Utawarerumono Vol. #2 (also w/box) (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, March 20, 2007
What They Say
Along with his newfound allies, Hakuoro clashes with evil tyrants who challenge his very existence. As these despots attempt to destroy all that he holds dear, the masked one realizes this anarchy cannot " must not " continue. He digs deep into his steely resolve to return his people to peace. Nevertheless, as one army of fiends is dispatched, another is spawned from the depths in its place. Still one question looms ominous, but unspoken. What is the meaning behind the mask? Perhaps, it endows Hakuoro with the clarity of truth to do what is right. Maybe it allows him to keep his distance from a world where he is essentially an interloper. Or could it possibly hold the secret to his past that only his savior, Tuskuru, knew of before her demise? Find out for yourself in these five epic tales of Utawarerumono.
Hakuoro's growing army brings the rebellion to a new stage and changes the course of the nation.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series sports a strong stereo mix that has plenty of well placed directionality across the forward soundstage. There are a number of good action sequences throughout but it's the dialogue and incidental sound effects that come across rather well here. The English mix is done in 5.1 and brings that extra bit of clarity in placement as well as with the music. With both tracks the dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no trouble with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Similar to a few other new series from ADV, the presentation here looks very strong with lots of great looking solid colors with lots of vibrancy. Backgrounds in particular look very strong with little in the way of shifting or noise and the characters hair avoids noise or blocking as well. The color palette isn't an overly bright or saturated one so we get a good mix of strong but earthy tones here that serve the material well. Add in that it's free of cross coloration and very minimal with aliasing and you have a very solid presentation.
With the first cover having gone for the mask approach that I liked, I figured the remaining volumes would center around the lead characters. To my surprise, the pair of sisters takes this cover instead of someone like Hakuro or Eluluu. The artwork chosen certainly works well for selling it as a catgirl show of a sort as well as the general character designs and expressions used. It's not quite so much a push of the fantasy aspect though. The logo, again using the foil, looks good along the bottom and the background in general has an eye-catching look to it with the green layered foil. The back cover doesn't make out too well with it though as holding it at even a slight angle to read, particularly in the overhead lighting of a retail store, will make it difficult. The top third is given over to the summary for the show and a listing of the extras while the middle has shots from the show and a tagline to sell it with that's done in the silver foil. The bottom third brings about the standard clean layout of the production information and technical grid which incorrect lists the number of episodes but gets the running time right. No reversible cover is provided but we get a good looking booklet with some character artwork on the cover that opens up to multiple interviews with both the Japanese creative staff and the US staff.
The second volume also comes in a disc+box variant which is set to hold all six volumes of the series. Thankfully no foil is used on it so it's a bit flat in comparison but it's a great looking solid chipboard box. Each of the main panels has the mask on it along the top half while underneath and behind it you can see the landscape of the countryside. The spine panel has a mix of some of the lead characters in a line with the logo through the center. Similar to the keepcases, all the panels have a lot of green to them and an earthy feel in general. I really like the look of this even though it's fairly minimal in some ways and not terribly heavy on the character artwork.
The menu design is rather simple and effective as it uses the cover artwork zoomed in on the mask along with all the grass around it. Behind it there are clouds passing by at a brisk pace that blends into the color scheme which gives it a really interesting sense of movement. Overlaid on this image is access to all five episodes while the languages and extras are accessible along the bottom. Combined with a bit of fast paced instrumental music from the series, it comes together well and sets the mood nicely. Submenus load quickly with no transitional animations and the disc read our players' language presets and played accordingly.
The extras get expanded a bit with this volume though it does keep to the basics. The usual suspects are here as we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences as well as a character artwork gallery. The extended episode previews are here for these relevant episodes and a new round of terms in the glossary are provided. The new extra is a Q&A piece that's basically the "Hows and Whys" of the series as it explains some of the culture and customs. It's a cute piece and one that fleshes out some minor material. It's in Japanese only though and subtitled even though it's voice as an in-show kind of piece by the characters. It runs about sixteen minutes total which explains why it probably wasn't dubbed.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Utawarerumono ended up being quite the pleasant surprise after we got through the first five episodes of the series. While keeping a fair bit of mystery around Hakuoro, the series began to reveal its various layers as it set him up to become a powerful figure to represent the oppressed. Though much of it plays out in what you could consider traditional fantasy storytelling, it was done in a very competent manner that made it engaging and enjoyable to watch.
