Another attempt to make a good anime from a, assumedly, successful video game. After all, it's got beautiful women with exotic powers, mecha and lots of combat...so it must have seemed like an almost certain success.
While it looks as if this anime is set in an earlier version of Tokyo it doesn't take long to spot some, um, subtle differences. One of these being that the dominant form of mechanical power is all based on steam power, although at a very advanced level. The most high tech example being some steam powered armored battle suits. Although these go beyond even steam power, being able to harness spiritual / psychic power and transform it into motion. And the city needs them, as there also exists evil forces, capable of using demonic creatures and their own potent mecha, in their quest to destroy the city.
While the mecha may be ready the question of who to pilot them is a troubling one. It seems the pilot must have a sizable amount of spiritual power, something seemingly quite rare. Fortunately the authorities have found just the people...who all happen to be attractive young women who have gone a fair way to training their power on their own. As a result they're as strong in terms of personality as any other attribute, leading to some rather fiery interaction between the group. In fact you almost feel for the evil guys when they get in the way.
I assume the characters are who you can `play' in the game...since they're quite different in style, power and personality. They also have the sense that they've been carefully designed to exemplify a certain `style' and then possibly had personalities bolted on. They're a little bit artificial, although the relatively large number of characters and short time gives little chance to deepen them. Effectively there's two weapon users (katana and naginata), one martial artist and two ranged attackers. There's also a bunch of other characters, including the late addition of another pilot.
Even with this I must admit that anime is quite enjoyable. The women are cute enough, have a good sense of style that suggests personality and have some reasonable action and interaction. The main character we follow is Sakura, the latest addition to the team, possibly the most powerful and definitely the most bumbling amongst them. Through her introduction to the team we get to explore this novel world and meet the other characters. It's visually attractive and quite watchable.
The main problem is the story. Not only is it short, but it wanders quite a lot. There's obviously all these cool things, probably from the game, they want to do and show but it ends up making the progress a bit erratic. As a result, despite some tricky editing in the last tapes, it ends up feeling like several small stories tacked together than one logical sequence. There's also some confusion in regards to some story elements, mostly the theater and the enemy.
The theater is the trickiest one. It seems that when they're not fighting demonic creatures or evil mecha the girls are lead actresses in a theater group. There's a couple of comments on why this occurs, but to be honest none of them make much sense. The connection between being mecha pilots and actors being far from obvious and the `feeling' of the stories being somewhat disconnected. Then again, the enemy has similar problems. They exist and are powerful, but what they're actually trying to accomplish or who they are remains mysterious. It's actually as if they simply show up when a bit of action, or interruption, is needed in the rest of the story.
I'm tempted to think this was an experiment. It doesn't even seem to be trying to hard to reach a conclusion. Instead it seems to be happy to explore how these characters, and the setting, could be made to work. If this is the case then it seems to have been successful with a television series, which largely replaces this material, being made some time after it.
This anime still wins out in one respect though, the production quality is very nice. The advantage of the fractured story is that we get all sorts of interesting scenes and some of them are good. The girls are very attractive and all get their moments to show off in. The gear looks quite cool, which is a good trick considering how clunky the mecha designs are, and the combat has some lovely special effects. It doesn't actually move that cleanly, combat tending to be sequences of `special moves' and lovingly animated energy blasts and explosions rather than much in the way of motion. Detailed artwork and design, lovely coloring and some nice scenes make this a quite attractive series. The voices are also good, although some roles are smaller than you might like, and the music is upbeat and good. Oh, must mention that there's some use of English and Chinese which is diabolically poor in both cases (so my Chinese speaking friend assures me, it certainly sounded wrong to me).