Innocent Venus is a series I heard about a while back and I was pretty excited by the first episode. I was not expecting anything groundbreaking, but I was impressed by the visual panache and overall feel of the show. As it turns out, it is one of those series that starts off strong, and then loses its drive, only to pick it back up again in the final stretch. The problem is, by the time it starts to pick up the broken pieces of itself, it is a little too late to salvage the overall product. As rare as it is for me to say this, I think this series would have been very well served to be even one episode longer, as the end feels like a mad dash to right the wrongs of the middle of the series.
Let us face it: there is nothing groundbreaking about the story in Innocent Venus at all, nor is the writing particularly strong. In falling to so many cliches and failing to really get beyond them, the story of Innocent Venus really drags the rest of the series down. The plot twist of the series, which could have been a very high point—and still, to some extent, manages to be—is so forcefully pushed onto the audience it loses a lot of its weight. Also, though perhaps it seems odd to mention the opening and ending animations here, they actually hint heavily at the plot twist, and raise suspicion artificially in the early stages of the show. Had it not been for the opener and closer, I would not have been waiting for the plot twist from the earliest moments of the series, and, man, would it have been a lot more impressive. I normally ignore those animations for the purposes of a review, but in such a case when they actually negatively affect the series I felt it should be mentioned. Also, the sub-plots, particularly the ones that are the focus of much of the middle portion of the series, are simply abominable, and at times make the series nigh unwatchable. I can appreciate their attempt to diversify the story, but in the execution it fell off horribly.
In general, the characters in Innocent Venus can be described in one word: bland. At least, pretty much every character aside from Sana, Jin, and Jo fit this description. Mostly the cast is made up of flat characters whose entire character is established within a few moments of them being on screen, and typically stick close to basic archetypes, deviating ever so slightly from time to time. However, the relationship between Sana, Jin, and Jo, offers an interesting dynamic which is really one of the major strong points of the show. However, Jo is a weak link in this chain, his reticence a great impediment to any development they might have given him, and even Jin suffers from some drastic changes that really make him a completely different character. Sana is certainly a strong point, her girlish nature amusingly and dramatically at odds with the events occurring all around her. When the three's relationship is at center stage, the show generally flourishes, but when it takes a side seat to the secondary characters and various sub-plots, it is not a pretty sight to behold. And, while the characters design is not completely without merit, the secondary characters really get shafted in this department.
Right in the first episode Innocent Venus impresses with its animation. The art itself looks great, and is very expressive. The character designs are interesting without being absurd, and everything moves about smoothly and naturally. Though it begins on a very high note, it begins to taper off noticeably rather quickly, and only rises to its former greatness in short spikes until the very end. Early on the action sequences will take you by storm, but in the middle of the series they serve merely as vehicles from one weak plot point to another, and all sense of drama and impact are lost to extensive use of shortcuts and a great deal of action taking place off screen. The 3d models used for the mechs look simple and out of place amidst the sharp characters and the deep landscapes, looking more like plastic models than dangerous weapons. In short, when the series shines, it's an intense, piercing experience, but more often than not it loses that and comes off weakly. During the majority of the middle portion of the series, in particular, production values fall to great depths, and at times it seems as if there is no salvaging it—and, indeed, this section does drag the entire series down a great deal, making what could have been a very good series into one that is merely okay. Especially bad are the naval battles, which run the gamut from unwatchable to simply bad, and are full of the sort of pseudo-military jargon I think everyone has come to expect from action series. Unfortunately, these battles have none of the other battles' flair or style, and are stale even compared the most perfunctory ground battle.
Now, I will be the first to admit that soundtracks can be too overbearing, and dominate a scene to the extent that you sometimes wonder why they bothered with the animation. Innocent Venus generally takes it to the other extreme. Most of the music in this series is so subdued as to be completely unnoticeable, occasionally flaring up into existence to nudge a scene in the right direction. Thus, the soundtrack is not bad, per se, and certainly has its place in the series, but a little more weight would have been a good thing. At times this is not the case, primarily in one of two instances: piano pieces, which hold a fairly important place in the story, and during action sequences, during both of which the soundtrack really shines. One thing that can be said for the soundtrack throughout most of the series—certain sections in the middle the most notable exception—is that it is timed very well to what is happening on screen, and never leaves a sour taste in your mouth. However, even this trait suffers in the middle portion, unfortunately, the only thing not noticeably taking a hit being the voice-acting. On that note, the voice-acting is almost universally decent, but—aside from a few instances and Sana's seiyuu Nazuka Kaori—never impressive in any sense. However, because the seiyuu for Sana does such a good job in expressing her character and providing most of the fun in the series, and because she is present throughout much of the show, the voice-acting as a whole remains a modest strong point of the show.
Overall, Innocent Venus was an enjoyable ride, but it drags so much in the middle portion, and loses everything that made it exciting in the beginning. Though efforts are made to pick up the pieces in the ending stretch, ultimately they fail to make up for the miserable pacing and drop in production values that haunt the majority of the central third of the show. With a supremely forgettable soundtrack and uninspired voice-acting from all but one of the cast, nothing in Innocent Venus manages to stand strong throughout the series. The series loses it focus a great deal, and cannot manage to regain its lost concentration until it is too late. When events are focused around Sana, Jin, and Jo, and the relationship among them which is quite well developed, the series thrives, and is a genuine pleasure to watch. However, take this away and a cold, unpleasant taste is left in the audience's mouths.
The Ten Second Version
Story: 3 – Full of cliches expressed through lackluster writing, the story is propelled forcefully by the series' stronger traits.
Character: 6 – The relationship between Sana, Jin, and Jo is a remarkably strong point in the show, but the majority of the other characters are flat and dull
Animation: 6 – Early on and later on the animation is extremely well-handled, but during the middle portions it all suffers greatly. Static art is attractive, although many of the designs, both for characters and machines, could have used a lot more work. The 3d animation in the series is also poorly integrated.
Sound: 6 – The music is mostly subdued, barely managing to push scenes in the right direction, although the piano pieces are very good. Some of the tracks are put to good use, however, and the dramatic timing is often quite good. As for voice actors, Nazuka Kaori shines as young Shana, and there are no glaringly bad ones, but overall the performances are lackluster.
Seems a little out of tune...