Air Master Vol. #2 (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, April 14, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, March 15, 2005
What They Say
Maki faces the ultimate test from the highly skilled Julietta Sakamoto who has also shown feelings of romance. On the day-scheduled match, Maki oversleeps and is late to arrive. However, her father, Shiro Saeki who is present at the appointed place decides to step in and challenge her opponent. While on route, Maki is further delayed by a fighting challenge from her half-sister, Miori Saeki. After a brief encounter Maki continues and is followed by Miori to the appointed place wher they witness their father's defeat.
Maki's life doesn't get any easier as she seeks out new challenges as her latest, Julietta, truly wants her in every way possible.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix for it is nicely done with plenty of directionality across the forward soundstage for the various fight sequences which also pack some oomph to them when they really start to heat up. Dialogue portions of the show are well done also as there are often numerous characters talking across a group so they're well placed. Dialogue in general is clean and clear and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing back in 2003, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The look of the show is quite good for a TV series with very striking and bold colors used throughout it in key places that are mixed with the more general palette that's found in series taking place in the present day. One area that helps the visuals stand out on this transfer is the thicker lines around the characters, particularly the hair. The transfer isn't completely problem free as some of the panning sequences introduce some rolling aliasing but this occurs only a couple of times and ends quickly, but it is noticeable. Backgrounds look solid and colors great overall with only some very minor gradient problems visible.
Packaged in a white keepcase and using the same artwork as the Japanese first volume release, this volume's cover looks good with a cast shot of the friends Maki's made overwhelming the space so much that she's pushed into the background and into the shadows. With it having a lot of white I'm glad they chose to use a white keepcase for it since that only solidifies the look. The back cover is nicely laid out with the top half providing several shots from the show and a large piece with the summary of the premise included. The bottom half provides a lot of information such as the basic production and technical information along with the bilingual cast list and the episode numbers and titles. The insert replicates the front cover artwork minus a few logos and opens to a two panel spread that details the four episodes and the various people that Maki fights in them. The back of the insert is advertisements for their other series.
The menu layout shows the minimal effort being put into these releases as it uses the same background as Interlude has with the numbers in blue going off into the distance while the left side has the artwork from the front cover and the right side has the individual episode selections as well as the language setup. No music is used with this so there isn't a loop but instead the one static screen. Access times are nice and fast and the layout easy to navigate. The disc also correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After being surprised at how enjoyable the first volume was, the second installment was something I had hopes for in being able to keep the energy going but not by repeating the same thing. Thankfully, it doesn't repeat itself but instead introduces a new fighter that takes a few episodes to get through and expands on the life and relationships of Maki and the others.
With Maki continually searching for someone new and more powerful to fight to bring that feeling she so desires to life, she ends up meeting someone who pretty much lives the same way and is in search of the same thing. Their first meeting on a sidewalk where the tall dark haired man dressed in a slick suit simply grabs her and kisses her sets the stage for the relationship beautifully. Introducing himself as Julietta, he takes an interesting tactic by buying a huge chunk of candies and sweets from a streetside vendor for her and throws her friends off by tossing a lot of it in the street to distract them. Only Mina seems to be concerned heavily about this since she feels Maki is hers and she tries to get in the way of things but Maki is so confused after the kiss and the strange way that Julietta acts that it leaves her unable to really respond.
Julietta's something of a crazy man but one with an agenda. He quickly shows just how strong he is, as well as how little he cares for anything that means nothing to him, when a pack of kogal's get in the way as well as some businessmen. They're so brutally thrown about while he doesn't do more than really lift his leg to deal with them. When he and Maki do fight, it's like her previous battles but you can see just how much more intense it is and what's involved in it. With him having a power over her, enough so to bring her home and practically have sex with her before she can respond, it's something that certainly scares her a lot but he's someone that she has to deal with and can't simply run away from.
This initial defeat for her allows her to go to someone for more training that she ordinarily wouldn't have. Her father as we learn was something of a big street fighter back in his younger days and at age fifteen he had a rowdy affair with Maki's mother and she was born from it. Though we don't get much on her mother, we learn that she was an equally strong woman and that the two were quite passionate but it didn't work out as he moved on and now has his own family. But as the owner of a boxing gym, he's still very much a powerful fighter and towers above Maki and just about everyone else. The tension between the two is really fun to watch since it's an odd relationship in how she's grown up in dealing with him but when she needs him she puts it all on the table.
