Sakura Wars The Movie Limited Edition (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, September 06, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, September 09, 2003



What They Say
The Imperial Fighting Troupe is called again to defend Tokyo against the demons. However, this time, the Douglas-Stewart Company is selling a superior fighting machine that will revolutionize Japan's defense and make the Flower Division obsolete. However, the girls suspect something may be wrong when members of their team begin to vanish! But what can they do when their division has been placed on indefinite stand-by status?

Limited edition version will be packaged with a set of ten collectible mini-pencil boards (while supplies last)!

The Review!
After several OVAs, a TV series, musicals, countless CDs and other merchandise based on the games, a big screen movie has finally been done for one of the more complicated anime/game shows around.

Audio:
Whatever you do, whatever language you choose, play it loud and play it in 5.1 sound. We listened to the original Japanese language track in 5.1 since we’re very comfortable with this cast over so many releases now and enjoy their performances a lot. The track for this is fantastic in all regards. From the quiet moments with depth to a scene for dialogue placement to the loud brash action sequences with elements flying throughout all the channels. This is a soundtrack you want to have playing at a level near what it would have been like in a theater. It demands to be powerful.

Video:
Originally out in late 2002, this is a stunning anamorphic transfer. The richness in the animation is gorgeous. With the mix of animation and the cel shaded CG, I wasn’t sure how well it would mesh, but it comes across perfectly here and brings the show a whole new level of color. Backgrounds are solid and the usual problems with dark night time skies is non existent. Cross coloration and aliasing were blissfully missing.

Packaging:
This is a release that goes above and beyond the call of duty to be sure. The front cover features a nice piece that has two of the leads facing forward while in the backdrop you get the images of the evil that’s about to come mixed in with familiar elements such as a Koubu and the Imperial Theater, but set to a dark cloudy reddish color. The back cover provides a variety of shots from the show and a brief summary of the premise. The discs features and technical information is all nice and clearly listed. With this being a clear keepcase, the reversible cover is the exact same as used on the Japanese regular edition release, with the back cover being a really nice painted shot of the Theater. What has really blown me away is the included full color book that just looks and feels amazing. It covers all the primary characters on their own page with artwork and background and then goes into the various divisions, the Koubu and the villains in the film. These kinds of books just exude “expensive” and are beautiful additions to the release. Going through this after the film was a great experience.

With the limited edition release, also included was a set of pencil boards in a nice wrapper that looks like an official seal envelope. Each of the pencil boards covers a different character and provided background information on them. There’s also some that do general scenes and all are double sided. For the new viewer to the Sakura Wars universe, this is extremely handy to have.

Menu:
Going with the steam stylized look of the show and the technology, Nightjar has created some great looking active menus here with quick simple transitional animations that don’t make me scream. With music in 5.1 playing along to the in-theme setting, these are good looking menus that you don’t mind watching or letting run for a few minutes while getting ready. Access times are nice and fast and submenus load quickly. I especially like how they continue to find a place to list what’s actually selected so you can make your language selections more easily.

Extras:
If there’s anything weak with this release, it’s in the on disc extras area. There’s a couple of theatrical trailers and a set of three TV commercials for the films Japanese release. The press videos used for the initial presentation are included, both of them running just over three minutes each and basically play out like a little music video. Between the three galleries there’s about one hundred images to check out, with the background images being the most attractive in my opinion.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
If you’ve read any Sakura Wars reviews before, you know the general problems that the franchise continues to face in North America. The level of integration among the various properties continues to be strong and with the games being a missing component, fans who watch just the anime often find themselves missing out on a lot of various aspects that make things flow more smoothly. For example, Lieutenant Oogami is missing from a lot of this movie, having been said to be in Paris. That’s a completely separate storyline entirely from the movie, one that hasn’t been touched upon yet.

With the knowledge that you’ll likely miss numerous little bits that the hardcore fans will be giddy over, the Sakura Wars movie is actually highly entertaining on its own. A basic knowledge of the cast and premise helps out quite a lot. I don’t know how a complete newbie to the property will take it in.

