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Thursday, June 3, 2004



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COURTESY OF CARTOON NETWORK


Same old tune


It's amazing how often in anime that the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of a lone individual with spiky hair, a big sword and elite fighting skills.

Haru Glory, the hero of "Rave Master," making its U.S. debut on Cartoon Network at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, is one of those people. His quest is to gather the scattered Rave Stones so he can purge the world of the ultimate evil -- a group called the Shadow Guard -- that threatens the world's very existence.

It all sounds very familiar. Replace Haru and the Rave Stones with elements of other series that have become popular in America -- Goku and the Dragon Balls, Inu Yasha and the shards of the Sacred Jewel -- and you'd get pretty much the same product. "Rave Master" seems designed to appeal most to fans of the "Dragon Ball" franchise and "Inu Yasha," and it has all the stereotypical elements -- people shouting out the names of special techniques, cute mascot characters, spunky girls with lost pasts, sinister evil types who speak barely above a whisper -- to make them happy.

The problem is that after the two-part introduction to the series, there's really no indication that future episodes will bring anything unique and exceptional to the table.

Part of the problem stems from the source material, a manga series by Hiro Mashima (available domestically through Tokyopop) that didn't really have anything noteworthy going for it. It actually took 190 pages, or the entire first volume, for Haru to finally get off his home island and start his search for the Rave Stones. In that time, we learn that his mother's dead, his father's disappeared, his sister doesn't want him to go on a quest that could cost him his life, and the main bad guy has hair that looks very much like it was influenced by the spiky Super Saiyan hairstyles of "Dragon Ball Z."

To the anime version's credit, much of this background information is relegated to brief flashbacks, starting off instead right in the thick of the action with Haru's first meeting with the aforementioned spunky girl, Elie, in Hip Hop City. (The tradeoff, which will be apparent to manga readers, is that the evil group's name has been sanitized from Demon Card to Shadow Guard.)

The fact that the city's name is Hip Hop City reveals the rest of "Rave Master's" problem. The initial episodes don't really capitalize on the one element that is supposed to be its distinguishing trademark: music. For instance, even though the Shadow Guard is in Hip Hop City, its members occasionally break out into song in the style of an off-key barbershop quartet. It's unclear which is scarier: the fact that there's no hip-hop element to be found anywhere in Hip Hop City, or the fact that members of an evil organization actually break into song.

It's not that this is a bad series. The voice cast, including Yuri Lowenthal as Haru and Michelle Ruff as Elie, does an excellent job (although the Xena-esque screaming every time Elie shoots off her guns starts grating on the nerves after a few times). But it certainly won't win over anyone who isn't already a fan of the genre.




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