Nobody's Boy Remi Vol. #1 (of 8) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, July 16, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, September 25, 2007
What They Say
Remi is a boy living happily with his mother in the French countryside. Unfortunately, everything changes when his estranged father comes home and, in desperate need of money, reveals that Remi is adopted, and sells him! Heartbroken, Remi ends up with Vitalis, a traveling musician, and his troupe of animal entertainers. Together, they travel the country in search for Remi's real parents, along the way learning the harsh lessons of life.
This edition includes a series keepcase designed to hold discs 1-8.
Contains episodes 1-6.
When young Remi is sold off to a traveling entertainer, he has to contend with life on the road and the loss of his family.
Unsurprising considering its age, Nobody's Boy Remi is presented in its original language of Japanese in a mono format. The 128 kbps encoding isn't one that will wow anyone but it's serviceable enough for the material and is essentially problem free during playback. The show is just dialogue for the most part outside of a few musical cues that work to build atmosphere so it's not a very demanding mix. It is a touch low at times but it's in good condition and certainly comes across rather clean and clear during regular playback.
Originally airing in 1977 and 1978, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The series received a remaster and box set release in Japan back in 2002 which has certainly helped to clean up the elements here. Beyond some minor speckling here and there, the print is in surprisingly good condition. Through the six episodes here there wasn't anything that really stood out, not even noticeable film issues such as tears or dirt. The six episodes on this disc are done on a single layer DVD and it shows but the effects are pretty minimized considering an average bitrate of 2.5 to 3.2. The progressive encoding certainly helps to minimize things as does the coloring of the series as it has a lot still backgrounds and muted colors. There is a good deal of noise throughout the series though that's simply unavoidable and while it avoids any serious blocking the look of motion throughout it is prevalent.
In watching this across three different setups, the main thing we noticed is that the smaller the displays got the progressively better looking the series got. From the 70" set to the 50" set and finally to the 23" set, the blending and softening of the noise and background issues gave way and left it with a more pleasing look. While on the 70" set it won't win any awards or anything, it certainly worked well enough that you can watch it without thinking "below fansub quality" or even VCD quality.
Nobody's Boy Remi is one of the first anime titles to be released under the TitleMatch program in which all the authoring is done as normal but instead of replication it's done through burning to DVD-R, giving smaller publishing houses a chance to do some Print On Demand DVDs. Containing the usual CSS protection (that has been effectively useless for what, seven years now?) it's essentially the same as a regular release except in how it's actually put to disc. We popped this disc in a few of our players to see if we'd have any compatibility issues and it worked in just about everything except for our Toshiba TV/DVD combo unit.
The packaging design for the series is pretty decent and space sensitive and thankfully not like some Korean drama collections I've bought that are simply discs on a spindle. The oversized keepcase has a series of hinges in it where each side holds a single disc as does the interior sides of the cover. The volume comes with the first disc while the remaining seven in the series are sent out in just sleeves. The front cover artwork has a good looking illustration piece of a few of the main characters that has a really great look to it even with its washed out colors. Fans of the series from this time period will be drawn to such designs much as I am. The back cover has a good clean feeling to it as it presents another illustration that's from future episodes. The summary covers the basics of the series itself as well as some of the creative staff's credits. The technical grid along the bottom details what to expect from the release overall and does include a note that it is made up of DVD-R material that may not play in older players.
The menu design is simple but fits nicely with the show though that TMS Classics logo is a bit bigger than I care for. The static background is an illustration that has Remi with his mother as they enjoy a meal as a bit of music plays along to it. The left side has the logos along it while the right has the navigation strip which is simple considering how little is really here. Access times are good and fast and everything loads without a problem.
The only extra included in here is an eight minute long art galley that features stills from the series in bright an dazzling colors that look fantastic.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Nobody's Boy Remi, originally known as Ie Naki Ko, is a fifty-one episode series that has seen quite a good deal of the world over the years. From its original Japanese run it expanded over the years to France, Italy, and several other European countries as well as getting a version done in Arabic. The series even saw a remake version done in the late nineties as part of the World Masterpiece Theater. The series in its original run is one that's famous for some of its creative staff, notably in that it was directed by Osamu Dezaki, whose works include series such as Blackjack and Golgo 13.
Based on the novel by French author Hector Malot, Nobody's Boy Remi is definitely a series of its time and not one that would be made in this way today. The 1996 adaptation is an amusing look at how it was re-adapted for modern sensibilities by taking the lead character and changing him to a her and making her a child singer as well. Nobody's Boy Remi is focused on an eight year old boy who has been living a good but hard life in the village of Chavanon in France where it's just him and his mother. Remi's not a strong looking boy but he has a good look to him and he's never been sick which is saying a lot considering the relative time period and the meager food that the two have. Remi's never seen his father due to him working in Paris all this time and sending money back when he can.
