Saikano Vol. #1 (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Luis Cruz
Review Date: Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, April 27, 2004



What They Say
A beautifully rendered story of two young high-school seniors in a rural countryside of Hokkaido. This is a love story of how their love for each other transcends and evolves to something infinitely deeper and binding.

Shuuji and Chise, young and in love - find themselves caught amidst a war of destruction that needs to be fought. Shuji one day discovers that his girlfriend has been turned into "The Ultimate Weapon," an engineered weapon capable of destroying entire cities. Discover how Chise and Shuji, divert their focus of war, destruction, and killing, into love and strength.

Contains 4 episodes and a bonus Extras Disc!

The Review!
Young love attempts to endure the horrors of war in this touching opening volume of Saikano.

Audio:
For my primary viewing session, I took in the Japanese audio track. Most of the content comes through the center channel, as the focus of the episodes is the dialogue. There are a few action sequences that utilize the front soundstage quite well. The track suffered from no noticeable problems; everything was clear and sharp with no distortion.

The series takes place in Hokkaido, and the audio does a fantastic job of capturing the country atmosphere. The ambient sounds draw the viewer into the laid back, quiet lives of our protagonists; this makes the brief, harsh sounds of war even more powerful as they shatter the illusion of peace surrounding them. Adding to the atmosphere of the series are the beautiful and haunting opening and ending songs. They manage to perfectly capture the essence of the story.

The first two episodes were also watched with the English audio track turned on. Both the actors and the dub dialogue were a good fit with the original content. Japanese and English audio fans will not be disappointed with this release.

Video:
While anamorphic fans may be slightly disappointed, Saikano has been given a gorgeous 4:3 letterbox transfer. The colors are lush and vivid making the surroundings almost come alive; the digital animation really shines in the panoramic views of the city. At times, it appears more like a photograph than a piece of animation. The subtitles were white and readable against the actual content though their placement and color caused them to be difficult to read in certain portions of the extras.

The opening and ending credits contain hard titled credits rather than the original Japanese credits; while the English versions do not detract much from the sequences, it is still frustrating to see Viz continue this practice especially when the original versions are not provided as extras. The beautiful opening and ending songs are not subtitled either adding to the frustration. However, they have taken a small step in the right direction by subtitling the original Japanese episode title sequences.

Packaging:
The beautiful image of Shuji holding the transformed Chise after the first attack graces the front cover. The Japanese and English titles are across the top of the cover with the volume title and number just below them. On the back cover are the requisite disc specifications, plot synopsis, production credits, and screenshots.

Inside is a one-page insert containing the chapter listings on one side and an image of the weaponized Chise on the other. The case itself is the width size of a multi-disc keepcase. The second disc is held in place by a flipping mechanism I am not familiar with. The holder is attached to the spine of the case but allows the disc to lie flat against the front cover when you open the case.

Menu:
Viz has a track record of producing simple yet stylish menus, and Saikano proves to be no exception. The main menu features only three options along the bottom of the screen: "Play", "Scenes", and "Setup". A very brief animation is played when switching between menus. The remainder of the main menu features the series logo at the top, a picture of the weaponized Chise on the left, and a muted series of clips from the episodes playing across the remainder of the screen.

Extras:
Viz has lined up a fantastic set of extras for this release. All of the extras are contained on the second disc of the set. First up is a twelve-minute interview with the voice actors for Shuji and Chise; Orikasa Fumiko is as cute in person as Chise is on screen. The interview is pretty standard as both actors share some stories and their feelings about working on the project. The most interesting point brought up was that the first DVD volume released in Japan contained only one episode. Makes one think twice about complaining about episode counts on US releases.

Next up is a twenty-three minute TV special titled "All about SAIKANO"; the special interviews the creator of the manga along with the various cast and staff that worked on the anime. Also included are the five "SAIKANO Times" shorts that were aired by the TV station carrying the original broadcast. Each short was four minutes long and contained either an interview or a behind the scenes look at the production.

Rounding out the extras are three minutes worth of TV commercials and twenty-one color character sheets. This is easily the most impressive set of extras I have ever seen in a Viz release.

