Final Fantasy Unlimited Vol. #4 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, February 28, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, March 02, 2004



What They Say
Feeding on the hearts of those consumed by terror, Chaos is finally revealed as the true force behind Earl Tyrant?s power. By destroying and swallowing up the outside worlds and then ensnaring their residents in the chaotic landscape of Wonderland, Chaos grows ever more powerful. But even the enormous energy generated by the final destruction of Fungus? world is not enough to fill Chaos?s greedy belly.



Meanwhile, Omega seems to be inexplicably drawn to the subway. Fabula intervenes and saves Lisa and the twins from Omega?s latest attack, only to deposit them in a desolate ice land. Luckily, they are saved by the Comodeen and they decide to join forces to stop the spread of Chaos and restore order to Wonderland. Setting off in Cid?s deep-sea submarine, the group is soon entrapped in Pist?s deadly Ocean Puzzle, an inter-dimensional maze. Each successfully completed cube will bring them closer to freedom, but too many errors and they will be dropped to the bottom... where Chaos patiently waits to consume them whole!



The Review!
Moving into the second half of the series, there's a slight pick-up to the pace is the shows original run of 40+ episodes is getting settled down to just 26.

Audio:
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.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
Heavy on the whites and grays, Makenshi and Lisa make up the character profiles here with Makenshi doing a usual strut position for himself with his heavy sword being held one-handed. Lisa's look as a larger background character is a bit different here since the color scheme is softer, giving her a different feel. The back cover is a full page of range with a couple of paragraphs worth of summary along the top. The lower half provides a strip 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 simple shot of Cid manipulating some controls; the back cover lists the episode numbers and titles set against a greenish-white backdrop. The insert has four panels worth of character artwork and background information ranging from the good guys to the bad guys.

Menu:
The menu is heavy on the green 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.

Extras:
With the extras for this release, there's a good mix but dub fans continue to make out better. The opening and closing sequences are presented in their textless form, which does let you check out the animation much better. There's a series of production sketches done in a video gallery as well as a series of key animation backgrounds that run for about three minutes. For dub fans, episode fourteen on this release has a third audio track where Brian Jepson and Jessica Smolins provide a commentary on the show and being voice actors in general.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Final Fantasy Unlimited manages to bring four more episodes out that are fairly similar to how the past episodes played out, which means they're fairly episodic in nature, though this time they do span into more than one episode. The mini-block adventures in different worlds is what really carries over as it progresses along, but you can start to feel that the adventures are being shortened up somewhat instead of playing out as they may have originally intended.

The opening pair of episodes continues the story where the group is trapped in Fungus' world, where he's able to manipulate himself completely within it. As he and Kaze continue to go back and forth, some of what Fungus reveals is a background similar to Kaze's, in that their worlds were lost to the Omega and they're something of last survivors. Though there's a bit of a tie to them now, the battles don't become any friendlier. Fungus is still quite intent on ridding himself of Kaze, Kaze is intent on getting this particularly odious opponent out of the way. Their battles are interesting, though when Fungus shifts Lisa and Kaze out of the way into a trap, it's a place where even Makenshi can get into and provides a new battleground for the two of them to continue their long standing rivalry.

Once the story shifts to the next world, where we've left Makenshi off to hunt for the Omega, there's some slight recapping that goes on, though it doesn't help so much in a way to make the show more accessible or enjoyable. What does happen is that the group ends up back with those resistance fighters from earlier in the series, hooking up with Cid and the high-tech submarine that they're using to travel along now. On the downside, Pist has decided that he's going to work them over again and he crafts a unique trap for them to deal with.

The trap, conceptually, is neat. It's like a giant Rubik's Cube that's made of water. The goal is to get out of it with their submarine as it continues to shift pieces. Going the wrong way will bring them closer to Chaos. To make progress and move though, they have to deal with a? quizmaster. That's right, in the middle of the cube that they're in, their ship is set on a tiny mountain and everyone comes outside the ship to watch as a huge whale-mermaid combination appears and gives them questions that are unique to Wonderland but have so many things that fit it, it's impossible to properly guess. So with wrong answers, they move further back towards Chaos?

Unfortunately, a really potentially interesting trap concept is given over to a simple dialogue set piece with cutesy animation instead of dramatic tension. This was a real disappointment since there have been a number of other areas that have been well manipulated into bringing unique things about while avoiding too much cutesy. But that also seems to be a partial theme to this volume where things feel like they're going one way and then are quickly rushed into another direction. The plot doesn't change nor the pace, but there just feels like a twist in how it's being accomplished.

In Summary:
This series is so up and down in how interesting each volume can be it's frustrating. Some episodes are really well done and have some great ideas behind them, then others are just throwaway pieces that seem to get more attention. The only real bonus here is that the recap portion played on this volume is far shorter than it could have been. There are some good moments on this volume, particularly the battles with Fungus, but it's equally weighed down by some really poorly planned out pieces. The show keeps moving forward in quality like a seesaw.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Voice actor/actress commentary,Production sketches,Key animation backgrounds,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 Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
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: Final Fantasy Unlimited