Wallflower Complete Collection Part 1 (of 2) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, March 23, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, January 20, 2009

When four pretty boys find themselves having to transform a gloomy and dark girl into a beautiful woman, their lives are turned upside down.

What They Say
What happens when a hit manga gets mugged by the director of the Excel Saga? The answer is The Wallflower! Start with four incredibly beautiful high school students... incredibly beautiful BOY high school students... then add one psycho, paranoid, neurotic horror movie obsessed goth chick with a fetish for anatomical dummies. Challenge the boys to turn thisugly duckling into a swan (with the option being complete and total financial destruction) and complicate everything with the fact that not only does she not want to be pretty, but that beautiful people are terrifying to her! This isn't going to be pretty and it may take an exorcism, but when the other choice is living in a dumpster, the poor guys are going to have to try! Attaining inner beauty isn't pretty in The Wallflower, Complete Collection, Part 1!

Contains Episode 1-13

The Review!
The bilingual presentation for this release is pretty solid, particularly for the English side of things. The original Japanese stereo mix is done at 192 kbps and comes across well during the show though it doesn't exactly extend itself in any way. It's a good full sounding forward mix that doesn't have much in the way of depth and directionality but it serves the material well. The English 5.1 mix, done at 448 kbps, adds quite well to the original mix by providing more depth and placement to the dialogue as well as simply being louder. Some of this can be matched in the Japanese just by the volume control, but overall the English mix is quite solid and works well with the material without coming across as fake. We didn't have any problems in terms of dropouts or distortions during regular playback on either language track.

Originally airing in late 2006 and early 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The release is essentially the same in terms of quality as we saw from ADV Films as the authoring is done by them for this set. The thirteen episodes are split across two volumes in a 7/6 format. The one word that can really describe this show in terms of its video quality is inconsistent. A good number of scenes are done intentionally noisy to showcase the horror aspect of it, but there is a good deal of noise in many other scenes as well that you wouldn't think there would be. And it's not a constant either as there are many scenes that are bright, vibrant and pleasantly colorful without all the noise. The bitrates for the release are pretty good which points more towards a source issue, or directors’ intent, that in the end can be pretty distracting at times if you're used to looking for it or it stands out in general. Outside of the noise, there are some instances of lines moving about during some of the pans and zooms but that's about it. Cross coloration is non-existent and colors tend to look solid when the noise isn't introduced, intentionally or not.

The first part of the Wallflower release mirrors the other FUNimation two disc thinpak release with the thin slipcover but it keeps to the same design that ADV Films had used for their single volume releases. The slipcover has a really nice shot of Kyohei, Yuki and Sunako together in some finery, looking all proper yet very erotic at the same time. It’s got some very vibrant colors to it and it mirrors the manga logo just right while also pushing the episode count. The back of the slipcover is a bit darker and sillier as it brings in the macabre in the shots but also the weirdly funny way it all looks with the small bodied moments. The summary runs through the basics of what to expect and it’s all laid out pretty nicely.

The two thinpaks inside are also rather nicely done. The first volume uses the artwork of just Sunako from the slipcver with a dark red background and mirrors the same kind of logo. The second volume takes Kyohei from the front cover and lets him shine by himself, strawberry in mouth. The back of the thinpaks are kept very simple with just the episodes listing against a murky black and red background. The reverse sides bring in some artwork from the single volumes that haven’t been used on this release otherwise. No show related inserts are included.

The menu design for this certainly fits with part of the show as it uses the image front of the mansion set at night. The central area is given over to a rundown of the episodes for selection, which is done in a font that’s a bit hard to read since it’s small and the episode titles are long. The bottom portion is darkened out so that the extras and other navigation pieces can be found here, all set to some of the hard rock instrumental music that permeates the show at times. The layout is decent and easy to move around in, though I think they could have found a better font to fit with this design. Submenus load quickly and we had no issues with our player presets as the disc read everything correctly as just about every ADV Films release seems to do.

