Saber Marionette J to X Vol. #4 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Sunday, October 13, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, October 22, 2002



What They Say
Otaru and the Marionettes have arrived in Xian and are beginning to enjoy their well-deserved vacation, despite the fact that Hanagata has managed to tag along. However, Otaru suddenly collapses with a burning fever. When the doctor advises that the cure must be gathered from plants in the surrounding countryside, Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry selflessly go on a quest to save Otaru.

But when Otaru wakes from his illness, five days have passed, the Marionettes have disappeared, and he’s been branded an international terrorist by the Xian government! Now, Otaru must find the others and clear his name before it’s too late!

The Review!
It’s time to go to Xian, where they mark their time not only as what’s been spent on Terra 2, but from the origins of Xian back on Earth proper. This is mildly confusing at first though…

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. Listening to the Japanese track we had a good pro-logic experience with the music making good use of the rear channels. Sound effects and dialogue are all forward based and had some nice moments of directionality throughout it with no noticeable dropouts or distortions.

Video:
Using a similar style to the SMJ Again OVA release with the digital look, the show fares out better by not being as polished and looking as fake as a lot of that series did. The main problem throughout these episodes is the rising level of cross coloration as it is just about at a really annoying level. Colors throughout looked good and there was little in the way of aliasing. If it wasn’t for the cross coloration, this would have been a gorgeous looking disc.

Packaging:
Tiger surprisingly gets the cover here, with both a version of her in the normal bad ass black skin tight job as well as one in a Gartland baseball outfit. Both definitely have their appeal! The back cover provides a number of animation shots from the episodes and a good summary of the discs. Features are clearly listed as well as the discs episode numbers and titles. The packaging also gets the volume numbers clearly listed. The insert provides another shot of the front cover while it opens up to provide smaller summaries for each of the four episodes. The back cover provides some production credits and voice actor credits for both languages, though only the Japanese get the match-up to the characters.

Menu:
The menu is similar to past releases in using the maiden circuit animation but gets an update by using the new animation of it from the ending. Other parts of the ending animation end up in the various submenus as well. The main menu provides most of the good stuff and moving around is pretty easy and load times are nice and fast. The animation is pretty brief in general, and if you’ve seen past SMJ releases, you know what to expect here.

Extras:
There’s some potentially interesting small extras included in this release, but they fail in one area. There’s three segments of the Making Of SMJ to X, planning to scripting, storyboards to animation and background to coloring. They all run just over a minute and a half and have some interesting looks at each piece. Unfortunately, they’re all unsubtitled. While there’s no dialogue, there’s plenty of on-screen text describing what’s going on. In Japanese.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After spending so much of the series and previous series in either Japoness or Gartland, we’re finally off to see the sights and sounds of another large province. This time, it’s the hustle and bustle of Xian, a very active city with citizens who are haggling, wheeling and dealing at every moment with whoever walks by. Within minutes of their arrival, they hammer home the feel of how Xian is very effectively, if a bit simplistically. The end result is that you have to watch your wallet though.

Everyone ends up having a rather good time in Xian, except for Hanagata whose not allowed to have a good time. They meet General Chao early on in their arrival, and he gives them a whirlwind tour of fine shopping and dining to be found in his city. There’s also some moments spent talking about the political situation, which has a very young leader now in charge that’s being overseen by his trusted aides, such as General Chao and other statesmen. One of the other statesmen guiding the young lords education is someone we’ve seen in places he shouldn’t be, such as aiding Hesse previously in his bid to conquer Japoness.

His plans again seem to revolve around eliminating the Marionettes. With them now on his home territory, he has a cunning plan to do so. After taking advantage of an average cold that Otaru has, the illness turns into a deadly Sleeper disease with only one rare cure – round moss. He tells the girls where it can be found on a mountain some distance away, but that it’s quite rare and nobody has seen it in ages. And besides, Otaru will be dead soon enough. That’s not enough to stop them of course, so they all head out to find it.

To his surprise, they do end up finding it, but not before all three are dispersed and shuttled off to their new lives. He ends up letting Otaru live as a gesture of kindness, but chuckles darkly about having control of the marionettes. All three have now had their memories altered and are living vastly different lives. Bloodberry is part of a criminal gang, Cherry is helping out in a temple and Lime is a doctors assistant. None recall their past lives at all. Otaru finds himself all alone with only Hanagata as his companion.

Now tied to a terrorist bombing, the two are on the run from the Xian authorities while trying to find the girls. This runs effectively over the four episodes here, as we spend a lot of time with the new lives the girls have. There’s some interesting bits, mostly the amusing parts of Lime being a nurse, but for the most part we’re just waiting until Otaru can find them and start getting their memories back. One of the things that saves this from being completely average is a great moment of spine by Hanagata towards Otaru as Otaru despairs over his situation. It was just right that Hanagata finally exerted himself a little bit.

For the most part, these episodes were fairly enjoyable and went by quickly. They’re logical in the progress that the story is taking, but I would have preferred some more direct moments of the villains working their plots rather than just a couple of small background moments here and there. There are some large plans afoot amongst the bad guys, but it’s not getting as much screen time as it should I think. So if you can manage with the (repeated?) prospect of the girls without their memories, you’ll find some fun moments in here.


Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Making of SMJ To X

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan 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: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: C
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 29.95
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Saber Marionette J