Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere (Fall 2011, Summer 2012 TV Series)
Director: Manabu Ono
Writers: Tatsuhiko Urahata, Seishi Minakami, Kurasami Sunayama and Yoriko Tomita
Alternative History (another form of speculative fiction) is a risky thing to pull off and actually do well enough. On the one hand, you can end up with some interesting pieces like Umberto Eco’s Baudolino or The Ambition of Oda Nobuna but on the other hand you end also with complete crud like Black Knight or A Kid in King Arthur’s Court. Fortunately, what I am looking at is more the former then the latter, that being Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere.
I got to say the first episode is a false start in many ways which threw me a bit for a loop upon initial viewing. It portrays the show as a fast paced action, basically a long chase sequence but over the course we are introduced to the world and characters of this series. The world is a sort of mix of the past (16-17th Century Europe) and the future (giant flying ships and mecha, etc). But amidst the spectacle we have Toori Aoi and his quest to regain Horizon, a girl he knew that died a decade previously with the help of his friends and classmates at Musashi Ariadust Academy. What is even more interesting is that the first 4-5 episodes are particularly interesting in that they take place in the same day but focusing on different characters and setting up the world and characters more so. Of course that means the main story doesn’t really begin until episode 6, when Toori enacts a rescue mission to rescue Horizon. Even then the show goes through a series of battles of various types which I prefer over just 2 dudes punching and beating the shit out of each other. This leads into the final 2 episodes which are just sublime and well-executed.
Another thing that works in the show’s favor is its cast. It is quite numerous and it would be hard to talk about all of them in this review, but I will mention the main cast and some of my favorites in supporting cast. Toori Aoi is a great protagonist who is optimistic and full of life, always a sight to behold in every scene, even when he spends most of one season in the nude. Horizon is more than what her initial appearance gives off and a delight to see her and Toori banter. I also like Masazumi Honda as she’s an interesting character at least in terms of backstory. Other supporting characters I like are the smexy dancer Kimi Aoi, the lesbian techno-witches Malga and Margot, who get their own highlight (a moment of sheer awesomeness)in an episode and a sub-plot storyline. There’s also Naomasa an older female student who has her own giant fecking robot which is also quite amazing.
Season 2 is very much more of the same, only with some slight variation in character focus and narrative. Picking up right where the first season ends, the Musashi group fends off an attack by Tres Espaine and end up in the domain of England. Here they deal with historical reenactment of the Spanish Armada attack. Granted it closes out that storyline and then tease us for a possible next installment…..Horizon Season 3 please? Though even if we don’t get one, I’m please enough with what we got.
I also like this series in that it’s willing to tackle many genres in order to make this massive and ambitious epic. Be it action (exciting and thrilling), fantasy adventure, serious relationship drama or light-hearted comedy if it’s a genre it can be found here. Of course, since it takes a jack-of-all-trades approach to this, that means it doesn’t excel particularly at all of them (action and comedy seem to get the more emphasis) but it does such a nice job that it doesn’t matter much at all to me.
Animation Production is very solid. Then again it’s Sunrise, so its very great, high production values as expected mostly from them. The character Designs of the females are wowow either too much boobies or not much at all, no doubt due to the director in question. Thankfully its functional fanservice and not just there because we can do that sort of thing, like with Eiken. The music is also suitably epic as well, fitting the tone for the series to a tee. I like ED songs for the chibis, I’m a sucker for that.
Now for the language tracks, I did watch both seasons first in English dub then in Japanese with subtitles. Original Japanese is very solid effort by all involved. It is also neat to hear Jun Fukuyama (seiyuu for Lelouch from Code Geass) having some real fun in the part.
Now the english dub, hoo boy its a Steven Foster dub….. (incoming controversial material)
Last time I talked about this guy’s dub work (my Mardock Scramble I review March 2014) I did mention that wouldn’t be the last time I would mention. I got some others planned down the line for sure. It is somewhat good timing as this review is coming out after his interview with Otaku Review where he announced that he had left Sentai Filmworks last year.
My stance on him as a dub director/writer is ambivalent to be fair. On the one hand he’s well known for some particular funny, entertaining and comedic dubs: Cromartie High, Pani Poni Dash, Needless, etc. with the occasional masterwork (Chevalier d’Eon, HOTD). But on the other hand, he’s also done some rather questionable and bad dubs: Clannad S1 (1st half), Penguindrum, some of his early ADV efforts, etc. He is a bit all over the place in terms of quality in terms of english dub work, consistency not being a mainstay of his dubs. That is mainly due to him being primarily a comedic writer and a sort of ‘devil-may-care’ attitude approach to dubbing that he tends to employ more often than not.
Thankfully, Horizon kinda falls in the middle in terms of the dub production: Solid in terms of entertainment and comedy mainly but also has some questionable issues. The core cast is solid: Josh Grelle is Toori Aoi and does a great job, practically stealing the show. Emily Neves, Genevieve Simmons, Luci Christian, Maggie Flecknoe do a great job as well in their respective roles. The rest of the cast is practically anyone and everyone that worked for Sentai Filmworks in 2012-13 as if Foster decided to just throw in everyone and anyone into this dub.
In terms of direction Foster seems to start off a bit rocky with some of the more rookie talent but smoothes things out by around episodes 3-4 through the first season. The dub script writing is more faithful and restrained in meaning and content (no doubt as the script is credited to Foster and translator Jackie McClure) but Foster manages to sneak some snark and profanity into the script at moments.
But then there’s Season 2 dub where there were cast changes in the dub (supporting cast mostly) and while that wouldn’t be a bad thing, as the dubs for Seasons 1 and 2 were not recorded back to back at all, but Foster seems to not have cared about it or couldn’t have the time to get actors back, because some of the changes either don’t make much sense (David Matranga replacing Rob Mungle for Innocentius?) or don’t even remotely match (Shirojiro in S2 sounds less commanding than in S1). Also not surprising that Horizon S2 came out around the time that Foster was lessening his involvement in Sentai Filmworks dubs (he would do 6 more dubs (Medaka Box, HOTD OVA, Btooom, Nyan Koi and then finally Samurai Bride) after this one before leaving so part of the voice direction seems at points uninspired and lazy. Thankfully most of the cast is talented enough that these issues are a minor hindrance to me but I can see why some would find them a problem. Still a good dub and worth a listen.
Overall Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere is an interesting series that takes on a lot on and succeeds at being entertaining in the process. Its a solid production that has great music and both good language tracks. This definitely gets a recommendation for yours truly, truly a hidden gem.
Well that’s it for May. Stay tuned for my next review to be out last Sunday of June. Here’s a hint…..
Til next time dear readers