WARNING: this review contains information which some may consider to be spoilers.
Vandread - Enemy Engaged is the first DVD release of the Vandread series, containing the first four episodes of the series: (1) Boy Meets Girl, (2) And... I've Lost My Way, (3)This is the Path I Choose to Live, (4) I Want to Know More about You. Season One of Vandread has thirteen episodes; Season Two airs in Japan in late 2001 and early 2002.
This series was produced in Japan by Gonzo Animation Studios, the company behind Blue Submarine No. 6 and Gate Keepers. The press release mentions that Vandread is done using "entirely digital animation techniques," although it appears as if it is just outer space scenes which are done digitally - the scenes on the planet and inside the ships appear to be traditional cell animation. This combination is reminiscent of live action productions, and as such is not jarring to a viewer who has seen any Star Trek series on television.
The basic premise of the series is a "battle of the sexes" between two planets: the all-male Tarak and the all-female Mejale. Hibiki, the central character, is a "third-class citizen" of Tarak, and stows away on a warship to prove to his fellow workers that he is different. Unfortunately for Hibiki, his warship is attacked by women pirates. A defensive missile from his fellow men combines his crippled ship with the pirate ship and sends the joined vessel into a far corner of the galaxy, where the men and women now find themselves with a common enemy.
The name of the series stems from the names of the fighting vehicles of the men and women: the Vanguard armored fighting suits of the men and the Dread "strike vessels" of the women. The Vanguard flown haltingly by Hibiki during their first encounter with the enemy at the other side of the galaxy somehow merges with the Dread piloted by Dita. The resulting Vandread has powers far greater than the combined vehicles. Hibiki's Vanguard can also be combined with the Dreads of other female fighters, with differing vehicles as the result.
We are not shown much of either the Tarak or Mejale societies (more of the Tarak), but the glimpses are fascinating. The male Tarak have a rigid class structure in a militaristic society and everyone wears a uniform. The female Mejale we see are military as well, but apparently without the rigid class divisions of the men. The women also have a more interesting choice in clothing, to be polite about it. As the episodes unfold, it is hinted that the men and women originated from a single society.
Vandread contains quite a bit of humor, much of it in the scenes where the men and women learn more about each other, such as the scene in which a male doctor tells the female captain that her helmswoman has an "internal parasite." On Tarak, babies are made in factories, so the doctor has never before seen a natural pregnancy.
The Vandread DVD is in letterbox format and is bilingual - it has a Japanese track and a dubbed English track, also offering the option of English subtitles in the Japanese version.
The extras on the DVD include two promo videos (one with Japanese voice-over, one with just music), a gallery of character drawings, textless openings for each episode, and scene access. You can also play right through all four episodes without returning to the menu.
This review was of the DVD version - the VHS version is dubbed in English, without the extras on the DVD version.
Due to the rating of 13 UP, parents may wish to read the "review for parents" of this DVD over on Anime Cafe. The episodes on this DVD contain a sprinkling of mild swear words.
Of note to toy collectors: the Japanese-language Vandread site has a section marked "goods" in which there appear to be action figures from Takara of the Vandread characters, including Hibiki, Dita, Meia, Jura, a Vandread, and Pyoro.
Rating: 13 UP (mature themes, suggested nudity, some violence)
Running Time: 100 minutes
Distributor: Pioneer Entertainment (USA)
English-language web site: http://www.vandreaddvd.com/
Japanese-language web site: http://www.vandread.com/
Suggested retail price: $29.98 for the DVD, $24.98 for the VHS (both prices are USD)