IGPX Vol. 1

There are days when I wish I could turn back the clock. No, I really don't want to return to the disco era of my early youth or the early teen years when Michael Jackson and day-glo bracelets ruled the day. But on occasion, I long for the days when anime was barely a blip on the international scene. Now frankly, I don't miss 4th generation VHS fansubs or the days of $100 imports being the only way to see anime. But I do worry when shows like IGPX come along, because they reflect a growing and dismal trend -- programming made in Japan but with significant funding from the U.S. and a lot of input on what American audiences are supposed to like. Although I liked the concept of IGPX, watching the first four episodes and skimming through the whole first season made it clear to me that this show was killed by committee. By trying to hit every American demographic, IGPX turns out to be a generic bore that looks great but lacks even a centimeter of heart.

IGPX is short for the Immortal Grand Prix, a futuristic race played between two teams at a time that take turns beasting on one another and trying to make it to the finish line intact. The crew we follow throughout the program, Team Satomi, is made up of a bunch of whiny kids who don't work together well, but they've managed through brute skill (apparently) to make it into the top league of IGPX, the IG-1. Takeshi is the brash and brilliant yet undisciplined lead who's too cocky to take advice. Liz is the headstrong tomboy who fights with him constantly. Meanwhile, Amy is the shy brain of the group, who pilots her mech with her cat, to whom she has a cybernetic link. (Yeah, that makes worlds of sense.) As the show progresses, they must start working together like never before to battle the skills of the other IG-1 teams effectively. But are there any guesses as to who will wind up winning the IG-1? Hmm...

The show does have two major things going for it, and they make it bearable for a short time. The first is the animation quality. IGPX always looks good, and in the racing scenes, it sometimes hits spectacular. For those watching the English dub shown on Cartoon Network, many of the actors will sound familiar, and not just from other anime dubs. Haley Joel Osment, child star of Sixth Sense fame, plays the lead role, and Lance Henriksen of Alien and the TV show Millenium plays Team Satomi's coach. With a supporting cast of strong dub regulars and a couple celebrities, along with some killer animation, you'd think this would play really well.

That's what makes the failure of IGPX all that much more poignant. Sadly, the cast does the best they can with some of the limpest, most stereotypical characters ever seen in anime. No character is all that interesting, and we know very little about them. Yes, Amy does get a little extra time in the first few episodes due to a forgotten birthday, but that's not the stuff of anime legend. All the great voice casting and animation in the world can't help us care for characters who we would shrug off in real life.

If the characters were better, we could perhaps give some of IGPX's lapses. Because they aren't, IGPX can quickly become a nitpick fest -- and there are plenty of gaps in logic and sense to attack. First, the race itself makes no sense. The first lap is a throwaway; even the color commentator in the show admits it! Then there's battle, followed by a run to the finish line. But why? The battle segments are there to appeal to teen boys, plain and simple, but they add nothing to the actual race. Some teams break the rules brashly, yet are not penalized. What kind of a sport is this? Obviously, one created for style but not substance, and it's a mess. There's also the issue of why 13-to-15 year olds would even be allowed to compete in what should be a dangerous sport at 350mph speeds and with deliberate combat. But there's the rub: there is no sense of danger here. In fact, there's even little sense of competition. Despite what the show says, there's never a point at which I wasn't certain that Team Satomi would come out on top. Although this is true of a lot of sports-based anime, the best of the lot make it look far less easy. And then there's the whole issue of how a team divided against itself could actually win this competition...but then we'd also have to explain why pets can be a part of the game too, and it just slides off into lunacy from there.

IGPX is a rare show in that I recorded the whole 13 episodes of the first season onto Tivo but watched only the first four completely. I did watch through the rest of the episodes on fast forward and stopped from time to time to watch certain scenes, but I didn't feel right in saying I'd watched the entirety of the season. To be honest, I was so bored by the time those four episodes were done, even fast forwarding through nine more was a real chore. As such, I may be giving a lousy ranking to volume one of this series, but I honestly believe that the sub-par grade applies to the whole. There are much better shows out there in this genre, like the subtitled version of Initial D, which have genuine character development and intense racing action. I'd strongly advise passing on this one -- realize that my letter grade is generous, in my opinion, and is given only because of the decent voice acting and visuals.

IGPX Vol. 1 -- mild profanity, racing violence -- C-