Review for RVBX: Ten Years of Red vs. Blue
Small UK distributors can be infuriating in their lack of clout and cold hard cash. They make the most of what they can get, but the disappointing fact is that in today’s franchise entertainment culture, they can’t always get the whole franchise. What makes it infuriating is when they introduce us to a great franchise, and then don’t follow up on it. In 2015 Manga/Animatsu released Red vs. Blue Season 11 in the UK. I didn’t get it straight away, but with the subsequent releases of seasons 12 and 13, all three comprising the Chorus trilogy, this machinima series spun-off from the X-Box Halo game really grew on me. After a 2-year gap, they subsequently released Season 14, which I reviewed for this site last year. But as yet there has been no mention of Season 15, and more significantly, no indication that they intend to release Seasons 1-10.
They’re like incompetent drug-dealers, dishing out just enough to get you hooked, but when you come looking for more, they have nothing left. I had to go looking further afield, and thankfully, Hanabee Entertainment in Australia has the rest of Red vs. Blue to offer, or at least they did last Christmas when I was looking to buy. Rooster Teeth who created Red vs. Blue originally released the first ten seasons of the show on DVD, but for its tenth anniversary in 2012, they went back and re-mastered the show for Blu-ray release. And so it is that I now have the Ten Years of Red vs. Blue boxset to take in, containing 14 discs of series, tie-ins and extra features. Actually, I managed to snag a retailer exclusive release, and got a bonus 15th disc too. This is going to keep me busy awhile...
The Blood Gulch Chronicles: Season 1 (episodes 1-19 – 76:20)
The Blood Gulch Chronicles: Season 2 (episodes 20-38 – 95:54)
The Blood Gulch Chronicles: Season 3 (episodes 39-57 – 133:13)
The Blood Gulch Chronicles: Season 4 (episodes 58-77 – 101:57)
The Blood Gulch Chronicles: Season 5 (episodes 78-100 – 123:26)
In a box canyon in the middle of nowhere, the Reds face off against the Blues. They’d much rather be fighting aliens, but instead they just sit around waiting for the other side to twitch. The Reds consist of Sarge, Grif, Simmons, and new recruit Donut, while on the Blue side there is Church, Tucker, and new recruit Caboose. Truth be told, they’re not the sharpest tools, as Donut manages to steal the Blue’s flag by using the unexpected strategy of asking them for it. Then Caboose accidentally kills Church. The Blues have to get a replacement, and to save time, they get the Freelancer Tex, a mercenary. This isn’t good, as Church who is now a ghost has history with Tex...
The Recollection: Season 6 (episodes 1-19 – 117:50)
The Recollection: Season 7 (episodes 1-19 – 93:12)
The Recollection: Season 8 (episodes 1-19 – 116:26)
It’s been two years since the Reds and the Blues first encountered Freelancers Tex and Wyoming, and the rogue AI Omega, a.k.a. O’Malley. Since then, most of the soldiers have been reassigned, the incident quietly forgotten. But Project Freelancer is still in effect, the attempt to mate AIs with soldiers in smart battlesuits. Only now something has gone wrong. The being known as the Meta is gathering all the AIs, leaving dead Freelancers in its wake. The Freelancer Agent Washington is assigned to track the Meta down, and he needs the one group of soldiers who encountered a rogue AI and lived to tell the tale. He needs the Reds and Blues.
Project Freelancer: Season 9 (episodes 1-19 – 116:33)
Project Freelancer: Season 10 (episodes 1-19 – 159:53)
At the end of Recollection, Church dove into the AI substrate where Tex was trapped in order to find and rescue her. It turns out that he’s wound up in a recreation of Blood Gulch, with simulated Reds facing off against simulated Blues, and if he can get the recreation right, then after Caboose ‘kills’ him, Tex should show up. The only problem is that the characters aren’t quite right. At the same time, we get to see the early days of Project Freelancer, the plan to augment soldiers with AI technology that led to all this mess. Stay tuned after the programme for a post-credits sting.
The Blood Gulch Chronicles: Bonus
This DVD disc is full of extra features only, so its contents are listed in the Extras section.
