Air Master Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: C
  • Extras Rating: N/A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Toei Animation Co., Ltd
  • MSRP: 24.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Air Master

Air Master Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     April 08, 2005
Release Date: March 15, 2005


Air Master Vol. #1
© Toei Animation Co., Ltd


What They Say
Within the back alleys of Tokyo in the cover of night, people meet to hold witness to the sport of street fighting. Among the best and most talented of all street fighters is Maki Aikawa who along with her arsenal of aerial techniques is called "AirMaster." Having never experienced defeat, Maki proves true valor to a "kogal" group and is soon initiated into its ranks.

The Review!
Searching for the feelings she had when she was younger, Maki Aikawa delves into the world of street fighting as the Airmaster.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix for it is nicely done with plenty of directionality across the forward soundstage for the various fight sequences which also pack some oomph to them when they really start to heat up. Dialogue portions of the show are well done also as there are often numerous characters talking across a group so they're well placed. Dialogue in general is clean and clear and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing back in 2003, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The look of the show is quite good for a TV series with very striking and bold colors used throughout it in key places that are mixed with the more general palette that's found in series taking place in the present day. One area that helps the visuals stand out on this transfer is the thicker lines around the characters, particularly the hair. The transfer isn't completely problem free as some of the panning sequences introduce some rolling aliasing but this occurs only a couple of times and ends quickly, but it is noticeable. Backgrounds look solid and colors great overall with only some very minor gradient problems visible.

Packaging:
Packaged in a white keepcase and using the same artwork as the Japanese first volume release, the cover provides a great shot of Maki's face when she's in the zone while an action piece is mixed in throughout where her hair is. This just has a lot of speed lines to it and it feels like an active cover that does a good job of getting across the style and impact of the show. With it having a lot of white I'm glad they chose to use a white keepcase for it since that only solidifies the look. The back cover is nicely laid out with the top half providing several shots from the show and a large piece with the summary of the premise included. The bottom half provides a lot of information such as the basic production and technical information along with the bilingual cast list and the episode numbers and titles. The insert replicates the front cover artwork minus a few logos and opens to a two panel spread that details the four episodes and the various people that Maki fights in them. The back of the insert is advertisements for their other series.

Menu:
The menu layout shows the minimal effort being put into these releases as it uses the same background as Interlude has with the numbers in blue going off into the distance while the left side has the artwork from the front cover and the right side has the individual episode selections as well as the language setup. No music is used with this so there isn't a loop but instead the one static screen. Access times are nice and fast and the layout easy to navigate. The disc also correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.

Extras:
None.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In a way it seems like they're coming back into vogue but there have been a fair number of fighting series out in the last few years that have shifted the focus away from the beefy and brawny men and instead letting the women get into the act and really throwing the moves. Airmaster follows in this line but unlike a lot of the others that are filled with oh so pretty girls, the designs here are a bit rougher and probably a fair bit more realistic in their nature.

Airmaster has a fairly simple plot to go buy in its early stages and while I expect a few twists and turns along the way it's not a series that I think will be really epic but instead nicely focused. We're introduced to Maki Aikawa, a high school student who is unlike most of her friends in a number of ways. She's practically a foot taller than everyone else so she often stands out from there. Her general look in addition to that is of someone that's hard something of a rough time in life, her features seem more angular in some ways and her eyes show that she's fairly uninterested in things in general. She has the look of someone searching for something and letting most everything else just pass her by.

She's also one of the rising stars of the back alley street fighting scene where she's been nicknamed as the Airmaster because of how she seemingly flies when she pulls off a lot of her moves. When she's fighting, she's an altogether different person who is tapping into something that's almost like a drug, something that makes her feel more alive than at any other moment as she continues to search for the person that's even stronger than her so that she can have the challenge that will truly awaken what's inside her. With her short skirt and the slightly puffy yellow top of her school, when she fights and twirls around with the skill of a master gymnast, it is almost like she really is flying. It's all taken to an extreme but the moves are fascinating to watch and Maki takes as good as she gives when the opponents are able to provide something of a challenge.