All of this changes when Remi's father, Jerome, ends up in an accident at work which causes him to be fired over it. His injuries aren't severe in a sense but now that he requires a cane to walk he can't get much in the way of a decent job. What little money Remi's mother has is sent to Jerome so he can fight it in court and it ends up practically bankrupting the little family. Even with all the bad news, both Remi and his mother are excited when Jerome returns. Unfortunately, events in Paris over the years have turned the kind hearted man into a cold cynical one who has little affection for anything other than some money on which to survive. It's through this cynicism that we learn that Remi was an abandoned child that Jerome found in Paris years ago and took in. He now looks at Remi solely as a way to recoup some of his losses even if his wife has become incredibly attached to Remi.
Remi's fear of his adoptive father is obvious but even with that he can't resist the man as he takes Remi into town to see if he can get some money from the government. Jerome's luck turns when a traveling entertainer named Vitalis hears the tale of woe in the bar and offers to buy Remi from him. Vitalis, an Italian who is in France for the first time, commands a small but amusing troupe that's made up of him, a monkey and three dogs. Well trained and with some great abilities, he's able to survive well enough on the road doing what he seems to enjoy but also what he knows to be his means of continuing on. His reasons for buying Remi aren't clear but it's easy to see that it's a mix of compassion but also good business as he can expand the troupe and possibly provide a safe person for the animals to work with after he passes on. It's not hard to imagine that this is how Vitalis came into the same trade as well.
Naturally, Remi wants nothing to do with this and Jerome has to work things out so that he can deceive his wife and send Remi off with Vitalis. The real journey of the series is when Vitalis and Remi hit the road and Remi is exposed to the greater world, seeing small villages bigger than his own and towns that dwarf anything he's ever dreamed of. With Vitalis going through the motions of getting Remi prepared for the life of entertaining, Remi becomes excited and intrigued as he begins to forget his old life. The allure of real leather shows, a velvet vest and good new pants are things that overpower his senses and his sense of loss with his mother. Life on the road isn't easy though and it's these early times that showcase both the hard knocks but also the really good moments.
The first six episodes of Nobody's Boy Remi are ones that are a bit difficult to get through at times mostly because of the very slow pacing. Though I enjoy shows that take their time to get to where they want to, this one gets done in six episodes what others would have done in three. That said, it's hard to imagine what you could cut out here that wouldn't affect the overall atmosphere of the show. It takes almost three episodes to get Remi's journey underway which is the most problematic since you know what's going to happen and it just seems to take awhile to get there. Once underway and with Vitalis, Remi becomes a more interesting show because that's where all the changes come in. From Remi's learning to perform, his anxiety over it and his interest in learning to read and write, seeing him grow from a simple country boy to someone with talent is where the real fun is. It simply takes awhile to get there.
The character designer for the series, Akio Sugino, has an impressive list of credits to his name and the designs in this series are pretty similar to what we've seen in others. The illustrations that permeate the release are great looking pieces but the animation itself is fairly simple but effectively done. When some series do the transition from animated scenes to the illustration stills it comes across as awkward and forced but here it feels more natural and like a "masterpiece theater" kind of presentation. What proved to be most interesting to me was seeing the argument of "old animation doesn't appeal" play out in my own family. I certainly didn't expect this show to go over with them in the slightest, both because of the older animation and the lack of an English dub. Add in the slow plot and the fairly dark tones to it and it just doesn't seem like something that you'd get kids today to watch.
To my surprise, my seven year old was quite fascinated with it and worked hard to keep up with the subtitles. Even more surprising was that the general atmosphere of the series kept my four year olds attention for two episodes and even then she still wanted to watch more. Perhaps it's simply something that happens when you're older and in your teens that makes it more difficult to go back to earlier and simpler shows in terms of animation and approach. Nobody's Boy Remi was a series I didn't think would fly with either of them but it ended with me not being able to watch more of it without them. Considering its dark material about a boy who is adopted and sold off and has to live a hard life, it's not what I thought they'd enjoy.
While the pacing of the series is one that takes a few hits early on, particularly if you're accustomed to the quicker pacing of today's new releases, Nobody's Boy Remi is a series that's certainly worth checking out. With its origins in novel form and plenty of episodes through which to tell its tale, it has potential to go pretty far without falling into some of the usual traps we see in many series that are out today. Due to both being remastered and done in progressive form, the look of the show manages to hold out even with six episodes on the single layer disc. It's by no means a look that screams first rate quality but is one that looks far better than it should considering the technical limitations placed on it. This is a show that would never be touched otherwise and while that's not an argument for low quality being okay, it is one for making an attempt to do something good and working with what you have. Nobody's Boy Remi fits in with several shows out in the last year or two that have French origins to them and fans of those may find something intriguing in here as well.
Japanese Language,English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B-
Video Rating: C-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ImaginAsian Entertainment
Running time: 144
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Nobody's Boy Remi