Not since the "Rurouni Kenshin" Kyoto Arc has a series created two arch-enemies so similar in nature, yet so violently opposed (Shishio Makoto and Kenshin's politically polarized characters). Think 26 episodes spanning the often-changing, always violent, and constantly emotional relationship between the two main characters of "S-Cry-Ed," the cold-demeanored Ryuho, and the fiercely reckless Kazuma.
The two are products of a mysterious phenomenon that devastated the landscape of the Kanagawa Prefecture 22 years ago, making it nearly uninhabitable, and earning it the designation "The Lost Ground." Those born in the Lost Ground are endowed with Alter Abilities that allow them to manipulate matter around them into their own particular defense mechanism. This can be anything from floating orbs, stand-alone giant robots, or even various takes on watermelons. Other Alters are endowed with not so visible abilities, such as mind-reading, reality manipulation or power absorption. In the end, "S-Cry-Ed" comes down to Ryuho's stand-alone robot Zetsuei, and Kazuma's bullet fist, an armor shell that crusts over his arm. Both will evolve to higher levels as the series progresses.
Everything about this series screams bipolar. The Lost Ground is divided into two regions: a walled city where life is normal, and order is maintained by the main police force HOLD and its special division HOLY, a group of Alters meant to control reckless Alters from the outside. Outside the wall is a veritable ghetto, where crime is rampant and life is at a subsistence level--construction, farming and markets are the only means of business. This, in essence, also symbolizes the difference between Ryuho and Kazuma. Ryuho is the son of a rich and powerful family, told to suppress his Alter ability since childhood, then driven to revenge by his mother and dog's death a the hand of a mysterious Native Alter. Kazuma an orphan, supports a young girl named Kanami, as an Alter-For-Hire, taking on dangerous jobs as his best friend Kimishima stays behind as a hostage in case he doesn't come through. Ryuho is nearly heartless, refined, and elitist; Kazuma is reckless, follows his heart, and has no concept of money or the social ladder: everyone is the same, no one is trash. The two clash constantly, with Ryuho and HOLY trying to subdue the Native Alters, with Kazuma as an ever-present obstacle.
The beauty of Yosuke Kuroda's screenplay is its ability to eventually blur the line between what is right and what is wrong. Kuroda manages to make Kazuma and Ryuho both very much the same and undeniably opposite. The series is extremely flexible, with characters on either side often switching alliances, with constantly changing views on how Native Alters are being treated. Mimori Kiryu serves as the series' conscience, a rich mainland girl with deep feelings for Ryuho, that clash with her own feeling about how the captured Alters are treated.
This is a mature "Dragon Ball Z," everything that series should've been but never tried to be. The battles are massively powerful, destroying everything around the fighters, who manage to take tremendous amounts of physical abuse. Like DBZ, some fighters have more than just one Alter stage; unlike DBZ, the fights aren't overly drawn out, and often conclude within the episode (in fact, you can even get more than one fight in during a single episode). The comedy is present, but at a minimum, and the tragedy can bring tears at its most poignant moments. Each character harbors a past filled with anti-Alter sentiment and discrimination; those in HOLY learn to hold in and control their abilities, those outside use them with relish as gang leaders or thugs for hire. There are a significant number of characters to keep track of, but they are all unique enough not to be confusing.
This is a 2001 effort so the art is right at the borderline of older series like "Amazing Nurse Nanako" or "Dragonball GT" and the newer CG-heavy art in "Full Metal Panic" or "Gasaraki." It maintains the liney details, and starts to use computer graphics effectively for the most part. The in-series music is very good, while the opening and closing themes ("Reckless Fire" and "Drastic My Soul") seem to have borrowed Ricky Martin's band as backup.
This series doesn't shy away from more abstract or philosophical ideas about what is right or wrong, or about human connection, most powerfully manifested in young Kanami's dreams. Its commentary on social prejudices and racism are pretty obvious and well-played. Like most 26-episode series, "S-Cry-Ed" experiences a major turning point around the 15th episode, and picks up the already hectic pace another notch. Viewers that allow themselves to emotionally absorb into this series will be taken to heights of anger and the depths of despair at the injustices inherent to mankind's prejudices.
The series decides on a strange path to end on, but the final image delivers the message that Ryuho and Kazuma's relationshp ultimately is about. Highly recommended for anyone, particularly "Dragon Ball Z" fans who are ready to mature.