Fafner Vol. #5 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, March 20, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, March 21, 2006

What They Say
(Includes Episode 17-20) Control over Alvis takes center stage Fumihiko, Commander Barnes and Mizoguchi play a strategic high stakes game of nuclear engagement. Just as the Neo UN begins to withdraw from the island Commander Barnes asserts his authority over all of his subordinates and launches a nuclear missile towards the island. Later, Maya’s piloting capability is brought to light and she is embroiled in a political web of deceit. In such a critical time, the lines between good and bad are blurred when on of their own is labeled a Festum and slated for destruction. Will they abide by the law or will the pilots mutiny for the sake of friendship?

The Review!
Subtle plans are in motion to shake up the island but the cast of characters that reside there begin to find themselves getting closer.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series sports a solid active mix for the forward soundstage with lots of audio cues being moved across the screen both in terms of dialogue and sound effects. With the way some of the action sequences go there's also a good sense of depth to it as things move around the screen. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its full frame aspect ratio. The source materials for this release look to be of really good quality as there's practically nothing wrong with how this looks. With such recent animation, bold vivid colors and clean line work, it avoids all the usual troubles and instead just has this really great clarity to it. With so much of it taking place in exterior shots around an island, the amount of blue that's visible that usually gives trouble is pretty much a non-issue. The town and interior locations all look great as well with their more photorealistic style for the buildings and settings and all of it just maintains a very solid and problem free feel.

Soshi and Tsubaki pair up for the cover this time with Soshi being more solid in the foreground. His dark natured look continues to feel off but the cover picks up a few extra points for having Tsubaki on it. Like the previous cover, it feels a bit weak compared to the earlier ones with its lack of blue but the sunset colored waves come across nicely here. The back cover provides a few shots from the show and some large panels of illustrations along with the listing of episode numbers and titles. The summary is a big whoops though as it's actually the summary from a few episodes ago but it does list the right episode numbers. The remainder of the cover goes with the discs features and extras and basic production information. The insert included provides a very heavy blue filtered shot of the lanterns floating out to sea and opens up to a two panel piece with Soshi and Tsubaki together. The back of the insert provides target release dates for the remainder of the series. The reverse side of the cover has the original Japanese volume cover art that features Canon and Sakura.

It's been good to see so many new Nightjar menus lately and this one is no exception as it takes the DNA style concept used in the show in the visual monitors and applies it here with very striking color and graphics while bringing in new displays and character artwork. The navigation is easy to use along the bottom and available at all times which is great for making sure it's always interactive. Access times are nice and fast and the layout easy to get around with. The disc correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In its own way, Fafner manages in these four episodes to provide what are relatively low key episodes that don't really change much in the great scheme of things but at the same time has so much going on at times that it's hard to keep up. The larger picture gets affected by this in small nuanced ways but it also opens up some new paths for the final six episodes to play with.

The nature of the island has changed a lot with Tsubaki having come out of her cocoon of sorts and her wandering around and interacting with everyone has made for some interesting conversations with people since she knows just about everything. Of course, her being out also makes for a lot more work for those on the command staff since she is interacting so much more and doing more so there is much more information processing going on with her. Where Tsubaki seems to be making the most difference though is in how her relationship with Soshi is evolving as she's giving him different views on various problems that they come across and nudging him in certain ways to see truths that he's actually trying to hide from himself.

One area that's been interesting to watch evolve is not only the return of Kazuki to the island after his time at the Neo UN but also those who ended up coming along with him. There are plans afoot for a Trojan Horse plan to try and wipe out the island that some are unaware of. Kazuki's being kept out of sight for the most part as he undergoes some cell time as well as reacquainting with Soshi as the two need to be able to trust each other again. The focus is kept more on Canon and Mioshi as they deal with being on the island and no longer a part of the Neo UN. Mioshi's been an easy character to get into since he's up front about himself and the choices he's made but Canon is a whole other ball of problems. She's kept so much to herself and avoids people in general that anything we get from her changes just about everything we know about her.

There's a really good run of dramatic moments across the first episode as allegiances change and some hidden agendas surface but it's where it all flows from there. A lot of the episodes go towards a more down-time feel as those who've returned or been abandoned there look to find a new place in their lives that isn't related to war or fighting. Others are reconnecting with those they've lost years ago which brings some new connections up that change some of the family dynamics. The most interesting one was a surprise to me as Canon finds herself adopted in a sense by Shoko's mother. The potential for her to try and get Canon to fill that role is there but it's very muted and well done as she instead sees that Canon needs to be filled with humanity as she's little more than an empty vessel at this point. So much about Canon has been dealt with in how she's simply wanting things to end that having her trying to change her nature completely and interact with the group that's grown close over the series is like a culture shock for her but one that she's drawn to.

Relationships figure heavily into the series at this point as everyone has grown together now to the point where there are multiple pilots that have to work together to defend the island. The changes from early on where it felt like it was just Kazuki and a couple of others that could barely handle things are long gone. There are some clichéd methods of trying to expand these relationships such as the beach episode where everyone gets out there in swimsuits and does stuff together or even the festival with the dance later on. But what really pushes the way things have changed is the quick and at times almost amusing "court room" episode that happens when Tomi's father arrives with some information that points to a serious crime within the community. The kids really shine well in this as the seriousness of everything has hit home for them for some time and they won't allow an outsider to try and change it.

In Summary:
Fafner's had a bit of an uneven feel at times and in trying to discern what it was really going to be about. Even now there's still some mystery about it but revelations in this volume point towards a destination that those on the island are going to want to pursue. The cast for this show only seems to get bigger which at times, particularly at the start of a volume, works against it, but by the end of it I find that the flow has gotten just right and the characters work well. I'm expecting this to actually be more enjoyable when I can marathon it since there are so many deeply connected relationships here and pieces from the past that keep surfacing that change things. Combine all of the character issues with some really good action sequences, notably the latest Festum attack on the island, and this is a very engaging set of episodes overall that sets the show on course for the final couple of volumes.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

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: A
Packaging Rating: F/B
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fafner