Grifball: Volume 1 (29:22)
Grifball: Volume 2 (25:52)
One of the running gags in the main show is that Sarge constantly looks forward to the day that one of his men, Grif will bite the bullet, even engineering situations likely to claim his life. And so the sport of Grifball is born, a ball game where the ball is a bomb, where two teams armed with giant hammers and swords compete in a sort of tag game, where whoever has the ball is Grif, and when a goal is scored, the ball explodes. Volume 1 has two mini-series featuring team Slipspace, as does Volume 2.
Behind the Scenes of Red vs. Blue
This Blu-ray is also devoted to extra features, so once again adjourn to the Extras section for a listing.
Retailer Exclusive Disc 15: Red vs. Blue Mini Adventures DVD (68:27)
You get two more mini-series here, the six episode M.I.A where Grif goes missing and the Reds and Blues team up, after a fashion to find him, and the three episode Where There’s a Will, There’s a Wall, where Sarge gets obsessed with finding out what lies on the other side of the wall at the back of the Red Base.
There is also a M.I.A table read, and a P.S.A. on this disc.
Red vs. Blue gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080i 60Hz on the Blu-rays (Disc 14 is in 1080p). The DVD content is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC. Given that the footage is captured from various X-Boxes, that format is to be expected. The Red vs. Blue franchise has grown with the Halo franchise, so for the first season you’re looking at the original Halo and the footage gets more and more advanced as the series unfolds. Although for the first few seasons, they effectively ‘animated’ it again for the HD format which were originally released DVD only. You’re essentially looking at videogame footage here, which is as good as a console can render, so if I were still qualified, this would be where I’d be whinging about polygon counts, texture maps, draw distances and clipping and the like. Since I’m about ten years out of date for that, I’ll just say that Red vs. Blue looks pretty good, and graphical glitches are few and far between. Whether that’s a compliment to Rooster Teeth or Microsoft or Bungie, I don’t know. It’s all clear, and sharp, and watchable throughout.
You have Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround English on the first ten discs in the collection, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English on the other five. The dialogue is mostly clear (remember the characters are all talking on helmet radios and Caboose’s manic stupidity can get incoherent at times), and unfortunately there are no subtitles. The sound is adequate, bringing the action and music across well, while the dialogue is balanced adequately in the mix. From what I’ve read, and the reason why I wanted this Blu-ray set, the audio on the original DVDs was mastered incorrectly, sounding thin and hollow. This was rectified for the HD anniversary release. You can certainly hear evidence of this on the Blood Gulch bonus DVD, but not on disc 15, which I assume, was created more recently.
Click here for an extensive listing of extra features.
The Blood Gulch Chronicles
This is how the whole Red vs. Blue phenomenon started, and it’s surprising to see how quickly the characters find their voices. Although it must be said that Sarge doesn’t sound like himself at the start of the first season, and Caboose almost sounds intelligent. You really have to appreciate the skill and hard work that goes into making videogame characters act out a cinematic narrative, using the game engine to get a feature film feel. It takes a bit of getting used to, as I discovered when I first encountered the show, but once you’re hooked, you’ll be seeking out the rest of the series the way I did.
It’s an entertaining sci-fi parody, with a Waiting for Godot feel to the characters, selfish and not too smart, by far preferring to slack their way through life, despite the occasional gung-ho exhortation from the more motivated among them. This is a show where things happen; the narrative unfolds despite the characters, not because of them. Yet over five seasons, The Blood Gulch Chronicles reveals an interesting sci-fi story, with time travel and conspiracies and the occasional moments of action.
If the Blood Gulch Chronicles were all about the world of the Reds and Blues, their constant battles against each other (once they could get over the ennui long enough to be bothered), their quest for easier lives, and their general character insanities, intruded upon by the outside world when a couple of Freelancers showed up, the three seasons of the Recollection takes the Reds and Blues into that outside world and increases the mayhem and the comedy. Before, they were unwitting targets who had the story inflicted upon them, now they’re active participants; unwilling participants maybe, but participants nevertheless.
First they have to get the band back together, as following Blood Gulch, the characters have all been reassigned. The catalyst to this is once again the Freelancer Project, and the various AIs associated with that. The Project is trying to recover the AIs and deal with a being known as the Meta, a bad-ass rogue Freelancer who is more monster than man. We’re introduced to the character of Washington; a Freelancer without an AI, whose mission it is to recover the fragments. His next target is Epsilon, and the last people to interact with Epsilon were the Reds and Blues, and so the story begins.
