Loveless Vol. #1 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, February 09, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, February 14, 2006



What They Say
Ritsuka's innocent childhood days came to a bloody end when he lost the one person who understood him. His brother Seimei was always his guiding star, and with out him Ritsuka was lost.

The enigmatic Soubi appears to change all that. Sobi was once partners with Seimei, a sacrifice who gave his energy so Sobi could fight. Now Sobi has come to Seimei looking for a new partner. Will Ritsuka find happiness chained to Soubi?

The Review!
Trying to find his place in life as well as those who killed his brother, young Ritsuka's life changes dramatically when Soubi enters the picture.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. Media Blasters opted not to dub this show so there is no English language option available. The show has a simple but effective stereo mix which really pushes forward some of the music throughout it, such as the distinct piano moments or the overall sound of the opening and closing songs. The bulk of the show is dialogue based though with very little action so it's mostly center channel based but when it does shift to action or some of the more expansive dialogue scenes, placement is well done and it flows well.

Video:
Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. While this series is definitely done with a cost conscious approach based on the number of pans and still scenes throughout it, the actual look and quality of it all is quite good and the transfer captures the moody and almost dreamlike nature of it where there's a certain softness to the backgrounds. The character designs exhibit this as well where you get things such as blacks that aren't quite meant to be dark blacks but rather well shaded that add to the overall softness. There are some very vibrant moments throughout, such as during the spell sequences, and the materials overall here look fantastic.

Packaging:
Using the Japanese artwork with a little bit of modification for the US market, the cover here is a great example of the dreamlike nature of the designs from the show as it has Ritsuka in Soubi's near embrace while the butterfly elements from the show float behind them giving it a wash of different soft pastel colors. It's a good looking cover that fits well and gets an added plus for using the Japanese logo, though they dropped the subtext that was on the Japanese release. The back cover takes the style from the front and builds nicely on it with the blues and whites meshing well to create the right mood as it provides the summary of what to expect, a few shots from the show and a list of the features. The discs technical information is all clearly listed in the grid below, something that we don't always mention but continue to find it an area where Media Blasters excels over most other companies.

Menu:
The menu layout uses the artwork from the cover off to the left side while using the designs from the back cover to serve as the design for the menu selections while some of the vocal music plays along. The layout and design does a good job of once again capturing the nature of the show in these early episodes and mixing it all together to put you in the right frame of mind for the show itself. Access times are nice and fast, free of extra animation between menus and due to the language options of this release the players' presets are pretty useless.

Extras:
There aren't a lot of extras for this release but I was glad to see that the first volume provided not only the clean opening sequence but the first batch of the "SD Theater" material where SD sized heads of the two leads bound about going over flaws in the show and generally playing with innuendo.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Every couple of years there seems to be a show that comes out that manages to completely capture the attention of a number of women in my circle of friends. While they don't exactly get fanatical about the property, since I really dislike the term fanatic anyway, they're very much into the show as it comes out, they buy up a lot of the goods that come out and simply have what you could call a love affair with the show. These shows are few and far between but when they come along they are simply fascinating to see how they all react to it, often in synch at that. When Loveless hit in 2005, it quickly became a title that they all got into as well as a lot of other people by word of mouth and due to some of the quirks of the shows nature. I watched it all from a distance and avoided sampling any of it so I could approach it fresh when the DVD arrived here.

Loveless takes place in a world similar to our own but with some minor but intriguing differences. While you could call them cat people, there's really nothing to them personality wise that gives them standard cat people nature; the inhabitants here are all standard looking but they have ears and tails. But in a nice twist, the ears and tails are only there until they lose their virginity, at which point they come off. It's an interesting approach to have ones sexual status be something that's obviously known to all since it can introduce some serious social conservatism into things as it can't be easily hid. It also creates something of a strong stigma depending on the age; for example, one of the teachers in the school is a young woman of twenty three and she still has her ears and tail. Others in her age range don't and it's something that you can see being an element that students in her class could tease her about.