The training she goes through is some of the best fighting scenes yet and even those only get barely topped by the scenes with Julietta. Bringing her father into play allows for more diversity in the cast as we find his other daughter, much younger, is following in similar footsteps as him and is quite a good fighter considering her age. The focus is definitely kept on Julietta though as things progress towards another match with him with the conditions that if he wins she'll live with him forever and ever. There's so much material with Julietta that is just pure fun, from the three women he's currently gotten enamored with him to the way he's so focused on his love of Maki and how he vocalizes everything. He really feels like he's borderline insane with how he talks sometimes.
We do get a bit of filler on this volume but it was one that I was curious to see how it'd be handled as the gang heads off to the ocean to go to the beach for a day. This means swimsuits for people like Maki and Mina and that means base level comedy but comedy that still manages to work. Maki's awkwardness, especially as she starts getting called model material, is quite fun to watch but more so how Mina handles all the adoration. The other two find themselves in a quandary about being able to win but their odds come up a bit better when Maki finds out there's an amateur fighting competition going on elsewhere that's far more interesting to her. She gives some powerful words of advice to Mina about the contest which leads to a scene with her that's just so wrong and you know you shouldn't laugh but it was just far too funny not to.
This section is identical to what we wrote about the first volume and it all applies here and is worth repeating again for those who may have missed it.
With this being one of Toei's launch titles, it's got a number of technical flaws that don't fit easily into the other categories. One area is the subtitles, which almost seem sane after watching Interlude. They don't approach the same level of incompetence as that release but it's still an incompetent piece of work here. With subtitles that stretch across the entire screen, include ADR related pieces such as "grunts with effort" and the such, numerous mis-spellings and far too many three-line sections on at once, the subtitle job is just terrible here. It only felt tolerable to me since we had just experienced the worst subtitling job I had ever seen the night before with Interlude.
The release suffers in a couple of other ways; when each episode ends it goes back to the menu instead of carrying on. Each episode is also one chapter which means you can't skip openings or endings or jump to the middle of the episode at the eye-catch. This is still done on some of the more low-end TV releases from major Hollywood studios but it's not something that anime studios have skimped on in the past and shows what's been a theme of Toei's first releases: least effort possible. While this is a plus in that we get essentially a region 2 quality release in terms of audio and video, it comes across as basic incompetence and apparently no market research as to what is expected here. Things as simple as properly working menus, a proper level of subtitling and the inclusion of chapter marks are some serious strikes against this release. The Japanese release also has a few extras across its nine volumes and I hope we get those here eventually, since it's such basic things as clean openings and closing and promotional reel footage for starters.
One area that really makes me call into question the people working on the release is something that required some knowledge from others. One of the first fighters that Maki goes up against is a wrestling type named Roo-cha. For most people, this won't mean anything and will just be another name. In previous translations, he's been called Lucha, though I don't know if that's shown up Romanized anywhere proper in Japan. Why is this important? When the character fights, he wears a Mexican mask that I've been told by people who live along the border and near many Mexican influence media outlets, is that there is thing called the luchadore. Google on that and you'll see that it's got a lot to do with wrestling in Mexico and is related to the mask. So naming the character Roo-cha shows a distinct lack of understanding of the companies own properties. It certainly doesn't inspire confidence at all in just about anything else.
At times I feel like I'm finding this show more enjoyable than I should but the characters are just so spot on with how they handle everything and react, the fights are really fun to watch and I'm getting a kick out of the designs and overall brutality of the show. If it wasn't for the completely stupid bad technical decisions made here from the chapter stops to the ADR script being used, this would be a release that would have fans of the show pushing it very hard on others to check out. For fighting fans, this is a great show so far and it's just captivated with its style and feel. I hope that things get fixed going forward at least so that it can be even more enjoyable and I can feel less guilty for enjoying what I do get out of it.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles
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: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: C
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Toei Animation Co., Ltd
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Air Master