Viewtiful Joe Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Brett Barkley
Review Date: Monday, March 13, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, February 07, 2006



What They Say
"Joe is a dude just like you and me. He has two great loves: his girlfriend Silvia and Captain Blue, the action-movie superhero. When Silvia is magically captured by a celluloid monster, Joe gets himself swallowed into the screen to save her. Joe meets Captain Blue just as the superhero is about to retire, exhausted from his lifelong battle against villains known as Jadows.

With special superpowers bestowed by Captain Blue, Joe transforms into ""Viewtiful Joe"" to bash the enemies in the Movieland. "


The Review!
A very fun and stylistically faithful adaptation of the popular video games, Viewtiful Joe the anime maintains that series' humor and adventure, while expanding on the source material.

Audio:
Viewtiful Joe Vol. 1 is presented in Dolby 5.1 in English only (though it does provide English closed captions). The English track is nicely done, making ample use of the rear channels. It was easy to make note, while watching, of just how immersive the sound is. Considering the action-packed feel of the series, the audio is equally fast and furious, coming at the viewer from all speakers.

Video:
Originally airing throughout 2004 and 2005 in Japan, Viewtiful Joe is presented here in its native standard Full Screen aspect ratio of 1.33:1. I thought the transfer looked absolutely great and detected next to no issues of aliasing or blurriness. I also thought the colors reproduced very nicely. Considering how the series relies so heavily on highly saturated colors, I was pleased to find the coloration remained consistent and really infused the animation with a life all its own.

Packaging:
Geneon's Viewtiful Joe Vol. 1 features a Limited #D Lenticular Onsert shipped over the standard cover. When turned, the image, set against the green background from the cover, shifts between Joe in street clothes and in costume, and while not spectacularly interesting in design or color, will likely attract attention on the shelves. The disk's actual cover, found beneath the "Onsert", is actually a combination of the two individual images from the "Onsert". The spine of the case features the title in an easy-to-read block print, an icon cropped from the cover, and the volume number.

The reverse of the disk case carries over the green background and prominently features stills from the episodes in a film cell design, with episode titles to the right, and a brief summary of the disk below that. DVD Extras are found on the lower left side of the cover. A larger image of a pre-transformation-Joe is found on the right of the disk. Information on the reverse, much like the front cover, is easy to find and read.

Viewtiful Joe Vol. 1 is bound with a sticker page and an insert. The sticker page features three different Viewtiful Joe stickers, a simple logo set against a black background; an image of Joe set against a faded background of his foes; and the final, which I thought was nicely designed, an image of Viewtiful Joe in a wild martial arts kick, set against a background of flashes and stars. The insert shares the actual cover image, and opens to a splash image of Viewtiful Joe and the cast.

Menu:
The main menu loads after a brief clip of Joe transforming to his Viewtiful Joe alter ego and loads against a solid green background with what appears to be yellow energy swirling around the bottom of the screen. An icon of Joe loads on the left of the screen, with the menu, volume number, and title on the right. The Viewtiful Joe image periodically darts across the screen, providing an almost animated feel to an otherwise very static menu. The menu options are listed as: Play, Setup, Scene Selection, and Extras. These are in descending order, and are easily navigable. A brief audio clip plays throughout.

Extras:
The extras are a little slim, featuring only Character Profiles, TV Spot Collection, and a Trailer. The Character Profiles featuring a brief write-up of introduction for both the heroes and villains, and list a number of characters not yet introduced in this volume. The TV Trailer Spots option is basically a montage of the Kids WB TV spots advertising the show. And finally, the Trailer is a slightly less kids-centric advertisement for the series. As the extras included on this disk are slim, I am hoping this will be remedied in future volumes. Considering the property's pedigree, I would like to see a little more about how the series was translated to the anime medium, as well background on the genesis of the original concept.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Viewtiful Joe the anime is based on the very popular Capcom video game series, initially released in 2003, of the same name. The series of 51 episodes aired in Japan from October 2004 to September 2005. Both the video game and this series seem to have drawn a great deal of inspiration from the plot of the American film, The Last Action Hero, and combine this with a very healthy dose of Henshin-style superheroics. As such, the series features a number of the genre trademarks, from villainous organizations, a helmeted and costume-clad superhero, martial arts-inspired monster and robot fighting, to the transformation sequences initiated by speaking the magic phrase; in this case, "Henshin a go-go, baby!"

Though it takes a few liberties in expanding on the story as featured in the game, the story here is much the same. While watching an extremely rare showing of a Captain Blue film, his lifelong fictional idol, in an old seemingly vacant theater, Joe and Sylvia are drawn through the silver screen in to Movieland, which is basically a montage of various movie worlds and settings come to life. But while Sylvia is kidnapped by Hulk Davidson for the nefarious purposes of the Jadow group, Joe has an encounter with Captain Blue. The Captain, having gotten on in years and no longer in peak fighting shape is unable to adequately challenge Jadow or rescue Sylvia, so he bequeaths his wide array of powers to Joe. And though he does not arrive at a name for his new superheroic persona in the two episodes on this disk, thus is Viewtiful Joe born.

