Final Fantasy Unlimited Collection (Thinpak) (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, June 19, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, August 23, 2005
What They Say
12 years ago, the gateway to another world suddenly appeared and two mysterious beasts of astonishing power awoke! The beasts appeared to destroy each other, leaving behind only a myriad of unanswered questions and the inexplicable Pillar of Darkness. Now, the twin children of two scientists who disappeared on that so-called Day of Conjunction set forth on a hazardous quest in search of their lost parents. Boarding a phantom subway, Ai and Yu travel to Wonderland, a chaotic world of amazing beauty and thrilling danger. Accompanied by Lisa, an enigmatic woman they meet on the train, and Kaze, a brooding stranger with a demon-summoning gun, the twins begin an incredible journey that will lead to the mysterious heart of Wonderland.
The audio for this series is pretty well done, possibly better than the video transfer. The 5.1 English mix is nice, but doesn't add as much over the 2.0 stereo track as it could. The audio is generally clean and there were no noticeable synching problems, lag, or glitches. If you prefer the Japanese dialog with subtitles, no worries, you won't be missing too much. (On a non-technical note, this was the first series in a while where I found the English dub to be a significant distraction. Admittedly, the original Japanese content probably doesn't give the English translators much to work with in this case, but I found the dub to be rather awkward and clunky.)
This series is presented in the original 4:3 standard screen format. The transfer quality on FF: Unlimited leaves a lot to be desired. There is obvious aliasing in many scenes. Colors are nice and saturated but artifacts are noticeable throughout, and for me took away from the viewing experience. The animation itself is probably going to be an issue for some viewers. There are some fairly well done CG elements, but the majority of the characters and settings are done in a traditional animation style that is so simplistic that it strays towards "downright ugly" at times.
As usual, ADV has a nice, sturdy thin pack here, with vivid images of the characters. Each of the DVD cases carries this quality, as well. No skimping here, which is nice.
Each volume has easy to use, no frills menus. The episode numbers are placed at the top of the menu, no "Play all" option is provided. In addition, each volume has the Languages menu, which allows the viewer to choose English or Japanese w/ subtitles. Volume One of the set includes menu items for DVD Credits and ADV Previews. The menus contain some nice background music, but it's a short clip, so it repeats pretty quickly. There are no animations or video in any of the menus.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the immense popularity of the Final Fantasy franchise, one can't help but feel a little excitement whenever a series or movie comes along bearing that name. Unfortunately, that excitement can easily seem misplaced when faced with a final product that bears little resemblance to the style and quality of storytelling that fans have come to expect from the series. In this regard, Final Fantasy: Unlimited continues what has become a bit of a trend. It offers many of the most beloved elements of a Final Fantasy product - chocobos, moogles, cactaurs, and even a prominent role for Cid, the airship-loving engineer - but it is clear early on that the storyline for this incarnation will veer drastically away from the franchise norm. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and as only a casual Final Fantasy fan, I didn't have much trouble setting aside my preconceived notions about what I wanted the series to be, but it is definitely an obstacle...and one that Final Fantasy: Unlimited does not work particularly hard to overcome.
The storyline for this incarnation begins with a sudden, shocking phenomenon occurring in our own modern-day Earth. Off the coast of Japan, a giant vortex-like pillar appears in the sea, and two monstrous creatures arrive through it, apparently in the midst of a life or death struggle. As the vortex and monsters emerge, we briefly meet two scientists watching these amazing events from shore. Skip ahead twelve years. The monsters are gone, but the vortex-pillar remains. The scientists we met so briefly have two children, Ai and Yu. (Names that added a fair amount of unintended amusement to the English dub.) We learn that the scientists have disappeared on a quest to visit "Wonderland" - an unusual world accessed by traveling beyond the vortex. Ai and Yu have set out for Wonderland themselves, in search of their parents, and catch a ride on an unusual subway to get there. They are joined on the subway by Lisa, a young woman who takes the children under her wing, accompanying them in their journey and helping to protect them with her magical "Kigen Arts".