Maki's been a loner for quite some time, based on what little we get to see of her past and the way she'd been left to her own devices, so when she stumbles upon a group of what I guess is passing for kogal's these days she ends up becoming friends with them as they're rather accepting of her and her differences and they're all in awe of her skills. It's an interesting group with Yu as the apparent leader and the only one with the deep tanning, followed by blonde Michiru. Mina's in the group but goes to another school and she's the token big breasted chick with the 41 inch bustline. She's also got a serious crush on Maki over these episodes though while the others play it up as real love, it really straddles the line between girl/girl adoration and potential true love. Rounding the group out is Renge, a dwarf-sized girl who acts her height and is generally the loudest of them all. Maki is well accepted by them and she becomes very fond of them as they get to know each other.

Throughout the first four episodes here, Maki gets into a number of fights and is challenged by others. One recurring challenger is the aspiring future supermodel named Sakiyama who finds herself continually upstaged by Maki and her friends. She starts off as a loud mouthed silver spoon type of sorts but she gets a fire lit under her by Maki's obvious superior skills once she gets a taste of them and insists on meeting her again at any time as she continues to train and do better. The rivalry she gets with Maki is amusing since Maki encourages her along but at the same time doesn't see her as a threat and sort of tolerates her for it and for the things that Sakiyama does at times that seem to be out of some weird version of what she thinks friendship is.

The fight sequences throughout the show is the real selling point and while some areas of the animation may look cheap, such as some of the areas where characters are running into the background, the fight scenes show where the money went. They're very fluid and stylish and definitely a nice level of violence right now where it you cringe a bit but expect it to get worse as it goes on. Tied to that, I really liked the character designs here because they are different from the norm. The "anime standard" is something that really needs to be broken up a bit and expanded upon more and while Airmaster doesn't stray too far from what works, it is providing some controversial looking character designs that fall into a love it or hate it kind of realm. From the almost masculine feel of Maki to the variety of people she fights, I liked the variety and style of the characters. If anything didn't work, it's two areas. I really don't like Renge's bit as the dwarf of the group since it just keeps going with the wah-wah baby kind of material. I also have to say that I didn't care for the massive 41 inch breasts of Mina. They could have toned that down by half and still had all the same jokes but this is just too much and it looks bad.

With this being one of Toei's launch titles, it's got a number of technical flaws that don't fit easily into the other categories. One area is the subtitles, which almost seem sane after watching Interlude. They don't approach the same level of incompetence as that release but it's still an incompetent piece of work here. With subtitles that stretch across the entire screen, include ADR related pieces such as "grunts with effort" and the such, numerous mis-spellings and far too many three-line sections on at once, the subtitle job is just terrible here. It only felt tolerable to me since we had just experienced the worst subtitling job I had ever seen the night before with Interlude.

The release suffers in a couple of other ways; when each episode ends it goes back to the menu instead of carrying on. Each episode is also one chapter which means you can't skip openings or endings or jump to the middle of the episode at the eye-catch. This is still done on some of the more low-end TV releases from major Hollywood studios but it's not something that anime studios have skimped on in the past and shows what's been a theme of Toei's first releases: least effort possible. While this is a plus in that we get essentially a region 2 quality release in terms of audio and video, it comes across as basic incompetence and apparently no market research as to what is expected here. Things as simple as properly working menus, a proper level of subtitling and the inclusion of chapter marks are some serious strikes against this release. The Japanese release also has a few extras across its nine volumes and I hope we get those here eventually, since it's such basic things as clean openings and closing and promotional reel footage for starters.

One area that really makes me call into question the people working on the release is something that required some knowledge from others. One of the first fighters that Maki goes up against is a wrestling type named Roo-cha. For most people, this won't mean anything and will just be another name. In previous translations, he's been called Lucha, though I don't know if that's shown up Romanized anywhere proper in Japan. Why is this important? When the character fights, he wears a Mexican mask that I've been told by people who live along the border and near many Mexican influence media outlets, is that there is thing called the luchadore. Google on that and you'll see that it's got a lot to do with wrestling in Mexico and is related to the mask. So naming the character Roo-cha shows a distinct lack of understanding of the companies own properties. It certainly doesn't inspire confidence at all in just about anything else.

In Summary:
Derided by a lot of people for its designs, Airmaster is a surprisingly fluid piece of work at times that's part of the re-energized fighting genre that's been worked over by having more prominent female characters taking on the roles and going toe to toe with the men. These four episodes provided some really fun fight sequences that were creatively done as well as introducing an interesting and diverse crowd of secondary characters and fighters for Maki to deal with. Unfortunately, the release is so marred by technical issues that aren't easily categorized since they're such basic things that shouldn't happen, it's easy to see why people are passing on this.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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