Sakura Wars TV Vol. #1: Opening Night W/Box (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, May 24, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, May 27, 2003



What They Say
It is the 1920s, and Japan is under attack by demonic invaders. The government has designed sturdy, albeit steam-powered, robot armor suits for the impending battle, but only young ladies with the proper combination of virtue and spirit can pilot the robots successfully.

Enter young Sakura, arriving in the Imperial Capital from the countryside to join the Imperial Flower Combat Troop. She has the qualifications to be a fine robot pilot, but she's surprised to learn that this secret Defense Force has a cover story as a musical theatre troupe-and they take their cover jobs very seriously indeed. It's costumes, line readings and robot combat galore, as Sakura struggles to learn the ropes, learn her lines, and do her part to save the nation!

The Review!
After seeing a couple of OVA series now about the series, but still never playing the games, Sakura Wars gets a chance to really be fleshed out for the anime fans in a full length series.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The included a mix, a nice stereo one, does a good job with some minor directionality and a great use of the stereo channels for the music. The English track takes a step further and includes just a 5.1 mix that manages to bring some extra clarity to things, particularly the music. Unfortunately, no stereo mix is present so some folks may have downmixing issues. Throughout the Japanese track, we noticed no dropouts or distortions.

Video:
Originally airing back in 2000, the first batch of five episodes here are something of a mixed bag, and most of it looks to be source material related. The opening episode looks a bit grainier than normal, particularly in the blue night sequences. During the first episode and about halfway into the second episode, the transfer also looks too soft throughout, but after that things get clearer. The softness doesn’t help early on in terms of aliasing during panning sequences. Colors look good throughout, though much bettering later episodes where they’re not quite as soft. There’s a bit of bleeding early on as well, most noticeable with the red of Sakura’s outfit, such as when the steam blows it up.

Packaging:
After some questionable looking covers for the OVA series, this series looks to be hitting a home run right from the start. The first volume is very purple/lilac in color with a great near full length body shot of Sakura with her Koubu set in the wispy clouds behind her. The English logo is across the center with a heavier purple and even has the volume number and name just below it. This is a fantastic looking image in its simple and almost elegant look. The back cover provides a few screenshots from the show and a basic premise of what it’s all about. The discs features are nice and clearly listed, as well as for the first time I think clearly listing an English 5.1 track. The back cover overall looks light on content, with things spaced out more than normal. The insert included is a nice super-deformed piece of Sakura in her kimono while fireworks go off around her. Also included, and a real big treat for newbies and hardcore fans alike, is a fourteen page mini booklet that details quite a number of items about the show, from the Koubu to the outfits as well as provided numerous conceptual design pieces of the characters.

For those who spent the extra couple of bucks, there’s also a box included with the first volume. Done up in a nice solid hard box and with a base color of the pink and purple from the first volumes cover, it’s covered with great artwork. One side panel has the full cast shot sitting on and around a Koubu while the other full panel is slotted into seven pieces, each one showing a different Koubu unit around the “eye”. The spine panel is a really nice one with a shot of the pilots all together in various regular dress. This box will nicely hold all six volumes of the series and is one of the better boxes from ADV so far this year.

Menu:
Taking a cue from the front cover, it looks essentially the same but with the additional of animated blossoms falling down across the screen and some nice music playing alongside. Selections are along the left for each episode and access to the setup and extras is quick and easy. Access times are nice and fast and there are no transitional animations to slow things down.

Extras:
The extras are really minimal here, unless you want to count the booklet into things. Barring that, we’ve got a textless opening and closing segment and that’s it. Both definitely look good, but it looks like the main focus here is on the show itself and the booklet.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Over the years, I’ve come to be fairly familiar with the Sakura Wars universe, through seeing two previous OVA series and hearing hours upon hours of talk about all of the games and music through fanati… er, friends.

With the TV series in 2000, they opted to go and retell the story once again and start from the relative beginning. The first OVA series was an encapsulated view of it all from four episodes while the second OVA series was more a short run of character stories as opposed to a real beginning, middle and end type of story. Sakura Wars TV takes us on the longer view of things, and though some of the first few episodes will see overly familiar if you’ve gone through the first two OVA series, it picks up really nicely after that.

The series gets underway in the traditional method, which is the arrival of Sakura Shinguji to the capital. With an invite from Ikki Yoneda, she’s come to be a part of the Imperial Flower Combat Troop, a first-line defense arm that protects the capital from demons and other spiritually based creatures. They operate as a secret arm of the nations military and have several differing divisions, such as the Dream or Wind units, each of them performing different aspects and goals. But it’s the Flower Troop that handles quite a bit of the front-line fighting and danger.

Sakura’s arrival at the headquarters proves to be everything she didn’t expect. Instead of a military establishment, it turns out to be the Grand Imperial Theater. And after making her way in and seeing one of the shows, she finds herself very fascinated with it, giving a nod to her more country bumpkin ways. After she manages to essentially ruin a segment of the Romeo and Juliet play that was being performed, she ends up meeting her new boss, Yoneda.

As it turns out, Yoneda explains, the Troop uses the theater as a cover to their operations. And though Yoneda doesn’t speak it outright, it also serves another more useful purpose, and that’s to foster teamwork and respect for each of the pilots. As each of them are required to participate in the plays, they end up learning to work with each other in a number of ways. When Sakura learns of this aspect of her employment, she’s quite unsure about the entire situation. And as the other women of the troop meet here, they pretty much shun her from the start.

A good portion of this first volume is centered around Sakura’s arrival and her learning the ways of her new trade. There is a substantial amount of trepidation among the cast about Sakura, and she works her way towards both winning them over and mastering her seemingly natural acting abilities. This works out very nicely as it gives a chance for all the primary characters to really be themselves and to expound on things important to them. But as we get towards the end of the first volume, the show starts bringing in the actual elements of danger in the form of an enemy as well as a new male member of the Troop.

The introduction of the enemy, lead by Crimson Miroku and the large Wakiji that terrorize the city. Their arrival brings into play a number of things, from a government that doesn’t quite care enough about its people at times to Sakura learning more about the spiritual powers she has. The spiritual powers are slowly explored in these episodes, mostly in relation to the Spirit Armor, aka the Koubu, and how each of the pilots of the Flower Troop interact with them. With the series taking place in the 1920’s, I definitely continue to like the mix of technology and the times to bring something different to the plate.

While I’ve enjoyed the Sakura franchise in the past in the few forms that were available in anime form, I’m much more interested in this regular length series since it’s likely to present a more cohesive story in addition to an interesting and attractive female cast. The introduction of Crimson Miroku in the first volume alone piqued my interest as well as the few moments of dark tidings brought into play in a few scenes. This incarnation of the Sakura franchise is looking to be quite enjoyable based on this first volume.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Clean opening and closing animation,Printed booklet with background information


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: A-
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: A+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 39.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Sakura Wars / Sakura Taisen