E's Otherwise Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, February 15, 2005



What They Say
The newest and deadliest weapon of the future has arrived, and it’s more powerful than ever before. The next stage of human evolution, a race of “metahumans” with powerful psychic abilities, has begun to appear on Earth. These mutants, known as the “E’s”, have the ability to convert thought to energy. A special elite force of E’s has been formed to help maintain law and order, but will these powerful psychics use their abilities to save the world, or control it?



The Review!
In a time when the multinationals control the governments, one of them is working to ensure the safety of the psychics in the world and puts them to good use.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The included stereo mix for this track is rather solid and has a very full presence to it. The forward soundstage is well used for a number of directional moments in both dialogue and action effects but it's the music that almost seems to overwhelm it at times with how strong it is across the entirety of it. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either track.

Video:
Originally airing back in 2003, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The transfer for this release is a real mixed bag when all is said and done. The show is very recent and being done by Pierrot it has a great color palette used for it. The character animation in particular really stands out here and looks great with lots of white used, lots of clean lines and some good detailed areas. When the characters are running around in the first couple of episodes, particularly the first episode, they look really good. They're also generally free of cross coloration and aliasing. Where the problem comes in is with a lot of backgrounds, notably in the Ashurum city where the night time sky is a murky green, in that there is a lot of noticeable blocking going on. This also shows up in some of the characters hair in a few episodes where we see the back of their heads and it's a smooth area but ends up showing a lot of blocking. The color gradient issue wasn't much of one with this though you can see a few edges here and there but nowhere near as bad as some other series.

Packaging:
Avoiding the Japanese release artwork, the first cover here is a large group shot that brings in practically every character (except my favorite, Ruri) with the central focus on Kai in his black and white official uniform. With a bright reddish yellow background, this is a good looking cover that showcases most of the main personalities and gives an idea about the really good character artwork that the series has. The back cover provides a large shot of one of the leads while providing a filmstrip along the side with a number of shots from the show. The summary is pretty basic across a couple of paragraphs while the remainder of the cover is made up of the production and technical information. No insert is included with this release.

Menu:
The main menu is a decent piece that's got a bit of minor animation to it but feels more lively than most of the menus ADV's done in recent months. With the main shot being of Kai in his full uniform along the right, the left of the menu has a rotating circle with the menu selections inside it, including individual episode access. The layout works nicely though the bit of the opening song that plays cuts out too short but that's almost a standard problem with ADV releases in that there isn't a good flow between the end and the start. Access times are nice and fast and the navigation is easy and intuitive. The disc also correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.

Extras:
The included extras are pretty straightforward and standard fare. The opening and closing are presented in a clean form, there's a round of production sketches and some of the original TV spots for the shows run in Japan are included.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
E's Otherwise kicks off with an interesting premise. It's the future but not too far out, but things have changed and the world is most decidedly different. After a series of wars, the governments of the world were unable to bring things back together properly and so stepped in what's turned into twelve massive corporations. In the time that they've spent their money and resources to try and bring the world back to a proper civilized level, they've begun to supplant much of what the government used to do. Some areas have become completely controlled by the corporations and these tend to be gleaming cities of the future and full of technological wonders.

Other areas tend to be more like things today, but surrounded by massive crumbling buildings of the past that remind them of where they came. In a way, it's little different than when the governments controlled things because just as often they had their own plans that weren't open to the public and agendas that weren't always popular. The company we get to get familiar with early on here is Ashurum, one that's highly interested in the growing number of psychics that have been showing up in the world. They bring them in and train them, give them residences and salaries and offer them something tangible to have in the world. Many cling to this as the bulk of humanity tends to fear what they don't know and psychics are often attacked and killed. Mixing in those who came from the outside, Ashurum also has those who've grown up under its care and never seen the outside world or knows of its prejudices.

