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

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, September 10, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What They Say
Over 4,000 years after abandoning the Earth, humanity is in peril. Under attack by a merciless enemy from another dimension, the crew of the spaceship Woglinde is fighting not only to save their own lives, but also to defend a mysterious monolith with unknown powers. It is called the Zohar, and the evil Gnosis will stop at nothing to get it. Enter KOS-MOS, a robotic black-box weapon as dangerous and misunderstood as she is beautiful. Designed to protect humankind, she could very well be the downfall of her creators ‚€“ or she may be their only hope. From the wildly popular video game series, it‚€™s Xenosaga the Animation. If you‚€™re into mystery, intrigue and out-of-this-world action, it‚€™s GAME ON!

The Review!
The popular RPG video game makes the transition to anime and hits the viewer with nonstop action and very little plot.

The bilingual presentation for Xenosaga is quite good on both sides of the fence. The original Japanese mix is a solid stereo one encoded at 224 kbps that has some good placement across the forward soundstage. The English 5.1 mix is done up at the usual 448 kbps and it's not only louder but has a fair bit more bass to it as well. The placement isn't much different overall but it has more clarity to it and the battle scenes tend to have more impact. In listening to both language tracks throughout, we didn't have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Filled with lots of bright colors and fast motion, Xenosaga tends to hold up fairly well but has some noticeable issues throughout. The main area that comes across as problematic is in the backgrounds as the animators went with a shade of blue and black that lends to a good deal of blocking with the bitrates that DVD uses. This release tends to sit in the sevens in theses areas but between the obvious gradient areas and the color choices used, it really stands out strongly. The remainder of the show tends to look good but there is also some very strong moments of line noise during the panning sequences which happen far too often and too slowly. The bulk of the show does look good with bright and bold colors that maintain a solid feel and most of the high motion sequences are problem free.

Certainly designed to appeal to fans of the game, the front cover puts KOS-MOS in the foreground along with Shio while they're surrounded by several other characters in less detailed form. The framing is nicely done to tie in to the Zohar imagery while overall it all stands out due to the black background and black keepcase. The back cover uses a lot of this black space to let the character artwork and shots from the show stand out all the more but it also allows the area to look clean and very easy to read. The usual array of production information and basic features can be found here while the technical grid covers all the basic key information in a concise format. No insert is included with this releases nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for Xenosaga is simple though at least relatively in theme with the show as it features that Zohar in the center against a background of stars. Surrounding it are four shots from the episodes which also double as the navigation selections for those episodes. Add in the languages and extras along the bottom and a dash of music to it and you have a decent looking static menu. Access times are nice and fast and the layout is simple enough to navigate without problems. The disc correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.

The only extras included with this release are clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the popular PlayStation 2 game, Xenosaga the Animation is a twelve episode series that I suspect serves wonderfully as a companion to the game but is highly inaccessible to outsiders. In watching these first four episodes, much of which apparently covers the first ten to fifteen hours of gameplay, it's so incredibly rushed and without time for explanation that it just flows over you. When watching the first episode and the eye-catch came up at the halfway mark, I was very surprised since it didn't feel like we had ten minutes worth of material actually happen yet. Even at that point I was hard pressed to say what I had just seen in any context.

The story revolves around humanity some four thousand plus years from now after they had abandoned Earth. All sorts of different factions and governments have been set up since there as well as what appears to be corporate interests as well. Dropped literally into the middle of things, the show introduces us to a young researcher named Shion who is working with something called KOS-MOS. The fleet that she's a part of is transporting a device that's wanted by a few other groups as well as a creepy group of space aliens known as the Gnosis. With heavy influences from the designs of the aliens in the first Gunbuster series, the Gnosis warp in out of nowhere and are able to phase in and out of space to avoid being hurt. If not for some key weapons that can get them at certain points, the humans in the Galaxy Federation would be hard pressed to survive any battle.

The arrival of the Gnosis at this point is problematic as the fleet is transporting something called the Zohar, or at least we believe it to be. The need to get it to its destination is paramount but the aliens aren't the only problem. A group known as U-TIC is on board the main ship where the Zohar is stored and is working to take it themselves. The battle that rages provides them the opportunity to do this but they don't get away scot-free. The project that Shion has been working breaks through its restraints and KOS-MOS is activated with some heretofore unknown mission about retrieving the Zohar at all costs. The only thing paramount to that is Shion's safety apparently. It helps that KOS-MOS is an attractive female character who can generate weapons on her arms on the fly, survive in space without air and is able to interact with machinery without any problem.

Thus begins the chase as they try to survive from the massive fleet battle against the Gnosis. Events lead them to getting on board a salvage ship with a motley crew of characters with more depth and background than you'd expect from them which is where we get our first chance to start catching our breath. The cast has grown large by this point, most of which are still very undefined, so adding more is even more of a problem as you barely remember who anyone is. The importance of the overall mission that KOS-MOS goes on about is the overriding arc at this point and everything moves in subservience to that. Character development doesn't even enter the picture, all we get are a few moments of very minor exposition here and there when needed to provide a hint as to how it will be useful in the game ‚€“ I mean the anime ‚€“ later.

Suffice to say, Xenosaga did not impress in the slightest. There have been numerous good game to anime conversions in the past so I'm not prejudiced against them. Xenosaga unfortunately only has twelve episodes to work with and has so much going on in the first four that the compression of plot has a terribly adverse affect on things. At the end of the volume, I really knew little more than I did going into it. Having never played the games, this simply is not accessible to someone who isn't a fan. And from all appearances, this is a hard sell for fans of the game due to changes made to the characters and the plotting itself. While it may provide some fleshing out of details in the game that weren't apparent there, as a standalone piece it fails in spectacular form.

With there being so much pre-existing material for the series, there isn't any real chance to stretch here as they have to be faithful to what has come before. It's surprising to see that Nobuteru Yuki is responsible for the character designs because they look nothing like things he's worked on before. Typically I've found his works to be rather appealing, especially when working with Satelite, but the designs for this just don't look good for the most part. They're decent enough for background characters, but when you have a lead character like KOS-MOS who just makes you laugh at how the design is, it pulls you out of whatever they're trying to do. Granted, they're being faithful to the game, but even there everything I've seen hasn't had me look favorably upon it.

In Summary:
Xenosaga is likely to do decently with fans of the game who weren't aware of the anime, but for the rest of the usual anime crowd it's going to be a tough one. I can't see many people who casually pick up the first volume going back to the second one after this. It has some great cinematic moments when it comes to the fleet battles against the Gnosis, but that cannot sustain the poor plotting and pacing, uninteresting character designs or the time compression issues that are brought into it. The first four episodes alone have me dreading what is left to come in the next eight since I can only see it collapsing even more under its own weight.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing

Review Equipment
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: D
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: TV 14
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Xenosaga