Content:(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
What would you do if the girl you were dating turned out to be the ultimate weapon in a global war? Saikano provides four entertaining episodes as it begins to answer that question. On the surface, this series appears to be the typical story about a young adult trying to find love despite being the only hope of the world. Sharp contrasts, poignant snatches of dialogue, and an honest high school relationship makes this an above average tale.

The story is narrated by an older Shuji as he remembers the events surrounding his and Chise's romance. It started when they were both seventeen-year-old high school students; Chise was particularly average and rather clumsy. Reluctantly, Shuji agreed to be her girlfriend when she asked. However, neither one of them was particularly ready for a relationship, a fact that was revealed as they were staring over their hometown in Hokkaido one afternoon.

Despite their doubts, they realized that they did care for each other and were willing to try to love each other. Life continued on until one fateful day in Sapporo. A fleet of unknown bombers began to rain fire down on the city. Shuji and his friends were shopping at the time and witnessed the carnage firsthand. Only Shuji noticed a strange aircraft annihilating the bombers. When the smoke cleared, Shuji came face to face with an unexpected sight. Chise was transformed into a living weapon, the weapon responsible for destroying the bomber fleet. She has been transformed into an ultimate weapon in a global war.

The remainder of the episodes deals with Shuji and Chise's developing relationship and how her transformation affects their feelings for each other. Things are particularly difficult for Shuji as he attempts to deal with the reality of Chise's situation. Adding to his woes is the reappearance of his first love, an older woman that seduced him one day in the sports equipment room.

The bulk of the episodes is driven by dialogue; this combined with the peaceful, idyllic setting of Hokkaido lulls the viewer into a peaceful state. Neither the viewer nor the cast is particularly aware of the events going on outside of the town. Other than being an ultimate weapon, Chise and Shuji face the same insecurities and problems every teenager faces. When the viewer is confronted with the actual war, the stark, bleak landscape of a ruined city contrasts sharply with the lush, bright Hokkaido landscape. It jars the viewer out of their comfort zone making the brief glimpses of the war much more potent.

Another jarring effect is the subtle snatches of dialogue that Chise occasionally utters. From time to time, she will casually mention that a particular city no longer exists. Both her and Shuji take this in stride as if to say that life goes on no matter what happens. Events may be beyond their control, but they can still choose who they love and how. There are other small, well-written phrases that manage to hit home; my particular favorite is roughly "there is no weapon made that does not kill". Small touches made through dialogue tend to catch my attention, and these episodes had enough of them to make me take notice.

What really drew me into the story was the honest feeling the writers gave to Chise and Shuji's relationship. Anyone who is or has been a teenager knows that those years involve quite a bit of insecurity and self-doubt, especially when it comes to a romantic relationship. Rather than have both characters fall unconditionally in love with each other, they both bring their own insecurities to the relationship allowing the audience to connect a bit more with the characters.

Shuji shoulders most of the self-doubt as he attempts to get over his first "love". Thinking about her takes his mind off the pain and difficulty that comes with loving Chise. While he does love Chise and wants to be there for her, he still finds it difficult to cope with the reality of her situation, and it tears him up inside to find himself relieved to not have to think about the enormity of the situation.

While not quite the blockbuster hit some make it out to be, these first four episodes have left a strong impression on me. The pacing and style of the narrative may be slow, but it is drawing me into the story and the character's relationship. It takes its time and attempts to build the story through dialogue rather than action; so far, it is a formula that is working quite well.

In Summary:
Not your typical love in wartime story, the first four episodes of Saikano managed to pull me right into the story. It was the details and small yet poignant bits of dialogue that pushed this title to above average status. What pulled me in the most was the honest feeling of Shuji and Chise's relationship. Both are young and inexperienced with relationships, and their attitudes and actions reflect this through their doubt and uncertainty. While not the greatest love or war anime, this title is definitely one to watch; hopefully, the remainder of the series will be as good as its opening.


Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles, Conversation with Voice actors (Shuji & Chise), Creditless Opening theme & Ending theme, TV special "All About SAIKANO", Talk Show "Family Explores" with Voice Actors (Chise; Shuji & Tetsu), Short TV Program "SAIKANO Times", TV commercials, Line art,Color character sheet

Review Equipment
Mitsubishi 27" TV, Pioneer DVL-919, Sony STR-DE915 DD receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers, generic S-Video and audio cable




Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: A+
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 17 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 24.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Saikano