Final Fantasy Unlimited Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 7) (

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Sunday, October 19, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, October 28, 2003

What They Say
Welcome to Wonderland! The gateway to another world appears suddenly one day and with its coming awaken two mysterious beasts of astonishing power. The monsters appear to destroy each other and then vanish-leaving behind only the inexplicable pillar of darkness and the unanswered questions of the natural world.

Twelve years later, the twin children of two scientists who disappeared on this so-called Day of Conjunction go on a hazardous quest in search of their lost parents. Boarding a phantom subway, Ai and Yu travel to Wonderland, a chaotic world of amazing beauty and thrilling danger. Accompanied by Lisa, an enigmatic woman they meet on the train, and Kaze, a brooding stranger with a demon-summoning gun, the twins begin an incredible journey that will lead to the mysterious heart of Wonderland.

Set in the fantastical world popularized in the Final Fantasy games, FF:U is an epic adventure of stunning visuals and fast-paced action.

ADV's release of Final Fantasy: Unlimited-Phase 1 will be available in two versions: as a DVD in its standard case, or as a collector's edition, which includes the DVD, a custom series art box, sized to hold the entire series, and a FREE t-shirt offer-pick your size!

The Review!
While not the first example of Final Fantasy coming to the anime form, Final Fantasy Unlimited is one of the more extravagant examples of it.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series features a rather good stereo mix that has a number of well done moments of directionality across the forward soundstage. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout it and we had no issues with dropouts or distortion during regular playback. The English track is done in a 5.1 remix which from what we heard was done more for vocal separation than anything else.

Originally airing in 2001 and with the production values of Gonzo behind it, this is a sterling looking transfer. Colors are lush and fantastically vivid at times, particularly during many of the various CG sequences. A number of areas have various instances of fog or pollen floating throughout the air but there isn’t even a hint of break-up during it. Aliasing appears to be minimal if at all noticeable while there doesn’t appear to be any cross coloration at all.

This series is another to come out with a clear keepcase, a growing trend with ADV titles I’ve been enjoying quite a lot. The front cover is an interesting mix with the yin/yang symbolism easily visible with Lisa in the middle while Kaze and Makenshi swoop around her trying to get to the other. The style is quite interesting looking, especially with how Lisa comes cross. There’s no volume naming or numbering on the front cover but it does have the logo, whereas the spine is simple and lists just the series name and the “phase” volume numbering. The back cover is a heavy red piece with a couple of paragraphs worth of summary along the top. The center runs through with shots from the show and a list of the discs features while the bottom half focuses more on production information and some more artwork. The reverse cover has a really great looking shot of a very dark looking Kaze while the back cover lists the episode numbers and titles set against a black and red image of the “dragon” that appears in the first moments of the series. The insert continues the red trend by providing a character profile for Kaze and several others we meet early on. Most helpful after you watch the episodes is the Correlation Chart that brings the way everyone is tied together so far into place.

The first volume is also available in a disc + box release. The box is of the very solid kind and uses some of the foil style paper that works well with Gonzo material. One side panel has a shot of Kaze holding up his weapon while the other is his balance with Makenshi smiling as his cloak flaps around him. The spine panel goes for the comical approach with Ai, Yu and a Chocobo riding around with both the series named spelled out and with the abbreviation logo. Included within the keepcase in this box is an offer for the t-shirt that you can get via the ADV site for the size you want. Overall, this is a really nice package and looks good on the shelf.

The menu is heavy on the red with a rotating background of imagery while the FFU logo swirls in the middle to the music. Providing a bit of a light tone though is various colored Chocobo’s from the end sequence that run across the screen at times. All of this is set to a rather somber and eerie piece of instrumental music from the show. Submenus load quickly and access times are nice and fast.

A healthy selection of extras rounds out this release nicely. The opening and ending sequences are presented in their textless form and there’s also about three and a half minutes of production sketches that show some rather interesting pieces. The backgrounds get their own video art gallery here, running about three and a half minutes as well and with a good number of them being the full color final pieces in addition to the conceptual sketch shots. Running about four and a half minutes in length is the preliminary sketches section, the kind of artwork that we really don’t get to see enough of, that shows some of the original ideas for backdrops and character designs, some with very strong differences from what we actually ended up with. The downside is that this is a much more interesting looking show than what we actually get.

For dub fans, they make out really good with this release, as there’s an episode-length commentary track with Jessica Schwartz, who plays Ai in the show, as well as Shawn Sides who plays Lisa. The continuing addition of commentary tracks with the English voice talent is only adding more fans to the various actors who participate and for the fans that then connect with them more from it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Final Fantasy: Unlimited is a series that has quite a reputation for itself before even a moment of it has been shown here. It’s also been rather nicely fast-tracked for release, with it only being announced as licensed in April and the first disc showing at the end of October. While the time is short, there’s a lot of quality in the actual release itself. But how does the show itself fare?

One of the things you hear Hollywood actors say is that you never want to work with animals or kids. With that in mind, I doubt we’d see a live action version of this get much in the way of big name talent. The series starts off in an interesting way, with a normal night in Japan being changed by a huge pillar of darkness flowing up from the bay surrounded by purple fire. Out from it appears a massive red dragon with a gun barrel for a mouth/nose and a silver/white dragon appearing from the other side to challenge it. Mixed in-between we see the shock of the people looking on as well as a pair of scientists who make an off-hand comment about the woman being pregnant.

