BRAIN POWERED (1998)

 

Format: 26 25-minute episodes available in three double-disk volumes

Rating: PG-13+/R (N, AC, V); but also see below

Type: Sci-Fi (mecha)

American Production: Bandai Entertainment

English Dub Production: Ocean Studios

Japanese Production: Sunrise

 

Grading

 

Premise:

C+

Story:

C

Writing:

C-

Character Design:

B+

Mecha Design:

C

Animation:

B-

Artistic Merits:

B-

English Dub:

Musical Score:

B+

Opener:

B

Closer:

C+

 

 

Humor Content:

C

Action Content:

B-

Drama Content:

C+ 

 

 

DVD Presentation:

C

DVD Extras:

C+

 

 

OVERALL:

C+

 

Synopsis

      In the early 21st century a massive “organic engine” called Orphan appears out of the ocean floor. Its presence causes earthquakes throughout the world, and some come to believe that it is actually a giant spaceship designed to collect the Earth’s life force and carry it off to another planet. All life on Earth will be destroyed when Orphan surfaces and takes off, but one group of people - called Reclaimers - believes that this should happen, and that a select few (namely them) will accompany Orphan to start over again on a different world, one not scarred by ecological disasters. They are opposed by a U.N.-sponsored force working off the prototype battleship Novis Noah, which uses an organic engine similar in function to Orphan. Both sides are competing to recover giant plates fired off by Orphan, in part because these plates can “revive,” creating Antibodies, which look conspicuously like giant armored robots (complete with a bladelike weapon called a chakra) but are actually living creatures. Although these Antibodies are physically mature, they are mentally babies, so they must be guided, directed, and cajoled into action by pilots that bond with and befriend them. (The name “Antibody” also comes to refer to the bonded pilot.) Those Antibodies that are piloted by Reclaimers and work in conjunction with their “mother” Orphan are called Grand Chers; those that work against their mother, and are piloted by those connected to Novis Noah, are called Brain Powereds (“Brains” for short). Though both come from the same source and look similar, they develop into very different creatures.

      The impetuous teenaged redhead Hime Utsumiya becomes involved with the Brains when she witnesses the revival of one and quickly bonds with it. The determined and driven young man Yuu Issa starts as a Grand Cher pilot in service to his scientist parents and older sister but becomes disillusioned with Orphan and the Reclaimers and quickly switches sides. Over the course of the series other characters change sides and make power plays as the two competing philosophies (Earth should be abandoned vs. Earth should be saved) rub against one another in their efforts to sort out the mysteries of organic energy and shape the future of mankind.

 

The Long View

      Brain Powered is an odd mecha series which strives to tell a meaningful story while managing a wide cast of characters but doesn’t fully succeed at it. The main problem is that the writing makes improbable logical jumps in some places, is awkward or even nonsensical in others, and fails to generate a comprehensive understanding of how various things work and are interrelated; it feels like the details weren’t fully worked out when the series went into production and some were simply made up along the way. The dialogue could also use a lot of work in places, although part of the problem there may be in the translation and less-than-stellar English dub, and the ending is horribly rushed. The only thing that the writing does generally do right is in establishing its characters’ motivations. The potential is certainly here for a good story, but the writing could have used a lot more refinement. And something should be done about all these scenes where the pilots pop out of their cockpits to talk to each other; isn’t that why they have unit-to-unit communications?

      Brain Powered focuses most on the exploits of Hime and Yuu, who have the sort of initially combative relationship that usually eventually leads to romance before the series is out, and they do get their chance at times. They definitely have the potential to make a cute couple, and a playful scene where Yuu licks Hime’s cheek (not as kinky as it sounds) is one of the most memorable scenes in the whole series. They share screen time with a substantial supporting cast, however, which gives the series a broad array of characters to use but also thins out the characterizations. Still, most significant characters are given at least some chance to develop personalities and establish motivations. Standouts among the Reclaimers include Yuu’s sister Quincy, who as a child was used as a tool by her scientist parents and grew up to be the domineering leader of the Reclaimers, and the maniacal Jonathon Glenn, who turns his frustration over the lack of presence of his mother in his life into a driving hatred of, and disdain for, almost everyone and everything. On the Novis Noa  side an early stand-out is the young woman Kanan, who gets a lot of screen time early on as she searches for her place in a world where she feels no one loves her. Captain Anoa also shines as a woman who utterly falls apart when she is forced to confront the fact that she was a complete failure as a mother. A true annoyance is the child genius Kant Kestner, who appears in the second half of the series. Unfortunately he doesn’t die, but fortunately has little screen time in the series’ waning episodes. The prime source of comic relief is Mr. Mohammed, a fast-moving, smooth-talking Arab leader who has the hots for Irene both in her Doctor Mode and her later Captain Mode.

