Shuffle Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, February 21, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, February 26, 2008



What They Say
Meet Rin, a normal high school guy who is the envy of every other man in town. You see, he's lucky enough to live with and be pampered by the sweet, beautiful K'de. It's just a day like any other when two new transfer students show up in class: Sia, Princess of the Gods and Nerine, Princess of the Demons. Now Rin's luck is about to change, for he has been chosen to take one of their hands in marriage! Talk about envy! Whether down the hall, next door, or from another realm, girls seem to be everywhere... And they all want Rin for themselves!

The Review!
Rin’s life takes a strange twist when the daughters of the Kings of Gods and Devils move in next door since he’s a good candidate for marriage to one of them.

Audio:
Shuffle’s bilingual audio presentation is pretty standard material for a show of this nature. Both the English language and Japanese language tracks are done in a stereo format at 192 kbps. With the show being far more focused on mood, dialogue and some accent music, it doesn’t really require much and the stereo mix provides a good full sound overall. There’s some minor directionality here and there – often more noticeable in the English language presentation than the Japanese – but for the most part there aren’t any surprises here. It’s well done for what it is but it won’t really make you stand up and take notice. We didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback on either language track.

Video:
Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Shuffle is one of the first series to benefit from changes in FUNimation’s authoring changes and it’s pretty much all for the better. The series is very brightly colored but not garish which brings out a good deal of vibrancy both in the characters and backgrounds. It’s not exactly lush, but it doesn’t have a drab or basic feeling to it but rather something with life and flavor. That comes through here due to the encode which has a much higher bitrate than most of what FUNimation has released in the past couple of years. The lack of gradient problems outside of a few minor scenes and having backgrounds and characters that are generally very solid gives it a great feel. A really interesting change to their encoding process comes from the opening and closing sequences. FUNimation has employed the use of alternate angles since just about their first releases which lets them provide the original Japanese credits and the English credits depending on your episode selection. The downside was that the bitrate is generally cut in half to accommodate two streams running at once since you could flip back and forth. It’s a great idea but the quality generally suffers, especially since many of these sequences are busy and active. FUNimation has decided to do what most others do and just provide one or the other, depending on the materials that they have. For Shuffle, there is no clean opening for the first episode so that means it's untranslated Japanese. The rest of the openings and closings are done in English only, so no more Japanese credits. It's not the best compromise in the world but it's one that is relatively considered an industry standard and something that I can't honestly bring myself to complain about too much. I would like to see them start to include the original openings and closings in the extras section in addition to the clean ones though.

Packaging:
Using the cover artwork from the second Japanese release of the series, Nerine is presented here with a beautiful and serene background that really works well in setting the mood. The numerous sunflowers in the background as well as the few in her arms provides for some great color when added to the soft blue sky and the earth tones in her school uniform. It doesn’t hurt that her uniform is attractive in design overall and her character design is appealing from the moment you see it. The original logo is used, both with its English and Japanese variants, as is the way the volume numbering is done though in different places from the original. Overall this is a really appealing piece that’s easy on the eyes and represents the show well enough. The back cover shows FUNimation’s love of the sideways design as it features the arrows pointing in different directions to contains blocks of information including the tagline of “Which girl would YOU choose?” They really needed to push that aspect more in the marketing and make a game of it. There are a bunch of character shots throughout and some small scenes from the show itself mixed around the episode listings and titles as well as the extras. The summary covers the very basic amount needed for the premise while the remainder is filled out with impossibly hard to read production and technical information done as white text on an orange strip. The reverse side cover is nice in that it’s a collage of numerous shots from the show and plenty of sunflowers along with the tagline. No insert is included but they did provide a nice four panel fold out poster that Sia and Nerine in their school uniforms.

Menu:
The menu design for Shuffle is rather simple but it’s done with some nice style as it brings in the arrow strips to hold the navigation. The menu for this volume features a full color full length image of Nerine in her school uniform. The background is done with a very large close-up of her face in grayscale which looks really nice when done with the added background elements of the blue strips. Add in a bit of bouncy upbeat music to a surprisingly long 60 second loop and it comes together well with as simple as it is. Access times are nice and fast and language selection determines what branch the video takes so choosing through the menu is important. It’s also worth noting that FUNimation continues to list full translation subtitles as Japanese which means most players won’t pick it up properly.

