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Dated 1 June 2003: VanDread

VANDREAD is big fun.

VANDREAD is a comedic space opera set in a future where men and women have broken off into warring factions colonized on separate planets. They've even gone so far as to forget that men and women ever co-existed together. Their animosity towards each other is further fueled by wild propaganda and Orwellian sociopolitical forces on both sides.

Hibiki running from Dita
Hibiki running from Dita

The series opens as a male warship is attacked by a group of renegade female space pirates. In the course of the battle, a mysterious force flings these pirates a great distance along with their three male prisoners:  A low-caste mechanic turned mecha thief, a doctor, and a coward. Okay, four males prisoners if you count the robot, Pyoro. On their journey home, they forge a shaky alliance united against a new common foe.

Overall it's a good combination of space opera, mecha fights, some slapstick, and even some harem comedy. The recurring odd-couple theme is played to great effect as the three men and their female captors learn to cooperate with each other to fight the threat facing both their planets.

Parfet and Duero
Parfet and Duero

VANDREAD's great strength lies in its characters. They are all very likable and great fun to watch. Naturally, the ebuliant Dita and the boastful Hibiki (the primary leads) develop a sort of love-hate relationship (actually, just love from Dita's end and mostly hate from Hibiki's). Likewise the doctor, Duero, and the engineer, Parfet come to complement each other's strengths and forge a pragmatic union.

It's a fairly large cast, but all the characters are quite engaging and have good chemistry. They also have quite a few surprises in store for the viewer, particularly during the second season.

Meia in a rare, unguarded moment
Meia in a rare, unguarded moment

Sadly, VANDREAD is only 26 episodes long (two seasons of 13 episodes each). GONZO really needs to make a third season because there are a lot of stories left to tell. In fact, I wager all the characters could carry a show on their own, since each of them left me wanting more—well, not that closet gorilla-fucker, but he's just a guest character at best and not a bona fide member of the cast—everyone else, though. I wanted to see more of the stoical Meia in particular.

I suppose I should point out that the space battles are rendered almost entirely in CGI. I typically don't like CGI (I didn't even care for it in Cowboy Bebop), and I hate it when it's poorly done, but the CGI in VANDREAD is quite good and not objectionable. In fact, it makes for rather spectacular (albeit somewhat sterile) space battles.

VANDREAD has too many good elements to mention in such a short span—I wouldn't do them justice. Even relatively minor bits such as the men's discovery of the women's food, or anything related to Gascogne and the stagehands, are a blast. However, I will say that the first season has a sexalicious end-credit sequence. I'm not going to attempt to describe it other than to say it feels positively pornographic.

All 26 episodes of VanDread are available in R1 DVDs by Pioneer (with some kick-ass menus, to boot), although the disks are not anamorphic. Absolutely maddening.

Dated 9 September 2007: Nadesico blamed for compulsion to re-watch VanDread

Akito and Ruri
Ruri shows Akito the way.

After finishing Nadesico, the obvious follow-up is VanDread. Okay, maybe not "obvious," but for reasons I can't quite explain, I do get similar vibes from the two shows, even though they're pretty different. Objectively, they're really only similar in being space operas with mecha battles and harem-comedy elements. Well, and they both center around a spaceship and its crew.

Hibiki meets Dita
Hibiki meets Dita the hard way.

As harem comedy leads go, both Akito from Nadesico and Hibiki from VanDread are above average—Akito because he's a decent guy, as opposed to the loathsome deadbeats you'll find in Shuffle! and Da Capo—Hibiki because he's such a punk.

Dated 12 September 2007: VanDread's Dita wanted to put out but didn't know how

Dita is thrilled.

One of the VanDread staples involves combining mecha. Hibiki's Vanguard is able to combine with the females' Dreads to form even more powerful giant robots. Yes, there is an obvious sexual metaphor here.

Hibiki and Dita
Dita assaults Hibiki with a surprise attack.

This new combining hotness absolutely thrills Dita, who tries to combine with Hibiki every chance she gets. Pyoro describes the pilots' post-combination seating arrangements as perverted, but I can't claim to know that this contributes to Dita's enthusiasm. Draw your own conclusions.

Dita floors Hibiki.

Given Dita's fascination with aliens (which, to a Mejale, includes all males) and the rapture she experiences after combining with Hibiki for the first time, it's little wonder that she spends the rest of the series chasing him around, trying to convince him to combine with her again.

