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The Series
I certainly had high expectations for this one. Shoji Kawamori, director of Macross/Robotech, Macross Plus and Escaflowne, has once again teamed up with composer Yoko Kanno (Escaflowne, Cowboy Bebop, Macross Plus) to bring us Arjuna. This series is comprised of 13 episodes; what I have here is Arjuna Volume 1:Rebirth, containing episodes 1 - 3, with three more discs on the way.

Arjuna, Volume 1: Rebirth

Arjuna is the story of Juna, a teenage girl living in present-day Japan who finds herself caught up in an unexpected mission to save the planet earth. Sound predictable? Far from it. Juna is involved in a fatal motorcycle accident, and experiences a visitation by a young lad named Chris who offers to save Juna’s life. However, there is a catch. Juna must assume the role of Avatar of Time (taking the responsibility from Chris), and save earth from collapse at the hands of the Raaja. These Raaja are huge, imposing worm-like entities which are said to have spawned from man’s sustained environmental neglect. However it seems that Juna was not randomly selected for this role - her appropriateness is foreshadowed in scenes prior to the accident, where she appears particularly sensitive to the wildlife and the encroaching cityscape around the city harbour. Though befuddled by the bizarre circumstances she’s stumbled into, Juna accepts the responsibility and here begins her task to save the planet earth.

Each episode of Arjuna attempts to highlight a particular aspect of mankind’s complacency in the face of environmental breakdown. From the imminent collapse of a nuclear powerplant, instigated by the Raaja, through to the toxic waste surrounding a lush forest, Juna certainly has her hands full. Don’t be discouraged by the environmental slant to the series; there’s a lot of puzzling questions just waiting to be answered, and the story is shaping up to be rather unique. Just who is Chris and what are the motivations of the group called S.E.E.D? Where did the Raaja originate? How will Juna fight the Raaja without the use of force? In the meantime, Juna keeps us entertained with some lovely battle sequences and a fancy power suit transformation. Combine this with glorious visuals and a wonderful soundtrack, and Arjuna is shaping up to be a memorable experience.

Arjuna, Volume 1: Rebirth

The 1.78:1 visuals in Arjuna are a complimentary blend of CG animation and gorgeous traditional cell animation. The camera choreography is exceptional; the third-dimension attributed to the CG work brings out the wonderful detail that has gone into the series. I found the scenes incorporating the CG helicopter particularly attractive, as are the scenes where Juna finds herself wandering aimlessly through the forest. It’s all very polished. The Raaja are reminiscent of the Final Fantasy worm-like baddies, but this doesn’t detract from their imposing presence. Perhaps the only niggle I have is with the 3D’ish robot that comes to the rescue of Juna on several occasions. To me it appeared a little corny and out of place (perhaps it will be explained in later episodes?), although we’ve all been spoiled by the ultra-modern mecha designs of Neon Genesis and the like. You’ll often find yourself wondering where the traiditonal cell work stops and the CG composits begin - this is definitely a good thing, as neither is overworked and both serve to complement each other. To top it all off, I found no hint of transfer abnormalities in multiple viewings, just bold colours and well defined imagery.

The audio sound track is stunning. There’s simply no other way to describe it. The ambient track played on the menu screen sets the mood for the series perfectly. Yoko Kanno has imbued Arjuna with an otherworldly texture; the music gave me many-a-tingle (the music that complements the scene in which Juna and her boyfriend Tokio take a motorcycle around the mountains, camera panning away, is evidence of this wonderful effect). I don’t often find myself caught out by exceptional positional sound effects (I’m referring to the opening scene, where we hear the sharp twang of an arrow being shot, just before Juna rather awkwardly attempts to fire off her own arrow). The 5.1 audio tracks for both the Japanese and English dialogue are fantastic; the English track is more than adequate and is handy when you’re watching for a second time to concentrate on the visuals.

Arjuna, Volume 1: Rebirth

Nothing too noteworthy here except for the inclusion of an Arjuna Karaoke sequence which you and your buddies can sing along to. What you have is your standard assortment of character artwork, episode previews, TV spots, and the expected bundle of Madman previews, including Spirited Away, Tenchi Muyo, Jubei Can, .hack//SIGN, Geneshaft,  and FLCL.

Arjuna is a wonderful combination of intriguing story, superb visuals and a moving soundtrack. A young girl’s plight to save mankind is explored with originality and commendable attention to detail, and I’m anxiously anticipating the direction the series is heading. There’s something in here for everyone, and it’s a recommended addition to any anime library.