The extras are a shade weaker from what we got with the single volumes as we only get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences on the first volume. We don’t get the on-air openings which I think is a shame, especially since they could have been included on the second disc with no real issue.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Wallflower, originally known as Yamatonadeshiko Shichihenge, is a twenty five episode series based off of the manga by Tomoko Hayakawa. That manga has been getting a US release for a bit now by Del Rey and it's through that form that I originally fell in love with this series. The show in its translation to anime captures much of what makes the manga so much fun but it also adds some new elements courtesy of series director Shinichi Watanabe. Beyond this and some minor reworking of when events take place, the translation works well though sometimes seeing the guys in this form really takes away from the kind of designs that Hayakawa used in her manga.

While ADV Films released the first three volumes of the series, it ended up in FUNimation’s hands before the second half could make it out. This collection covers what’s been released in single volume form by ADV Films and the material on here is essentially all ADV Films created. The subtitles, the script, everything reflects an ADV Films release outside of a new opening logo for FUNimation and some of the credits related to the disc itself. That means we do get some solid consistency at least and this should carry over into the second set as well. Having just watched this in single disc form a few months ago, our thoughts are essentially the same.

Episodes 1-5
The story is painfully simple but that's what allows it to work so well while being open ended. Four very beautiful young men are living in a mansion where they're getting very cheap rent from the woman who owns it, one very flamboyantly and adventurous of the Nakahara family. Her reasons for letting the boys live there isn't clear but she's going to make them pay up for their time there and the luxuries that they enjoy. To their surprise, her demand is that while she's away that they watch over her niece Sunako and turn her into a proper woman. Failure to do so will mean an exorbitant amount of money will need to be paid to her for all the living expenses that they've accrued.

The four young men are all fairly standard personalities when it comes to the beautiful boy realm. Kyohei is the rough around the edges blonde with an edge, Ranmaru is the redheaded ladie's man who knows exactly what it takes to get to a woman's heart, Takenaga fills the intellectual role while still being quite beautiful and Yuki takes care of the all too girlish in appearance pretty boy who constantly finds himself being thrown into situations that requires him to wear dresses. As a group living together, they get along quite well because they all have to suffer the same kinds of things due to their beauty. Kyohei relates this at one point where it's impossible for him to hold down a part time job because either his working there draws in women who never buy anything and cause a disturbance or because people who work there, usually his bosses, are interested in him in a more sexual way. Male and female at that.

So it's little surprise that when their gravy train of low to free rent living is about to disappear, they agree all too quickly to take on her request of handling her niece. What they were shocked to find out is that Sunako really is something like death warmed over. The same age as them, she's transferred into the same school and is now a part of their daily lives. Sunako is quite simply, priceless. The first few episodes are a difficult time to adjust to her since she's being abused by everyone and her overall personality is almost whiny due to her being turned down once by someone she liked. That caused her to retreat into herself, grow her hair long and stopped taking care of herself. She's still whisper thin and has a hidden beauty under it all, but her outward appearance is that of someone who has shrugged off living in general.

What compounds all of it is that she's turned to the world of horror for her companionship, to the point where she has friends in the form of medical dummies. She turns her room into a place of darkness which scares the boys constantly and she is very into morbid and bloody movies and games. What really cements things, though it's not given too clearly at first here, is that her perception of reality is slightly skewed because of what she went through. When she sees the boys she's living with, she's almost always blinded by the light she associates with them and calls them "Creatures of Light." This name is also applied to Noi, a beautiful young woman who is trying to win over Takenaga. Sunako is unable to look at people due to this and it leads to some fun situations, such as when she comes across Kyohei showering and she gets to see all of his… light.

Episodes 6-9:
Going into the first volume of Wallflower, I was unsure of just how well it would be done since comedies can be so hit or miss. Even worse was that uncertainly about the character designs for the guys since there’s been so much bad said about them, especially the lips for some like Kyohei. While that set of episodes took a bit to get going, once the small bodied version of Sunako came to life more frequently and the series finally hit its stride, it became all good. This set of episodes is essentially more of the same, which is good and bad depending on what you want out of the show.

