Jack Hofner and Rowe Rikenbacker are Cloud 7's L/R. Their job is to protect the Royal family of Ishtar, their treasures, and their reputation. Jack & Rowe face one of the toughest missions of their career when they are assigned to protect Noelle, a candidate for the 15 Year Princesse contest. It starts out simple, but soon all of Cloud 7 are involved in a web of intrigue that includes bombings, corruption and murder.
Imagine that you’re driving a car on one endless strip of pavement. It’s your favorite car, the one you’ve always dreamed of, and you’re cruising slowly with the beach’s beautiful waves glittering in the background. A silky-smooth jazz track eases into your ears from your speakers and you can feel the breeze, lulling yet slightly chilly, lazily slithering across your body. It’s in the middle of June and the sun, normally the personification of heat, reserves its fiery warmth for another day, leaving you to consume yourself in overwhelming bliss. I want you to forget the fear, stress, anger, or doubt you might be experiencing and envision the picture I laid out for you. I’ll give you a second to immerse yourself in the moment.
(Twiddling my thumbs)
Are you finished? Well, what if I told you that the ride on the beach is the feeling you’ll experience while watching this particular spy series?
Now you might be asking, “Wait, there’s a way to make a show about spies relaxing?” and if you did ask that, I wouldn’t blame you. Stylish, over-the-top fight scenes interposed by panty flashes from bombshell beauties is the modus operandi for anything related to spies in entertainment. As a devotee to the James Bond franchise, I know that immortal one-liners, uberviolent stories with egotistical despots, and eccentric gadgets are the name of the game for spy films. Thanks to Bond, Jason Bourne, the Mission Impossible franchise, and others of their ilk, it’s natural to assume that any TV series or movie centered on spies will be like the others.
However, there is one show, an anime as a matter of fact, that abandons the conventional elements of spydom and its name is Licensed by Royalty (better known as “L/R”).
“Go where no one’s gone before”, sung by soul legend Billy Preston, is the opening theme for L/R. Chill and even-tempered with spontaneous bursts of energy, the OP exemplifies the tone of the series… at least for the first half of the series. L/R is the one student in class that forgets about assignments, constantly daydreams, and often asks for bathroom breaks, all with an exceedingly goofy grin on his face. Rarely in Licensed by Royalty is anything taken seriously. When the protagonists have to recover a valuable artifact, they screw around until the last minute. When a gaggle of obnoxious reporters clamor at the door of the spies’ headquarters, sculptured cherubs douse them in water emitting from their penises. When the protagonists are caught by one of the series’ villains, they stare into the camera and simultaneously declare, “We’ll be right back after this!” It’s such a shame that L/R’s quixotic dreams of originality were tarnished by the later episodes.
From the beginning, L/R is grounded in reality, the central storyline perpetuating the spy stereotypes, its fate pre-destined. Ishtar is a dead ringer for England while Cloud 7 might as well by MI6. The purpose for the agents of Cloud 7 is to protect Ishtar’s royalty at all cost. Where this series lacks in structural novelty, it more than compensates with its authenticity. The story is set in the 1960s, a time when England finished recovering from the aftermath of World War II and was progressing into a cultural powerhouse. In L/R, you can see the excesses of success England possessed for years, and yet this series never fails in depicting the country as one that still needs to exert its power and showcase its status more than ever. WWII is never mentioned but its effects on L/R loom large. What really deserves a round of applause is how the characters in L/R actually sound British. Anime, both subs and dubs, is notorious for having people in different countries sound exactly the same (The closest this medium gets to vocal diversity is an Osaka dialect) so for L/R’s cast to speak like they’re from England is truly amazing.
Unfortunately, the aunthenticity of L/R’s English dub is among the cast’s only saving graces, Practically every character has the same body type, tall and slim, and their facial features scream low-budget. Sometimes the noses look realistic and sometimes they only consist of two nostrils plastered onto a face. Blinking apparently is difficult to animate for eyes that look exactly the same for virtually every character. Even if Studio TNK had bothered applying effort on its character designs, L/R’s cast still wouldn’t have been noteworthy. Dez, this show’s token mad scientist, has an average of 1.5 lines per episode while Claire, Cloud 7’s female “agent”, literally exists as a romantic interest that cooks and cleans, and Noelle, the red-headed town darling, is arguably the most forgettable of them all (her singing sucks, by the way). Perhaps L/R’s characterization flaws are due to focusing too much on the protagonists.