The show them shifts twelve years into the future, something that’s rather difficult to catch until it’s said much later on, and we see the city as it stands now, which is mostly falling apart and abandoned. While there was once interest in the pillar, now it’s causing nothing but misery for the area. We end up following a pair of twelve-year-old twins, the outgoing girl Ai and the slightly introverted boy Yu. They’ve gone underground to an abandoned subway station where they’re waiting on the arrival of a train. According to the book they have, it says that at a specific time on the night of a full moon, a train will arrive that will take you to Wonderland.

Wonderland is the place beyond the Pillar of Darkness where the pairs parents have gone. The parents had gone there once before and returned from the place, having written an immensely popular book on the subject. The twins continually refer back to the book as their journey gets underway, and it begins in a striking fashion when the “train” arrives. With the full CG look, the train is a dark creepy piece of design with massive eyeballs on the side and scattered about elsewhere. The train’s interior is normal though, and the two brace themselves for anything as they get on.

They learn quickly that they weren’t the only ones to get on as we watch a young woman named Lisa also getting on board. She doesn’t give much reason for actually being there beyond looking for someone, much as the twins are, and Lisa ends up becoming something of a guardian for them as they actually make their way into Wonderland. Wonderland is an expansive place, a concept more than a full on place where the train connects the various worlds of Wonderland together. Each world is definitely different, though the first world they encounter is very Earth like in its design.

As the trio gets to know each other as they explore this world a bit, they come across a man trapped underneath some dead vines. The man looks dead himself but stirs a bit upon the trio trying to figure out what’s up with him. Before they can do much, a strange ship shows up overhead and drops down a huge crystal that explodes into the place where the man was. The crystal then transforms into a towering humanoid body with an eyestalk for a head, which then proceeds to try and kill everyone.

Naturally, this gives a chance for Lisa to show off some sort of power that she has as she defends the kids against the creature, but her powers aren’t enough to handle it entirely. Just when things are their bleakest, the dead man turns up and wields a powerful gun that shoots multiple bullets that take the form of colored streaks, each representing a different kind of power, that wipes out the creature entirely. Though he doesn’t join the group, they learn a bit about him before each side parts ways.

As Lisa, Ai and Yu travel further down into the various worlds of Wonderland, more mysteries creep up. Each place is unique into itself and in each place they keep coming across the dead man Kaze as he has his own focused journey. To balance out their travels, we also get to see what’s going on in the power base of Wonderland, which is with the floating ship where the tyrant Earl resides. This chubby little boy who thinks of himself as god of all he surveys toys with those around him but also sends some on important missions to eliminate Kaze. Makenshi, the white cloaked lad, is also under his power which makes you wonder just what the original battle between him and Kaze on Earth was about and which side you should root for.

As I was watching this with my daughter, her first instinct upon seeing Kaze was to say that he looked like a bad man. I didn’t correct her, but I said that you can’t judge everything by appearances. This seems to be coming true more and more as the show progresses and we see how each of the two sides are acting. With Makenshi being part of Earl’s group and it easily being seen that they’re not the good guys, it’s provided an interesting “life lesson” to teach.

So what’s so awful about the series? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure and I doubt my criticisms are the same as most others. The main part that bothers me is just that the leads, at least from these first few episodes, are a pair of twelve year old kids. While I enjoy many other series with pre-teens and teenaged kids, those are generally “real world” settings and not the fantasy adventure type such as this. It almost seems to fall into the same problem people had with the Spirits Within movie: the Final Fantasy game franchise has a rich and engaging series of worlds and locales to take place in. Yet everything that’s not game related seems to be tied only in name and nothing else.

Knowing that, it’s likely that my “anger” over the series is far less than many other people. I didn’t expect anything like the games or it to be related to it. Outside of the Chocobo’s, this looks to be a mixed world fantasy story with a pair of kids looking for their parents and getting involved in all kinds of dangerous situations as they learn they way around. One of their friends they gain along the way is tied to the big battle that will be fought in the end. It looks fairly predictable early on.

Yet I still found myself liking a number of aspects of it. When the kids are off screen and we’re dealing with Kaze and Lisa, particularly the scenes when Makenshi and Kaze clash again, the action is well done and the look and feel of the battle is great. The CG is off-putting at times since it stands out so much, but it also works within the setting of the world; when the CG things show up, usually from the subordinates of Earl, they don’t fit within the worlds they’re entering and end up standing out more. In its own way, it makes sense.

I wasn’t expecting real Final Fantasy going into it so I’m not coming away disappointed. There are some moments of brilliance throughout the episodes and I can see a number of things that Gonzo will be taking from this show and incorporating into others of theirs in the future. I don’t think this will be a love or hate show but more of a “meh” or hate show, depending on your gaming background.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Voice actor/actress commentary,Production sketches,Key animation backgrounds,Preliminary FF:U illustrations,Reversible cover,Printed character booklet,Clean opening and closing animation

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP 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: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 24.98/39.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Final Fantasy Unlimited