With another set of five episodes on this volume, the challenge is there to prove that it can be more than what we initially see. My expectations went up a fair bit after the first volume which is why I'm glad this one has essentially matched it. Hakuoro's forces have been growing as more and more villages are siding with him against Inkalla and his cruelty. Many villages are still trying to keep out of the situation but there are so many soldiers that have fled from other lands now residing in many of these villages that new faces are showing up every day. Many of the forces under Inkalla find themselves unsure about what's going on as well as Benawi has been placed under arrest. This has left Nuwangi as the lead Samurai General that serves the Emperor and his brutality is doled out to even the loyal villages.
With a lot of series, it'd be easy to imagine that they'd go most of their run dealing with the rebellion and its growth as they go up against Inkalla. Utawarerumono doesn't dally too long along this though as it doesn't take long, barely two more episodes, to bring that arc to a conclusion. Much like how Hakuoro is learning about everything once again, the country begins to change as a greater worldview is brought into play. The rise to power of Hakuoro is a benign one after the fighting is all over and in a lot of ways plays out like one would expect. There aren't any surprises here beyond the shortness of the campaign. It's fascinating to watch it play out though as it's clear that Hakuoro has some solid military planning background to him. Seeing him going up against some like Nuwangi is almost comical at times but it does make things difficult as the series progresses.
With much of the battle fought initially against Benawi where Hakuoro had trouble but was able to overcome things, seeing him still have much the same trouble against Nuwangi doesn't speak much for Benawi. What's worse though is that as the focus changes later on and they have to deal with external threats, the forces that Hakuoro overwhelmed are now ones that have to deal with a far superior force. A good deal of engagements like this have to do with planning and leadership but a lot of it is still in the hands of those in the field. There is a fair bit of disbelief to suspend here as the people Hakuoro was fighting against now must become the better fighters under him. Thankfully there are elements that allow it to happen, such as the need to defend the country from the external threat as opposed to not wanting to deal with a domestic one in the same way, but the shift is an awkward one for awhile.
With the external threat now brought to light, the surrounding nations and the world at larger starts to become clearer. An interesting new aspect that's brought in is a group of people that seem to be separate from everyone else. They place themselves as mediators between countries and work to try and keep things stable. Unlike everyone else we've seen at this point though, they're physically different in that they have angel like wings on them. They're also quite different in some ways as they're strikingly western when it comes to different hair colors. Most of the characters we've met have had subdued colors, such as Nuwangi's light purple or some of the very dirty blondes. The Princess that comes to mediate for Hakuoro's country is one that is strongly blonde and very light in her features.
Utawarerumono's visual design continues to be quite appealing. Costume design in particular is kept simple but it has some great details to it in their look. The women tend to have slightly more elaborate outfits which is to be expected. There aren't many women in the series so far so we haven't seen too much but this starts to change more during these episodes as new characters come in. Karula in particular is a great if expected addition to the show and both her look and personality bring some nice balance to the male heavy battles. If there's an area that doesn't work quite so well it's the CG used in the various battle scenes. It's done well if kept to minimal detail for distances sake but the various rushes and overhead views causes it to look far too much like a videogame instead of an anime show.
Utawarerumono is a wonderful breath of fresh air. I enjoy fantasy anime shows a lot but they're few and far between as their time has seemingly past. The series doesn't dwell in an area I thought it would be on for some time and instead starts to expand its scope. Though there are some basic plot holes you could nudge an army through, the show overall is a lot of fun to watch. The character growth is small here as new ones are introduced and some like Eluluu are moved to the side a bit but even then there are some great moments. Everyone is finding their new place in the scheme of things as events are sweeping them all along. Though Hakuoro may be leading the charge, he's subject to it just like everyone else is and is simply going with the flow. This show is a lot of fun and has a great sense of style to it along with plenty of substance. Very recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Question and answer video short,Extended episode previews,Character art gallery,Glossary of terms,Clean opening animation,Clean closing animation
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, 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: A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: TV PG
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2