Brave Story (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Dani Moure
Review Date: Monday, October 20, 2008
Release Date: Monday, September 08, 2008

Not yet released in the US, Gonzo’s tale of a young boy’s courage as he journey’s to a fantasy world to save his family hits UK shores without much fanfare.

What They Say
When eleven-year-old Wataru is told he can change his destiny by entering a magic gateway into another world, he jumps at the chance. But on his quest to find the Tower of Fortune and be granted any wish, he must conjure up all his bravery to battle a world of demons, his own friends and ultimately himself.

The Review!
Audio:
Since there isn’t much talk of the English track, I chose to listen to this one for my main viewing. It did sound good although it definitely lacked some of the punch that spot-checking the Japanese 5.1 track sported. Nevertheless, music and dialogue sounded crisp and clear, and I didn’t notice any dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either track.

The English dub took me by surprise, as for the most part it was very well acted, especially for the key roles. Unfortunately, due to a lack of any production credits on disc, I have no idea who produced the dub or indeed who performed it, but special recognition should definitely go to the actors for Wataru and Mitsuru, who both portray their characters’ nuances perfectly. The script, compared to the subtitles, was occasionally a bit loose, but it always seemed to fit nonetheless and flowed well.

Video:
Presented in anamorphic widescreen, it’s slightly disappointing that, since this is a very recent movie, this is not a proper film transfer, rather an NTSC-PAL conversion. Despite that, the film generally looks pretty good upscaled on my setup, coming to life with vibrant colours and an exciting look. I didn’t notice any aliasing, but there is a fair amount of pixellation during particularly high-action scenes where there’s a lot of movement on screen.

Subtitles are white, and a good, clear size. I didn’t notice any glaring errors in the text.

Packaging:
No packaging was included as this was a check disc.

Menu:
The menus are pretty nicely designed, with a blue shining through them all. Each static menu is preceded by a short clip from the film (in Japanese), with the text selections over the top of a still from the film. Access times are decent, although the transitions will probably annoy some.

Extras:
There are two extras here, with the first, “We Are Not A Couple”, following the Japanese voice actors for Wataru and Mitsuru behind the scenes on the film, from recording their parts right through to being interviewed at the premiere. This is a nice extra, and it looks like the pair had a great deal of fun working on the movie. The second extra, “The 5 Jewels of Brave Story”, runs just over 40 minutes and goes into further detail on the production of the film, with a brief but informative look at all the different parts of the production. All in all, this is a good pair of extras.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
You’d be forgiven if you’d never heard of Brave Story. Despite being animated by Gonzo, it hasn’t exactly been shouted about by anime fans worldwide; in fact you rarely hear much mention of it at all. Released in Japan in 2006, the film was picked up by Optimum – they who release the Ghibli movies in the UK – and after several delays it’s finally hit stores, complete with an English dub, and proves to be a bit of a hidden gem.

The film revolves around a young boy called Wataru, who is on the way to school one day when he sees a young man entering a floating door. He tells his best friend at school, who doesn’t believe him, but things become strange when Wataru finds the boy he saw before sitting in his classroom; he’s a new student. Wataru goes home to tell his parents, but his father tells him he is leaving his mother. Wataru is distraught and upset with his mother, so runs away, and finds some of the school bullies picking on the new kid, Mitsuru. Although Wataru tries to help, in the end he’s not needed because Wataru begins chanting and summons a creature that takes care of them. With the fight over, the boys share a drink and talk about the door Wataru saw. Mitsuru tells him that beyond the door he can change his destiny, should he choose to.

When Wataru returns home, he finds his mother unconscious on the floor. She is rushed to hospital, prompting Wataru to return to the door to try to change his destiny. And thus, the adventure begins. On arriving in the new world, he hears the voice of a woman who says that he is about to face a test of courage. Armed with the hero’s sword, he must embark on a quest to find all the missing gems so that he can meet the Goddess of Fortune. On his way, he meets plenty of new friends and sure enough, gets in to a lot of trouble. But no matter where he goes to find the gems, there is always talk of a dark magician having beaten him to it. It would seem that Mitsuru wants to change his destiny as well, and Wataru will have to come face to face with his friend to succeed in his quest.

Despite not having the most original story, Brave Story brings an all important air of fun, bravado and emotion to the typical quest story that really helps raise it above some standard adventure tales. Wataru is a truly likeable young boy, clearly torn apart by his family’s predicament and how his mother takes it, and tries to take things into his own hands by changing things for him and his family to what he thinks will be better. He’s pitted against Mitsuru, who is introduced as something of a mysterious friend and ends up as his nemesis, but what I liked about Mitsuru is that he, too, has his own, understandable reasons for wanting to change his destiny. Even with all the destruction and turmoil he unleashes, you can’t help but feel sorry for the boy in a way, as he is just trying to make things better in the only way he knows how.

The meat of the film, outside of the business with Wataru and Mitsuru is of course the adventure, and what is here is done really well. Each of the towns Wataru visits has their own unique looks and charms, and a wealth of interesting characters. The cast of main companions are all likeable and help Wataru in their own ways. Ki-Kima is always there to help in the nick of time, Miina is just Wataru’s little sweetheart, and of course, Jozo (the little dragon thing) is just funny. Although at first I’d have to confess that I thought Ki-Kima was actually evil. Each part of Wataru’s quest sees him build on his experience of seeing the world, and it all adds up in the end as he makes his decision based on everything that has happened to him.

Although it is enjoyable, at times Brave Story can start to drag, perhaps spending a few minutes too long in each place, and overall the film could probably have done with a little run-time trimming to give it a more brisk, flowing pace. The climax was something I was quite looking forward to, and in a way ended up being one of the film’s biggest let-downs. While I was waiting for some big, grandiose fight between Wataru and Mitsuru, it never really happens. We get big battles elsewhere, as the people of Vision fight back, but the main part of the story kind of whimpers to the conclusion, and the big action impact never really comes. Having said that, the ending we do get is very, very sweet and works well on an emotional level. It’s like the culmination of all of Wataru’s experiences, and we see how much he has matured throughout the course of the film. The last couple of scenes back on Earth are quite uplifting, too.

From a production standpoint, the film looks very good. The character designs are a little old-fashioned, with an almost Ghibli-like look about them, but they fit nicely and the backgrounds are beautiful at times. The animation is quite fluid, and overall the art is very easy on the eyes. The CGI is decent enough, but at times can look a bit ropey. During the fight with Mitsuru and the priest it really stands out, not blending quite as well as it could. The music is generally fitting and as grandiose as it should be. All in all, you can tell the film had a reasonably lavish budget.

In Summary:
It won’t win any awards for originality, but Brave Story’s take on the familiar tale of a hero on a quest is told very well, with all the lavishness you’d expect from a higher-end Gonzo production. The story is well thought out and the characters mature a surprising amount during the course of the film. It errs a bit on the long side for what it could be, but there are definitely worse ways you could spend a couple of hours. This is a nice, enjoyable family film with an uplifting message lying beneath the surface. Worth a look.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0 & 5.1), English Language (2.0), English Subtitles, We Are Not A Couple Featurette, The 5 Jewels of Brave Story Featurette

Review Equipment
Samsung LE40M86 1080p HDTV, Philips DVP 5980 region free DVD player upscaling to 1080p via HDMI, Pioneer HTP-GS1 5.1 Surround Sound System.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: NA
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 12 and Up
Region: 2 - Europe/Japan
Released By: Optimum Asia
MSRP: £15.99
Running time: 112
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2