Sakura Wars OVA Essential Anime (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Mike Dungan
Review Date: Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, October 26, 2004



What They Say
The year is 1919, and armies of mechanized soldiers are advancing on the capital. Luckily, Kanzaki Heavy Industries has developed a new weapon – giant steam-driven robots. The pilots, known as the Flower Brigade, are a group of courageous young women chosen from around the world for their unique psychic skills. Lack of leadership and the rise of disorganization is evident beneath the strain of rigorous practice runs and the oncoming onslaught of a faceless enemy. Rumors surface of a handsome young officer. Who is he, and can he organize the Flower Brigade into a powerful defense line in time?

The Review!
The Review: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
It's 1919, one year after a terrible battle in Tokyo against the forces of darkness, demons that threaten Tokyo and the entire world. The battle was won, but not the war. In order to prepare for future battles, a new type of powered suit is being developed, powered both by steam and the wearer's own spirit force. It seems no one has enough spirit power, until Sumire Kanzaki, the young granddaughter of the Kanzaki conglomerate, is discovered to have spirit power off the charts. Soon, the two remaining members of the elite force that defeated the demons before begin to assemble their team, all young women of amazing abilities: Sumire is a very proud, wealthy and beautiful young woman, and she knows it. She's also deadly in the Kanzaki Rising Wind technique. Kanna Kirishima is a large, powerful woman, a karate expert who is loud and brash. Kanna and Sumire do not like each other, and their rivalry is one of the greatest in anime, right up there with Aeka and Ryoko from Tenchi Muyo. Iris Chateaubriand is a very young French girl with incredible psychic powers, powers so frightening her parents have kept her sequestered from the world. Ri Kohran is a Chinese mechanical genius who helps develop many of the weapons used to fight the demons. Maria Tachibana is a Japanese-Russian who was raised in Russia and fought in the Russian Revolution, but is now living in New York. She's a brilliant marksman with her Enfield pistol. Last to join them is Sakura Shinguji. Her father fought and died in the Demon Wars, and now Sakura is asked to fight, employing the family's Northern Longblade technigue. They form the Hanagumi Floral Assault team, using their powers to defend the city against evil. Interestingly, the first episode takes place over several years, as we watch the team being assembled, and Sakura learns to hone her skills so she may be a useful member of the Hanagumi.

But they're more than just soldiers. They are also members of the Imperial Opera Troupe, acting and singing on stage. Not only does it give the citizens of the city something other than the demons to think about, it also forces the women to work together and find their own inner strength. Unfortunately, they don't get along very well. Maria is the commander, but she's unable to bring harmony to the team. After a particularly disastrous outing, it's decided to bring in a new commander. He's Ichiro Ogami, fresh out of the academy, and the first man found with enough power to move the spirit armor. While the Hanagumi welcome him, it's not a smooth transition. Not only do the women of the troupe all fight for his attention, pulling him in every direction at once, but he must also search for his own purpose within the theater. Unfortunately for him, the demons have never heard the phrase "The show must go on" and attack just as his first production is about to debut.

Comments:
Sakura Taisen as it's known in Japan, is a worldwide video game phenomenon. Ohji Hiroi's brilliant combination of dating simulation and military combat in Taisho-era Japan has spawned at least 5 games, 3 OVA series, a TV series, a movie, novels, drama CDs, a radio play, countless soundtracks and even several big-budget stage plays and musical reviews featuring the Japanese seiyuus. It's not hard to see why it's so popular. Hiroi's concept is unique and fun. The beautiful original character designs are by Kousuke Fujishima, the creator of "Oh My Goddess" and "You're Under Arrest." The music is by Kohei Tanaka (look for a cameo by him in the orchestra pit in the fourth episode), who also wrote the music for "Angelic Layer". The seiyuu talent is top notch, featuring Chisa Yokoyama, Urara Takano, Yuriko Fuchizaki and Ai Orikasa among others. The music, in fact, is one of the shows biggest draws. The opening theme is one of the most stirring military call-to-arms ever in anime. The ending theme, created just for this OVA, is a beautiful jazz ballad sung by Ai Orikasa.

These four OVA episodes are a loose retelling of the events of the first game. You don't have to have played the game to follow along, though there are things that seem out of place, such as Kanna leaving the troupe to avenge her father. She leaves, she comes back later, and it's never really addressed. Also unexplained are the people who are behind the demon wars and what they want. They're seen, but who they are, what they're doing or why they're doing it is left completely unexplained. The animation is beautiful, with some very clever direction. There's quite a bit of humor to go with all the action, and the battle sequences are stunning.

ADV's Essential Anime release adds a 5.1 mix to the English dub. The sound is fuller, with more depth and good separation, though it would take a system more advanced than mine to get the full effect of the new mix. While I wasn't able to notice any improvement in the video, it should be pointed out that the original release already looked very good. ADV has corrected several things within the show itself, such as removing overlaid English title cards and simply subtitling the Japanese text instead. The specs of the Goraigo and the other heavy weapons used by the Hanagumi are now translated in full with softsubs, instead of just the weapon's titles. The menus are all new and quite beautiful. Added extras are textless opening and ending credits. The artwork for the covers is different as well. On the front cover, the members of the Hanagumi are seen in a celebratory pose, with one of the powered suits behind them and thin lavender bars at the top and bottom in the normal fashion of ADV's EA collection. The back cover has three images from the show across the center and a few sakura blossoms at the top of the page. The insert has an image of Sakura drawing her sword, with "From the best selling video game" written next to her. Oh, such cruel words, as North America may be the only place on Earth you can't get any of the Sakura Wars games. Why this remains so is beyond my meager comprehension.

Considering everything ADV's done to this EA release, it's new lower price of $20 is an absolute bargain. It's one of the most unique combinations of harem and robots ever, and the music is simply stunning. Well recommended.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Clean opening and closing

Review Equipment
NEC CT-2510A TV, Pioneer 440 codefree DVD player



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 19.98
Running time: 120
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Sakura Wars / Sakura Taisen