The eponymous L/R, a team of two with great prestige and their own fanboys, they are Jack Hofner and Rowe Rickenbacker. Jack is a clean-cut diplomat, the by-the-book professional that excels in the art of disguises. He by far receives the most depth in the series, what with his hidden past and tragic love affair and all, but he comes across too much as a poor man’s Bond instead of his own person. Personally, I feel that Rowe is the more interesting of the two. Whereas Jack is meticulous and stiff but feigns nonchalance, Rowe is completely relaxed, preferring to let everything hang out in the open. Jovial and loquacious yet highly perceptive, he often concedes the spotlight to Jack but is more than capable of being the man in charge if necessary. Actor JB Blanc, who did such an excellent job as Monster’s Roberto, once again delivers his laid-back, even-keel voice, along with adding a carefree charm in his faux-British accent, and he absolutely nails it as Rowe.
It has been apparent from the beginning but the later episodes reveal a long-standing classism feud between Ishtar and Ivory Island (the Ireland to Ishtar’s England), and the bombings from a terrorist known as “Angel” forces the issue to surge to the forefront. Much can be criticized about L/R’s second half, from its frustrating open ending to how the identity of the show is completely dismissed, but what I enjoy about it is how L/R provides multiple perspectives on the issue. An Ishtar tycoon makes it his duty to let the citizens of Ishtar know their place while the father of a famous baseball player spreads the word on Ishtar’s downward spiral into corruption; while some of Ivory Island’s denizens have become accustomed to their harsh treatment, others are beyond pissed at the entire dynamic. The bubbling tension reaches a boiling point in a climatic speech by Noelle, where she integrate everyone’s individual opinions into one and, with sweeping dramatic flair, reveals the mastermind behind it all. The speech does a brilliant job of tying everything together and it even causes L/R’s second half to be worthwhile.
Licensed by Royalty, in the end, follows the example of spy films that preceded it. However, I refuse to hold that against this hidden gem. L/R is one of the most relaxing journeys I’ve ever experienced and, even when it adopts a serious streak, it never fails to be watchable. Among other works with overblown expectations, L/R manages to simultaneously be ambitious yet realistic; it doesn’t attempt reaching the heavens but, at the same time, L/R never settles for less either. Really, that’s all you can ask for in what you watch. read more
"This anime might be another hidden gem!"
Such thoughts were bothering me while watching first episode of Licensed by Royal. It had all the elements that is necessary for a popular series. Unfortunately L/R didn't make any use of them and turned into something that is nonsensical.
Story: The biggest flaw of this anime is its plot. Starting episode 2 there are lots of plot-holes left. Story doesn't help characters to develop. There's hardly any intense in it. Only final episodes get a bit serious and dramatic, though it leaves an open ending which definitely was not an appropriate solution. Having said that, action scenes still looked entertaining and the jokes were quite hilarious.
Characters: It's true that we hardly get to know the main characters Rowe and Jack. There is not much talk about their past, but still they were memorable and the things that made them stood out from such generic, laid-back characters were the dialogues, which really worked between two of them. However directors didn't make a good use of this and ended up with a half-developed cast. The question is: was it really necessary for such a mediocore, entertaining series to flash out all the characters? Wouldn't it be just a waste of time ? It's up to the watcher.
Art/Sound: Another problem with this show is the pale looking designs. The faces are undetailed, They barely show any emotions. On the opposite note the music is marvelous. The opening theme, sung by Billy Preston, is catchy. It's probably one of the best anime theme songs from the past few years. Almost all of the songs used in each episode have lyrics, and it's a very refreshing change from the generic synth incidentals we get in other series.
Overall Licensed Royal could have been equalized with Cowboy bebop or even The Big O if the directors had put more thoughts into writing the script. It is a nice thing to sit through if you need to kill some time. There are plenty of fun moments and the two main characters are extremely likeable, but that's really all it has. read more
NOTE: This reviewer has only seen 6 episodes, but the remaining plot wouldn't change much about what I've said here. In fact, that's part of the whole point.