Extras:
The only extra included is a clean version of the opening and closing sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Originally a visual novel game, Shuffle! is the latest one to make its way over to these shores after seeing many iterations in Japan in different media forms. The anime release started off with this twenty four episode series and even spawned a sequel series. Shuffle fits easily into the mold that’s become familiar over the years with visual novel to anime conversions but has the right kind of pacing and atmosphere to it that keeps it from being bad. While it utilizes a harem mentality, it doesn’t do it in a loud and brash way that turns you away from it.

Shuffle revolves around the standard idea of one guy with many women who are after him. The central character is Rin, a young man who has faced a bit of tragedy in his life. Eight years ago, his parents along with the mother of his friend Kaede died in a car accident. Through events at that time which are mostly glossed over, Rin ended up being taken in by Kaede’s father and has lived there ever since. Kaede’s father doesn’t have much of an appearance here as he’s overseas for business for several months when this starts but we do get the sense that Rin still feels like an outsider in this small family. Kaede is your standard very nice sweet girl who has a crush on Rin and fits into the mold of the childhood sweetheart easily enough. Living with Rin provides a small twist to it though and just a little bit of creepiness at times with the way she does so many things for him.

Kaede is considering a real winner by the student body at school and there’s an amusing if somewhat quaint band of protectors that go by the name KKK that make sure that Rin doesn’t take advantage of her. There are a few others that are friendly with them, such as Asa who is the cute quasi-tomboy girl, and overall you get a very pleasant feeling about the lives these kids lead. Nothing is too strange or unusual for the most part. The tipping point is when Kaede and Rin head out to school and realize that the eight properties surrounding their home have been leveled and someone new is building there. Combine that with the news of two new students being transferred in and you know exactly what’s going to happen.

It’s here that the hook really sinks in as we learn that some years prior, a “Gate” event occurred the opened up travel between the realm of the Gods and the realm of the Devils. While they’re named thusly, the people from both of these realms appear to be generally pleasant and nice with only their ears as a distinguishing physical trait. The gods have small pointy ears while the devils have longer pointy ears. There are half-bloods in the mix in this world as well and everyone gets along in a manner that’s just too nice but fits in with the kind of mood that the show wants to present. It’s little surprise that the two transfer students each come from one of these realms and each of them has a tie to Rin and are seeking him out.

The twist for it is that they’re both daughters of the respective Kings of their world. Lisianthus is the daughter of the King of the Gods and goes by the nickname Sia. Nerine is from the realm of the Devils and is similarly the daughter of that realms King. Both men and their daughters have moved in next door and reveal that Rin is actually a candidate for becoming their husband in the future and taking on the role (and apparently powers) that are part and parcel of such a position. Rin for his part can’t remember when he met both girls years ago but we do start to see some of that through flashbacks from their perspective. What’s really interesting is that outside of one rather restrained instance in the fourth episodes, neither of the girls uses their powers much. In fact, until it’s actually used in that episode, it isn’t even clear that they may actually possess any kind of power. Instead it’s really just a character piece without any wild insanity, outrageous moments or heavy fanservice.

It’s simply quite restrained and that’s a surprise. The character designs for it and the animation is solid enough, though a bit basic at times, and it has an appealing charm to it. The girls are the obvious draw and they stand out well enough from each other and don’t have much in the way of similarities when it comes to their visual design. The personalities are a bit close in some ways but that’s mostly because they haven’t really been explored yet and nobody is over the top in their actions or dialogue. Being daughters of Kings, they seem to actually work within that model and avoid doing embarrassing things. They’re both interested in Rin but they don’t fight and claw with each other about it. There aren’t even any dirty looks given to each other nor to Kaede as she still has that childhood crush that’s grown into more over the years.

In Summary:
Shuffle is an odd series but one that definitely has its charms to it. After so many years of loud and obnoxious harem comedies, having a few that are more mellow and relaxed is definitely pleasing. Shuffle brings in a nice mild twist with the realms of Gods and Devils that don’t seem to play too heavily into it yet and avoid being overdone ala something like UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie with its aliens. This opening volumes doesn’t have a huge hook to it yet that draws you in but it does disarm you with its mild charms, pleasant atmosphere and overall attractive designs. With it being twenty-four episodes long, it has plenty of room to explore what it wants to with the varied women without feeling rushed or hurried along like harem shows that run half its length.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 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: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: TV MA
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Shuffle