Sakura Diaries Vol. #1 (of 4) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000
Release Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000
What They Say
Urara likes Touma. Touma likes Meiko. Meiko might like Touma, but Meiko will only date a college boy. So what's an under achiever like Touma to do? Well, if you're Touma, you'll lie and say you got into the most prestigious university possible. And if you're Urara, will you keep his secret? Or will you use that secret to ruin his chances with the other girl? From famed manga creator Ujin comes a steamy new tale of love on the school campus. Don't miss your chance to sneak a peek into the Sakura Diaries.
ADV's "experimental" title will be hitting the shelves this summer in the form of Sakura Diaries. Originally slated for March release, this 12 episode series is being released with the DVD being the only place to get the subtitled version. Between the original announcement of this and the street date, Bandai has done the same with Gundam Wing and Central Park Media is rumored to be dropping most of their subtitled VHS line next year. This is a precursor of things to come.
But honestly, if they look like this, I certainly won't be the one complaining and I'm sure most DVD consumers won't be either.
As such, the audio on this disc contains both the English and Japanese tracks in their original stereo format. The show was originally broadcast on TV in a late night slot, and since it's mostly dialogue anyway, not much more else is really required. Dialogue and clean and undistorted, but there's little real use of the front soundstage. The majority of the dialogue will come from the center channel and a bit from the phantom zones, but it's not bad at all.
Sakura Diaries is also a recent show and as such the video master is fresh and new. Colors are vibrant throughout with no oversaturation. We couldn't detected any artifacting, though there were a few very tiny instances of some pixellation in some busier line work. We didn't detect any moire or rainbows throughout the show. There are several instances where the picture gets soft, but this is part of the show and is intended to be that way. The only real problem we noted was probably on the master itself. Around 19 minutes into the first episode, when Touma is deep in maniacal thought, the image flickers briefly. It happens once or twice more throughout the rest of the episodes. It doesn't look like any kind of authoring issue which is why I'm pretty sure it's the master. Otherwise, this is a great looking video transfer. Probably one of the more vibrant and eye pleasing ones I've seen so far from ADV.
I love the packaging. The cover used for the first volume is taken from from a portion of the Japanese LD release. Urara is doing what she does best (undressing) with a smile. The back cover has a bunch of shots from the show and a good description of the series. The features are prominently listed and the episode numbers and their titles are also featured. The insert provides another portion of a separate Japanese LD cover artwork. The series was originally released on six LD's in Japan I believe, so getting them in half here has made them make some choices on which covers to keep. I'm really glad they may be putting them all to use though.
The menus are well designed. The main one features another variant of the front cover artwork with a different colored background. Selections are accessed quickly and without issue. It's your good solid menu that doesn't have any real animation, but each page does play music from the shows opening and ending. It's also fairly well themed with the flower petals seen all over the cover artwork.
There are no extras on the disc, but there are several things that ADV has done with this release that need to be talked about. Fear not! They're all positive! Since this release is the first mainstream non-video game title from ADV to be released on DVD that doesn't have a corresponding subtitle VHS coming out alongside it, there were a few that that could go up in the air. One of the most important things in my mind and I know in many others is the credits. ADV has played with doing alternate angle credits with some past releases, but those were catalog titles and the end credits were already completed. This was their "from scratch" release.
They pass with flying colors. The end credits listing the English voice actors first with their corresponding part (always a plus) and are immediately followed by the Japanese voice actor credits and their corresponding parts. It then goes on to the production credits for the Japanese folks and followed by the ADV production credits. You can argue whether the order for the VA's should be different, but I won't. This is just how new releases with a sub/dub should be done. Everyone is happy.
Also noteworthy is that the opening and ending song subtitles are DVD subtitles and not hard versions on the video master. The first episode contains the English translated lyrics. The second episode contains the romanji version. The third episode there is no subtitled lyrics, giving a "clean" episode. Since there are only three episodes, this works out really well. And yes, all three episodes contain an opening and ending.
My only request that I hope can be done, at least by the last disc, are two "extras" in particular. A full clean opening and ending without the translated credits and a gallery of all the original Japanese laserdisc cover artwork. Then we'll have a perfect release.
The content portion of this review is of the Japanese language version. We tried watching the dub, but even my wife shook her head too many times before we had to stop. And that was after the first 5 minutes. Sorry!
Sakura Diaries is a wonderful show. Created by known hentai artist U-Jin who has frequently had his manga work recalled in Japan due to the controversies he's created, this isn't the norm for him and surprised a heck of a lot of people when it came out. It wasn't typical U-Jin at all.
Normally I try not to compare one show to another because every show should stand on its own, but this one reminds me so much of Video Girl Ai in its style and how it plays out. It's not the same at all, but it gives me the same warm smile when watching everything unfold. It's got plenty of whacked facial expressions, lots of near nudity and women walking around in panties. Fan service here for this TV show is great.
The story focuses on Touma, a not so swift student from the countryside trying to get into university in Tokyo. Through some hilarious situation involving Urara, his cousin, in the beginning, he manages to fail each and every one of them. Having met the gorgeous model Mieko during one of the exams, he gets his butt into gear and goes back to Tokyo to take a cram school for a year so he can get into the same school as her so they can have a real relationship.
Of course, they have a relationship now, but that's mostly because Touma lied to her about getting into the same university. So now he's living with Urara, who harbors a great love for him from their childhood, and taking cram school and trying to see Mieko at the same time.
So it's a love triangle of sorts. It's also hilarious. There are so many situations and so many great lines that it's hard not to laugh so much with the characters. It has its serious moments as well, but in the end it produced nothing but smiles from us as we watched it.
The character designs are great. The women are naturally gorgeous looking and Touma has some great expressions when things go unexpectedly. Mostly when Urara walks around wearing next to nothing or nothing at all.
This isn't a series for everyone, but it's definitely one that's needed on the DVD market where we have so many science fiction shows. It's a romantic comedy with plenty of fan service with a lot of heart in it.
It also has one of the more relaxed and nice openings I've seen in quite awhile. The simple rhythm and imagery of Urara in various outfits and situations really will give you a feel for the character. The song is also very pleasant on the ears (and caused me to order the soundtrack after finishing the disc).
Sakura Diaries is well on the way to being added to our Essential Collection when it's all out.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles
Toshiba CF36H50 36" TV, Pioneer 414 codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster S-Video cable and Sony speakers.
Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 17 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Sakura Diaries