Sakura Taisen: Sumire (of 1) (

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, December 02, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, October 26, 2004

What They Say
For years the defense and safety of the Imperial city rested on the shoulders of Sumire Kanzaki of the Flower Division. But this, as with all things, must fade away.

As the top star of the Imperial Theatre Company, Sumire was the power and the light from which her comrades drew their own strength and resolve. It was through her that the Flower Division found their courage... and through her that many happy memories were made.

Now the curtain rises for one final performance as the star that once shined so brightly begins to grow faint. As the spotlight dims on one legend, another must come center stage.

The Review!
Sumire has decided to retire from the Hana Theater Group and this OVA is all about it.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix here is pretty decent and makes good use of the entire forward soundstage with both dialogue and music. There isn't a lot of really noticeable ambient or incidental effects in this piece since it's so dialogue driven and covers the rest up with the musical numbers so it's a fairly simple mix in a way. My main disappointment here is that they were unable to get the Japanese 5.1 mix that exists which is noticeably cleaner and much more warm sounding than the stereo mix. During regular playback, we had no issues with dropouts or distortions on either language track here.

Originally released to video back in 2002, the transfer for this single episode OVA looks really good here but retains some of the very slight problems that were evident in both the Region 2 and Region 3 releases of this title. It's not a really big problem and it's even more muted this time around for us due to the equipment we're using, but there's still some visible cross coloration along the edges of several of the characters, most noticeably in their hair, which adds some slightly discolored jaggies to their look. It's not terribly noticeable unless you're really attuned to seeing it and even if you are, it's nowhere near as bad as a lot of other shows. Beyond that, the transfer here looks great with crisp clean colors, no gradation issues and a solid looking piece overall.

Utilizing the same cover artwork as the Japanese release, we get a really nice illustration of Sumire in her full kimono with her fans out set against the soft pinkish imagery of a cherry blossom tree shedding many of its blossoms. It's a good looking cover and one I've liked since I first saw the original release. The back cover goes for the minimalist approach with just a few shots from the show, a decent summary and some nicely spaced out production credits. FUNimation gets a huge round of applause from us this time around for using what I believe is their first technical grid, done in a similar style to other releases on the market. We're big advocates of the technical grid since it allows everything to be found out quickly and hopefully accurately with a release and lets the consumer make an informed opinion. They're like the nutritional information for DVDs and I'm glad to see at least one of their releases has tried it out. And as seems to be becoming standard practice for new shows, there's no insert included in this release and we're just fine with that.

The menus for this are really nicely done and very in-theme for the show. With a brief bit of opening animation of the crowd sitting down before a performance, it shifts into a static menu with Sumire in full dress taking the entire menu with some off-white stylized banners along the top and bottom that contain the shows name and the selections. Though the text may be a bit hard to read in some places, such as the credits, the overall look of the menus is very well done and really works well with the piece. Like most FUNimation releases, our players' language presets are completely useless here due to the way they organize their subtitle tracks and alternate angles.

In addition to the single-page small character profile, only one other extra is included here and that’s the fourteen minute featurette that brings us the behind the scenes look at the cast working on the show. Each of the actors provide their thoughts on the event, as well as the director, expressing their sadness over Sumire’s leaving as well as what a great performance she’s had. The Japanese and Chinese releases had a Playstation advertisement extra included that's not here however, which accounts for the differences in the runtime of the extras.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While I’m still not a huge Sakura Wars fan, something that likely can only happen if you play the games I think sometimes, I do enjoy the characters and the setting. At some point, it was decided that Sumire would retire (due to I believe the voice actress) and instead of replacing her, they used it as an opportunity to move things forward.

The story is pretty much self-contained here, with Sumire explaining that she is retiring from the Hana Theater Group to return to her fathers company, as there has been sufficient work caused after a recent incident. Another reason, we learn as things progress, is that she’s really come to see just how brightly Sakura will shine on stage and in life. Sumire is determined to let Sakura have that chance, but she also wants to exit the stage on her own terms and at the top of her own career.

Much of the show is a backwards/forwards mix of the actual event, where we go back to see her giving notice and then to the day of the event where she meets with various members of the Troop and talks with them about their time together, each one being approached differently of course. The best moments come with Sakura though as the two are on stage and Sumire can’t even look Sakura in the eye as she explains her reasons.

While this is an enjoyable little episode and probably one of the more emotion filled ones, it’s something that I can see as being a hard-sell in this market since it’s just one OVA and it's a send-off piece for a particular character/actress that has more of an impact I think if you've played the games.

In Summary:
Having seen this several times now over several releases, I'm almost amused that each time it still manages to get me a little choked up as it gets closer to the finale. There's no real story here per se, but just a series of goodbyes tailored to each relationship. The fact that it can have some impact even if you really aren't a fan of the franchise says a lot right there I think and that tells me that fans of the series and games are going to really have a love/hate relationship with this piece because of its impact. Overall, it's something that won't make waves with most fans but its core audience will be happy, probably even more so since they use the untranslated name for the property here. After a year of delay from its original solicitation, Sumire can officially be declared retired in the US now.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Behind the Scenes Featurette,Character Profile

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 9.95
Running time: 24
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Sakura Wars / Sakura Taisen