Licensed by Royalty has arguably one of the most foolproof setups for a great show, but somehow manages to botch it up. Even so, it is worth checking out at least once, just to experience the superbly nostalgic atmosphere it creates.
The thing that catches your eye right away is that it doesn't feel like an anime to begin with. Rather, it conspicuously looks and feels like those oldie Brit spy-fic series they used to churn out back in the 60's. Right from the out-there spectacular opening score, the atmosphere has an unmistakeably retro feel - the cars, the music, the 007-esque booby-trapped safehouse, the Blimps (I'm not kidding - they really do go that far). It also has two extremely likeable leads that take you along for a jolly ride through this world. What it does not have, on the other hand, is a plot that can make you care - or at any rate be taken seriously. If you're fine with that, then this is the show for you.
This show really is all about the setup - an undercover agency appointed by the Royal Family of Brit- I mean Ishtar, that works out of a Victorian safehouse in downtown Lond- oh, never mind. As you can see, this is the perfect setup to push any number of spy tropes, props, humour, aesthetics and what have you besides - you can see the great potential right here. The safehouse, for example, is one heck of a cool place to work out of. The show is full of such evocative flourishes, and the resulting nostalgia factor is just off the charts.
Taking you along for a ride through this world are Jack Hofner and Rowe Rickenbacker, the eponymous L/R. The two have somewhat contrasting appearances and mannerisms, but underneath surface-level details they feel more or less like the same guy - a laid-back and carefree spy-guy just riding the wave with effortless skill and style - and there's two of them. But it actually works brilliantly - they feel like twin brothers who are taking the piss out of each other all the time, but know each other thoroughly and are supremely well-coordinated. That they don't seem to have much depth to them is something you couldn't care less about - you just want to go along for the ride with them. The supporting cast are almost downright stereotypical, but they're still well-designed (and well-acted) ones at that. Again, the objective here seems to be more of evoking the right atmosphere than anything else, and on that level it finds it mark perfectly.
Perhaps the best thing about this whole show is the English dub - one of those truly rare instances where the dub is far and away better than the original source. In keeping with the retro-Brit atmosphere, the voice cast is meticulously British-sounding, and they have even gone to the trouble of getting the regional accents right (at least broad imitations, but even that's unbelievably painstaking work for an anime of this scale and scope).
Unforturately, what they don't have is a serviceable plot to carry this setup. Perhaps an episodic format would have suited this show much better, given its initial light and carefree tone. Instead, what you have is a straight-faced plot, but so filled with holes and ultimately so unengaging that you just stop caring at one point. I've heard it gets even more preposterous afterwards, but like I said earlier you couldn't be bothered at this point. Once it stops being fun there's really nothing left worth sticking around for, unless perhaps you don't mind going through the rest of it with your brain switched off (which is arguably the best way to watch this show).
No, I'll tell you what this show REALLY needed - the animation and writing team from Cowboy Bebop. These guys were sitting on an utterly brilliant concept, but they needed somebody who could understand, appreciate and execute that concept with the required expertise. That would have created the perfect show, and for that matter the perfect successor to Bebop, with Jack and Rowe filling in for the Spike and Jet tag-team (and making more co-operative partners besides). But that's in another world, sadly.read more
Licensed by Royalty was never a show that really appealed to me. I saw the trailers on many Geneon DVDs over the years, and always went “meh so what”. Sure it had that cool factor, but I never figured it had much more then that going on. No one else seemed to watch the show, and those that did never seemed to have wonderful things to say about it. So I skipped over it, like I’m sure many of you did. Big mistake. But recently I needed to add a little to my order to get free shipping from Rightstuf, and well I took a gamble with L/R. And well that little gamble paid off. There’s a lot going on in this little show from 2003.
