Adult Swim Action Review: Blue Gender

There’s nothing more frustrating than a promising solid story idea that fails to play out well. Execution matters, and if the execution is not up to par, then even the best concepts can end ultimately end up mediocre and unsatisfying to watch. Such is the case with Blue Gender, one of the more well-remembered bedrocks of the early Adult Swim Action days that, while having some likeable aspects to it in terms of its presentation and characters, is unfortunately marred by a confusing scattershot narrative that attempts to reach further than it’s actually capable of doing.


 

 

 

Yuji Kaido
Yuji Kaido
Marlene Angel
Marlene Angel

The story involves our main character Yuji Kaido: a teenager working at a gas station who finds himself getting diagnosed with an incurable disease. He volunteers to be put into cryogenic sleep until doctors can come up with a cure for him and several others, but he eventually wakes up around the year 2031 to a horrific nightmare: a dilapidated planet Earth overrun by giant predatory insects known as the Blue. Just as he’s about to get killed by one, he’s saved by a group of soldiers from a space station referred to as Second Earth. The soldiers, who include the other series lead Marlene Angel, were sent to Earth to rescue “sleepers” with the same illness as Yuji, stemming from what’s called B-cells, believing that these sleepers can be used by the Second Earth military to fight back against the Blue. As the series goes on, the Second Earth soldiers, Yuji and Marlene included, face off against many different forms of the Blue in an effort to survive and hopefully find a way to defeat the menace once and for all.

I should probably get the positives out of the way before moving on to what I don’t like. There are some strengths to Blue Gender that keep it from being completely irredeemable, with the first being its key character dynamic: the constant interplay between Yuji and Marlene. The two are polar opposites of each other, as to be expected. Yuji is fearful of how the world has turned into a giant wreck in his absence, and he’s driven by this fear as well as his optimistic desire to save what’s left of humanity. Meanwhile with Marlene, she’s cold as ice due to her growing up in a world where the Blue have always been a constant presence and having her parents die at their hands (claws…. mandibles?). The military training she’s received on Second Earth has rendered her a hardened pragmatist who only cares about completing the mission and nothing more. This dichotomy of optimism and nihilism, while not the most original, is well-executed and enjoyable to watch all the way to the end. It makes for some solid engaging interactions and dialogue between the two, and eventually we see their personalities rub off on each other once we get to Second Earth. The voice acting, while not perfect, gets the job done and adequately conveying the needed emotions in a given scene. Eric Vale does the voice of Yuji and considering that this was his second ever voiceover role (first being Trunks in the original DBZ), he does a pretty good job at conveying his constant fear and worry as well as his eventual heel-turn into ruthlessness. Marlene’s voiced by Laura Bailey, who was also relatively new to voice acting around the time the series was dubbed (this was her third role following DBZ and the original Dragonball). It’s tempting to say her acting is somewhat flat and one-note, but considering the default state of Marlene as an ice queen with no emotions, that flatness works in her favor and sells you on the character.

Yuji starts to adopt some of Marlene’s bitterness, gaining a fiery hothead persona once he finally becomes a part of Second Earth’s military and becoming an unhinged dangerous fighter. However, it’s not a calculating stone-like mentality. Instead of a clear pragmatic mindset, he is frustrated beyond all doubt, lashing out at the terrible state of the world and how he was unable to do anything about it.

Marlene’s personality goes in the opposite direction once they reach Second Earth. The trials and tribulations she’s gone through trying to recover Yuji has made her develop an emotional bond to him, and she ends up showing a greater degree of empathy and concern for not just him but also her fellow soldiers and the human beings she encounters in her subsequent missions.

Another strength of the show is in its visuals, primarily the art style and monster design. Admittingly it is quite derivative, primarily owing its visual as well as story influences to the Paul Veerhoven classic Starship Troopers, but it’s still impressive in its own right and feels appropriate.Second Earth Military troops Desire to know more In addition, Second Earth as well as the military have some interesting technology to show off in terms of its combat devices and base layouts.  The visual highlight of the series is of course its titular monsters, the Blue. The hulking insect monsters come in a variety of interesting designs to constantly shake things up within the series, and it’s always fun to see what kind of monster the cast has to face off against next. While I’m on the subject, the direction is equally impressive, especially during boss fights. Dynamic angles, editing, and framing of scenes makes each Blue encounter feel constantly nerve-wrecking and tense to the very last second.

One last positive to mention, probably the strongest aspect of Blue Gender’s production, is the music. The series is consistently a treat for the ears with its fantastic orchestral scores and incidental music always perfectly complimenting the scenes that they soundtrack. Action scenes are always accentuated by pulse-pounding dynamic horns that constantly keep the tension going, while the more dramatic scenes always have those unnerving church organs that seemed common throughout most old anime shows. That being said, the audio

So we have solid visual presentation and direction, we have two engaging lead characters that are somewhat worth caring about, and we also have extremely strong music to punctuate the proceedings. What exactly is it that keeps Blue Gender from being a completely worthwhile effort?

The story.

The story that drives the series can be best characterized with two words: sloppy and inefficient. It’s hard to know where to begin unpacking the story’s failures, but I’ll start with the Blue’s origins

The Blue are initially shrouded in mystery, with no clear explanation given in the first half as to where they originated. During Yuji’s training on Second Earth, we finally get some concrete information on them. The Blue are the product of Earth scientists injecting the B-cells into test animals to research a possible cure for the disease plaguing Yuji, and this information, as shocking as it should be, is just suddenly explained out of the blue (pardon the pun). One of the important figures on Second Earth just tells all this information to Marlene. It’s not revealed in some dramatic impactful fashion, and it lessens the importance of the reveal. However, we ultimately get another explanation of the Blue’s origins, learning that their existence was called forth by the Earth to wipe out humanity for its continued damage to the planet. When this information comes to light, it’s incredibly jarring because this feels like a plot point from a completely different kind of story, one more rooted in abstract supernaturally cosmic elements than the action sci-fi aesthetic that much of the series was built on.

