, free from any defects and noise, and I could discern no artifacts. Shadow detail is strong, with plenty of information in darker patches. Detail in general is good, with the finest animation lines easily visible.
The transfer isn't perfect, though. Colors appear muted at times, with Aria's orange-red hair sometimes going close to white. This can also affect fleshtones, which sometimes appear peach colored, and other times stark white. Daylight scenes can appear hazy and soft, although this might have been intentional on the part of the animators.
FUNimation offers two audio tracks. English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 stereo. On the whole, the English track sounds good, but can be lacking in certain areas. Dynamic range is excellent, with both thunderous gunshots and Aria's incessant high-pitched whine coming through with perfect clarity. Balance is good, with dialogue never drowning out nor drowned out by the music or sound effects.
The problem comes with directionality. The dialogue and effects are confined to the front speakers, while the score and background effects come out of the rears. In general, this isn't such an issue, but it does feel like a stereo mix that got artificially split, and since the action is generally confined to the front speakers, the soundstage feels limited. This isn't helped by the weak LFE track that fails to impress when the action ramps up.
Apparently the retail version of 'Aria: The Scarlet Ammo' comes with two Blu-rays and two DVDs, but for this review all we received were two Blu-rays, which have a paltry selection of extras.
'Aria: The Scarlet Ammo' may just be the worst anime I've ever seen. If all you want is to look at scantily-clad animated women, then this might be worth your time. On the other hand, if you prefer your anime to have well-rounded characters, listenable dialogue, and an interesting story, 'Aria' is not for you. The image and sound are both decent, but each suffers from their own particular issues. A measly set of extras do nothing to entice people on the fence to take the plunge. Skip this set with extreme prejudice.