As a fan of the video game, I was actually looking forward to this series. However, in order to fully meet my expectations, I felt this anime had to retain the same artistic and irreverent feel that so permeates the video game series. I am very pleased to reveal this anime stays true to the look and feel of the Viewtiful Joe games.

The first thing you'll likely notice when watching this anime (and which will be immediately recognizable if you've played the games) is the artistic feel. It truly stands out with a very unique style that relies on deep and regular blacks juxtaposed with bright, saturated colors. This vibrancy of color and the blacks makes the images jump off the screen, infusing them with a stylistic life all their own.

Additionally, the same irreverent attitude that makes the games so enjoyable can be found here. This is a series with a strong and consistent sense of humor. Light in tone and feel, the humor doesn't let up and never takes itself too seriously. From Joe's utter inability to understand his girlfriend, to the over-the-hill and pot-bellied Captain Blue, to the ongoing gag of Joe's half-hearted search for a name, nothing is sacred here and is thus, just as it should be.

In the three episodes featured on this review disk, the viewer is able to get a decent feel of the characters, though a number of those associated with the Jadow group remain undeveloped and, in some cases, are not even introduced. Joe, as yet loosely defining the term, is the series' hero and demands the most screen time. A slacker with a lifelong obsession with the Henshin superhero Captain Blue, Joe has his dreams fulfilled when he's given the powers of his hero in order to defeat Jadow and rescue his girlfriend, Sylvia. A great deal of the series' humor is found in his bumbling attempts at heroics and combating the minions of Jadow. Joe does, however, show some progress in his adjustment to the role of the superhero, most of which occurs through his recollection of various Captain Blue films and movies.

The rest of the cast featured in these episodes is comprised of Joe's girlfriend Sylvia, Captain Blue, and a number of series villains. While not deeply developed in these episodes, Sylvia fulfills the role of damsel in distress quite nicely. A doting, albeit attention-starved girlfriend, while she is not remotely interested in Captain Blue movies and collectibles, she is very much motivated dreams of a paperback-style romance. The matter-of-fact way in which she reacts to the strange and wild situations she finds herself in offers a great deal of humor. Captain Blue largely remains a mystery in these episodes, though it is very apparent he has let himself go. Sporting a bulging gut that protrudes from his costume, he serves as little more than Joe's occasional mentor. Villains Hulk Davidson, a giant green motorcycle riding rhinoceros/alligator-like creature, and Charles III, a walking bat creature, are both interesting in their roles as antagonists and add a large amount of humor and challenge in these episodes.

As stated above, the art style is nearly identical to that established in the video games and was a big part of my accepting this series. I was very relieved to find the series creators had high enough regard for the work done on the video game to try and replicate here and, to that end, did such a great job of it. From the fantastic use of color and bold black outlines, to the Henshin-inspired costumes sported by both he and Captain Blue, I was very pleased to find it all just felt right. I did note a few instances of inconsistency in character faces, but it wasn't enough to detract from my enjoyment of the art specifically, or the series in general.

The series animation was also solid throughout. I was very curious how the series would handle the fighting sequences, as they are such a staple of the games. I was not disappointed. Viewtiful Joe Vol. 1 employs some nice effects, such as Joe's dusty, grainy "film" flashbacks, and dynamic fighting sequences. Rather than rely on still shots, these episodes featured some great fights with a flavor similar to the games, particularly while Joe employs his powers. There are a number of instances featuring recycled animation (excluding Joe's transformation sequences, a staple of the Henshin genre), but I didn't feel they detracted from my enjoyment as most simply dealt with Joe's defeating the minion robots and how they fall once vanquished. These are certainly minor in comparison to what the series does well, particularly in the fight scenes, and are therefore easily overlooked.

In Summary:

I feel fans of the popular video game series are definitely going to be drawn to Viewtiful Joe Vol. 1. It manages to stay very close to the source material, and while it does expand on what was established there, it is never disrespectful in its adaptation. From art style, to character interaction, to the irreverent attitude of Joe and his tongue-in-cheek brand of superheroics, the feel from the game is entirely reproduced here. In this regard, fans of the video game series will be very pleased with the anime. However, as there is no original language option included in this English-only release, it is likely a number of fans will potentially be alienated by this decision.

While widely marketed for a younger audience, I believe this series has the potential to be attractive to a slightly larger audience, barring, of course, Geneon's decision to forgo the Japanese language option. The art style is very unique and brings a flavor and life all its own to the series. The animation is also solid and while fight scenes do have the occasional recycled animation, I was very pleased to find Viewtiful Joe Vol. 1 does not rely on the "dramatic" still shots so prevalent in many fighting anime. Combining some nice fight scenes with a fun sense of humor, I found the series to be enjoyable for what it is "a light Henshin fighting adventure.

Features
English 2.0 Language,English Closed Captions

Review Equipment
34" Sony FD Trinitron Wega HDTV KD-34XBR910 and Sony Dav-FR9 progressive scan Home Theatre System with 114 watts per channel to each speaker and 115 watts to each of the subwoofer's two woofers.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: C+
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 19.99
Running time: 65
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Viewtiful Joe