Sugar Vol. #3 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, August 30, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, August 05, 2003



What They Say
For the first time in a long while, a theater troupe visits Saga's town. When Saga has trouble explaining what a Play is, Sugar, Salt and Pepper decide to investigate. They sneak into the theater, but when they find a bear playing the piano they become even more confused! Meanwhile everyone in town is excited about the play, "The Bear Pianist," but Saga cannot stop thinking about a handsome customer from the coffee shop, Vincent, who said her coffee was "a bit stiff." The next day, when Saga goes to see the play with her friends, the beautiful sounds of the piano start the play- and open the curtain on surprise after surprise!

The Review!
Sugar moves away from the episodic style for a bit and does a nice little four episode arc that does a good job of exploring a wide range of emotions with Saga.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its English language dub. The show has a nice if fairly average stereo mix that doesn't use a whole lot of directionality. The music, which has quite a few soft moments to it, comes across beautifully and dialogue is nice and clear throughout, but mostly through the center channel. We didn't notice any dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Presented in its original aspect ration of 1.78:1 and encoded for anamorphic displays, this transfer looks fantastic for the most part. For the bulk of this release, transfer looks gorgeous with bright vivid colors, lots of depth and a complete lack of cross coloration. This was a real pleasure to watch. With the episodes on this volume there is far less panning going on than earlier episodes which has resulted in the aliasing problem basically being far less of a problem this time around.

Packaging:
In a white keepcase we get the nice soft background image of snowflakes falling against a yellowish orange background with a nice pairing of Saga and Sugar together smiling. The back cover features some nice collages of shots from the show. There's a good intro summary paragraph and a listing of the discs features and extras as well as listing the episode numbers and titles. This is useful since volume numbering does not appear anywhere on the package. The insert has another shot of the front cover while the back has the episode chapter listings. The insert opens to provide the third part of a couple of interviews, with this one asking questions of the art director Shichiro Kobayashi.

Menu:
The main menu is a nice piece that plays part of the instrumental music from the show and has the static image of Salt and his horn bouncing up and down while the twinkling goes around the screen. The overdose continues heavily here. Selections are quick and easy to make and access times are nice and fast.

Extras:
The extras are rather good this time around. The textless ending makes its appearance with this volume and there's also another round of character profiles. What makes this one unique is a fifteen minute video piece about the Rothenburg location hunt. It highlights the second trip to the German city of Rothenburg, this time by the director, as he and others took numerous pictures and basically used it for the model of the city in Sugar. He talks with one of the voice actors about it (he mentions drinking quite a lot!) and they cover a wide range of aspects of Rothenburg. It's really fascinating when they show how smoothly it was all adapted.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The series takes an interesting turn as a traveling troupe has arrived in the town and has pretty much managed to captivate everyone.

With their arrival, the troupe brings all kinds of excitement. Most of the kids are enthralled with the idea of a play being done for several days in the local theater. The season faeries are excited after seeing one of the actors dressed up as a faerie and being called a forest faerie, so they think that she's really one of them. The excitement and change brought by their arrival sets all sorts of little things into motion, but plays out slowly over the course of four episodes.

A lot of it centers on the play itself, entitled the Bear Pianist. It's a simple tale about a bear who can play the piano and just wants some friends. He gets tricked into becoming a sideshow for a greedy businessman and ends up in a cage and on display. But he falls in love with one woman who comes to see him perform, and he tries to do his best to see her. The play is simple and straightforward, but for our seasonal faeries who have never even heard of the word "play" or "actor" before, Saga has the unenviable task of explaining why what's going on is just a story and not really real. Sugar and her friends just cannot quite grasp that, though they do see the play happening repeatedly and try to understand it.

The play takes on a real life change for Saga as the actor who plays the bear ends up becoming something of a regular customer for coffee during the duration of the play. He's an interesting fellow, very musical of course, but also slightly off in that he's often distracted or pays attention to the little things. When Saga makes the first cup of coffee for him and he's surprised when she asks him how it is, he stumbles and just says the first thing that comes to mind, which is that it's a bit stiff. This doesn't sit well with Saga and she ends up spending time trying to get to the bottom of it as things move forward.

There are two aspects really at play here in this storyline. One is the slight crush that Saga eventually develops for Vincent as she gets to know him. The other is the change in perception, albeit slowly, that a pianist is more than just one particular style. Saga is so set on the kind of music her mother made that anything that deviates from the precise and controlled nature of it is just now acceptable. Vincent manages it for the most part, but he also has a wild streak in him and plays the piano roughly when it's required. That sets Saga against him, since it feels like it goes against everything her mother stood for.

Some of the best moments in these episodes come in Saga's friends however. Greta in particular is solid in the first half when she at first refuses to go to the play with the others and then insists she's only going so she can see what a third rate production is really like. But when she becomes so completely drawn into it, it's fun to watch the others tweak her over it. Anne also manages to get in some good material with her crush over one of the actors as she becomes something close to a stalker about it, but it's all quite sweet.

These four episodes really play out slowly but it does a great job in just letting things go smoothly and without being forced. It's rare that a series can really spend so much time telling so little, but does it so magically. This was a really enjoyable set of episodes that brings Saga more to life and tones down Sugar herself a bit.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless ending,Character profiles,Rothenburg Location Hunting video featuring villages in Germany

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: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Sugar