Spiral Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, November 09, 2004
What They Say
What are the Blade Children? This is a question Ayumu Narumi has been asking himself since his brother disappeared two years ago. But today isn't a day to bother with that as Ayumu has been accused of murder. While he tries to defend himself against growing allegations, Ayumu must unwrap the mystery of his innocence - as well as the mystery of the new professor who seems determined to pin this crime on Ayumu.
A mysterious group known only in whispered words as the Blade Children seemingly have a wide range of influences over who lives and dies in this mystery show that forgets to provide an actual hook for the viewer.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix is pretty solid with some moments of directionality apparent across the forward soundstage. There's a lot dialogue in this show and not quite as many action moments so a lot of what we do get is center channel based or has a full feeling to it. In checking out the other two mixes, the English stereo mix came across slightly louder which isn't unusual but the English 5.1 mix was significantly louder, enough that we had to turn the volume down quickly since it was such a difference. We didn't notice much in terms of directionality or clarity in the 5.1 mix as it was more just a volume different to our ears. We had no trouble with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of the Japanese language track.
Originally broadcast in 2003, the transfer for Spiral is presented here in its original full frame aspect ratio. With this being a recent show, the source materials are in tip top shape and are very clean and problem free. FUNimation has once again employed alternate angles for the opening and closing sequences where one angle has the English production credits being prominent and followed by a portion of the Japanese production team while the other angle retains the original Japanese text. Unfortunately, I've been unable to find a full translated version of the end credits with the voice cast. Being a credits whore, I really hate it when so many are omitted like this. The transfer in general here looks great though with bold solid colors that have only a few faint moments of blocking going on. Cross coloration and aliasing are virtually non-existent but there isn't exactly a lot of expressive animation in the show as it's very dialogue heavy with pans and stills.
Using some of the artwork from the Japanese DVD cover, Narumi takes center stage for the first volume with the nicely stylized blue and white artwork in the background that has one of his enemies mixed into it. The cover art here is really neat and probably one of the best looking pieces I've seen recently that works the shades of my favorite colors so well. The back cover plays off of this and provides a smattering of shots of the characters from the show in a spiral form. The top has a brief sentence to hook you in while below the artwork there's the standard summary information and a listing of the discs features and extras. This section is far better than many other recent FUNimation releases as it's very clean and clear and doesn't use bad colors on top of bad colors to get the info across. As seems to be more consistent with FUNimation, there's no insert with this release and I really like that trend.
In addition to the disc only release, a disc plus box release also came out the same day. Made of the strong chipboard variety and using many of the same colors as the DVD cover itself as well as shades of purple and black, this is one great looking box in its minimalist way. The main panel has a good character shot of Narumi set against a deep spiral while the other main panel has a shot of Hiyono with her camera against a dark cloudy backdrop. The spine mixes the two shades and has a falling shot of Eyes. What's curious is that they decided to not put a logo on the spine for either the series name or the company name. It ends up standing out a bit more on the shelf next to other series.
Also included in this box edition is something new for the region 1 market and that's a puzzle. Since puzzles are somewhat key in this series and make up a portion of the opening sequence, it's a dead on extra to provide. I was really curious how they were going to handle this and I think they did a great job. A smaller sealed box is provided inside the box edition that has the image of the five main characters from these first episodes together with the Iris' between them. It's only a hundred pieces but it's a really neat piece I think. I was glad they didn't just drop everything into a bag with a one-sheet image of it or something equally cheesy. While yes it is only a puzzle, they did a really nice job with packaging it here into something that doesn't feel cheap. And that's half the battle right there.
The menu layout for the series is both attractive and bothersome at the same time. The backgrounds chosen, still images of the characters that are really beautifully done pieces of artwork, look great and really fit with the haunting piece of instrumental music chosen to go with it. The part I don't much care for is the renaming of the selections to things like "progression" for play or "skew" or "exponents" for extras. Maybe it makes sense later in the series but it doesn't seem to have any relation to it in these first episodes and it certainly doesn't for the first time viewer just getting into the show. The access times are solid though and submenus load nice and fast. As usual, we didn't bother wondering if the language presets we have worked due to the angles and odd way that FUNimation sets up their discs.
