Synopsis: Earth had become so over-populated that colony ships were dispatched all over the universe in order to secure other habitable places humans can migrate to. One such colony ship called the Mesopotamia crashes to a planet called Terra II. The good news is, Terra II is conducive to human life. The bad news is, only six people survived the crash... and they're all men! These six men decide to work together to make Terra II a world where humanity can thrive, but for all their efforts they can only multiply in numbers through cloning. Thus, six countries are established where all the citizens are men. In memory of women, the men produce marionettes -- female androids which help the men with their everyday lives. A young teenage boy named Otaru Mamiya is but one of the many residents of Japoness, one of the all-male countries that were established. Otaru unwittingly awakens three very special marionettes, namely Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry. Unlike other marionettes, these three are have feelings and free will. They are almost human -- laughing, crying, getting angry... but it seems that they have higher purpose, something which Otaru could never have been prepared for.
Review: If Saber Marionette J were a pizza, it would definitely be one with everything on it. It's got so many things going that it's difficult to pick a place to start dissecting it. While each episode more or less focuses on the life and times of Otaru Mamiya and his three marionettes, everything that develops falls into a greater and more complex plot.
What sets Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry apart from all other marionettes is the presence of a maiden circuit. The maiden circuit enables them to experience emotions and react to situations as a human girl would, and all three fall in love with Otaru the moment they are awakened. But that's not all there is to it. Japoness faces the constant threat of invasion by Gartland, since Gartland's leader Faust seeks to dominate the world. Otaru and his three marionettes are handpicked by the Japoness shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa to help defend the country by infiltrating Gartland and sabotaging their main computer, but Faust in turn also has three special marionettes with maiden circuits, namely Tiger, Panther, and Luchs. Something far deeper than state rivalry is going on between Faust and Ieyasu, and the key to saving Terra II from a destructive world war lies in uncovering the truth fast.
Saber Marionette J has the works -- action, comedy, tragedy, romance... like a pizza crammed with all sorts of toppings. It took me a while to get through the first few episodes, which were quite sluggishly paced compared to the rest of the series. However, after the real plot started to come into play, I couldn't even be bothered to stop to eat or shower. I simply had to see how things were going to turn out to the end. It was amazing how richly characterized the whole cast was. There were no exceptions, from the main players right down to the most minor characters. Everyone had something to contribute to either the setting or the storyline. Even the villains aren't really evil to the core. They have their own reasons for doing whatever it is they're doing.
Since Terra II is an all-male planet, there would inevitably be guys in love with other guys. In this case, Otaru is constantly pursued by an effeminate young man named Mitsurugi Hanagata. Hanagata would literally do anything for Otaru because of his undying love, and there are numerous occasions where he would express his desire for an intimate relationship with Otaru. In fact, it's a given throughout the series that the three marionettes and Hanagata would always compete for Otaru's affection.
The art and animation are quite good. Character designs are exceptionally distinct. Lime is cute, Cherry is very womanly, Bloodberry is voluptuous... there's a marionette for just about every taste, and even Faust's marionettes are no pushovers when it comes to looks and appeal. Each country on Terra II also has its own theme. Japoness' rustic and colorful appearance can be likened to feudal Japan, Gartland comes across as a communistic nation where food and supplies are rationed and all that can be seen are monochromatic buildings and factories, New Texas is patterned after the United States... and so forth. The English dubbing is done well enough, although I personally prefer the original Japanese voices. Megumi Hayashibara (also Rei in "Neon Genesis Evangelion") plays the ever-perky Lime, Takehito Koyasu (also Hotohori in "Fushigi Yuugi") is the fruity Hanagata, Kikuko Inoue (also Belldandy in "Oh My Goddess") is the impatient Panther, and Hikaru Midorikawa (also Heero in "Gundam Wing") is the cold and calculating Faust.
At times funny, at times unaffecting, and at times touching, Saber Marionette J is nonetheless entertaining all the way. It could have used a bit of tweaking here and there to even out the pacing but overall, it's a good series.
Miscellanies: Saber Marionette J is comprised of 25 episodes. The Ultimate Collection DVD set contains three complete series, namely Saber Marionette J, Saber Marionette J Again, and Saber Marionette J to X.