In an alternate 1960′s, or maybe the present that just seems like the era of peace and love never truly went away (the series never actually makes it clear which it is), exists a top-secret agency known as Cloud 7. Cloud 7′s role is to protect the royal family of the country of Ishtar, a fictional version of the United Kingdom. Cloud 7′s top agents, Jack Hofner and Rowe Rikenbacker, go by the code name L/R, but who is the L and who is the R? Licensed by Royalty follows Jack and Rowe as their missions lead them from protecting the national treasures of Ishtar from would-be-thieves, to helping people trapped in a cable car in the capital city, to eventually protecting the royal family from a terroristic organization known only as Angel. The first few episodes have no overarching plot, but drop enough hints that when the plot does take off it all makes sense. Eventually the series also deals with a little girl named Noelle from the country of Ivory (Ireland) who may or may not be the long lost princess. The early episodes that have little to do with the grander storyline all have a mystery or twist in them that is not revealed (usually dramatically) until the end. Much like the wonderful Case Closed/Detective Conan our heros usually have it figured out before the viewer does, and Rowe and Jack usually make a big reveal at the end of each episode that always got me. After awhile I was expecting a twist or mystery or some big reveal when the episode was almost over, and still was tricked. The show intentionally misleads the viewer, with plenty of red herrings, and shows you its left hand, while discretely maneuvering its right to where it really matters without you noticing (like any good magician). It is quite a smart show in how it keeps what is really going on in each episode hidden until the very end. Once the plot really kicks in this happens less often, that is until the dramatic ending which will have you guessing how it will all really end until the very last second. **(Spoiler) ** The plot also contains a bit of British vs Irish nationalism (à la The Troubles in Northern Ireland), but just like in real life the real bad guys are not any ethnic group or religion, but multinational corporations. I felt this aspect of the series worked quite well. **(spoiler end)**
The intelligent and wonderfully written mysteries and twists are only part of this series charm. The other giant draw here is the great characters, and how they play off one another. Jack Hofner is the playboy part of the duo, who is still quite serious about his job, yet gives off an aura of cool. Rowe Rikenbacker on the other hand is much more laid back, and not nearly as much of a philanderer as Jack. Jack, to me anyway, was the more relatable and interesting character. He is the director’s favorite and more likable of the two. Jack looks happy the entire series, always smiling and joking around, but really he keeps his emotions hidden inside, unlike Rowe who wears them on his sleeve. Did I mention that two spies are not above donning silly disguises if it will get the job done? Their boss’s codename is Mister, who is an always serious, cold, and cunning kind of guy. You are never exactly sure what Mister is thinking or what he knows. Claire Pennylane is the secretary of Cloud 7 who ends up (out of necessary) getting involved in missions despite not truly being a field agent. Her lack of experience shows, but she’s usually smart enough to work her way out of any problems that arise. She is a bit of an spaz at times, but she has a heart of gold. Claire is not entirely interesting as a character, nor is she very well developed. Dez is the agencies go-to tech guy, pretty much he’s the one who makes all the super cool gadgets Jack and Rowe use. He’s a generic wacky scientists, who is definitely out there, but a very likable guy. Dez is not exactly a unique character, but he’s always funny. As the series progresses the two agents end up having to be bodyguards to a cute, but resourceful little Irish girl named Noelle. Although Jack is my favorite character, Noelle gives him some real competition. She is a very sweet and cute girl that you just want to hug. She’s strong willed, smart, and crafty, but she’s still a child and the show never forgets this. There are little nuances like the fact she hates shoes and loves to go barefoot, or the nursery rhyme she likes to recite that make her character very lifelike. Jack and Rowe end up having to protect her from various mooks throughout different points of series. The differences between how Jack and Rowe care about her is important. Rowe cares for Noelle very deeply, in a fatherlike manner, and he’s much closer to her then Jack. They become true friends. Jack on the other hand stays at a little distance from her, perhaps never truly warming up to her, but he still clearly cares for her even if he hides this a little. The series really shines however when the characters play off one another. It is Jack and Rowe’s interactions and chatter that really makes this show noteworthy, and it is something you will have to see for yourself. Some of the best moments of the show are not the cool action scenes, but Jack and Rowe teaching a lesson to a rude British businessman and his nearly-as-rude associate .