I want to laugh.

And these episodes certainly accomplished that while also expanding the characters just a little bit. Wallflower is designed to be humorous by putting the characters into contrasting situations that alternately freak everyone out. Sunako’s obsession with the dark side of things is something that gets to everyone and there are plenty of obvious gags to work with there. The flip side that isn’t explored too often is that of how the boys with their “bright” lives affects her and freaks her out. When you have introverted characters who like spending time by themselves, you don’t see them go as far and as odd as Sunako does. When she gets a chance to get away from everyone by taking a bath, the small bodied image of her hanging over the tub and just enjoying the solitude is amusing, sad and scary at the same time because of how it’s presented.

Much like in the manga, I cannot help but to adore Sunako, especially when she’s in that small bodied mode. Her take on life and going after what she wants is just infectious with its laughter. When she realizes that she missed Halloween because she was sick, it isn’t hard to understand why she’s so distraught and depressed. She seems to even curl up more within herself. The guys haven’t a clue how to deal with this, or with the way all the housework appears to be piling up, so they end up bringing Noi into the mix to help out. Noi is the only woman to really connect with Sunako in any way and when the two of them get into this tiny mode, it just brings smiles, particularly since they’re so different with their expressions. The physical comedy side of it just clicks very well for me since it’s not something you see a lot with shows that are licensed here.

Sunako isn’t all doom and gloom though which is where some of the appeal comes in since her interests and hobbies give her such joy. When “normal” people see her interests, and her devotion to them, it isn’t a surprise that they’re creeped out by it. Yet it’s that kind of interest that’s so heartwarming and endearing, such as when she takes all her life sized items out like Hiroshi and sets them up on lounge chairs so she can properly clean and dry them. Of course, she does that when a couple of ruffians are about to kidnap her for the gang boss that’s fallen in love with her and that just freaks them out completely. The short story that deals with the boss is amusing since it’s one of the first times we’ve seen someone take one look at Sunako and fall in love, something that nobody else seems to be able to wrap their minds around.

With Wallflower being so involved in situational comedy, and little focus on actually getting Sunako to be ladylike for this volume, it can be hit or miss as to whether particular story ideas work. What doesn’t work for me with the show is pretty small and simple and it’s those “Road to Womanhood” segments that are used in each episode with Nabeshin’s dancing around the logo piece. It feels like such a break in the flow of the story that it throws it off. Plus they aren’t all that amusing either. What does work is just about every story for this volume. Sunako’s dealing with having missed Halloween is very cute and it works nicely to have the guys start thinking about her more – eventually. My favorite story is the one that as Kyohei having a strong desire to do hotpot so he can be the “hotpot despot” and sit under a kotatsu with everyone. His boyish ways with it are very amusing but it’s also seeing him and Sunako going food shopping together and the reactions of everyone out there. Plus, Sunako can make a mean kotatsu.

If there was a surprise with this set of episodes, it was that Noi is becoming more interesting than I remember her being from the manga. Noi’s interest in Takenaga falls along the lines of a traditional anime girl who will do whatever she has to in order to get closer to the guy she likes. She’s also the one that’s pretty well respected among the other girls and can pull rank enough to get away with it even amongst all the infighting. She starts to spend a lot more time with all the guys in these episodes and even starts to bond with Sunako a bit since she can see using her as a way to get closer to Sunako. But even with that, Noi doesn’t come across as a bad person or someone really using Sunako for it, but rather just a simple reality of the situation. She may be a bit too perky and upbeat at times but she does seem like an ideal match for the usually serious Takenaga.

