World of Narue Collector's Series Box Set (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, April 26, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, April 06, 2004



What They Say
Contains 4 DVDs (the full series) in one lovely artbox!

Narue is an adorable schoolgirl with a secret. She's really an alien with powers right out of a sci-fi comic! But growing up is never easy, and it doesn't help when you're from outer space.

The Review!
Taking a different route, CPM has gone and put out a brand new series in full with one box set release. Twelve episodes long, the World of Narue is an amusing tale of a boy and an alien girl who fall in love while all sorts of events happen around them.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series doesn't sport a really expansive audio mix to it since it's primarily a high school drama show with some science fiction elements, but when it does kick in it does it nicely. The music comes across very well, particularly the opening sequence, and there are some good sound effects utilizing the stereo channels with regards to the science fiction aspect of the show. We did listen to some of the English track while writing the review and had no issues technically with that track either, nor the brief listens to the various commentary tracks that we sampled along the way.

Video:
Originally airing in 2003, the transfer for the World of Narue is presented in its original full frame format and is fairly disappointing for a large chunk of the series. In general, the show has great colors and a lot of detail that comes across well, lots of vibrant pieces and plenty of sequences where the darks and blacks come across very solid and problem free. The problem areas turn to be the amount of cross coloration that shows up throughout the show. There's a lot of during the first couple of volumes where it's so strong that it's like the characters are extra alive at times with the way they shimmer. It affects hair quite a lot but also the overall character designs. Backgrounds aren't free of it either and it does show up in various locations. It does seem to settle down over the course of the series but it's still plainly visible during the final volume of episodes. With as much of this as there is, there's a fair amount of aliasing and to crawl along the edges of characters as well, adding to the feel of extra motion on the character designs. This is a problem that may be less visible on other systems or blurred more into the animation itself depending on the cabling used as well as the player and TV settings, but on our main system it wasn't an easy show to watch since the cross coloration was fairly distracting.

Packaging:
Done on four DVDs, World of Narue goes for the classic digipak packaging. The cardboard slipcover, very thin, has a simple image along the front panel of Narue and most of the leading cast members set against the sky with clouds. The basic sell is the characters and the name recognition at this point. The back cover provides only a couple of simple character shots of Narue and does a quick job on the summary without giving too much away but not giving enough detail either. The discs copious amount of extras are listed and the technical information is what we usually get. Overall, this isn't the best way to sell the series. With a minimal summary for an $80 set and no indication that this is the entire series listed anywhere, the casual people are going to scratch their heads wondering about it. There isn't even a listing that says there are four DVDs inside. With a 300 minute runtime, there are plenty of shows that have put that on two discs without much problem, so CPM loses several points with this exterior slipcover.

Once you take out the digipak inside, it opens to the four panels with each disc, underneath each you have a piece of character artwork. Interestingly, Narue is showcased in three of them, two with other people and one by herself. Even Bathyscaphe gets a panel but no Yagi. Poor Yagi. The back sides to the digipak are all full panel pieces of character artwork, such as the character Yongyou from the show within the show, or some of the other girls. One panel is given over to basic production information for both sides of the release.

Menus:
The menus are nicely done this time around and thankfully free of English dialogue bits from what I could hear. Each menu has music from the show playing along, such as the opening theme on the main menu or some instrumentals on the extras section. The main menu layout for each disc is relatively the same but with different pieces of artwork. The layout is pretty standard CPM style so there's little surprise or issue there since they're functional and work well, though once again we continue to dislike the fact that language selection causes it to start to play. Again, folks, we don't all start at the beginning of the disc each time we watch something and this forced playback is only causing people to be irritated. And the first thing they see when they're suddenly irritated is the CPM logo. Not good.

Extras:
With each disc only having three episodes on them, there's a good bit of space that's available for extras and they seem to have filled each one with something to check out. There's a huge list of extras and we only barely managed to scratch the surface of them since we were more focused on the show itself. This is something of a drawback with a large set since once you finish a disc you often don't go back a volume to check out extras. For fans of the Japanese language creative team, the first volume has a commentary track with the series director, Toyoo Ashida, as well as the director Hiromitsu Morita (who is strangely uncredited on the packaging). Also sitting in with the interviewer is John O'Donnell, of CPM. The episode also has a second commentary track with the voice actors for Kazuto and Narue, though they're a heck of a lot more giggly and energetic than the serious directors are. We sampled bits of both tracks and liked what we were reading, particularly the tidbits you glean from the directors about the show. Both of these tracks make the first volume have a fairly high replay value if you enjoy commentaries and those by the original people involved in the show.