Wonderland itself proves to be not just a single place, but a series of worlds joined together by various pathways - the most prominent of which is the subway system that they arrived on. The children travel on the subway through a series of surreal, unsettling worlds, exploring each one in hopes of finding some sign of their parents. This task is complicated right away by the minions of Earl Tyrant, the child-like, despotic ruler of Wonderland who thrives on the Chaos his underlings, the "Lords of Gaudium", spread through each world. These underlings become a recurring threat, as the most common episode plot involves the children arriving in a new world, exploring a bit, then being threatened by a monster controlled by one of the Lords. Each of these monsters is then defeated (just in the nick of time) by a nominal fourth member of their little group, Kaze - a brooding loner type who wields a super-powered weapon called a Magun to execute this Final Fantasy's version of a Summons.
Although he never quite joins their group, Kaze becomes something of a protector for the children, as he always manages to be in the right place at the right time to save the day. But more importantly, Kaze provides one of the series' most interesting recurring elements in his conflict with Makenshi, another mysterious loner who is allied with the Earl - although he seems to only tolerate the alliance for the chance to confront Kaze, carrying out some old and deadly feud. The mystery of Kaze, his Magun, and his relationship with Makenshi plays out sporadically over the course of the whole series, and always gives a much needed boost of excitement to events.
Unfortunately, for at least the first two-thirds of the series, Kaze's storyline is really the only element that held any serious interest for me. I'm not sure what age-range FF:U originally targeted, but it seems to be aimed much younger than I would have expected, as there is a sort of simplicity to the series that makes it feel rather superficial. The worlds the children travel through are clearly designed to be unusual and surreal, but they feel oddly flat and lifeless, more like cardboard cut-outs of a setting rather than actual worlds. Likewise, most of the characters lack any sustained depth of personality. Each of them has moments that evoke a glimmer of interest (especially Lisa and Cid), but overall, I found the execution of the episodes so bland and formulaic that the series couldn't maintain that interest beyond a few scenes.
This problem continues, somewhat, up until the very end of the series, but there is a definite improvement as it moves into a longer arc that builds up to the final episodes. Lisa and the children join forces with the "Commodeen", a rebel group operating in Wonderland with the goal of restoring Order out of the Chaos that the Earl is striving for. The Commodeen has a plan that requires an airship built by Cid, their genius engineer, but to get the airship working, they must first travel by submarine to a land that is known for its "flying water". The trip becomes one long series of dangerous encounters as their submarine is trapped in a Rubik's Cube of a maze laid out by one of the Earl's henchmen in which each cube contains a challenge. Each challenge passed allows the group to move closer to their goal, while each failure moves them closer to the bottom of the maze where they will be devoured by Chaos.
Many of these challenges are no more exciting than those featured prior to this arc, but perhaps because of the increased number of characters involved and the increased urgency to wrap things up, the storylines start to feel more substantial. Characters start to become much more focused on their goals than they had seemed previously, and the sequence of events starts to tie together several recurring subplots of the series. In particular, the full details of the Earl's goal for Wonderland are revealed, especially with regards to his plans for "Omega", an ultimate monster that was dismantled some time ago, but whose pieces have still managed to be an almost unstoppable threat each time the protagonists encountered one. Throughout much of the series, the Earl has collected pieces of Omega, and as the series builds to its conclusion, Lisa, the children, and their allies must act to shut down his plan before the world-devouring monster can be brought back to life. Along the way, the fates of the children's parents and the true nature of Makenshi and Kaze's conflict are revealed. As in the earlier episodes, it is really this latter conflict that is the most satisfying, but I found the finale, overall, to be quite worthwhile compared to how I felt about the series earlier on.
I believe Final Fantasy: Unlimited will be a fairly tough sell for most viewers. For fans of the franchise, the lack of a traditional "Final Fantasy"-ish plot will be a significant negative. In addition, the series is saddled early on with formulaic, bland storylines without any of the strong personality or charm that could have made up the difference. Still, despite its flaws, the series does manage to provide at least one recurring subplot that is genuinely engaging, and I found the overall finale to be quite satisfying, providing a strong finish that left me feeling much more pleased with the series than I would have expected.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles
Marantz DV4300 Progressive scan DVD player via HD component connection, Marantz VP-12S3 DVI/Component HD DLP Projector, 110" 16:9 Stewart FireHawk Fixed Wall Mount Screen, Marantz SR9300 7.1 A/V Receiver 140 watts/discrete channel (7), DTS/DTS-ES/DTS Neo: 6, DD, D-PLII THX Certified 7.1 speaker system
Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: C+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
Running time: 625
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Final Fantasy Unlimited