Enter Kai, a young man now brought into the program whose powers are considered fairly standard and unexceptional. His main reason for being brought into the group though is due to his younger sister, a sickly girl whose frail body has some of the biggest psychic potential that they've ever seen so there's the chance that Kai has some of it as well but that it's simply locked away. Kai's arrival to the group changes their dynamic as expected with a couple of the girls very interested in him while one of the guys, who you'll swear is a girl for awhile, is set to make him a rival. The group is fairly interesting and very well designed; the brother-sister duo of Shen-lon and Shen-lu are attractive and dangerous, with Shen-lu being a very attractive character who finds herself enamored with Kai even though he's not entirely aware of or sure how to respond to her. Shen-lon has it in for Kai right from the start though and continually challenges him. The group is rounded out with a few others that don't get much attention early on such as Tsubaki, Chris and Ruri.

The opening episode actually progresses things quickly over the first year of Kai's arrival in the group as he undergoes military style training for both his body and mind to help make him a better operative and to not be reliant on his powers. Other than his distaste for the idea of using a gun to shoot someone (his skills are solid with a gun) and his general desire to help and not to hurt, Kai is a decent enough operative and is given a mission far earlier than normal. Though it doesn't bring out any surprising powers, it does put him into the right stage where he can start going on missions with the larger group where they go out to deal with rogue psychics or those controlled by other psychics so they can save them and bring them back to Ashurum.

Of course, there's more going on within Ashurum than what we see and it's hinted at well enough without giving away too much or giving too little. Much of this is played out against another city called Gald where the people don't live quite as well as where Kai lives but they're happy. The plot seems to change course a bit by the second or third episode when the Ahsurum team is sent to Gald in order to rescue as many psychics as possible after the military lays down a reign of fire over it to sow confusion. Supposedly the general citizenry has been evacuated so the team is able to move easily throughout the streets. Things end up going horribly wrong though for Kai and he eventually finds himself under the care of one of the gray area kind of men named Yuuki. From here, Kai begins to get his exposure to the real world and death up close and personal which starts to change his views on what he believes Ashurum is doing as opposed to what they're really doing.

When the series makes its change from the first couple of episodes and things go wrong in Gald, it seems to lose some of its steam and a lot of its interesting material. The shift of Kai to the outside world isn't unexpected once they get the point that he's never been there and is unaware of the realities, but it comes far too early and it places him into a situation with a character like Yuuki who uses him for his own missions, which in turn would go against a lot of what Kai believes in. While the entire drag scene is quite comical and well played and Kai certainly makes an attractive woman, I can't see a fifteen year old male who's still unsure of himself in a lot of ways doing something like that just so he can stay at their place longer. It's an uneven relationship between the two men that hinges on the way Kai tends to look at his "sister".

The character designs for the show are really good overall and very attractive without being blunt about it or going too far. In particular, I was really interested in Shen-lu who is the token bubbly blonde that falls for Kai but she's not as bad as you'd expect by stereotype; she's spent the past year trying to get to know him better but she doesn't go over the top. She wears some sexy and tight clothes but she's not got massive breasts that distract. Her facial design is really cute and they do a good job of making her seem a bit older as the time passes. The same can be said of Ruri, who unfortunately gets less time. But part of her appeal is surely the green hair that I'm weak for. The one that really threw me though was Shen-lon because even though he acts very masculine he looks fairly effeminate at times and it isn't completely clear at times until they start using the right words with him.

In Summary:
E's Otherwise has a very interesting setup, lots of great visuals both in terms of characters and world design, and a good audio mix that keeps things very lively throughout. The plot itself though takes an unexpectedly early turn that feels misplaced as the characters start going in a direction that's less appealing than expected based on the initial setup that's given. The characters are still interesting though and the premise has piqued my interest and with twenty-one episodes to go, it has plenty of room to maneuver or change gears again. It's rare for an opening volume to change so dramatically in the space of a couple of episodes like this as it's usually not until the second volume that you see these kinds of curves. There is plenty interesting here but I'm just not sure if what I'm finding interesting will be the story itself.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean opening and closing animations, Japanese promo spots, Production sketches

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: C+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: E's Otherwise