While the Reds and Blues continue to feel like the supporting cast that accidentally became the stars, stumbling through the story through the strength of their incompetence, there is a stronger narrative to Recollection, a larger scope, and plenty of revelations about Project Freelancer, and the nature of the Reds and Blues and their conflict. It’s a slightly, ever so slightly more serious tale, helped by a degree of consistency in the visuals (I think this entire arc was created with the aid of Halo 3). This is also where the creators moved firmly away from pure machinima, and started animating sequences for dramatic effect and impact. There is a hand to hand fight sequence in Season 8, episode 10 that is one of the best things I have seen in Red vs. Blue, and would be impossible to do using the game.
The two Project Freelancer seasons change things up for the Red vs. Blue franchise significantly, although in this case it is a good thing. In previous stories, the Freelancer agents played a significant role in motivating the story for the Reds and the Blues, but they often left more questions than answers in their wake, regarding just who these super-powered secret agents with their AI enhanced battlesuits were. Project Freelancer aims to answer those questions and it makes for the complex, visually impressive and epic story that is completely impossible to render through machinima alone. Previous seasons may have seen the creators step outside the game to animate select sequences, especially hand to hand combat, but Project Freelancer is the first Red vs. Blue story to be completely animated.
It’s not a total move away from machinima though, as the Freelancer tale is told in flashback through the two seasons. Keeping up with the Reds and Blues in the ‘present’ day is done the traditional way (it would be jarring if they were suddenly to take off their helmets to reveal CG visages) so in season 9 we get the AI Church’s tale as he tries to find Tex in an imperfect simulation of the Reds and Blues as they were in Season 1. He’s pulled out of the simulation at the end of Season 9 by the real Reds and Blues, and Freelancer Agent Carolina who is on a mission of retribution against the director of the Freelancer program, for reasons that are being revealed in the flashback sequences.
Things get progressively more serious and narrative driven through the ten series, culminating in probably the best story in seasons 9 & 10, but thankfully Red vs. Blue maintains a grasp on its sense of humour and its wacky characterisations throughout, holding onto the essence of what makes it so appealing. But I have to say that the action sequences in the ultimate seasons top anything that has come before.
Less than an hour of footage all in, spread across two Blu-ray discs seems pretty wasteful, and this is content that could easily have just been presented as bonus material on another disc, cutting the disc count down by two. It’s an entertaining bit of silliness, which with its short runtime never really gets a chance to bed in, let alone outstay its welcome. It’s much in the same vein as Red vs. Blue, with a cast of slackers, living their lives around a contact sport instead of a war, but with much the same attitudes and similar characterisations. Team Slipspace are the lowest in the league, and the four mini-series follow them as they try to be better than completely rubbish, hamstrung by their own lack of ability, and constantly thwarted by a corrupt Commissioner of the League whose get rich quick schemes always come at Slipspace’s expense.
Retailer Exclusive Disc 15: Red vs. Blue Mini Adventures
This disc wasn’t in all of the sets, but it’s a nice way to polish off the collection after a purely making of disc, and two discs of Grifball, which were fun, but strayed from the core purpose of the release. But Red vs. Blue Mini Adventures gives us a few more minutes of fun with the main characters. It’s the traditional comic fare without much of an emphasis on narrative. Just characters riffing off each other with just a single plot arc to pursue, whether it’s finding Grif or scaling a wall. The PSA is fun on this disc too, offering a little live action Red vs. Blue, while the Table Read is a bit of fun at a Halo Fest con, with a little bit of audience participation.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I first reviewed a Red vs. Blue release for Animatsu/Manga Entertainment. I didn’t think it was all that to be honest, but subsequent releases grew on me. It’s a bit like sketch show comedy in that regard. You need repeat exposure to the jokes, develop a familiarity with the characters to really appreciate it, and let’s face it, despite volumes 11-13 aping the style and growth of the first ten discs, it’s still no place to really start with the show. Starting from the first disc, with Blood Gulch gets you in with the characters and the story in the right way. You can see the development of the narrative, the way the creators find the characters and get a better appreciation for the sense of humour. The idea of Machinima as entertainment might raise a few eyebrows, but Red vs. Blue is better than many other comedies I have seen. If you can find this Blu-ray Special Edition, it’s well worth taking a shot on.