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

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, September 07, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, October 08, 2002



What They Say
From the creative pinnacle of two of Japan’s most beloved anime creators, Shoji Kawamori (Macross, Escaflowne) and Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Escaflowne)!

High school, archery club, and boys were the things that filled Juna’s daily life. But when an accident leaves her clinging tenuously between life and death, fate intervenes as she becomes the sole witness to scenes of Earth’s destruction along with humanity’s reckless pollution of the sky, the Earth, and water. It is here in which Juna is given a new chance at life and bestowed the powers of the Earth, a power she must wield in order to stop an evil bent on Earth’s destruction.

The Review!
Arjuna was one of the more anticipated titles in Japan as the shows creator, Shoji Kawamori, has been on a fairly good string of successes, particular with Macross Plus and Escaflowne. Has Arjuna broken that record?

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese and in the 5.1 mix of it. Though not a used a lot in terms of directionality, particularly to the rear speakers, the added clarity of the 5.1 mix helped bring about a warmer feel to the program. Dialogue is nice and crisp and the music sounds fantastic throughout. Also included, in addition to an English 5.1 track and 2.0 tracks for both languages is an isolated music score in 5.1, which was what we listened to while writing the review.

Video:
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for widescreen sets. This release also utilizes the directors cut of the show, as the original broadcast version has not been released in Japan. This provides one immediate inconsitency in that the original previews from the first two episodes were removed and placed in the extras section, which also happens here. The transfer itself is as flawless as I can find it to be. Colors are rich and vibrant while the darker sequences, such as at night in the forest during a rainstorm, maintain a very solid look without any macroblocking. Cross coloration and aliasing are non-existent. If everything looked this good, I could eliminate this part of the review process.

Packaging:
For some reason, this cover just doesn’t grab me. The entire feel of it just doesn’t set right, with the gold border and the mix of the pink/purple and yellow colors as we have Juna standing holding her bow while you have the image of the Earth behind her, as well as someone else. The back cover provides a couple of animation shots and a good summary of the shows premise. Production and technical information is pretty clearly listed and there’s a nice list of the discs features, especially in terms of clarity when it comes to the audio selections. The insert replicates the front cover but without the gold border (which makes it feel less crowded) and folds open to present a nice image of Juna on one side while the other does more detailed episode summaries. The back of the insert provides full production and cast credits, but does not (once again) give proper credit to the English voice actors.

Menu:
The main menu is a nice if simple piece, with a flowing array of colors in the background while the centerpiece is the “power stone” or seed where animation from the show plays. Selections are lined around it, though there’s only one pattern of movement. The layout is pretty standard and access times are good, though there does look to be such a minor nitpicky inconsistency in the main menu labeling the Extras Material and the section itself being called the Extra Material.

Extras:
There’s a nice selection of extras here, with a piece sure to please dub fans. There’s a fifteen-minute original interview piece, hosted by Bandai’s Charles McCarter, where they talk to two of the English actors performing in this show; Maggie Blue O’Hara and Brad Swaile. An Arjuna Dictionary is included which provides some extra little clarifications on parts of the show as well as the preview section, which we covered above in the video comments.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Earth Maiden Arjuna, shortened to simply Arjuna for release in North America, is a title that’s definitely going to be the next love it or hate it release. It certainly has a lot going for it, but the subject matter as its portrayed (particularly in later episodes) may not set well with people’s sensibilities. But more on that in a little bit.

The story is a fairly simple one, as we are introduced to high school girl Juna. Juna’s like other girls her age to some extent, but she’s just different enough to be considered not exactly like everyone else. When her mother suggested she start learning the tea lessons and other activities appropriate for a woman her age, she ended up taking archery instead. While she’s been doing that for awhile now, she’s unfortunately not really mastered it. Juna also, at least in my view, waxes a bit more philosophical than most girls her age. During one segment at the inner harbor with her apparent boyfriend Tokio, she wonders aloud why birds don’t prey on other flying creatures, but instead hunt for fish and the like. You tell me when you’ve known a sixteen year old to talk about that, let alone think about it outside of a classroom.