      The technical merits for Brain Powered are decent but nothing exceptional. The design for the mecha fails to excite and makes it difficult to distinguish the Grand Chers from the Brain-Powereds and later elite Baronz except at a close look. And what’s the deal with those flying wedges and boxy helicopters??? The series more than makes up for its other artistic oddities with its character design. While most of the male characters have a very generic look, the design for the female characters is nothing less than exceptional. Many of the female characters are truly gorgeous, and there’s such a wide array of physiques and races represented among them that every male viewer is sure to find at least one favorite. (My top pick is Kanan.) Even Captain Anoa, a woman who has to be at least in her early 40s, looks quite appealing, and the grandmotherly Naoko actually looks like one would expect a grandmother to look instead of the wizened little ladies usually seen as grandmothers in anime. All of the female characters are drawn with reasonable proportions, too; no ultra-busty stripper-types here, although I’d happily watch most of these female characters strip. I would certainly place at least two or three of the female characters high on any list of Most Beautiful Female Anime Characters. On the downside, there are some gross fashion blunders in the series; the suits that the Brain Powered pilots wear in combat situations have got to go!

      The musical scoring for the series is quite different than the dramatics orchestral tones normally heard in mecha series, which sets a very distinctive tone for many key action sequences. I wasn’t sure how effective it was at first, but it grew on me as the series progressed and I came to appreciate it greatly by the end. The opening song is a lively number that starts out piano-driven before shifting to rock, while the closer is a haunting number loaded with weird sound effects set against an even weirder array of extreme close-up pictures of flowers. (The reason for this eventually comes to make some sense as the importance of flowers in the “organic energy” scheme of things becomes apparent.) In a very unusual move, “Next Episode” clips are displayed in small boxes in one corner of the screen during the closing credits rather than coming afterwards.

      The English dub for the series, while adequate, did not impress me. It made some odd vocal choices, such as giving the character Saz Higgins a much lower-pitched and huskier voice than she has in the original. Annoyingly, the subtitles for the song lyrics in the openers and closer and for the episode titles are only available when the Subtitle feature is turned on. On the plus side, separate language and dubbing options are available, so you can watch the English dub with the subtitles on if you wish.

      Brain Powered is a very difficult series for assigning a single overall rating. Most of the series is PG-rated, with only a handful of scenes of adult content scattered throughout, although they do include one brief (but very fine!) nude scene. The problem is the opener, which is almost wall-to-wall fan service. All seven of the prominent young ladies in the series (Hime, Quincy, Saz, Irene, Comodo, Sheila, and to a lesser extent Kanan) are given ample opportunity to show off their beautiful bodies during the opener, which is a real delight if you appreciate female nudity but is also totally incongruous with the content of the series itself. It’s also enough to bump the rating up to R by American standards, which is unfortunate because otherwise you could probably show this series to any 10-year-old. I would say that a more proper rating should be PG-13+, but parents should use discretion.

     One other point worth noting, especially for this Web site: Brain-Powered packs a distinct anti-American bias. Not only are Americans in general made to look bad, but there’s also comments like, “they’re a young nation, so it’s understandable that they are nervous.” Ugh!

      Brain Powered is not one of the better mecha series you’re likely to come across but it’s good enough to be worth a look if you’re a fan of the genre or of gorgeous young ladies.

 

DVD Extras

       The second disk in each volume contains varying extras:

·  Trailers (all volumes)

·  Clean opener/closer (vol. 1 – and this is one of the rare cases where I feel there’s actually value to the former)

·  Production Art Gallery (characters on vol. 1, mecha on vol. 2)

·  Brain-Powered Karaoke – the opener set up for karaoke in English and Japanese (second volume)

·  The Road to Brain-Powered – a text discussion by the director and composer about the making of the series (vol. 2 and 3)

  

Principle English Voice Actors

Note: There is conflicting information about several of the roles that can’t be attributed just to use of stage names, so some entries may not be accurate.

 

Role

Voice Actor

Hime Utsumiya

Maggie Blue O’Hara 

Yuu Isami

Matt Smith

Kanan Gimms,

Captain Anoa,

Baron Maximilian, minor roles

Saffron Henderson

Jonathon Glenn

Kirby Morrow

Iiko Isami/Quincy Issa

Jennifer Copping

Kensaku Isami,

Russ Lunberg, Nanga,

Dr. Kuwabara, minor roles

Don Brown

Naoko Isami,

Sheila Glass,

Dr. Midoi Isami

Ellen Kennedy

Mr. Geybridge/“Gabe”

Ward Perry

Saz Higgins

Willow Johnson

Dr. Irene, minor roles

Lisa Ann Beley

Russ Lunberg, Mr. Mohammed

Brian Drummond

Kant Kestner

Danny McKinnon

Nakki Guys

Andrew Francis

Akari

Chantal Strand

K.D.

Michael Tiernan

Mitsuo, Kumazo, Comado, minor roles

Cathy Weseluck

Captain Laite, minor roles

Paul Dobson

Nelly Kim

Alaina Burnett

 

 

 

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