The movie shifts forwards two years after the OVA 2 series. The Paris branch is moving along with the help of Oogami, the Flower Troop has become a very tight family unit and performs beautifully both in the field and in the theater and Tokyo, as well as Japan, has prospered heavily these past couple of years as the capital sends out its advances and changes to the rest of the nation. A time of true prosperity has come and people are riding high on it, especially since it has been some time since the Kouma were last scene.

That’s usually a good sign that things are going to be shaken up a bit. Enter Lachette Altair, the former captain of the Stars Division who is now going to be leading up the creation of a New York Defense Troop. She’s returned to Tokyo and to Commander Yoneda to learn from the best so she can apply it to their new group. Rather than watch from afar, she wants to be hands on and get right into the thick of things, having brought her own Eisenkleid even. Lachette’s arrival is a mixed event; though some people are always happy to have someone new such as Sakura, others find her to be an intrusion and a disruption to the balance and harmony that the team has spent so long working towards.

Lachette’s arrival in Japan is mirrored by that of the American firm Douglas-Stewart, a company that is trying to get into the competition by offering their own brand of Koubu, but unmanned. Led by Brent Furlong, he brings on board people to do the hard sell for him and to smooth over relations so that his equipment will be bought in bulk to handle the defense as opposed to “fragile women” of the Flower Troop. There’s definitely elements of the proper place of women in the film, something that’s always been an issue in Japan. With an American coming in and saying it though, especially to people like Yoneda and his bosses, it doesn’t sit well.

The performance of his machines, called Japhkiel, these look like drab blocky versions of the Koubu but with expansive wings on their backs. When a Kouma attack does occur, one of the gets into the mix, completely catching the Flower Troop offguard – which is already an issue since they were surprised to find Lachette and her Eisenkleid there to help. The public performance of the Japhkiel pushes the demand for them up several notches and heightens concerns among the Flower Troop. Their fears aren’t unfounded though as they’re practically disbanded and redistributed to other areas after the rows upon rows of Japhkiels that are available are shown.

Of course, there’s a secret to the Japhkiels that will cause problems, that gets investigated by members of the troop and leads to various battles and other engagements. The storyline is a tried and true one, one that works out well here since it parallels other issues of the time, particularly of women in service. There’s no mistake that the plot here is straightforward and you can find a lot of it telegraphed pretty early. What makes it work though is the great cast and the way they’re able to really build you up and get you very involved in what’s going on.

Right from the start, I felt more connected to this show than I usually do, as the opening song and dance number truly captivated me. This piece plays out beautifully with the dancing and lyrics as it moves from member to member and then to a full chorus. It’s lavishly animated and you can tell they put a lot of money into it, especially since it comes across as reminiscent of films like Beauty & the Beast in their ballroom dancing scene. A second song number from a different performance is done later in the show and that comes across strong as well, more so in certain respects since it’s more personal to the cast at that time than the opening “love” song.

Another aspect that got me more into this particular iteration of the franchise more so than others is that previous pieces have generally been very skimpy on using the Kouma, presumably since they’re key for the games and have to be metered out carefully. With this movie, they’re center stage and that means we get big budget action sequences between the Koubu and them. The Koubu for this event are done up in CG, which isn’t terribly unexpected. But it’s also done in the cel shaded style, a style that seemingly manages to not “fit” inside the established traditional looking world, but also manage to work perfectly. The Koubu are something that isn’t part of the normal world, with their ties to the spiritual, so having them stand out more as they do here comes across right. But even more so is the fact that these shows are dealing with the heritage in the games, a heritage that gets more and more vibrant every year. While I’d likely complain about the lack of need for CG mechs in any other show, I find that these variations fit perfectly here and help them stand out strongly in a sizeable cast.

Pioneer gets an extra special round of kudos for doing the opening credits in soft subtitles.

The Sakura Wars movie simply took hold of me right from the start and didn’t let go. With its solid running time, beautiful action scenes, gorgeous character designs and animation and lavish backgrounds, this movie was more of a surprise than I expected. While there are plenty of predictable moments across the board, it’s more than made up for in “guts” and energy. This is a fun and exciting movie that I’ve already watched twice and am looking forward to seeing again.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Art gallery,Movie trailers,TV commercials and trailers for the Playstation game

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: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 39.98
Running time: 85
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Sakura Wars / Sakura Taisen