NieA_7 Vol. #1 (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, August 14, 2001
Release Date: Tuesday, August 14, 2001



What They Say
From the Creators of Lain! Produced by Yasuyuki Ueda (Lain), character Designs by Yoshitaka ABe (Lain) and Animation by Triangle Staff (Lain, Catnapped)!
As a starving student, Mayuko’s life consists of many part-time jobs, a small apartment over a bathhouse, and sleepless study nights. Unfortunately for her sanity, this hard life is complicated by Niea. Niea is a young 7th class under-alien who is living in Mayuko’s closet, building flying saucers out of trash, eating Mayuko’s food and being a bum. Compared to this stress, the man eating plants and the curry wars are nothing...

The Review!
With this show having quite the credentials behind it, especially considering how well Lain was received here, it's only natural for it to have high expectations. While Lain did confuse a great many people, there was a definite sense of something going on. With NieA_7, it's the complete opposite, at least so far.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. With the show being primarily dialogue based, the majority of the audio is through the center channel. There's quite a bit of solid ambient music throughout the show, but at times it's (intentionally) set so low that unless you really listen you can't hear it, but it helps to accentuate the mood. The opening and ending songs come across great, though the opening song appears to be intentionally low for the vocals. We didn't notice any dropouts or other distortions during in the track.

Video:
Things are a bit of a mixed bag here. There are a large number of just gorgeous looking scenes. The opening looks great for the most part, and during the fourth episode there's a great coloring to the backgrounds during a sunset. Colors for the most part look solid, but some of the night sky scenes have some minor macroblocking artifacting going on. There's a fair bit of jagged lines during camera pans and along the faces at times, but what really made parts of this show hard to watch is the rainbows. They were more prominent during the first episode and improved later on, but still visible. There's one sequence where you see Mayu holding an umbrella and the entire length of it was one long rainbow. Some areas appear to be a bit soft and pixellated, giving things a slightly "alive" motion to it. A good amount of the disc looks quite good, but these areas are what ends up sticking out in my head after finishing the disc.

Packaging:
Is this a sign of things to come? If so, I like some of the subtle changes to the packaging here with this release. With the white cover, Pioneer smartly used a white keepcase to help keep it all looking consistent. The front cover has a great picture if NieA and Mayu with a smaller than usual logo that works well. The back cover is also mostly white with another piece of artwork in the center. A brief summary gives some idea of what the show is about as well as a listing of the episode numbers and titles, a trend I continue to love. The bottom half provides all the technical aspects, as well as an amusing little "Only on" placed above the DVD logo. Inside the keepcase we get a nice chapter listing insert with some new artwork as well as a spiffy extra; finger puppets! One side contains three of the women while the other is a large piece that is the bathhouse where everyone resides. Sweet!

Menus:
As soon as the menu loaded, I knew I was being treated to yet another slick looking menu courtesy of the folks at Nightjar. Keeping with the simple aspect of the show itself, the menus are similar to the front cover (though the eyes move here) with some of the bouncy music playing along. Selections are listed in an arc with various bits of small animation playing along and the menu transition animation is pretty fast, allowing the menus to load up quickly. Submenus work well and it's pretty obvious which language options are selected. Solid menus all around.

Extras:
There's three solid extras here that I enjoy. The first, somewhat of a surprise coming from Pioneer, is a couple of pages worth of liner notes, explaining various things such as bento boxes and the like. While NieA_7 isn't a hugely cultural show, adding these couple of bits allow the translations to be done more accurately, so I'm definitely happy. The next is several pages worth of interesting black and white line art that show off the character designs. The third, and one of my favorites to see on the first disc of any series, is the textless opening. This particular opening is just weird, and being able to see it without all the text really helps to focus on the hints placed throughout it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
My initial reaction to this show, after each episode and after finishing the first disc, can be summed up easily. "Huh?"

NieA_7 is the tale of two roommates of sorts. We have the hard working Mayuko, whose trying to earn a living while going to summer cram school before going on to college. She's living in a residence attached to the bathhouse her parents used to own before her father died and her mother moved away. She helps out there as well as works as a delivery girl and waitress at a local European style restaurant.

She's not a jaw dropping attractive girl but more of the soft spoken almost mousy type that hangs along the wall. She's smart but quiet. She longs for something more than what she has, but isn't quite sure what it is.

To contrast this, her roommate is NieA, an "under 7". What's an "under 7"? From what we can tell, it's the designation of an alien living on Earth that doesn't have an antenna. They're basically the bottom of the run when it comes to the alien residents.

Aliens? Yep. Aliens. Apparently some twenty odd years ago, an alien mothership crashed into the Earth outside of Tokyo. While there was some kind of uproar when it happened, in the twenty years since life has returned to normal and the world doesn't really think much about these aliens. Some of them are hardworking, some are loafers. NieA's a loafer who has ended up living inside of Mayuko's closet, eats all her food and freely spends Mayuko's money.

The show revolves around this odd relationship the two have, with NieA being the classic extrovert, full of self-confidence and unafraid of doing or saying anything. Mayuko fits the role of the introvert perfectly, with her shyness being broken by fits of rage when NieA ends up doing something that just complete gets to her, such as eating food from her secret stash or building UFO's in their room from old pieces of trash.

Through the interactions of the two, we get introduced to other members of the cast, such as the current owner of the bathhouse and the maintenance man for it, who has an amusing passion for fire. We also get to know the owner of the restaurant, a somewhat flighty man, and his business savvy young daughter who feels she's the parent in the family. We also get a contrast to Mayuko in the form of Chiaki, an outgoing girl who went to school with Mayuko. She's from a wealthier background, which makes Mayuko uncomfortable, and has a passionate interest in UFO's due to the website she runs. This of course makes her even more interested in Mayuko when she finds out an under 7 lives with her.

The show doesn't go into much detail about the aliens themselves during these opening episodes, such as why they crashed here, how their integration into society really happened (as it's just explained as "people just stopped caring about it") or the changes in the world from it. At most, we have a few comments that Tokyo is once again looking like it should from the rebuilding, and the impact crater is now the home to some of the aliens but looks little more than an upscale shanty town.

One of the things that really grabbed me right from the start is the opening song, performed by Sion. The vocals are quite low and guttural, a real rarity among the usual j-pop style that's been with anime for so many years. It's not an easy sing-along song, but combined with the great opening animation, it provides one of the more unique opening sequences I've seen this year. The ending song, performed by a different artist, is more of the traditional style songs. Pioneer also went and got a great looking font style for the opening and ending credits, making this look like a really great release.

I don't know what it is, but other than a few bits throughout these episodes, something just didn't click with me with this show. I had a couple of good laughs at some of the antics, but I can't feel anything for NieA and very little for Mayuko so far. The animation is nicely done for the most part, with a style Lain fans will feel at home with, but the story itself hasn't out and out grabbed me. This may be a slow starter, but being a fan of ABe's, I'll definitely be checking out the rest to see where he's going with it.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening,Line Art,Liner Notes

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers



Mania Grade: C+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 29.99
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: NieA_7