Spirit of Wonder (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, January 10, 2001
Release Date: Wednesday, January 10, 2001



What They Say
Sometime during the late 19th century, a young Asian girl has made a place for herself in a seaside town as the owner and operator of the Tenkai restaurant and boarding house..
Yet "Miss China," as the locals call her, is in the dumps. She's got a Mad Scientist named Breckenridge living upstairs who is chronically late with the rent, and she's pining for Jim, a handsome watchmaker's apprentice whom she mistakenly believes is pursuing the local flower girl. But this isn't our world. It is a world that has the Spirit of Wonder, where every so often, just occasionally mind you, amazing things happen. The Mad Scientist actually has come up with an incredible invention, and Jim has an unbelievable plan to use it to give Miss China the most beautiful ring in all the World.

"The Spirit of Wonder: Miss China's Ring" is a film that we at AnimEigo fell in love with at first sight, and we are sure you will as well.

The Review!
Spirit of Wonder is the first new release for AnimEigo since their Urusei Yatsura box set. It's also their first dual language disc that they've produced themselves as Bubblegum Crisis was outsourced. How do things stack up? There's some good and there's some bad.

Audio:
Playing through the disc twice, once with each language, we didn't notice any issues with either track. The majority of the show is dialogue driven with only a few areas where special effects sounds are noteworthy. Dialogue throughout was clean and understandable and the music and effects made decent use of the left/right speakers when they were required to.

Video:
Having seen the beta version, there are some definite improvements in the final version. One of the areas I was most concerned about was the first daylight scene where there's a pan over the water which looked very overcompressed and blocky. It's hardly noticeable at all now and a few other areas look a bit smoother as well. The transfer to DVD though is showing some of the poorer elements of the source material in the form of nicks, some minor scratches and a lot of dust in the opening sequences such as Breckenridges lab. Much like Urusei Yatsura, I thought I saw a fingerprint or two here and there as well. Overall, the transfer looks good and has some nice sequences that really shine.

What's really bothersome though, and is something I'm not sure I'd let out of a production house, is the chapter advance feature. When used throughout the show, almost all the chapters land on a segment of artifacting that looks bad. I can sense a lot of "is my disc bad?" questions coming for as long as this disc is available for purchase.

Packaging:
There's things I like and there's things I don't like about the packaging. The things I like outweigh those I don't however. I really like the cover art, which is sort of soft and inviting and a touch romantic. The back, with only one piece of artwork, has a really good summary of the show without giving away any spoilers. I really like the inclusion of the "recipe card" liner notes that includes bits on the manga, the title of the show and a bit on the location as well as translated romaji and English song lyrics. What I don't like? The big honkin' gold "DVD" logo on the front and the lack of region coding listed on the back.

Menus:
There's some nicely done menus here, with a bit of animation that loops using the telescope from the show. Access between the menus is pretty fast and everything works pretty nicely. No issues at all.

Extras:
The only "extra" is in the form of about 30 minutes worth of trailers that AnimEigo dumped on to fill things out a bit. For those who've seen little of the AnimEigo catalog, this is definitely a great way to see what they have and compare the old quality, especially for Spirit of Wonder, to the DVD releases.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Spirit of Wonder is pretty much a quaint little show. It's definitely not along the more traditional line of shows that are licensed in the US and I don't believe was a big seller, either in its manga form or the original VHS/laserdisc release.

The show revolves around Miss China, a young woman who runs a small inn & bar. She's a hard working if slightly offbeat woman whose just trying to get along with things as they happen. One of her tenants is Mr. Breckenridge, an eccentric and somewhat space-shot styled scientist. Being the space shot kind of guy, he's always late in paying his rent as most of the money goes towards his big projects that he works on with fellow tenant Jim.

The show takes place somewhere in coastal Europe known as Prince of Wales Island. The time feels like early 20th century, but there's plenty of things that are just ever so slightly out of place that you know it's not meant to be a real world story. The story itself tends to meander, much like the manga, and just sort of eases into itself. Just what is the story? Well, you can choose between the mysterious big project that Breckenridge is working on or the beginnings of China's and Jim's relationship.

The animation in the show is pretty nicely done with a few really nice sequences. The general concepts tossed around, while completely loopy, are quaint in that sort of 30's and 40's science fiction kind of way. The overall design of the show is well done and very true to the manga, which is a big plus for this show.

One of the things AnimEigo experimented with here is the use of alternate angles for the end credits. The credit sequence, for the first half of it, is bits of animation and credits on colored blocks. Using angle 1, it plays it as seen in the original Japanese release, with no translation at all. Switching to angle 2 gives you the AnimEigo credits placed underneath them. The second half of the credits goes to a regular scrolling style, with angle 1 again being the original scrolling Japanese and angle 2 being the AnimEigo scrolling translated credits.

My simple request: Everyone knock it off with the alternate angles. And don't say "Well, Disney can do it" either. The quality of the animation during this sequence does take a noticeable drop and switching between angles causes some brief breakup in the picture. Either leave the credits raw and do translations afterwards (such as CPM does, much to my pleasure if they'd translate ALL of them, including voice actors) or do what everyone else does and replace the credits entirely and do all of the credits for both languages in one scroll. Enough of the angle stuff. It just doesn't work well with a lot of players and only causes trouble.

Okay, end of rant. Having been a fan of the Spirit of Wonder manga for its brief run from Dark Horse, I enjoyed the heck out of this show and got a bit nostalgic for those early days. It's not a show that everyone will be drawn to, but if you're looking for something a bit off the beaten path, this is something worth trying.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Pioneer 414 codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: AnimEigo
MSRP: 29.99
Running time: 45
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Spirit of Wonder