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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Heavy Gear #1: The Dragon's Shadow (2002)

"Five against one? This oughta be fun!"
- Marcus (Lukas Haas)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: October 17, 2002

Stars: Greg Ellis, Charles Shaughnessy, Lukas Haas, Clancy Brown
Other Stars: Michael Chiklis, David DeLuise, Sarah Douglas
Director: Vincent Edwards

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for pervasive action and sci-fi violence.
Run Time: 01h:39m:00s
Release Date: August 10, 2002
Genre: anime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-AA- B-

DVD Review

Animated series based on comics, video games, and other such stuff have become fairly commonplace. In the case of Heavy Gear, though, the interesting thing is that the source inspiration lies in the form of the long-standing, role-playing game of the same name, which conforms to good ol' "book and paper" mechanics for most of its world. Set in the distant future, Heavy Gear deals with Terra Nova, a planet once an important colony for Earth, but long since left to its own devices. As such, it's riddled with political conflicts between the armies of different factions, each with their own "Gears"—giant, military robots designed for full-on combat. Many of the skirmishes between factions are performed in an arena under specific rules as part of a weird sport that satisfies the population's lust for battle. In the series, the focus is on the Dragon faction, and their chief mechanic Marcus Rover.

Entirely animated in CG by the same team who put together Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles, Heavy Gear's first volume begins with the story of how Marcus works his way from being the mechanic to a full-blown member of the Dragon team. Though he dreams of joining his teammates in the arena for the intense battles against other giant robot teams (especially the Vanguard faction), he isn't allowed to participate because he's "just a kid." Things get started quickly, though, when the Vanguard cheats during a match, using missile weapons when they're not allowed. When they bring down Marcus' leader, he steps in to help and earns himself some points of respect for being involved in that controversial battle. When the team captain retires, Marcus finds himself in training for the chance he's always hoped for, to be a Gear champion and fight for the Southern factions.

Although there is a story here, most of Heavy Gear is unquestionably focused on the Gear combat, which is quite violent and brutal. With the television series format re-edited into a movie-length feature, you're going to get much more action than you might have expected, and it's pretty non-stop. It's visually exciting, and pulled off very well thanks to the expertise of the animators and directors. That said, though, the plot does suffer a bit. The majority of the disc deals with how the Vanguard team is incapable of fighting their tournament battles fairly and constantly cheat, which does get a little tiresome after awhile. The Vanguard baddies seem able to sabotage Dragon Gears without the merest fear of being caught. In one episode, they continually gain access to the Dragon's training facility to screw things up, but it's never explained how they're able to get into a military defense station so easily and repeatedly.

That aside, though, there still a decent amount of character development and situations that promote better team unity. All this may remind the viewer of Starship Troopers Chronicles, but with many of the same writers and producers, I suppose that's to be expected. While the heavy conflict and political themes of the original role-playing game are toned down a bit—at least in this volume—the mech arena combat makes a great setting and excuse for the copious amounts of robot bashing going on. The scale and physics are pretty good, and the mechanical design (directly inspired from the original game) is very believable. With all this in mind, Heavy Gear leaps from being just another television animation into a much more entertaining, semi-serious experience that seems almost tailor-made for the home medium.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1:78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Anamorphically widescreened to 1:78:1, the transfer is almost as good as a direct-from-render transfer. There are no source issues whatsoever, and the digital perfection of the animation itself is perfectly rendered. The only issues seem to be a slight sharpening on the image, leading to an over-abundance of dot crawl and "rainbow" effects on sharp edges. Otherwise, this is a near perfect, beautiful transfer, even better than Roughnecks.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 audio is crisp, clean, and offers plenty of directional action for the numerous sequences of giant mech battles. While there isn't much bass to go along with the explosive track, the clarity helps make the actions scenes much more detailed and satisfying, with a variety of ambient effects. It's a generally fitting soundtrack with nothing to complaint about.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles, Cowboy Bebop, Metropolis
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by (1)Producer Audu Paden, producer Richard Raynis, writer Mark Hoffmeier, writer Mark Seidenberg, and more (2)Producer Audu Paden, animation director Steven Wendland, associate producer Kevin Gamble, animation , director Will Lau, designer Shawn Frewe
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Conceptual Art Gallery
Extras Review: The primary supplements are two packed commentary tracks featuring many of the crew and some of the voice cast. One commentary is labeled "Filmmaker's Commentary" while the other is "Technical Commentary." The filmmaker track features many of the producers, writers, designers, and voice cast discussing the origins of the series as well as other making-of facets of the production. Arranged and organized very well, the track obviously has some planning to it and series producer Audu Paden wrangles the staff well in casual, but serious discussion. It's a mammoth audio track featuring at least 10 people, though others stop in at different points. If that's not enough for you, the "Technical" track is loaded with even more information on the animation, design, drawing-to-result work, and direction. Again, Audu Paden handles the hosting duties and keeps things light and humorous, but on-topic and definitely informative. After these two commentaries, you can officially be considered an expert on Heavy Gear.
Also provided is a gallery of conceptual art for the Heavy Gear machines and various other technological components of the show. Some trailers round off the disc.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Heavy Gear is worth a look by anyone who likes fast and fierce action shows, and is especially interesting for those who have experienced the role-playing game. While it has an aspect of being a show aimed at younger viewers, it doesn't talk down to viewers with overloaded messages or tacked on subplots.


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