Suzuka Vol. #5 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, November 24, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, November 27, 2007



What They Say
Talk about misdirection! Too bad it's unintentional! As Yamato keeps everyone running the wrong way, soon they're all running from him! His girlfriend long gone and Suzuka ever distant... Sound advice leads to a noisy clash, and the track diva's left in an unflattering light. Not to worry, for a quick trip to the laundromat has them all facing the finish line again - all but Yamato!

While one step forward, two steps back doesn't seem the best approach for an aspiring track star, it's the only one he knows... Staying true to form, the young man sets his sights impossibly high: to be the number one sprinter in all Japan! Wait, he's competing against a ghost?

Contains episodes 19-22.

The Review!
As Yamato and Honoka fall apart as a couple, he begins to question the way he's handled just about everything so that he can move forward again.

Audio:
The audio side of this release is pretty straightforward but with a bit of a twist to it. Each of the language tracks are standard 256 kbps stereo mixes that handle this show well as it is mostly just dialogue and music. We listened to the show in both languages and didn't have any real issues with it terms of its presentation as it's mostly a full sounding mix. Surprisingly, the opening and closing songs on the English language track have been dubbed, something that FUNimation seems to be trying to do a bit more these days. The Japanese track retains the original vocals. In listening to both language tracks, we didn't have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The show has a bright and colorful palette to it with its basis in a real world setting that comes across nicely here. Colors are strong and generally solid both in the background and foreground. There is a bit of mosquito noise creeping in from time to time but it's minimal overall and not terribly noticeable. Aliasing is generally non-existent and there wasn't any visible cross coloration either. On our 70" setup the backgrounds did show a bit more blocking than on our 50" setup with both players outputting standard 480p. There are some small moments throughout that will continue to be problematic for those sensitive to the blocking but overall it's a decent clean looking transfer for the five episodes that are here.

Packaging:
Using the artwork from the Japanese release, this volume gives us a great illustration with Miki taking a deep drag on a Popsicle as she glistens with sweat. Can they be more obvious? Well, yes, but this goes a good way towards that. With the blue background and the black/grey of her outfit, it all just comes together in a very pleasing manner to me. Colors look good and there is some nice detail within the overall design. The back cover is fairly traditional with a cloudy sky background that has a number of shots from the show strewn about as photographs. The summary covers the basics and the discs episode titles and numbers along with the extras are all clearly listed. With as much empty space as there is here though I wish the technical grid could get a little more space so it's not quite so cramped. The reverse side of the cover features a great illustration of Miki and Suzuka getting changed out of their track uniforms while still covered in glistening sweat.

Menu:
The menu design is the same as the cover as it uses the still of Miki set against a blue sky background with some white clouds. Unlike the front cover though, the colors are really punched up here and maybe a bit too vibrant. A bit of soft instrumental music plays back during this for the standard loop length. The menu overall is appealing but it's pretty minimal yet functional and easy to navigate. Access times are nice and fast and the disc unfortunately did not read our players' language presets and instead defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
The extras included for this volume pretty much on par with the previous releases as it has a clean versions of the opening and closing sequences as well as a brief photo gallery done up as a yearbook.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The series is getting closer to its conclusion which means it's time to shake things up a bit more. The focus on relationships has been here from the start and it gets ratcheted up a bit as everything is in flux for the core characters. Well, outside of Yasunobu who keeps just the right distance from everyone so he can play the field as much as he wants.

That's not what Yamato is all about though and he continues to put himself out there to be hurt, often through his own lack of thinking. In a way, he's kind of refreshing since he doesn't always think about how what he's doing is going to affect someone, but rather just what he wants to do. The situation with him shopping with Suzuka for a present for Honoka is a clear example of that since he just needed help and suggestions for what he wanted to do for his girlfriend. Suzuka certainly wasn't the right person for it, since if he was thinking clearly he could have asked any of his family nearby or even Miki. Even Yasunobu would have been a good chance in comparison to Suzuka. Yet he was just focused on the gift he wanted to give.

That blew up spectacularly for him since Honoka saw him out shopping with her and he had such a happy expression at that time. The resulting breakdown in their relationship doesn't have a huge emotional impact on the viewer though, partially because it's so restrained in a way. Honoka's reasons for accepting the break-up seem clear at first but both of them are working on the idea that neither of them was treating the relationship properly or each other. Neither of them thinks they're really worthy of the other which really has them both coming across as pretty weak. That's made all the more apparent during the actual break-up scene where neither of them fight for the relationship, which in turn reveals just how serious it all really was.

Yamato of course makes things worse as events progress afterwards, which seems to be his lot in life. First he lies to Suzuka about the reason for the break-up since he doesn't want to hurt her feelings and then he gets crucified by his track and field teammates since Honoka stops coming to the practices as the manager since she doesn't want to see him. Yasunobu has things right as he just lays into Yamato in some surprisingly concise ways in order to open up his eyes but Yamato doesn't want to hear any of it. He's still enjoying wallowing in some self pity. The only one who's proactive about things, but not without some self interest, is Miki. She's got her friend Suzuka's interests at heart but she also has an attraction to Yamato and wonders if this may be her time to get close to him. Yasunobu sees right through this and has some choice words for her which is amusing to watch.

What starts tying the series back together, which is especially needed going into the next final volume, is that the inter-high matches are about to start and Yamato has made the team for it. That's putting new pressures which in turn gives him something to focus on, a way to clear his mind and really re-approach what he wants out of life. The focus of the track and field events hasn't been as strong as I would have liked over the course of the series, but with this volume it starts putting him on the right path which should help with his confidence.

In Summary:
While it's still easy to see why he's so interested in Suzuka, I do feel like slapping him for turning away such characters as Honoka and Miki. We do only get a small part of the overall relationships so there are weak areas in learning what those two are like, but you can't help but wonder what it is that compels him to go for Suzuka considering how her personality is with him. Yet for anyone who has been in a serious relationship, it is easier to understand the draw to someone that you may not always fathom. Hormones, emotions and however our minds work really do pave the way for things that may not always be in our best interest – in the short term. Suzuka's final volume will be interesting to see if it fleshes things out more and goes for the traditional ending, and if that will reveal anything further about the mysterious and emotional Suzuka.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,Image Gallery

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: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Suzuka