Spiral Vol. #6 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, August 27, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What They Say
Kousuke. Rio , Kanone and Ryoko prepare for the final showdown between the Blade Children and the Hunters. But, there’s a traitor in their midst. A connection to the missing Kiyotaka presents itself in the form of a kidnapper and Ayumu must find Madoka before it’s too late. But Madoka is being held hostage, forcing Ayumu into his final showdown with the Blade Children. Will Ayumu come out the victor, and more importantly, will he find happiness in himself?

The Review!
Bringing the series to a conclusion, though not the actual content itself, Spiral plays out the final arc with a more deadly nature to it. For Ayumu, the testing is over.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix is pretty solid with some moments of directionality apparent across the forward soundstage. There's a lot dialogue in this show and not quite as many action moments so a lot of what we do get is center channel based or has a full feeling to it. In checking out the other two mixes, the English stereo mix came across slightly louder which isn't unusual but the English 5.1 mix was significantly louder, enough that we had to turn the volume down quickly since it was such a difference. We didn't notice much in terms of directionality or clarity in the 5.1 mix as it was more just a volume different to our ears. We had no trouble with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of the Japanese language track.

Originally broadcast in 2003, the transfer for Spiral is presented here in its original full frame aspect ratio. With this being a recent show, the source materials are in tip top shape and are very clean and problem free. FUNimation has once again employed alternate angles for the opening and closing sequences where one angle has the English production credits being prominent and followed by a portion of the Japanese production team while the other angle retains the original Japanese text. The transfer in general here looks great though with bold solid colors that have only a few faint moments of blocking going on. Cross coloration and aliasing are virtually non-existent but there isn't exactly a lot of expressive animation in the show as it is very dialogue heavy with pans and stills.

Using some of the artwork from the Japanese DVD cover, Kanone gets the last cover with a fairly good headshot of him that's got a slight smile to it while the background has the gloomy headshot of Rutherford there. This works well just due to his hair color alone and the striking nature of his eyes. The back cover plays off of this and provides a smattering of shots of the characters from the show in a spiral form. The top has a brief sentence to hook you in while below the artwork there's the standard summary information and a listing of the discs features and extras. This section is far better than many other recent FUNimation releases as it's very clean and clear and doesn't use bad colors on top of bad colors to get the info across. As seems to be more consistent with FUNimation, there's no insert with this release and I really like that trend.

The menu layout for the series is both attractive and bothersome at the same time. The backgrounds chosen, still images of the characters that are really beautifully done pieces of artwork, look great and really fit with the haunting piece of instrumental music chosen to go with it. The part I don't much care for is the renaming of the selections to things like "progression" for play or "skew" or "exponents" for extras. Maybe it makes sense later in the series but it doesn't seem to have any relation to it in these first episodes and it certainly doesn't for the first time viewer just getting into the show. The access times are solid though and submenus load nice and fast. As usual, we didn't bother wondering if the language presets we have worked due to the angles and odd way that FUNimation sets up their discs.

Rounding out the series with the extras, we get the standard in the clean opening and closing sequence but we get a new piece in the form of a commentary track for the last episode done by the ADR director and several actors. They do things right by introducing themselves right away but for whatever reason, they way they recorded the track just makes it very difficult to listen to as it sounds like it was recorded through a small tunnel.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As the series has progressed, what became apparent is that this particular show has been more about the evolution of Ayumu into a character that can deal with the Blade Children and the problem that they present to themselves and to the world. That actual problem has been fairly well minimized and avoided though the idea of them being unnatural in a sense has been a constant reminder. Over the first twenty or so episodes things have kept the focus on the Blade Children testing Ayumu to see how much like his brother he is and whether he could really be that salvation.

The arrival of Kanone in the previous volume changed the method of what's going on as he's got a very different set of goals. The idea that he's working with the Hunters has been easy to see just based on how he deals with everyone and the way he phrases things so it's little surprise in this volume when the police superintendent reveals such things just before he avoids capture and interrogation by the Blade Children. After the first episode ends and the Blade Children find themselves unsure of how their future will unravel now, they and Rutherford are essentially pushed to the background as Kanone takes on the role of the main villain, or at least instigator, for the series. His meeting with Madoka leads to his essentially holding her hostage and setting into motion his own plans for Ayumu.

With the thought of Madoka as hostage, Ayumu of course leaps into action and follows the path that Kanone lays out and deals with all the traps along the way. The things that have haunted him in the past about living up to his brother or simply being worth existing at all become important here as he realizes that Kanone isn't challenging or testing him but rather actually trying to kill him. Ayumu's overcoming of the various challenges is paralleled with Kanone explaining things to Madoka and we see that his more direct challenges with serious consequences is designed, supposedly by Kiyotaka of all people in a way, to force Ayumu to grow up and get ready to handle the real challenge that's ahead of him. To stop living in Kiyotaka's shadow and to be able to do what's needed.

It's in this mindset that the ending of the series becomes easier to deal with since it doesn't answer the questions you think the series is going to be about based on the opening episodes. That story is there though but it's something where they can't answer it or even really allude to it all that much since the manga is still ongoing and looks to have quite a bit more to go by all appearances. The anime takes on the role of something akin to an opening chapter of a larger story where the hero must be born in a way and for them to realize what they have to do by growing up under stress and danger. When looked at from this angle, Spiral doesn't disappoint as much as it would if you were expecting answers to the other questions.

If there's anything to be disappointed by it's how almost everyone seems to get shoved to the side for these last episodes and have little to do with it. It makes sense so I'm not complaining about it really but after being so important for so long, particularly Hiyono, relegating them to such positions feels unfair. Madoka does however get much more screen time here which is a very good thing even if she is bound and depressed for a lot of it.

In Summary:
Going into Spiral was something of a challenge since not only were the opening episodes feeling very formulaic with the death of the week mentality but also because there were so many vocal people complaining about the ending of the show. While I'm not one hundred percent satisfied with the ending, it's one that I feel works for what they were trying to do and it serves a second fold purpose as well – it makes me want to read the manga now. You know that's the point half the time when shows like this are made in Japan and with more and more manga series making their way over here it becomes easier to deal with shows like this. The series had some odd moments to be sure and my interest in it swayed greatly depending on the volume and what kind of material was covered but the second half really picked up compared to how it started and the ending didn't disappoint as much as it seemed to devastate many others. Spiral's not for everyone but it's an intriguing show that could be so much more.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,ADR Director and Voice Actor Commentary,Textless Songs

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, 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: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: TV PG
Region: All Region DVD
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Spiral