Sakura Taisen: Ecole de Paris (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, August 30, 2005
What They Say
An unseen evil lurks in the streets of Paris, and unless something is done, the darkness will unleash its destruction and consume all that is good. The City of Love will be lost to her people forever. All hope rests within the hearts of five young ladies. The only problem is, they don’t even know it yet!
But will an apprenticed nun, a reserved aristocrat, a hardened criminal, the daughter of a wealthy Japanese Baron, and traveling circus emcee set aside their unique differences and come together as one for the defense of many? The war continues and the Paris Floral Assault Division is born!
When you have a massively popular franchise, what better way to expand it than to move into a new location and mostly new cast? Enter Paris!
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The OVA series sports a decent stereo mix that has some good directionality during the fight sequences and some of the other action oriented scenes but when it comes to dialogue it's a pretty straightforward piece with the bulk of it through the center speak. The track is solid overall and delivers but it lacks some of the oomph you might expect during the big battle scenes. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released in 2003, the transfer for this OVA series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Being such a new and high profile production the transfer and materials here look just great. These episodes run the gamut of locations and light settings across the Paris backdrop and it looks great throughout with rich colors that maintain a very solid feel. The light sequences show a good amount of detail while the dark interior moments don't have any visible blocking going on. There's a touch of aliasing going on in a few scenes but that's about it. The transfer is pretty much clean and clear throughout and looked very smooth on our setup.
Using a great piece of artwork, the front cover has the very attractive image of Erica in her combat uniform kneeling in church praying while angel wings flow from her. The combination of the design, the wings and the stained glass in the old church background is just very eye-catching and draws you in completely with all of its detail. The bottom section retains the series Japanese name in English along with the blue, white and red logo for the Ecole de Paris part and even part of the artwork above retains the full Japanese logo. This is a great looking piece. The back cover is nicely laid out with the cross imagery that has character artwork in each section while the light cross area contains the summary, episode names and the various features. The bottom is a bit tight in presenting the production information and the technical grid so it's a bit squished but still legible and useful. No insert is included with this release. The only area I have a real issue with is the running time which is listed as 125 minutes. This is, depending on your point of view, either disingenuous or an outright lie. The show's running time is about 75 minutes total for the three OVAs. When you add in the runtime of the extras, you get to the 125 minute mark. Most releases that want to bump up their runtimes by including the extras list it as "75 minutes + 50 minutes of extras" or something similar.
The main layout is a simple static menu that has some good looking character art of the lead women along the right while the left is a cloudy sky that has a cross hanging in midair and the menu selections next to it with the series logos while some of the instrumental music plays along. While not a lavish or animated menu, it's a piece that serves well and is attractive enough for the few seconds most of us are there. Access times are nice and fast and the layout easy to navigate. Due to the setup of FUNimation discs we did not use our players presets and adjusted them manually as it affects which angles play.
For the fans of this show, there are a copious amount of extras included here. The first piece is a special on bringing the show to life that picks up from the games released in Japan and runs with the voice actors talking about getting familiar with these new characters. This runs about fourteen minutes in length. Another special has the voice actresses talking about their roles some more and how all of this figured into creating what we eventually see in the anime and beyond into the game, which runs about thirteen minutes. The last video piece that accompanied the third OVA is a "special conversation" with the shows producer/director Oji Hiroi along with all the voice actors as they talk about the series. It's amusing watching the voice actor for Ogami being surrounded by all these women asking what the hardest thing about working with them was. Rounding out the extras, there's a selection of Japanese commercials for the games.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With as long as Sakura Taisen has been around, it's surprising that it took as long as it did for it to finally do the obvious and start dealing with a new branch and introducing new characters, mecha and situations that can expand the overall mythos. We've seen pale imitators to the franchise come and go but with the continued popularity of the games, the anime seems to do well each time with its target audience and occasionally beyond.
With the anime, just about each Sakura Taisen release has had the unfortunate problem of rebooting itself and introducing the situation all over again. For Ecole de Paris, this isn't an issue since it's a fresh start and even better it takes place before the game that contains these characters so they aren't bound in a sense by what happens in the game, they just have to lead us up to that situation. The downside one quickly realizes is that the game takes the characters and puts them through what is considered the best thing about these games, the bonding process that turns them into an effective unit. That leaves the prequel anime that we have here a piece that introduces us to the Paris setting, the characters and how they all came to operate under the Flower Troop banner.
My hope had been that since the cast was all knew and they had a few episodes with which to introduce the cast, it would have a good smooth feel to it but instead it turns into a surprisingly jumbled piece of work that is really hamstrung by a couple of things. The people in charge of bringing the Paris division to life, an older French woman and one of the men behind financing the Japanese division, seem to be in control of more power than they let on and end up causing far more destruction in the city than the Kaijin they seek to destroy or, for example, Lobelia when they try to capture or kill her. Their motivations, backgrounds and reason for being is kept relatively cloaked here and they seem like they're just far too powerful in a sense for what they're doing. It'd be like if Yoneda from the Japanese branch had powers on level with a Kaijin.
The other area that hamstrings it is that it falls under the same problem that the other series have all had. We're introduced to a ranging set of characters; Erica is the ditzy and sleepyheaded good girl that will always save the day in a pinch, Glycine is the noble born haughty woman who feels that it's her destiny to protect the people and determine what is good for them, Coquelicot is the cute little girl on the streets with an affinity for animals, Lobelia is the street tough and very powerful spirit user who is also a thief and Hanabi is the quiet Asian girl who is blossoming under this new area. Add in the familiar face of Ogami to the scene as he gets transferred here to get the division underway and you'll feel like he must – you've seen it all before.
The only truly interesting twist that I could find with this is that Lobelia starts off as a thief and their attempts to capture her is to bring her into their use by telling her that every time she fights the Kaijin she'll get her prison sentence reduced and even a bonus. Everything else has echoes that aren't even worth bringing up in regards to the original cast but without the years of background and familiarity. The new setting isn't used all that much, there are a few fight scenes with the Kaijin but they can't force any real bonding or true teamwork across the entire team since that's the point of the game and even when they do roll out the mecha for the finale, the integration of the CG and the anime just doesn't work at all. I couldn't believe how awful it looked when they had Erica's mecha have its hatch ripped open so that you could see her inside. The animated version of her inside the CG mecha was laughable.
My first experience with the Sakura Taisen franchise began in 1999 and it's felt like it's been rebooted in anime form a million times since then. I looked forward to this new version since it would have an all new cast and setting but it just feels far too jumbled and its connections with the original aren't given the proper introduction. While I do not consider myself an experienced fan of the franchise because I have never (nor will ever) played the games, I'm familiar enough with the premise and have heard plenty from friends who are passionate about them. Coming into this OVA series left me wondering what was going on and just how different things had become over the years. I can only imagine how someone completely unfamiliar with the franchise will react to it. It felt like that it could have been left untranslated and I would have gotten the same feeling from it. I've felt in the past that the other series could at the least on some level be enjoyed by those who haven't played the games, though if you played them you'd get more out of it. For Ecole de Paris, it feels like it's no more than a love letter to the fans who are intimately familiar with it and not for the rest of us.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Japanese Staff Interviews, Japanese Video Game Commercial Spots
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: D
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: TV PG
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Sakura Wars / Sakura Taisen