For the opening volume, there's a good standard selection of extras to be had here. With the magic squares playing a role in the third episode, there's a text piece with a couple of pages that talks about the history of them. The character profiles section is pretty standard stuff with a single page given over to most of the main characters that has a nice large picture of them and a small paragraph with some of their basic information. Both the opening and ending songs are included in textless format and there's an image gallery of shots from the show.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After watching the first five episodes of Spiral, I'm in the odd position of wondering just what's going on here. The show has presented itself with something fairly standard; a series of murders and attempts that are mysteriously linked together that the lead character is able to solve with a bit of logic. Those behind the murders and attempts are known to him as Blade Children and there's a deeper mystery as to what they're all about. But in these opening episodes, which had to hook people on a weekly basis, there's hardly anything there in regards to these Blade Children that really give you a reason to wonder or care what they're doing. There's always plenty of reasons to root for the hero, but understanding the villains side is one of the great appeals of anime and manga. That simply isn't here to me.
The setup for the series is decent. We're introduced to first year high school student Narumi, something of a loner who has only been at the school for a bit, who walks out into one of the emergency exits at the wrong time. A fellow student had just taken the plunge off of the balcony only to land on a truck that was parked below and then onto the ground. Narumi quickly finds himself being called out as the guilty suspect by a teacher there and the first mystery begins. The young woman, whose life has already been a challenge due to her having amnesia and not remembering her life, manages to survive but is unconscious for most of the story.
Narumi doesn't find himself all too bothered being accused of the crime since he didn't actually commit it but his confidence comes out a bit stronger when we find out that the detective assigned to the case is actually his sister in law, Madoka. Though he's definitely in some serious trouble, his casual manner and analytical nature come into play and he's slowly able to start pulling together how the incident happened. What becomes interesting in all of this is that the term Blade Children becomes mentioned by those involved and this is something key to both Narumi's lives; Narumi's brother disappeared two years ago after he said he was going to investigate something called the Blade Children.
With his loss, the younger Narumi ended up living with his sister in law and the two haven't had any leads on the case since. But with this mention, it's all coming to light and we get to see some of Narumi's background. Such as his excellent ability with the piano, but it's something that he's never been as good as his brother with so he dropped it. And much like his brother, he's got an amazing analytical mind that allows him to make fantastic leaps of logic that work. So with the help of his sister in law, the two are able to piece together the series of murders and incidents that flow forth from this first attempt as Narumi discovers that the Blade Children are now after him for some reason.
In pretty much every episode, there's either an attempt or an actual murder caused by the Blade Children as they test and manipulate Narumi for their own purposes. There's a hint and feeling that Narumi may be someone that can help them but at the same time there's a very serious us versus them game going on between the Children and Narumi. Some of those who work for them aren't comfortable with everything that's going on and try to have things both ways but that doesn't always work out. Narumi's in the weakest position here since he's got the least amount of information to work with and the most to lose, so every little fragment he gets does help provide him with more of a handle on the situation.
But most of those nuggets don't really tell us much that we don't already know. As the viewer, we don't get to see more of what the Blade Children are all about in these first five episodes so there isn't a strong hook that says come back and watch more of it. Usually there's something like this in the first one or two episodes since the series has the harder job during broadcast of keeping an audience on a weekly basis as opposed to giving them five episodes in a row so it was surprising that so little was given out here. The individual mysteries are fairly decent but there are a number of mystery shows out there to choose from and there isn't anything that really separates this one out from the others.
Like many mystery shows, there isn't exactly a lot of action sequences going on here but rather a lot of dialogue, exposition and panning sequences mixed with stills. The animation for the show is decent but the style and design has a very basic and minimally detailed look to it. It's reminiscent of how the first few episodes of Knight Hunters Eternity looked with its bold bright colors but simple designs and the way some of the characters really felt like they were on top of the backgrounds instead of a part of the show. The designs in general are fairly standard with none that really stand out, though I do like the addition of the older sister in law to help balance out the young girls that show up at different points in the show. She's a nice counter balance to the outgoing hyper nature of Hiyono, the school newspaper girl who ends up working with Narumi on most of the mysteries due to her extensive information network.
Usually with most series, after five episodes there's at least some kind of minor hook that has me wondering how it'll play out. It may not be the greatest thing but they did enough to make me wonder whether they'll do something in a standard fashion or surprise me with a twist. With Spiral, that hook just doesn't seem to be there and the mystery of the Blade Children just doesn't feel like one since it's not really presented as one. We get to see them doing what they're doing but with no real hint given as to why and no real visible larger plot outside of them manipulating Narumi and making comparisons to his brother, it's difficult to even get into the day to day murders and accidents that occur around these characters. After five episodes, I'm unsure of what they want me to care about with this show.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,History of Magic Squares,Character Profiles,Textless Songs,Image Gallery
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: C
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
Running time: 80
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2