In addition, it’s easy to see the vaginal symbolism in how the Blue are designed (mostly in the mouths), and this is framed in a way that nudges towards the idea that the Blue were human at one point, but this is sadly not the case. I find this a bit disappointing since, judging from later in the series, it seems like at one point there was meant to be some kind of human/Blue hybrid incorporated into the story and I would have loved to see it come up in the series as a final antagonist, but that was sadly a wasted opportunity.

To add on to this issue, the rhythm and pace of the storytelling is completely off throughout. Certain plot concepts are lingered on for longer than is necessary and others are just rushed into with no regard for a solid flow. I’ll touch on three specific points to illustrate the pacing problems.

In the first half of the series, the main characters find themselves in the presence of a colony of survivors left behind on Earth. Yuji, not knowing anything about Second Earth and having more attachment to this Earth, decides to spend time with the surviving colonists much to the displeasure of Marlene. This is a good plot point to include in the story, fleshing out the world by illustrating how the two different Earths perceive each other and the antagonistic relationship on display. It’s a necessary bit of fat that helps the experience and makes the world feel much more alive and detailed. Later on, however, Yuji finds himself coming across another colony of Earth survivors, and since we’ve already established the hatred and friction that exists between the abandoned Earth survivors and the military of Second Earth, this second encounter is pretty redundant.

The second plot point to touch on has to do with Yuji’s transitional state from a fearful coward to hardened killer. Once on Second Earth, Yuji begins his training to fight the Blue at his maximum potential. Like I said earlier, this training morphs him into a dangerous warrior, but this character shift is not eased into at all. The series instead just blunt force rushes into this new personality of his with no real development or gradual change. This is the exact opposite of Marlene’s character progression which actually shows a more natural gradual development of emotions and empathy. It comes across like the story was really meant to focus more on her than Yuji, even though Yuji is more or less functioning as a sort of audience surrogate in the grand scheme of the series.

Yuji and Marlene encounter TonyThe last of these plot points occurs when we approach the endgame. After Yuji finally snaps out of being a psychopath, one of the other sleeper agents brought to Second Earth, Tony, suddenly goes berserk. He gains command of a colossal Blue armada and turns them loose on the station’s inhabitants as a form of retribution on behalf of the Earth. This is where we get the aforementioned explanation of the Blue’s real origins, and the entire scenario builds up to a final confrontation with Tony that feels pretty finite and conclusive, at least judging from how this is presented. The show pretty much frames it like a final boss battle, taking place in a wide-open room and having Tony command an advanced mech apparatus, and to the show’s credit, this sequence is rather fantastically well-directed. However, this is undercut in an anti-climactic fashion by Yuji firing a couple of rounds into Tony’s skull. You’d think it would take more than that to kill him, but apparently not. It actually happens rather suddenly, and it took a few moments for me to register that this battle was over faster than it started.

This happens in episode 23… out of a total of 26.

Ultimate Blue
The Ultimate Blue

In the last three episodes, the series does what I like to call “pulling a Final Fantasy”. You know how in a lot of Final Fantasy games, even some of the really good ones, the final boss is never actually the final boss? There’s always at least one more fight beyond what you would think is the logical closure point. In this case, a surge of Blue begin suspiciously concentrating somewhere in South America. Yuji and Marlene volunteer to go on the mission, being warned that this is point of no return, hit up the save point, and grab all the potions because you won’t get to visit an item store anytime soon. During their mission, they come across a massive Blue nest that contains some weird crystalline gel core at its heart. Suddenly, an ultimate Blue emerges from the core and kills everyone except for Yuji and Marlene, leading to a fight sequence which, much like the battle with Tony, is actually fairly well-directed and incredibly tense. Once the battle is over, Yuji, in what is still one of the most confusing endings I’ve ever seen to anything in my life, fuses with the core and becomes… something. I think he’s supposed to be the God of Earth or something, but nothing is communicated clearly at all, which is incredibly ironic considering he claims that the answers he’s looking for are inside this core.

You sure you don’t want to give some of that knowledge to us, the audience? We’ve been just as confused as you throughout this whole thing, and know that you finally have answers, you’re going to keep them to yourself?

And for one last cherry on this badly-mixed sundae, there’s a sudden revolt on Second Earth by the military that leads to its destruction in a moment that’s somehow even more rushed than Yuji’s character development. It happens so fast, my first instinctual reaction was to laugh at how crowbarred-in this scene was. This is like what happens when you sit on a narrative essay for too long before the due date and then you have to fart out something to tie up the loose ends.

 

Blue Gender should have been so much better than it turned out. The great music, excellent visuals and direction, and solid engaging leads elevate the series and try to carry it through to the end, but the awkwardly-paced and flat-out confusing narrative doesn’t provide a solid foundation for these positive elements to shine as much as they should. It’s not one of the absolute worst things ever conceived, but it is disappointing to see so much promise ultimately get wasted.

 

 

Final Rating: 5-6 Blue vagina mouths out of 10. 

 

Blue Gender was produced by Studio AIC and licensed by FUNimation Entertainment. The series is available on DVD from FUNimation and is also streaming on Hulu as well as FUNimation’s YouTube channel.

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