Juna convinces Tokio to take her to the real sea, and the two head off on his motorcycle to someplace far better and more enjoyable. And hopefully something that will let Tokio get a little further with Juna, since she’s a slight tease. This trip doesn’t go well though as they end up in a motorcycle accident (that looks most definitely like it wasn’t an accident on someone elses part), which causes Juna to die, but Tokio to live. It’s here that we and Juna learn that she’s actually an Avatar of Time, one of the few people in the population who can truly have sympathy and synthesis with the planet, and use the powers that it gives her to deal with the problems. But she’s not alone in this, as we learn that an entire organization called S.E.E.D. has been in existence for some time and use their talents and money to try and correct things and avert disasters.

The real key to their working though is a powerful psychic known as Chris, a young wheelchair bound teenager who is one of the few that can see the Raaja. These are the elements that are going to ravage the world and cause all living things to die sometime in the near future, unless the Avatar of Time can deal with them. Chris has pushed Juna to take on the role she’s destined for by offering her life back to her if she accepts. Though she’s confused and unsure, she ends up coming back to life and joining up with S.E.E.D. to try and protect the planet. Though things don’t go anywhere near as smoothly as these couple of lines seem to indicate, as she’s fraught with fear by how the Raaja look and her own abilities at times.

Being a very new show, airing during the first quarter of 2001 in Japan, it’s visuals are just stunning for most of these three episodes. There’s a fair use of CG work throughout them, at times seeming reminiscent more of Macross Plus than Escaflowne. But there’s also two kinds of CG being done here. During scenes where we see Tokio on his bike, you get a more immersive attempt at depth. These don’t come out bad, but they do stand out. When Juna calls forth Ashura during a battle to fight the Raaja, these two creatures have a very different CG feel, standing out much more strongly and vibrantly as CG. I think this works really well and am of the mind that it must be intentional due to the fact that people cannot see these two things, only those who are of the right type can. It’s explained that people used to see the Raaja in the past, but speculation about humanities disconnect from nature has caused them to become invisible to the average person. This is a theme that runs through a lot of Japanese mythologies and stories.

I was quite pleased to see a number of my favorite voice actors participate in this show, such as Tomokazu Seki and Aya Hisakawa and a long time favorite of Yuji Ueda. Seki in particular brings a great amount of life to the character of Tokio in both his affection for Juna and his realization that nobody is ever going to believe him. Arjuna is also filled with a very evocative score. Though there’s a number of people who may not care to see Yoko Kanno’s name come up continually, she manages to produce pieces consistently that make me want to buy CD’s the minute I hear them. This score is no different, with some very strong pieces as well as a good number of shorter lighter ones.

With a heavy emphasis on the environment, as that is the main theme of the show that Kawamori has decided he wants to talk about (a welcome change from love conquers all), I found these episodes to not be as heavy handed as others have found them to be. There’s no denying that it’s a pretty straightforward look of what pollution has done to the world, with many scenes being just filled with moments aimed to create disgust, but an important perspective must be kept when watching this, which is why I think that this is going to be a real love or hate release. Kawamori’s intent to be so heavy handed is almost required with a show like that, mostly due to the target audience. And that’s the key mindset to put yourself into here.

Depending on how much you read about it, or listen to various commentaries and programs, there’s consitent talk by Japanese adults about “today’s generation”. You do hear this every generation, but it’s also something that some times does resonate stronger during a particular generation. There’s a strong feel about the youth in Japan today and how truly disconnected they are from many things in life (much like we’ve heard about American youth over the years, seemingly always getting worse as well). Kawamori’s heavy handed approach is his attempt to smack some of them into waking up about the world around them, and going with the blunt approach. It’s not a show that’s designed to speak about environmentalism to an American point of view about it. It’s very much taking it in their own cultural style, with their own past mythologies as well as that of Hinduism and a smattering of Eastern religious themes. These are the kinds of things that don’t speak well across a broad market in America.

I’ve found myself so far to be enthralled by these episodes. From the pacing to the designs, to the heavy handedness to the somewhat more subtle moments, I pretty much sat riveted to the story. End of the world stories are really a dime a dozen, but ones that explore a very specific theme tend to have more thought put into them. This one had so many moments where I simply smiled and watched it play out visually. I’m very much looking forward to exploring more of this series, especially about what Chris seems to mean by truly fighting the enemy.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language,Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Isolated 5.1 Music Score,Previews Collection,Arjuna Dictionary,Cast Interviews

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: A-
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Arjuna