Animated Classics of Japanese Literature: Botchan Parts 1&2/Student Days (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Luis Cruz
Review Date: Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, February 11, 2003



What They Say
Botchan: Parts 1 & 2 by Soseki Natsume
The new teacher Botchan has arrived, and he challenges students and peers alike in one hilarious situation after another!

Student Days by Kume Masao
Young Kenkichi is determined to enter a prestigious school. He sacrifices every waking hour to his studies, but at what cost?

The Review!
School days, golden rule days are covered from both the teacher's and student's point of view in this volume of Animated Classics.

Audio:
The only track present was the original Japanese mono audio; music and dialogue are crisp and balanced well. Given the age of the title, the audio track was surprisingly free of any hiss, distortion, or other issues that would detract from the viewing experience.

Video:
Produced in 1986, the print for this title was remarkably clean bearing only a few noticeable instances of scratches and other print damage. Also, the digital transfer did produce any noticeable artifacts making for an enjoyable visual experience. While not as lush as modern day titles, the colors were warm and bright matching the unique animation style used.

Packaging:
A collage of images from the stories is set against a parchment paper background on the front cover. The "Animated Classics" title is prominent across the top with the individual story titles and their authors just underneath. The back cover features the requisite screenshots, synopses, and disc details in a clean, readable format.

Rather than an insert for the chapter listings, the case is transparent allowing the reverse side of the cover to contain black and white images, the chapter listings, and a production credits.

Menu:
The menus feature a static image to the left of the screen with the menu items to the right with music looping in the background. Transition delays are negligible allowing the viewer to quickly access the disc content.

Extras:
The extras are divided up between content accessible by a stand-alone player and by a DVD-ROM player. Stand-alone players can only access brief biographies of the authors along with a quick synopsis of the actual story. The DVD-ROM content is simply a few screen captures from each story along with the script used.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The theme for this volume of Central Park Media's Animated Classics of Japanese Literature is the trials of school work from both sides of the desk. Botchan deals with a new teacher sent from Tokyo to a junior high school in the remote countryside of Japan. While he manages to befriend a fellow faculty member, the students torment him relentlessly in and out of class. However, the students are merely pawns in a sick game the principal and vice-principal enjoy playing on their staff. Eventually, Botchan and his friend beat the pair at their own game and leave the school never to return.

This was an amusing tale, one that both teachers and students can relate to. Most everyone has had the experience of being the new guy and having others torment them at one point in their life. However, this particular story suffers greatly due to the time constraint. There is little time to build any sympathy for Botchan and his plight, and he does not appear to change much in character even as the story draws to a close.

While I wonder if the full story fleshes out Botchan and his situation more, this animated version does little to compel me to track the title down and find out. It has some funny and poignant moments, but the lack of solid characterization prevented me from being fully absorbed into the story.

The final story Student Days had the opposite effect and drew me in immediately. Having failed the entrance exam for a prestigious university, Kenkichi has vowed to live with his sister for the summer and devote himself to his preparations for retaking the exam. His concentration is sorely tested though by a beautiful girl named Sumiko and his younger brother Kenji.

Billed as having some surprising plot twists, the story was actually predictable at nearly every turn. What made this title resonate with me personally was his struggle to find a balance between his studies and his desire to lead a normal life. He desperately wants to get into his university, but he has the same desire to spend time with Sumiko. His choices and efforts throughout the story make the inevitable ending even more painful.

This particular volume features good animation, but it deviates from the style seen in other volumes to something more familiar to an anime audience. It still looks great and does not detract from the story, but it did not have the "classic" feel the other styles have contained.

In Summary:
While the main themes of the story manage to make themselves known, Botchan suffers from having to be pared down to fit a tight running time. His predicament is a familiar one the audience can readily identify with, but the characters just do not have the chance to really develop and draw the audience completely into their plight. Student Days, however, does create a main character one can empathize with despite the predictable plot. The latter story comes off as the better written piece of literature, but both are a decent effort into familiarizing the audience with the works and try to draw them into reading them. This series continues to be a refreshing change from standard anime fare; hopefully, CPM can continue to find and release more titles like this.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Author Biographies

Review Equipment
Mitsubishi 27" TV, Panasonic RP-82, Sony STR-DE915 DD receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers, generic S-Video and optical audio cable



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: C-
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Central Park Media
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Animated Classics of Japanese Literature