Licensed by Royalty
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.
Positives: Great and likable main characters, Noelle is so cute, smart story lines, genuinely funny at times, top notch dub, great music and animation, cool factor, mystery and twists
Negatives: Not exactly going to become a classic, minor characters barely developed, never quite as good as episode one again