DearS Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, June 27, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, August 02, 2005



What They Say
One year ago, an alien spacecraft crashed into Tokyo Bay, leaving the entire crew stranded on Earth with no means of returning home. In no time, the aliens are granted Japanese citizenship and begin participating in a home-stay program with the local people in order to learn all about human culture. When one DearS goes astray and wanders into the life of an ordinary high school student named Takeya, the adventure begins and this DearS is about to learn things they don't teach you in school!

Directed by Akira Suzuki (Happy Lesson), Written by Takao Yoshioka (Ikki Tousen, Happy Lesson), English Language Version by New Generation Pictures (Haibane Renmei, Paranoia Agent, Ikki Tousen, R.O.D the TV).

The Review!
When a ship full of cute alien girls gets stranded on Earth, they make their home in Japan and begin a home-stay program in order to properly assimilate themselves into the culture.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series has a fairly standard stereo mix for a TV show which means it's all based on the forward soundstage and has a few moments of decent directionality to it, usually some key moments for dialogue and a number of action effects, but is otherwise a full sounding mix. There's nothing terribly outstanding or underwhelming about the mix and it avoids any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Being a recent TV series it's filled with a lot of what makes shows attractive right now with bold colors and very clean lines and backgrounds. The opening half of the first episode or so looks somewhat soft which initially looked like it was due to the fog in the scene but seemed to carry on beyond that for a bit before it evened out. The growing trend of slightly lighter colors in the character skin which obscures some of the details is also done here, so areas like eyes tend to blend a bit more as well. The transfer appears to be pretty much problem free as there's no visible cross coloration or color gradation where there's large areas of the same color and aliasing is very minimal. The transfer for this feels a bit hard to pin down whether the way it looks is intentional or not having not seen the original release.

Packaging:
The US release of the series is using artwork not used for the Japanese retail release (perhaps on the rental releases) and overall it looks much better than the Japanese retail release artwork does I think. The first volume has a good looking piece of Ren and Takeya pressed up against each other with a pink background filled with hearts that's mixed with whites and other shades of pink. The pale green border around it and the stylized logo all works really well here and provides for a very soft and appealing cover while still providing plenty of detail to the illustration. The back cover goes for more of the same in mixing the two types of colors and artwork. The right side does a breakdown of episode numbers and titles with a shot from each episode while the full summary is in the center. The discs features are easy to find and all the production information is below it. I do still hope for the day Geneon joins most of the other companies in using the technical grid in some form however.

Menu:
The layout for the main menu is pretty simple and gets the job done with a blue background that has floating air bubbles going up while the foreground has a static shot of Ren in her DearS costume leaning against Takeya in his school uniform. The selections are to the left with the basic navigation and easy episode selection as well as the series logo, all set to a brief bit of instrumental music to it. The design and layout is good but it doesn't excite all that much but it works well and is easy to navigate. Once again they've combined the set-up and extras menu though it seems like I'm the only one it bothers but I'll keep saying it since it leads to a cluttered menu. Access times are nice and fast and the disc correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.

Extras:
The only extras included in the opening volume are a brief but good looking series of illustrations in the art gallery and a textless version of the opening sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
DearS looks to be the next entry in the already busy harem genre of the anime world but at the same time it goes about it in a rather slow way for the first four episodes. If anything, it seems more like the next iteration of the Chobits idea than anything else but it does bring in several elements of what make up a standard harem show.

The world of DearS is very much like our own except that a year ago, an alien space ship ended up in orbit around Earth and came down in Japan. The ship held something like a hundred and fifty people who had no idea how to fix what was wrong with the craft as it was on its way home. But since they can no longer get home, they've spent the past year working out deals with the Japanese government to become citizen of the country and to move into the population. As we're introduced to the series lead in a young man named Takeya who lives on his own, we find that their town has been selected as a place where one of the DearS will be coming to live and attend school.

Takeya's life is pretty simple as it stands right now as his only real problem is his landlords daughter Neneko who promised Takeya's mother that she'd look after him. So she abuses her status as the landlords daughter and walks in on him all the time to drag him to school and make sure he's eating right and all that. She gives him plenty of grief about everything under the sun but otherwise Takeya seems like a fairly average kid without much going on in his life other than just getting by. He's usually fairly broke even though he works at a video store so he sneaks out new adult releases so his friends can check them out and pay him back in either food or money. He's got a bit of a rough edge around him but he falls into the likeable category pretty easily.

His life changes though when on his walk home he encounters a young woman crouching off to the side wearing nothing but a cloak. She practically passes out in his arms so he brings her home and slowly comes to the realization that she's the DearS that's going to be moving into the area. She can't speak any Japanese and seems to be unsure of what's going on but before you know it she's mastered much of the language and considers Takeya her husband-master now and will do anything he says. Of course, we see while all this is going on that this girl, whose name gets shortened down to Ren, is actually someone who shouldn't have been released into the population and is being sought after by the DearS higher-ups. She doesn't even list in the known database of DearS which causes enough of a commotion.

The opening couple of episodes plays out this idea of Ren falling into Takeya's care and learning the language and being taught the right and wrong of things. She's brought into school as well and she picks up things fairly fast once she's given an actual showing of it and pretty much everyone is excited to have her there. While she's adjusting to school, we get to see the arrival of the actual DearS, named Miui, that was supposed to come to this town as she moves in with her foster family, a slightly eccentric elderly couple who barely let Miu do anything. It's an amusing if slightly surreal family experience as Miu tries to make herself useful but she doesn't start to feel like she belongs until she arrives at school, only to soon find out that she's been supplanted there by a "fake" DearS.

A lot of how the start of the series felt was very much like Chobits where you have the lead teaching the woman how to dress, giving her awkward things to wear, getting all worked up over huge amount of nudity and generally just being a dork while not really understanding exactly the situation he's in. He does get help from Neneko as time goes on and the secret gets out since Takeya does try to get Ren to leave but she's committed herself to Takeya completely. We get some small bits throughout all four episodes that deal with the situation the DearS are in overall but mostly it's kept to the individual level. The arrival of Miu into the show changes the dynamic a bit and is where things start to feel like a harem show but at least only Ren has truly shown interest in Takeya.

DearS has a good bit of that been there and done that feel but I like the opening twist with the aliens being stranded there and doing the home-stay thing in order to foster better relations and understanding. Of course, misunderstandings are the order of the day across the board so that's sort of negated from the start and by the end of the fourth episode this one town already has three DearS in it. The over the top moments are definitely over the top; the class we get to watch has an overly sexualized teacher who often just wears her lingerie there and has her students learning to speak English but having them translate romance novels and speaking them out loud, which only sends her into bigger squeals of pleasure. Everyone ends up getting into the way things play out though which leaves Takeya feeling overwhelmed and alone, which Neneko feels sad about because you know the bespectacled unattractive girl has a huge crush on him and hates that he's living with a bouncy bosomy beauty.

In Summary:
While watching the show I certainly found myself laughing at various events, liking how it was initially set up and then finding that it had too many DearS too quickly, though this is only a thirteen episode series it's not unexpected. Thinking about it and writing about it a day later I'm ambivalent about the show because it feels like there's something I can't quite pin down about it that rubs me the wrong way. It's certainly not a bad show for what it's trying to do as it succeeds in that well enough. It almost just feels like it has too many clichés in it and not enough of its own material to really stand out enough.

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

Review Equipment
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: B-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 24.98/34.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: DearS