Popotan Vol. #3 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, April 26, 2005



What They Say
There appears to be more to this journey than just their trials. It seems that the sisters are not the only ones to have made this quest! All travelers end up seeking out Shizuka, the mysterious young lady who dances among the popotan, for she is the one with their answers. But are they answers that they wish to hear?

The Review!
Tired and unhappy, the journey comes to a close and the three sisters look to find their own way to happiness.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series has a fairly simple stereo mix but it's not utilized all that much since it’s a pretty dialogue heavy show that doesn't really do much, even with incidental sounds and the like. The music uses both channels and reminds you that they do exist when it kicks in though both it and the dialogue come across well. We had no issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2003, Popotan is presented here in its full frame aspect ratio for this transfer. Overall, this is a very pleasing transfer but there are parts of it that look like they're intentionally off but having not seen the original I can't be sure. The colors for the show are very vibrant and richly drawn from in order to give it a very positive and happy feel. From the characters hair to their outfits and home, it's a great palette of colors but one that also mixes in a lot of the standard real world colors. Some scenes come across a bit softer than I expected considering how sharp and clear the show is in general but it may be intentional for those scenes in order to give it more warmth and feeling. The only noticeable problem, and it's very muted here due to the combination of my player and my monitor, is that there seems to be some cross coloration showing up along the edges of the characters hair, particularly if they're darker colored.

Packaging:
Geneon continues to work well with the Japanese cover art as the cover this time around has Mii sitting down in the fields giving a big old smile and she scrunches her skirt between her legs. This is actually the "tame" version of this piece as the insert cover has the other version where she's suffering from a lot of wind and has her skirt blown aside to reveal her bloomers. The back cover continues the flower theme with a layer of them along the bottom and a big blue sky above. The sky section has a breakdown of the four stories to be found inside while the flower section contains all of the technical and basic production information. The insert artwork is similar to the front cover but a little more risqué as mentioned. This opens up to a two page spread that talks about the various characters that we encounter during these episodes while the back lists the projected months of release for the other two volumes. Geneon also scored reversible covers with this release; the main panel has The One in her one-piece set against the trees with that odd smile that she has while the back panel has her blushing as the clothing has fallen away and is far too revealing I think, especially in the lower regions. I think I even blushed at that one..

Menu:
The menu style used here has shown up in a couple of Geneon releases lately and for some reason it still doesn't sit right with me but I can't quite put my finger on it. The layout is nice enough with the shot of Ai from the cover here set against the countryside with plenty of tanpopo around and the Popotan logo next to her with it making all sorts of blips and bloops along the way. There's a bit of nice animation to it overall and it's not overly distracting or simply too much. The selection layout is where the problem lays with the extras and setup being placed together. It just doesn't feel right to do it that way, especially since they then put the previews on the top level when tradition (which I admit can and should change at times) has it in the extras section. The other problem is that like one or two other recent releases, the sign/song subtitle track is placed first, so language defaults grab that instead of the full English translation.

Extras:
The extras for the opening volume are pretty slim with just an art gallery and a textless ending and a TV Commercial piece.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Popotan surprised us with the first volume and sort of fell into a bit of a routine with the second volume even though it introduced more elements there towards the larger mysterious goal beyond the girls wanting to meet The One. This volume has the fallout of a realization and it causes significant stress among the girls as it's the first serious challenge they've all had to face.

And I liked a lot of how it played out, but as it progressed and hit the ending, I liked it less and less though I can see where they're going with it and depending on your interpretation of it, it's definitely a non-standard ending for a series. As the girls continue to travel ahead in time twenty years at a jump, we end up in a period where Mai is surprised to see Konami again as she steps out of the house. Only it's not really Konami but rather her near-identical daughter who Konami named Mai. As it turns out, Konami has long held out for seeing her friend again and has such a strong place for her in her heart that she named her first born daughter after her and, as Mai learns later on, was even talking about her on her death bed two years prior. This comes as a massive shock to Mai who after an encounter with Keith realizes that their journey hasn't been helping people but hurting them and letting that hurt fester for years and decades. It completely devastates her and the memories she's built over the past friendships.

This ties in as we learn more of what some of the people around us actually are. Keith returns to inform Mea that it's time to bring the group to The One as it's been requested and we find out that Keith is something of a "guide" that helps people along in this manner and Mea has been the "guard" for the group since she was first assigned them, which helps clear up a little bit of the past. Much of the past is left like that though and not explored, so we still don't learn how the three came together and what their goal of the journey is beyond meeting The One though it seems like it's coming down to finding a place for them to be happy. Unless I missed something completely at some point.

Upon their meeting with The One, it's realized that this is a fork in the road of their journey. They can either end it now or pick where they want to be in the past encounters and move on from there or they can continue on with their journey. Their decisions are made a bit awkwardly since Mai is so dead set on ending things after her experience while Mii wants to continue and Ai is sort of waffling about things though she wants to get back to Daichi. But it all comes to an end and they all go their separate ways to live their lives, even with the loss of each other, in hopes of finding the true happiness that they're looking for.

And this is where things start moving towards the end that I have the problem, though I can understand why it goes this way. It's not surprising at all that the trio are unhappy, Mii the most, with their new lives. With each of them, they find that the person they came back for is often bringing up the past time with them and the other members of the household that aren't there now, which only makes them feel various emotions about it. Mai in particular suffers from Konami talking about it so much that she lashes out at her about it. Having felt like she's already let Konami down in life once she doesn't want to do wrong by her at all but the guilt she's feeling now overwhelms her.

It becomes obvious that this is still part of the test that The One is giving them since she's able to bring back the house easily enough and set Mea on the path of preparing things for their return. And surely, one by one as they realize the choice they made was wrong, each of the "sisters" return and realize that their happiest place in life is with each other and in being able to help others as they continue to journey forward in time while supposedly searching for their goal. Keith gets his comeuppance here as well since he's been so set on there not being a place for people like them or himself and all of it ends on a relatively happy note. But it just doesn't feel like a happy ending. I just can't bring myself to find it a happy ending in that the girls now move forward in time to help others, in which they know they'll cause pain regardless because knowing people in general will do that, but in that they realized that their happy place is being together in a house where they can never form truly solid life long connections beyond the three of them.

While I can give a pass on Ai since she is supposedly a bit older, I dislike stories that take characters the ages of Mai and Mii and places them in this situation because with the way the journey works as we've seen, they'll never age and never truly "Grow Up" into proper adults. Their perceptions will always be as they are now as they move forward and while they'll be colored by those they meet, they often interact only with those on the same age wavelength. Or maybe I'm just reading too much into it and the simple fact that the three feel lost and not right without each other is the real goal and things are all different now because they've found each other and made the right choice at the fork in the road. All I know is that while it's a decent and unsurprising ending, it felt bitter in my mouth.

In Summary:
While Popotan certainly looked to be the latest "creepy" series based on the opening episode of the series, it really played around with some interesting ideas with the characters journey as it slowly gave out the tiniest morsels of information about what they're all really after. Most of the secrets have gone with the show and been left unanswered and the piece still works on its own even without this. There's certainly enough things in this series that will make people uncomfortable such as the blatant nudity, but at least through most of the show I think there's enough interesting concepts and ideas being played with that surpass that. With the entire series on three discs, it's not a heavy commitment and it runs just about the right amount of time before it would start to feel like it's dragging.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Art Gallery,TV Commercial

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: C+
Extras Rating: C+
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 24.95
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Popotan