Rumiko Takahashi: Anthology Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, January 11, 2005



What They Say
Shelter. Employment. Companionship. Rumiko Takahashi explores the stress that can befall people when these basic necessities become endangered. From penguins to wedding chapels and to amnesiac husbands, each episode explores supposedly normal people under extreme situations with all of the dramatic skill and warped comedy that you expect from the world-famous creator of Inu Yasha, Ranma 1/2, Urusei Yatsura!

The Review!
Dealing with stories that mostly dabble in the realm of reality and are pretty character driven, this Anthology series provides some amusing, sentimental and wistful episodic tales.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this series in its original language of Japanese. The series is very much a dialogue driven piece with it being slice of life stories and the like so there isn't much wide use of the stereo channels here. The mix sounds pretty full in general but most of the dialogue comes across as center channel based. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during either language track.

Video:
Originally broadcast in 2003, this Anthology series is presented in its original 16:9 aspect ratio and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is done with a real-world intent so a lot of the colors and designs are somewhat mild and almost bland, but they reflect the show properly and look good here. There's a certain bit of softness and grain to the print that causes some of the wide sections of colors to look a bit shifty but there isn't any visible blockiness or break-up. The transfer in general looks good as there aren't any visible cross coloration issues and the aliasing is kept very minimal. There were only a few instances of some noticeable color gradation problems as well, mostly just in some of the sky sequences.

Packaging:
The layout for the cover is really nicely done; the background is set as some red curtains draping down while in the center is a frame that has the various characters from the episodes on this volume together. I really like the way it's designed and brings everyone from these episodes together into one piece. The back cover works in a similar fashion but with a series of marble steps leading down that has a red carpet along it. This lets other characters sit around and fill out the artwork nicely. The shows premise is clearly presented as are the discs features and extras. The production information and technical notes are all listed along the bottom in usual fashion. The insert replicates the front cover on one side while the other lists the chapter marks for the episodes.

Menu:
The menus for this release are nicely done, to a point. The imagery used is that of a series of stairs that lead up to curtains and the various characters from the episodes are all huddled together on the stairs. When it moves from menu to menu, a brief curtain comes down and back up. Normally transitional animations bother me but this is fairly quickly and nicely in theme. The strange downside to the menus, especially the main one, is the lack of music associated with it. You almost wonder if something's wrong with the disc since it's so quiet. Access times are nice and fast and the layout pretty easy to navigate. The disc also correctly read our players' language presets which is a big plus.

Extras:
The extras for the opening volume are pretty much what you'd consider the standard selection. We've got a clean opening sequence and we've also got the opening sequence in its original Japanese version, something we really like seeing. The only other extra is a section of production sketches.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
For over a decade now, Rumiko Takahashi has been one of those creators that I have a serious love/hate relationship with. She's obviously creative and has the talent to put it all to good use. Most of her creations have a certain level of recognition and some of them are as strongly identified among the Japanese in the way the Simpson's are for most American's. While her style has sort of settled a bit, particularly when she's working something long running, it's a recognizable style that suits her material well.

With so many different things in her head over the years, it's not surprising that the anime side has decided to try and do an anthology series for her works. She's done more than enough stand alone manga over the years and several one-shots and short serials that would work ideally in a longer setting if it worked well enough. Unfortunately though, from what I've found throughout the years, fans of Takahashi's works tend to focus on the one that they got into and find it hard to get into others, or at least more than one or maybe two others. Typically speaking, Ranma fans aren't Inu-Yasha fans. Inu-Yasha fans aren't Urusei Yatsura fans. And Maison Ikkoku fans just seem to be incredibly silent far too often.

The opening volume brings us three separate tales and all of them are fun little stories, some more thoughtful than others, but all of them retain that flavor of storytelling that you don't usually get in Takahashi's longer running works. With her stories being forced to fit into a smaller window, we get to see a better side of her creativity that's given some restrictions and a bit of tightness to it. I've found over the years that those are the stories of hers that I end up enjoying the most. For example, the opening tale is about a salaryman's family in corporate housing that is asked to watch a penguin for a friend who is going off to the US for a week. Since the housing complex doesn't allow pets, the family – or rather the mother – has to keep it a secret, which is a problem since a fellow neighbor is on something of a calm faced witch hunt for others with pets, giving them the choice to get rid of the pet or move out of the complex themselves. Since the pet is a penguin you get the absurdity factor to it, as well as the very cute factor, but the writing is nice and tight and very character driven since there's roughly a weeks time that is the focus of the story and there's a beginning, middle and end to it. It's a good well structured piece that plays out a bit like expected but still quite enjoyable.

The other two tales are equally amusing but thankfully go in very different directions. One tale focuses on a marriage hall that's about to shut down due to fiscal issues and it centers on the young woman who is running it. She was left the place by her father who has passed on and just can't make ends meet. She's a year past her divorce but whenever she talks to her ex-husband she wonders if there's still something there and whether he's still interested. This is balanced out by a young man who works at the hall under her that's interested in her as well. Add in a few other comical employees such as an always-drunk priest and a bitchy assistant and you get a number of elements that would make for a good slice of life romantic comedy series, never mind just one episode.

One of the things that I like about this Anthology series is that for the most part they've managed to avoid having recognizable characters as the leads, something that Takahashi has either done as an intentional thing or is just a crutch of sorts for her with her long running series. The lead characters here shift from different sexes, ages and backgrounds easily and each of them are interesting enough to carry off at least a couple of episodes on their own. But in avoiding looking like characters we're so familiar with, as well as a somewhat tighter and thinner design style, we get to see some of the different elements. The character designer for the series has done a good job of adapting her style and creating something reminiscent without each character looking like an homage.

In Summary:
Being a fan of so many of Takahashi's works over the years in both manga and anime, I'm happy to finally see some more of her shorter works finally being adapted or given the nod here. Her slice of life works and those dealing with small tight stories are some of her best works I think and this anthology helps introduce her to a lot more people. While I doubt we'll see people flocking from Inu Yasha to this or the Ranma diehards resurfacing to scoop this up, it's a show that will get itself a good core audience and it will entertain them with comical, romantic and wistful tales set in the city. This is the kind of show where in a way you can live vicariously through the characters to experience a bit of Japanese culture, one of the things that's helped make Rumiko Takahashi so famous worldwide.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening,Japanese Opening,Production Gallery

Review Equipment
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: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 29.98/34.98
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Rumiko Takahashi: Anthology