Episodes 10-13:
A bit awkward is what can be said about the first episode which is actually the second half of a two part storyline that started on the previous volume. The gang, along with Sunako and Noi, ended up at a hot spring only to have a murder take place. The events of the murder feel like a low grade Scooby Doo episode and you really expect someone to take off a mask at some point, but the real fun is just watching how excited Sunako gets about everything that’s going on. A real live murder at a real live hotel just has her practically beside herself with glee. The core storyline is really forgettable but watching her go through the routine is a whole lot of fun. The only good thing to come out of this storyline is that entire goofy kiss moment between her and Kyohei.

A moment she’s done her best to try and forget, mind you. Blocking it from her mind has worked fairly well but it continues to creep back in here and there which is causing her to essentially lock up and freeze. That’s causing plenty of concern with everyone but they have bigger fish to fry up front as Sunako’s aunt has informed the boys that she needs to score better than an eighty on her next math test. While Sunako practically aces everything she takes, math is her weak point, so much so that her last test earned her about three points. Takenaga is brought in to get her up to speed but it just goes in all sorts of weird directions as they struggle with it. Most amusing is how into it Kyohei gets about showing her what a little effort can do, and the others all pitch in through their own particular style. It’s a good group building episode that just brutalizes Kyohei at the end.

The bonding aspect of it is really nice reinforced with the third episode here as a Christmas story is nicely truncated by having Yuki tell the tale of how the four guys all met a year prior. The different paths that led them to living in the mansion under the conditions they’re in are fairly amusing, but none more so than when Kyohei arrives after everyone else only to have a horde of women after him. Though the guys are all different now in comparison to what they were, you can see plenty of them in their current personalities as well but it’s all been adapted to deal with each other. Yuki continues to feel like the odd “kid” out with them early on, especially with his commoner background, but watching them come together in the way they do without Sunako around is quite a lot of fun.

Though Sunako is kept off stage for much of this episode, she comes back with a vengeance in the last one when Yuki brings home some mushrooms he got from the Gothloli girls. Red flags go up there but it’s too late and Sunako has already eaten them. The fun part is that they turn her into a proper young woman and she quickly takes to the role with the maid uniform. Sadly, all her skills have dried up at the same time and she can’t even cook well anymore which is something of a dealbreaker for the guys, even with the potential of free rent due to her being ladylike. Sunako spends the bulk of this episode in her normal form, complete with a great transformation sequence in Kyohei’s arms no less, but it’s when she goes back into diminutive form while wearing the maid outfit that I laugh the most.

General Thoughts:
Where Wallflower will run into some problems, even from fans, is in the character designs. While I love the manga designs, they're certainly not the norm and they don't translate well to anime form without being smoothed out a bit. The lipstick in particular really stands out and just feels odd. The boys are where the problem really resides and it took almost all five episodes here to really adjust to it. Sunako is a bit rough during the first few episodes as well but that mirrors the manga in some ways as Hayakawa didn't really find her groove for a bit. When that groove hits, such as when Sunako starts living more in her tiny small bodied form, it really works wonderfully here. Character designs change regularly here to fit the mood and the need of the scene so adjusting to that, like it's done in other comedies of this nature, is almost a necessity. There simply isn't any single vision of how these characters look but rather a multitude of visions based on events, moods and personal perceptions.

In Summary:
If there’s one thing that I haven’t much cared for, it’s marathoning a comedy series. Even when the show is good, the comedy can get too forced or show too much repetitiveness when you view it in this form. Wallflower does suffer from this somewhat, but it manages to avoid serious problems because of the way Sunako is. She provides for a lot of unpredictability and even more so when you add in the four guys and the situations that can crop up from it. Wallflower was a manga that I dearly enjoyed after I got into it and the anime is the same way, it takes a little bit to get going. It’s bright, quirky, macabre and plain old silly throughout. This is a show that’s very much trying to get in your face and shake itself around to get your attention and that can be off-putting. For me, Wallflower is the right kind of comedy that makes me grin, laugh and think back fondly on it even months after I’ve seen it. Revisiting it again has me all excited to see the second half.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 59.98
Running time: 325
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Wallflower