There's a lot of the standard extras spread across the volumes as well, such as the textless openings and endings, storyboards and the art and sketch galleries. A set of Japanese commercials and trailers for the show are also included and the increasingly common "alternate" previews for episodes. The anime to manga comparison was something we touched on briefly but not too much since I don't want to know much about the manga before I read it and there's a section of character introductions.

One extra that I found particularly fun was on the fourth volume where they take you to parts of the Anime Idol tour across the convention circuit that ended up landing the voice actress for Yagi her job on this release. These events, hosted with a great bit of flair and style by Tom Wayland, are a real treat and I definitely encourage people to check these things out both on the disc and in person if it's at a convention you're at, even if you can't stand English dubs. My only hope is that the guy who does the hentai version of this at conventions can get his material on some Anime 18 release.

Content:(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
From the 2003 season of new anime series in Japan, the World of Narue ended up becoming pretty popular and was rated quite well by fans in various magazines and polls online. The series takes the usual high school romance angle and slaps some science fiction elements into it and mixes it lightly. The resulting twelve episodes are pretty much what you'd expect it to be, so there's little in the way of surprise.

The surprise for viewers on this side of the ocean comes in the release itself. While normally this would get released over the course of three or four DVDs every two months, CPM has opted to box it all up and fill in the extra space with a lot of extra content and sell it at once at something of a cut rate compared to what the individual discs would run. This is the second series they've done that to this year and it's one that has both merit and drawbacks, which we'll cover further down.

The show centers initially around high school lad Kazuto, a young man who's basically your good kind of guy who has some simple hobbies but is otherwise a general unknown in the class. He's not ultra popular, he's not forsaken and shunted by anyone but he also doesn't leave much of an impression on others. But like all boys at this age, he's thinking of girls and would really like a girlfriend.

On a walk home from school in the rain, he comes across a cute little puppy in a box that's sitting outside. His good guy nature gets the best of him and he starts to lean down to take the young pup in, but before he knows it a fellow classmate, a girl named Narue Nanase, yells at him to stop while she's wielding a metal bat. This stops him completely but what causes the real shock is when the puppies head morphs into a giant four-mouthed creature with a giant eyeball at the center and tries to eat Narue as she defends against it. The entire event is over with quickly, but Narue ends up leaving the bat with Kazuto and disappears into the rain.

Kazuto is obviously fascinated by this, but more so by the girl than the weird happenings that just occurred. He spends the time until the next day at school when he can meet her by thinking of ways to introduce himself and just to get things rolling. With the help from his friend Maruo, a classmate who's apparently going to become a priest, he gets all kinds of tips and pointers on how to start things up, though he's a bit concerned it's about the 'alien girl' in the next class.

Narue's got something of a reputation. She doesn't seem to have hardly any friends but nobody really picks on her either, though she's called an alien girl and treated somewhat as an outcast of sorts. What makes things annoying in the class is another classmate named Yagi. She's convinced that Narue is faking her alien status and tries to continually prove it. It's a cute reversal of the standard and it plays out well for the first couple of episodes until the gag itself basically dies off.

As events play out, Narue and Kazuto end up meeting formally in school and then end up getting along really well to the point where they're almost an instant couple. Narue takes him home to meet his father though only to end up coming across a scene where the puppy terrorist from the previous day is once more at things and trying to kill her father. And in another reversal, Kazuto tries to protect Narue by attacking only to have Narue knock him down and then take out the terrorist. This doesn't shame Kazuto; if anything, it makes him fall for her even more.

Narue ends up revealing much of what you'd think she shouldn't, that she's the daughter of an alien/human combination but has spent all her life on Earth. She's aware of her alien heritage and takes quite a bit of use of it since there's a massive fleet in orbit monitoring the planet for their own unknown reasons. She even takes Kazuto out into space to show him everything so that he knows what he's getting into, but in the end all he can do is stare at her amidst this wide bounty of beauties before him.

From there, the series plays out pretty much as one might expect though with its own unique qualities. One of the first things that gets added is a sister for Narue to have. We learn that she's the daughter of the second wife and that he'd married previously. This daughter should be about twenty-six years of age based on everything, but the fun elements of traveling faster than light means that she arrives on the scene by only aging a few weeks and turning out to be twelve years old, two years younger than Narue. This adds some complications into things, particularly with the spaceship she has that changes into a new residence that lands next door to the Nanase's.

You also add in more women to the potential harem factor by having a trio of cyborg girls who help defend the orbiting monitoring fleet, all of which wear cute outfits and are just like any other girl. They help out in a few situations but are more critical towards the end of the series when the larger arc starts to come into play again. But overall, they're really just window-dressing for the show and serve to add more females to the cast.