With this obvious method in place, Loveless instantly gives you the feeling that a large part of the storyline is going to be about the loss of innocence and youth. It's central character, sixth grader Ritsuka, has already lost a lot of this as we get to know him. About two years prior to now he had lost his brother whom he held much love for in a way that he hasn't been able to properly piece together. He's convinced his brother was killed and he wants to find the killer, but at the same time it was happening during a period when his mother at least was acting very strangely. Even more curious, just a few days before his brother died, he learned that he had another name instead of Seimi that he went by, "Beloved." Much of this could lead to confusion for a young boy of just ten and it caused his once good grades and positive social standing to change into that of underperformance and isolation.

But now he's at a new school and everything's about to change for him again. His introverted nature is challenged by a very perky fellow student named Yuiko who has decided that she wants to at the least be his friend. She's an interesting change from the usual lead female character because she doesn't seem terribly swift and is easily used by what she believes are her friends. We've seen characters similar to this before but they really didn't seem as, well, I hesitate to say dumb but maybe clueless as Yuiko does here. Yuiko does things that tries to get Ritsuka to come out of his shell but it's mostly just her presence and outward nature that causes things to happen around her but in non-bombastic manner. She's not a typical harem character.

Where Ritsuka finds his strongest challenge though is when he finds himself in the presence of a college student named Soubi. Soubi's not the type you see as a lead, more often relegated to secondary but key. Here, his servile nature, mysterious background and quasi dark looks has him as the man who knows much of what's gone on as he's revealed himself to be a friend of Seimi's and one that was tied to him in a very strong way. It turns out that the name that Ritsuka had learned of Seimi's, the Beloved, is etched into Soubi's neck. Another pair of characters show up to attack them in an effort to spirit Ritsuka away from Soubi and they're similar as the guy has the name "Breathless" etched in him and the girl is able to use powers. In the pairing, one is the sacrifice and the other is able to wield the powers. A relationship that Soubi apparently seems eager to use with Ritsuka who is apparently tagged with the name Loveless. And trading partners, even after one dies, is not something that's commonly accepted it seems.

Much of what we get during the first four episodes is a really well done meshing of the mystery and dreamlike nature of the world that Ritsuka inhabits and the new people that are coming into his life during a period of change. There is a big mystery going on here about what really happened to his brother, what the powers and people behind the powers want as it's not something the public seems to know about as well as the relationship that Seimi and Soubi had. From Ritsuka's point of view there is a lot going on and it's hard to imagine how well a twelve year old would handle it, particularly when you have the strong emotional implications going on about love and desire as well as the mixture of master and servant elements. A good amount of this does revolve around innocence though and the loss of it is sure to become a stronger piece of it as it goes on as just a few brief scenes here, such as when Ritsuka pierces Soubi's ears, really become almost semi erotic in its nature.

If there's an area on this release that I don't like it's in the fact that it wasn't dubbed. While it's rare that I watch dubs as my first viewing, I tend to listen to everything dubbed during the time I write the reviews so I've listened to almost everything dubbed. One thing I've believed in for years is that subtitle fans must support dubs because we want the dub fans to support us when no subtitle track is provided. That said, I can understand not doing dubs for shows like Sukisho or some small little OVA series from the 80's. There's a point where doing a dub will make you lose money. But with Loveless, a show that's had so much buzz and has the ability to cross promote with the manga series coming out – a release that will take at least a year to get through and give you a place to advertise the anime – it seems counterproductive. This is the kind of show that you really wanted dubbed because it's something that will give the actors a chance to stretch a bit more, to do something more human and more emotional. Hopefully this will change over time and more shows from this genre will get treated to dubs and we'll get a new dub for this someday. But my disappointment in the lack of one now really stands.

In Summary:
Like most first volumes, Loveless sets up the premise well while still working in a great deal of mystery to what it's all about. The characters have very striking and distinct personalities and most of them tend to stand out against type which is almost rare these days. There are some fascinating elements to the show that I want to see more of and from a design perspective they do a great job of keeping things so close to normal while still being almost subversive that it's very appealing. The show hasn’t won me over in a huge way but these opening episodes have provided a far more interesting start than a lot of other shows that come from the cookie cutter land of scripts these days. Loveless definitely has me intrigued.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening, SD Theater

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI set to 480p, 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: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
MSRP: 19.95
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Loveless