Ex-DriverIt is pretty standard amongst reviewers and critics that a failed but ambitious artwork is by definition better than one which has meager goals which it achieves in spades. There are a number of assumptions inherent in this idea, and few of them are good. Primary is the idea that ambition itself is a virtue that makes up for deficiencies of talent, heart, or good old-fashioned hard work. I don’t buy it – artistic ambition may be positive, but it does not give an creator carte blanche to fail. When I something, it is to appreciate results, not applaud efforts. Shows aren’t our children, to be forgiven anything – we spend hard earned money and irreplaceable time on these things, so the prospect of watching an artist struggle and ultimately not succeed isn’t one I find inherently heart warming. I’ve spent my money, I want to see the monkey dance.

In eX-Driver, we have a show that takes a lot for granted – that its vaguely futuristic world is at all believable, that the greatest drivers in Japan are two hot chicks and one super genius kid, that the only way to stop runaway automatic cars involves blocking their headlights with super-sticky paste. But what it does not take for granted is audience interest – every step has been taken to make sure that eX-Driver, fluffy and inconsequential as it may be, is entertaining, fun, and just a little surprising. Its aim may be low, but it hits the mark solidly every time1.

The aforementioned hot girls and great drivers are Lisa and Lorna, the original odd couple. Lisa Sakakino is hot-blooded, dark skinned, boastful and energetic. Lorna is calm, pale, modest, respectful and helpful. They are the latest in a long-line of female dualities from manga writer Kosuke Fujishima, who is also responsible for Oh! My Goddess and You’re Under Arrest. All of these manga/shows focus subtextually2 on the differences between a female sexual ideal and the feminine ideal. In Oh My Goddess, Urd is the girl you want to bed and Belldandy the one you’d want to marry, and though eX-Driver isn’t so wedded to the purview of the romantic-comedy, that tension is still there.

In the world of eX-Driver, cars have been automated, and nobody drives anymore. This automation system isn’t perfect, and whenever a car goes haywire the eX-Driver team, made up of high-schoolers Lorna and Lisa, spring into action. This involves chasing down the car in their own suped-up vehicles and bringing it to a stop, like a stampeding bull.

Lisa loves the job, but her passion is tempered when a new member is added to the team – a super-smart kid named Souichi. He younger, smarter, and a better driver than Lisa, which drives her nuts. Fairly obvious conflict ensues.

A six-part OAV series, eX-Driver doesn’t do a lot with its short running time. Each episode is fairly self-contained, which is typical of Fujishima – more than most manga authors, his style is akin to that of the American sitcom, though his tone is far sweeter. The difference is that the rather obvious conflicts the stories create smooth out over time. The first two episodes
spend a lot of time on Lisa versus Souichi, but by the third episode they’ve worked out something of a companionable, though still competitive, relationship. And when character reversals occur, it is usually jerks becoming more understandable and sympathetic than the opposite. There’s no real evil in this show, no out-and-out bad guys, and even sleazy TV producers who do their damndest to focus their camera on these teenage girl’s breasts are ultimately revealed to be decent, hard-working professionals.

Speaking of focusing on teenage girl’s breasts: remarkable for the average anime oav (but again, less so for the genteel Fujishima) is the lack of fan-service3 type shots of these two remarkably well des
igned ladies. Fujishima, while a fine teller of inconsequential, amusing stories, is most notably for two things – the ability to draw impossibly pretty girls, and an obsession with cars. All of his manga are a mixture of these twin interests, and eX-Driver is the most explicitly auto-centric of them all. In some ways it’s like Crash for the well-adjusted. The details on the cars and driving are amazing, even though they are much-simplified from mad gear-head Fujishima’s manga.

The point of it all is that eX-Driver is fine entertainment. It is not challenging, it is not informative, it is not deep. But within its own parameters it is excellent. Very entertaining, gorgeous to look at, easy to get into and to like. eX-Driver may not be great, but it does good better than most.

1Is this a mix of metaphors? If so, I apologize, and hope you will forgive me.

2Oh! My Goddess is a romantic series with a male lead, but a lot of the tension in the series comes from the same place – the conflict between the sexual ideal woman versus the feminine ideal.

3This requires defining. Fan service, in relation to anime, is whenever a detail wholly unnecessary to plot, story, character or theme is introduced; elements which serve no purpose except to stroke the over-zealous fans. While this can mean over-detailed technical readouts or in-jokes and references, it is most commonly used in relation to gratuitous lasciviousness or nudity. In the second (or maybe third) episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, there is an “over-the-shoulder” shot of Shinji from Misato’s perspective – but the perspective is pulled back just enough to get a tight shot of Misato’s ass, as well. Fan Service.
Rating: B+


About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com