The one area where there's growth that was really surprising was the relationship between Maruo and Yagi. While they start off pretty adversarial, particularly due to them being next door neighbors for so many years and having that relationship change from playful kids to confused teens, seeing them evolve into an actual relationship due to the growing closeness of Narue and Kazuto was fun to watch. Yagi keeps up her attacks on Narue early on but eventually, as more and more time is spent together and with the help of Maruo, she and Narue end up coming girlfriends and quite close. This lets Yagi move away from being a hunter of sorts to being more open to things, resulting in the rise of closeness between her and Maruo.

A number of the typical conventions are followed as the show progresses. You get the sister as we mentioned, you get a beach episode, though this one is more a tansdimensional private beach that gets brought into action, and you also get a hot springs episode. There's another couple that's in love but there are circumstances that keep them apart that are similar to Narue and Kazuto's situation, so you see some resolution for them that gives our couple hope for the future. But mostly, you get a lot of content here with two people who are very happy to be with each other and in each other's company. There's a great sequence early on when Kazuto brings Narue home, the first time he's ever brought a girl home, and the small-scale chaos that ensues. His mother is priceless as she goes on about her son or the way she keeps interrupting. Kazuto scores points for having dirty backgrounds on his PC and trying to explain them, though he loses points for pretty much just showing her an anime series right from the start. While that may work with some girls, I doubt it'll work on someone like Narue. There's also a highly amusing episode where Kazuto is so wrapped up in the fantasy of this show that when he ends up at a series of events that lets him meet the voice actress for one of the characters, he's just smitten in a fanboy way. Narue takes this completely wrong and senses that she's losing him so she, Yagi and Maruo all work hard together to design a costume for her to wear and to beat out everyone else so that she can prove her feelings to Kazuto. It's all quite misguided, but it's done very well and shows some of the stupid things kids in love tend to do.

With a series being released in this format, it's got pros and cons to be sure. For the hardcore fan, there's no messing around with the wait between volumes, especially if you've seen part or all of it already. For the cost conscious side, it also works out well since a set like this is likely cheaper than the normal single volumes. Instead of what you would guess would be four discs at thirty dollars each, you save forty dollars right from the start. And for those who like to plow through a series, there is no denying the appeal of a full on box set.

The downsides tend to be more varied on a person's perspective. The cost issue can be problematic since it requires more cash up front instead of small amounts over the long term. Then there's the problem if you haven't seen any of it, it's a huge commitment - though CPM does make this easier with their Test Drive series and included coupon. To me, one of the biggest downsides is that it's over all too quickly. Watching this entire series over the span of a weekend means that I ended up seeing too much too quickly and couldn't enjoy it quite as much. Some series by their design, since the bulk of them do air on TV even if odd time slots, are made to be taken weekly and in small parts, to help build up the mystery or plot or something else. US fans have always had this problem, similar to the manga problem with graphic novels ruining the pace set by the weekly installments, by getting chunks of episodes at a time, be it two, three, four or more. Getting the entire series in one whack, and being in the position I'm in of having to review the entire thing, it feels like some of the magic and mystery of the show are taken away since we go from the opening to the ending in just under forty-eight hours. Now I'm done with it and I don't have to think of Narue anymore, it's behind me. And since I ended up going through it in such a short amount of time, it seems to make less of an impact or lasting impression. This is one reason I'll continually tell people that get box sets to spread it out and not marathon it.

In Summary:
In the end, the World of Narue is a mildly charming little series that doesn't have any big goals in it other than to entertain. The cast is fun and enjoyable and there's some pleasant growth of the characters over the course of the show in that the people we know at the start aren't exactly the same at the end of it. Narue has its roots deep in the genre that it comes from and pays respects to the pieces that it must, from the alien kid sister to the action oriented scenes that give it the overreaching arc, but it does them competently and without any real flaw.

The series gives the audience what it wants and doesn't challenge them much, so it's an enjoyable romp for the twelve episodes that it does run. Any more than that and you'd start feeling things wouldn't be able to really sustain an audience since the usual key moment of "will they or won't they reveal their feelings" is taken care of so easily in the series. While we enjoy series that do eliminate that usual standard, World of Narue doesn't have anything else beyond that that would keep it afloat well enough for another full set of episodes. For fans of this show, video aside, this release has everything that they could want and it's plenty well packed with extras and the bonus of getting it all at once. For those taking a chance on it, the price and the completeness of it makes it attractive and easy to handle. My basic recommendation is to simply not marathon it but rather spread it out a bit and take it in with some space so that the minor flaws aren't quite as visible.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles, Director's commentary on episodes 1-3,(Japanese actor's commentary,Textless Opening,Textless Ending,Interviews with both the American and Japanese casts,Original Japanese TV ads for the DVD releases

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: B-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: C
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Central Park Media
MSRP: 79.99
Running time: 300
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: World of Narue