Dita discovers the path to a man's heart.

Yeah, the sexual metaphor is played up quite a bit.

Dita waits for someone to give her a Coke.

So, metaphors and mecha aside, does Dita actually want to have sex with Hibiki? She becomes obviously more and more enamored with him throughout the series, and displays jealousy when others direct their attention towards him. And she nearly loses her mind when she learns that men and women used to create babies together. Signs say yes.

Hibiki and Dita
Hibiki falls ever more into Dita's clutches.

However, there is no indication that Dita has any idea how to have sex with Hibiki. It's a lost art in the VanDread-verse. I imagine the two of them could probably figure it out given the opportunity, but as long as Hibiki remains uninterested in Dita, and as long as Sex Ed remains absent from Mejale curricula, the two's banter and sparring keep the First Girl Clause of the harem comedy elements of VanDread at bay, and leaves the series fresh and entertaining.

Dated 15 September 2007: Meia is the best character in VanDread

Meia Gisborn
Meia Gisborn.

I love Meia. That's not saying anything; everyone loves Meia. And it's only mostly because Meia is fully awesome.

Meia before bed
Asuka:Hair Clips::Meia:Face Thingy.

It's also because we first see Meia as a strong, confident, standoffish leader that the other characters look up to and respect, then get back-to-back episodes revealing her vulnerable side. It's a tried-and-true formula designed to evoke admiration, sympathy, and empathy in the viewer, and it works here.

Meia captures Bart
Meia captures Bart.

We go from an extremely fit, no-nonsense warrior who stops Bart cold with a fist and some cameltoe, to a wounded girl who hallucinates about running while crying. Naturally, Meia is going to be a viewer favorite.

Meia from episode two
Meia from episode two.

Also, her character design gets softer and prettier. Compare the episode two shot above with the episode six shot below. Both feature similar poses, but the latter clearly appears more engaging and personable.

Meia from episode six
Meia from episode six.

Contributing significantly to Meia's appeal is the superb voice acting of Fumiko Orikasa. She's great as Meia, and I still consider it to be one of her better roles. Re-watching VanDread reminds me how much I miss her work. Now that she has a steady starring role as Rukia in Bleach (which I've long stopped watching), I have to wonder if maybe she could have found time to be in five or six other shows if she wasn't lost in neverending Shounen Land.

Meia crying while running
Meia running while crying.

In related news, I would like to nominate "crying while running" for the moe melting pot.

Dated 18 September 2007: Needs more HD VanDread

Paiway and Dita
Non-anamorphic screen capture. Also, Dita has screw hair.

My anime DVD purchasing habits have slowed. Basically, I expect HD releases to increase in frequency reasonably soon, and I don't feel like buying stuff twice.

Bart, Hibiki, Dita, and Duero watch an old video

I would re-buy VanDread, though, should it get a proper high definition release. My old Pioneer VanDread DVDs look pretty good, but they're still non-anamorphic. (And the series was spread out over eight discs with MSRP's of 30 dollars each, too.)

Dated 4 October 2007: Herein I offer two reasons why Misty was not a worthless addition to VanDread

Meia and Misty
Misty sees Meia sitting alone. CHANCE!

Most people consider Misty to be a fairly worthless addition to the Second Stage of VanDread. I did, too, initially, but after my recent re-watching of the series, I find that Misty contributes meaningfully in at least two respects.

Misty knows viewers don't like her.

Dita and Hibiki
Dita loves Hibiki, and it's not just because the only
other guy to come on to her is an ape fucker.

First, her rivalry with Dita highlights how far the Mejale crew members have come in accepting their male enemies as compatriots. As Misty points out, she's an outsider squaring off against a united Nirvana crew—150 strong—when it comes to competing for Hibiki's attention. That these man-hating Mejale pirates consider Hibiki (still a punk) as a suitable wife love interest for one of their own speaks volumes about their newfound respect for their male prisoners.

Meia and Misty
Misty loves Meia, but not in a gay way.

Second, she enthusiastically admires (idol worships, really) Meia so we don't have to. Viewers are able to focus their attention on the other characters and their interaction with each other, instead of spending each episode glowing about Meia's awesomeness. Misty espouses what we've known all along, and keeps us from fixating on just one character.

Meia takes one for the team.

Actually, no. We still fixate on Meia. She's just that awesome.