Gakuen Heaven Vol. #2 (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, May 28, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, May 29, 2007



What They Say
Keita is still struggling to find his place in Bell Liberty Acadaemy. Each of the graceful young men in the school seems to be a genius at something, either studies or sports or music, but he feels decidedly average. The keys are the fragments of memories that tourture him; memories of a boy he met when he was younger, and a tragic separation. Perhapse he can find solace in the arms of the school chairman, Endo Kazuki.

The Review!
Keita settles into his life at Bell Liberty and the experiences it offers but not everyone is happy that he's there.

Audio:
With only one audio track, Media Blasters has opted to not go to the extra expense of a dub for a very limited audience title. Providing a 2.0 256kbps Japanese language mix Gakuen Heaven is a decent sounding dialogue heavy title. Dialogue is well placed throughout but it's a fairly typical mix for a show of this nature. During regular playback we didn't have any issues with dropouts or distortions.

Video:
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The presentation for this show in general comes across as very solid and vibrant. The shows design, one where it isn't exactly motion-heavy, helps it a lot but in general the choice of colors helps it even more. Filled with lots of natural colors and plenty of blues it simply looks very clean and generally problem free. Colors are solid and vibrant and outside of a couple of areas, such as some of the red of the guys jackets, are very minimal in terms of compression artifacts. There's a touch of aliasing in a few scenes where there is some panning going on but beyond that it's a very clean looking release.

Packaging:
Keita once again gets shafted on appearing on the cover as instead another pairing is the prime focus here. With good looking uniforms and an overall design that's bright and appealing it certainly works well. The colors are quite vibrant without being overblown and the simple background keeps all the focus on them. The logo is cutely done with the wings as well as the inclusion of the "Boys Love Hyper" subtitle. The back cover utilizes the same kind of light blue indistinct background while providing a bunch of small shots from the show of the cast. The summary covers the basics and they do a nice job of displaying the discs features in a non-clinical way. Add in the production information and the solid and reliable technical grid and it's a good looking cover all around.

Menu:
The main menu is a simple but upbeat design that has two of the guys from the academy giving some of their best pretty-boy poses. The background is made up of various blue geometric shapes along with the series logo and a simple but straightforward navigation bar. All of it is set to some of the vocal music from the show that plays for a good loop and generally gets you into the mood of the show. Access times are nice and fast and because of how the languages are for this volume our player presets really didn't matter much.

Extras:
Some good extras are included here with the second volume. The Hamu Hamu Heaven shorts that appear at the end of each episode get an additional episode here and it's just plain cute. These shorts aren't terribly long but they provide an additional cute factor to the cast. In addition to these we get a clean version of the closing sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the first volume being something that was fun but relatively empty, the second installment drops down to just three episodes but carries on in much the same manner. A bit of seriousness does enter into the series but for the most part there simply isn't a lot of meat to it. It's very pretty though and you can't help but to smile and laugh at parts of it, particularly the next episode previews-hamu.

The three stories on this volume are fairly simple and other than one subplot that runs through the series in general they manage to stand by themselves. The opening episode is quite cute as it puts Keita and the majority of the characters in a horror-like situation. While trying to find that cat that keeps wandering about they trace him to a location that's all boarded up. Making their way inside and down the stairs they realize that they're basically locked in there with no way out. Through the circumstances that come up however some of them eventually make out but aren't able to return or call for help in rescuing the others. The quasi-horror aspect to it is surprisingly amusing as it plays like Ten Little Indians with just the right kind of payoff at the end to tie it all together.

In terms of character development, the second episode and part of the third episode do a good job of working that into things. While a good percentage of the main characters find themselves drawn to Keita for varying reasons, the one that seems to have the most interest in him beyond Naruse is Kazuki. The two of them manage to get some time together at long last without anyone else and are effectively on a date out on the town. Some of the symbolism is hilarious, such as when Kazuki wins a bath set with a cute bear for a scrub brush, but mostly it just paints a picture of how in synch these guys are together. Kazuki's sidelong looks at Keita show someone who obviously has far more interest in him than just being friends but the reasons why are slowly being teased out here as some of their shared past comes to light. A shared past that Keita doesn't exactly recall.

Where the series turns truly serious is when the vice chairman has decided to declare war on Chairman Kazuki Endo. His method of doing so and challenging Kazuki's authority comes in telling Keita that he must leave the academy since he's truly not suited to it. With Keita enjoying being at the academy but understanding that he doesn't have the kind of talents or skills the others do that would justify his presence, he's not terribly inclined to argue and laments the situation for a bit. With Kazuki out of town on business he has nobody he feels comfortable talking with at first but his manner allows others to draw him out eventually. With the way the student council and the actual administration of the school was changed a few years back, the vice chairman sees this as an opportunity to not restore the balance but rather gain back more control.

Similar to the first volume, the artwork and general design of the show is somewhat soft but still terribly vibrant. The character designs are still very attractive as is the design of the academy and the world they all reside in. The animation isn't much to write home about but it's done competently enough for the most part and allows for the more dialogue driven aspects of it to flow well. Similarly, the musical score for the series isn't all that memorable but it fits the particular scenes and has a good flow to it. The opening and closing songs are the ones that stand out the most but even they tend to be fairly unmemorable after awhile.

In Summary:
Gakuen Heaven continues to fill the role of a guilty pleasure. Not just a guilty pleasure but one that you forget you even had after awhile. The drop to three episodes does make an impact here as it goes by all that fast but also makes it difficult to justify picking up four volumes worth of it. Even with the lower price due to the lack of an English language dub I can imagine more people picking this up in collection form instead of singles. Media Blasters would be the company I'd like to see trying more full collections up front if they're going to do sub-only releases for genres like this. A $50 set of the entire series as it stands now up front would have been far more ideal I think.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Hamu Hamu Heaven,Clean Opening

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> 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: C
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B+
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: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Gakuen Heaven