Sakura Wars TV Vol. #3: Crescendo (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, September 01, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, August 19, 2003



What They Say
The forces of evil are growing stronger-even Mother Nature has turned traitor and is itching for a fight. The world needs a team of defenders: a dedicated group that will work together in harmony and ace precision; a band that will refuse to give into their petty squabbles and haunting pasts in order to stand strong against the forces of chaos!

Unfortunately, all it has is the Imperial Flower Combat Troop...

The Review!
The third installment of the TV series brings us some more character moments as we get to know the secondary players of the series better as well as watching the team work firm up.

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 transfer here continues to be something of a mixed bag, and most of it looks to be source material related. The transfer in general looks soft throughout, but does have a number of moments where it looks really sharp. The softness doesn’t help in terms of aliasing during panning sequences. Colors look good throughout, though better in later episodes where they’re not quite as soft. Cross coloration picks up during these episodes as it hits more of the characters around the edges and a number of episodes have more aliasing than normal.

Packaging:
The cover style continues with this release and is again a real highlight. This release is darkens up the purple/lilac color to something closer to a blue and has a great near full length body shot of Maria holding her gun with her Koubu set in the strip 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 also clearly listed. 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 Maria in her kimono while fireworks go off around her. Also included, and a real big treat for newbies and hardcore fans alike, is a six page mini booklet that details quite a about the secondary characters, the troupe in general and also providing some sketch artwork of them.

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 again are really minimal here. 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)
With the latest round of episodes, the Sakura Wars TV series continues to push forward with providing more information and tidbits about the various cast members and bringing everyone up a bit at a time with the team work concept. Since there’s still a lot of clashing personalities here, this isn’t exactly a lovey-dovey show for the team outside of a few rare moments.

The mix of episodes here is pretty decent. One of them turns the focus on Iris, one of the most underused characters here and the one we know the least about. She wakes up on the 5th of July with all the expectations in the world, as it’s her birthday. It starts off pretty well as a present has arrived from her parents in France. The piece of jewelry and the card included are good, but what ends up throwing off the mood is that she learns how the Japanese don’t celebrate birthday’s western style, which means no party. So naturally, everyone pitches and throws together a party Japanese style and the festivities begin.

Except that Iris hates it.

With this, we start to learn more of her past in France as related by Maria. Iris’ spiritual powers are so strong that they essentially frightened her family completely, so much so that Iris spent her years growing up in a locked bedroom with only her toys to keep her company. Her birthdays were spent with the maids wheeling in a cake and a few presents for her and then quickly leaving the room. Her visions in her mind of what a birthday party would really be like were only built up over the years to a level that nobody could imagine. Even Maria didn’t realize it would be so bad if the troupe got it wrong, figuring that Iris would simply be excited to have a party with her friends. But that’s where the issue really comes down in that Iris still hasn’t really realized that they are her friends.

The friendship side of things takes its toll elsewhere on this disc as well. The entire troupe heads off to an island for training. Since there’s no theater rehearsal, their exercise comes in the form of regular training – with an amusing nod to Kanna for using weights on herself and surprising the others as well as inspiring Ohgami. The basic training is fun to watch as everyone gets their variation of jogging/workout suits and goes to town throughout the day. But there’s also Koubu training going on and we have two teams of three going against each other in tactical maneuvers.

A lot of this episode focuses on Sakura’s interest in Kohran and her own fascination with inventions and making things. The two are nearly inseparable during this time, and with Iris being especially close to Sakura right now, the trio makes for interesting conversations. So when Sakura and Kohran end up teamed up with each other and Ohgami, they prove to be a good match for each other. At least until things go wrong and they find themselves completely cut off from the rest of the troupe and Kohran is knocked out and injured for awhile. We get a peek into the fears of Kohran through this and her insistence on not being the one that keeps people from doing what needs to be done. Though she comes off as kind of spacey or unfocused on anything but her inventions, the added depth to her here and her reasons for really being a part of the Flower Troop help add a nice bit of flavor to her.

One of the surprisingly interesting episode could easily be titled Kanna’s Sense of Typhoons. The technical focus of the episode has to do with a new weather monitoring station that’s been built to keep track of what’s going on, a huge technical revolution for the meteorology world. It also doubles nicely in being able to help detect potential disturbances from the enemy. What works against it is that while the scientists are all interpreting the data, you have someone like Kanna sitting on a rooftop and figuring out what’s going on with the typhoon before it even happens. Her youth growing up in Okinawa and its proximity for typhoons have helped her distinguish the particular smells and feelings of the weather as it moves closer to shore. This is a very light episode all told, but we get some good background material on Kanna and some very soft moments about her youth that help her move away from the big lug category.

There’s some slight movement on the overall plot with the bad guys, but this is still the first half of the series and the anime formula that Sakura Wars is using doesn’t allow for them to be a real menace, or all that involved, until things are much closer to the end. As it stands by itself (as I continue to avoid the games), this manages to be the more interesting of the anime variations so far mostly because it has the time to let the characters get involved and do things. But there just seems to be some real spark missing from letting it rise up to something more.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Eight-page printed booklet including production sketches,Production notes,Clean opening and closing animation,Character bios

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: C+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Sakura Wars / Sakura Taisen