There are some real funny moments that I won’t spoil, a great running gag or two, and plenty of fun moments. But it’s not just a comedy as there are serious spy action scenes in every episode. There’s also the few, but jaw-dropping, scenes that can only be described as crowning moments of awesome that really blow you away. The series also has plenty of heartwarming scenes throughout. Not to mention the show is sometimes just plainly the definition of cool. Between the great personalities of the lead characters, their amazingly exciting job, all their neat gadgets and wicked cars (1,2), and the 60′s-ness of it all, you’ll be taken aback by the cool factor many times. The atmosphere and mood is just dripping with style. And like I said this is not at all a dumb series, it is very intelligently written and the twists and turns are top notch. But all this coolness and intelligence would be wasted if it didn’t have a look and sound that matched it. Luckily for us the powers that be at TNK blew one out of the ballpark. The series opener is easily one of the best of the decade, although it’s easy to see why when one merely looks at who the singer is. Billy Preston, who some called ”the fifth Beatle”, sang the opening theme song (side note: John Lennon at one point really considered making him a full time member of the band but Paul McCartney said there was enough drama with just the four of them). Preston worked with the Beatles on some of their best albums ( Abbey Road, Let it Be, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) not to mention putting out a few classics of his own. The rest of the soundtrack follows suite, with a totally 60′s British/American-rock inspired score. This all melds perfectly with the 007/spy nature of the series. The look of the show also does not disappoint. Character designs are unique (Noelle is to die for), the backgrounds look good, and the animation is top notch.
With all these things going for it a poor dub could have really stopped the show dead in it’s tracks, but New Generation Pictures got a hold of this one, and they live up to the high standards I hold them too. NGP got many British actors to work on the show, and those who are not British put on authentic sounding British accents, clearly trained a little by the Brits on staff. And the Irish (well Ivory) character’s have great Irish accents too. But more then excellent accents, the show has top notch acting and brilliant casting. Freddy Douglas’s voice is just sly and playful enough to play Jack perfectly. I could not imagine another voice coming from that character. J.B. Blanc (ADR Director) brilliantly cast himself as Rowe and the emotion in his voice makes Rowe very believable. Heather Klinke, who I sadly haven’t heard in anything else, plays a convincing and cute little Irish lass that is so adorable, but fits the character altogether. The timing on all the gags and jokes work quite well, and not even one actor in the show has a bad line. Dare I say it, but this is one of those shows that everyone (even sub fans) should watch in English. The British and Irish accents totally makes the show work, as these are supposed to be British and Irish people, and the acting is really excellent throughout.
Geneon put this out on DVD in late 2003 and early 2004, and the artbox for it (which I own) is quite nice to look at. The only extra worth mentioning is on the last disc, and it is an interview with both the director and producer at Otakon 2003. The director, Itsuro Kawasaki, notes that the first episode is by far his favorite, and hey it’s my favorite too! Itsuro Kawasaki wrote the script for episode one himself, and said he “added everything he wanted” in it. This extra care really shows, as episode one comes together incredibly, both as a brilliant way to introduce the main cast, and showcase what the show will be doing for the next 12 episodes. They pulled out all the stops for this episode and the mystery in it is brilliant. The rest of the interview asks both the producer and director their impressions of Otakon 2003, their favorite characters, favorite episode(s), the main appeal of the show, and to describe any problems that happened during production. All of this is very interesting, and I wish shows being released on DVD/Blu-ray today had extra features like this on them as it is very insightful.
The show is a fun, yet somewhat serious spy show that is throughly entertaining. It is very smart, and at times it can be a little sexy. Each episode will have you guessing who the real bad guys are or what that guy is really up to, yet also has well choreographed action scenes too. There’s great character interactions, and good running gags throughout, not to mention it sounds and looks good too. Sure some of the side characters are not well developed or sort of generic, yes yes the bad guys motives and characters are rarely explored, and yeah it may not be a title that stays with you forever. But, let’s not make perfect the enemy of good. I for one am upset it took me this long to watch Licensed by Royalty, and hope others give it a chance.
(review originally posted: http://predederva.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/licensed-by-royalty/ )read more
In the early-mid 2000s, US licensing companies were involved in numerous anime Production Committees. It didn't go so well for them. This year, several US licensors are trying their luck on Production Committees again. Will it go better this time?