Aria the Scarlet Ammo (Blu-ray Review)

Kinji is a junior at a high school for mercenaries.  He just wants to be normal, but his secret condition – he turns into an ace killer when he’s turned on by the female form – triggers a fiery transfer student’s unrelenting desire to make him her partner.


So, have any outlandish acts of school violence hit the headlines lately? Any? With either the worst timing in the world (or the best, depending), the gun-fetish Aria the Scarlet Ammo TV series arrives on the home-video scene in the west. Remember, newbies, Japan’s Battle Royale High School, with schoolchildren killing each other for sport long before The Hunger Games, Aria is pretty small caliber by comparison.

In what we’re told is an increasingly violent (near future?) world, elite facilities like Aria’s Tokyo Vo High School trains teens to be “Butei”, freelance bodyguard/avenger/mercenaries. It’s one campus that requires every student to carry a loaded gun and a knife everywhere (a detail that ought to give the National Rifle Association a woodie…or a Webley). Protagonist Kenji is only reluctantly enrolled; he supposedly doesn’t want any fighting or violence but is here mainly as a family duty, to redeem the memory of his brother, a Butei who died in apparent disgrace.

Still, when we first see him, Kenji is peddling his bicycle furiously because one of those velocity-triggered bombs is attached to the frame – and he’s being chased by an Uzi attached to a robotic scooter. Seems some unknown assassin is targeting Kenji and other students, and it might even have something to do with the brother’s demise. After his narrow escape, Kenji becomes the typical-for-anime center of an action-harem of heroines. Chief among them is hard-charging half-British transfer student Aria Kanzaki (who has demon horns and fangs, for some reason). It is a minor “spoiler” that Aria is a blood relative of an illustrious crimefighter who lived in London at 221B Baker Street.

That is a mild ongoing twist, that principle characters here descend from famous historical figures and/or other anime characters, including the master thief Arsene Lupin – but any continuity with Nippon’s classic Lupin cartoon adventures is as questionable as the Sherlockian tie. Plus, death-traps and cliffhangers derive heavily from popular movies like Speed and Pulp Fiction, which is borderline charming/annoying.

And, mid-way into the episode cycle, we learn that there can be “paranormal Butei”, such as the seemingly demure and polite Shirayuki, a conservative sword-maiden with apocalyptic magical powers (oh, and an equally impressive bustline). That takes the already out-there premise even further into fantasy. Moreover (yes, moreover) Kenji has an only-in-Japanimation bipolar disorder: under moments of extreme stress or sexual arousal, he involuntarily lapses into “hysteria mode”, a secondary persona of a super-cool 007-type, who can fight his way out of just about any hopeless peril. Think Popeye with his spinach, letting the scriptwriters off the hook, narrative-wise, more than once.

Add to this the fact that, for all the action, there’s not much of a real body count, and even a pitiless, unforgivably treacherous bad-girl menace turns into a “frenemy” who parades her physical assets in the obligatory nude-bathhouse epilogue episode, and you’ve got a just-okay bento box of comedy and action and gratuitous cleavage and rather inexplicable (this episode cycle) Christian-Catholic imagery. Hard to entirely bash a show in which one gag line complains that anime sequels are never as good as the original, though. Give it that.

But with more deadly antagonisms on display than a Quentin Tarentino story conference, and more guns than a Wal-Mart, and Aria in the credit sequences luxuriating on a bed of bullets the way Mena Suvari did on rose petals in American Beauty, there’s no real “edge” or outstanding elements. Just mild diversion for the juvenile gun-nut demographic. Who exist out there, as we’ve learned.


Not great but not bad visuals, with occasional fancy flourishes, in a 1.78:1 aspect-ration picture.  DVD and Blu-ray versions are sold separately, with the Blu-ray in 1080p HD native.


For a series that hits the road running, literally, audio is pretty good.  English is Dolby 5.1 Surround, while the Japanese is in stereo.  The Blu-ray version has Dolby TrueHD 5.1 for English, Dolby TrueHD 2.0 for the Japanese.


A fairly decent arsenal, considering. There are a two commentary episodes (we learn the American voiceover actors haven’t got a clue why Aria has devil horns either); textless opening and closing credit sequences (all the better to see Aria’s…cartridges); a short no-credits/subtitles promo video; a collection of untranslated Japanese commercials for the broadcast and video releases; and trailers of other FUNimation anime releases.


Acceptable, non-taxing day-care material for NRA households.


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