Mezzo: Shell One

In the first five minutes, you'll know whether or not Mezzo is a show for you. In the opening sequence, there's a blazing shootout with amazing aerodynamics, unbelievable feats of daring that all but defy the laws of physics, and attitude to spare. If it seems ludicrous and over-the-top, you can just sell the disc on Ebay or something. But if you are willing to be a part of the joke and find it to be exhilarating fun, as I did, I expect you'll find the first disc a worthwhile watch. You'll have to put up with a little too much fan service and some plotlines that meander unexpectedly into the supernatural, but on the whole it's one of the best takes on the genre since the original Dirty Pair thrilled us a couple decades ago.

If you're in trouble and need the services of a small army, the Danger Service Agency is the outfit to call. Mikura's a redheaded fireball who's handy with weapons, jujitsu, and her smart mouth. The comically haired Harada has the technical skills to make their missions a success, and the balding Pops is the brain behind the outfit. An unlikely trio, certainly, but they can blast their way through any problem. In the first three episodes, we see them pilfer secret formulas, handle double-crosses, and generally smack around the bad guys. But in case a ton of action isn't enough, the fourth and fifth episodes are a brilliant narrative turn where events from one fateful day are played through twice from completely different points of view. If the creative storytelling wasn't enough, it's in these two episodes that we start to get a look into Mikura's troubled past, and what was just a screwball action-comedy becomes more poignant.

While Mezzo: Shell One shows some of the limitations of a television series, often it's hard to believe how good it all looks. (In fact, it's the quality of the animation 99% of the time that makes the 1% of screwy frames that appear on occasion even worse than they could be.) Director, screenwriter, and character designer Yasuomi Umetsu brings his unique look to the characters, and for me, that's a good thing. Are their eyes a little creepy?  Definitely...but the edge Umetsu brings to his creations makes them stand out from the competition. Unfortunately, the opening and closing themes do the same but in a bad way. They're both modern post-punk, and they're both crap. I couldn't bear to watch the opening and closing more than once each to catch the credits. However, I really never give a second thought to OP/ED pieces unless I really like them, so they didn't affect my rating.

While I enjoyed Mezzo Forte, the OVA that introduced the world to these characters, the pornographic "unedited" version left a bad taste in my mouth. I'm glad to say that Mezzo: Shell One has brought them back with a vengeance, and while they are the same crazy bunch, their additional adventures have pretty effectively removed any bad memories of the original. I'm also happy to see them effectively work in the events of the OVA into the show; episode 5 in particular has signficant flashbacks that flesh out the OVA and add both depth and consequences to it. There's enough plot here to make the action meaningful and enough comedy to make me laugh several times. But ultimately its willingness to go past the surface of these characters makes me interested in seeing where the rest of the series goes. And considering all 13 episodes can be found on three discs, it's not a bad deal from a buyer's perspective.

If there's a caveat to my thoughts on Mezzo, it's that its excesses stand out. Mikura is, frankly, pretty bouncy (and not in a personality way). There's no need for the revealing yet brief shower sequences. Mezzo occasionally panders to its audience. That said, it's not bad enough for me not to have enjoyed the whole. There were a few other creative choices I could have done without, such as the inclusion of an elementary school girl who latches onto Mikura as her mentor...she's just annoying to me. The supernatural aspects of a couple episodes are a minor cop-out. Again, though, these minor issues are the difference between an A and an A-, nothing more, and the disc gets better the longer it plays.

Seriously, though, the opening of Mezzo really reminds me of the best adventures of Dirty Pair. That wily twosome put together feminine wiles, riotous comedy, and massive destruction into a tasty package. While Mezzo is not so crazy as all that -- no planets have been blown up, at least not yet -- it's got the same spirit. Mikura's made from the same mold as Kei and Yuri, and Mezzo is far more in line with that seminal series than Dirty Pair Flash ever was. And with any luck, Mezzo will continue where episodes 4 and 5 left off and will get somewhere the Lovely Angels never genuine character development.

(Editor's Note:  Sadly, the series doesn't end nearly as well as it begins. To read a review of the following volumes and a grade for the series as a whole, please click here to read the review of Mezzo: Shells Two and Three.)

Mezzo: Shell One -- graphic violence, fan service and brief nudity, mature themes -- A-