Freedom Vol. #4 HD DVD (of 7) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, February 26, 2008
What They Say
In 1969, man landed on the moon. Now three centuries later, he returns to earth... With nothing but a photograph to guide him, Takeru flees the lunar city of Eden in search of a girl he's never met on a planet he's never seen. Thus begins the Chapter of Earth, as Takeru and Biz discover they are aliens on the planet their ancestors once called home. Will they find paradise -- or utter desolation?
The second half of the series provides a brief bit of recap before plunging our leads into the wide world of Earth.
Bandai Visual has given the HD DVD version of this release a bit of an upgrade in comparison to the DVD version. The DVD contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix while the HD DVD has a Dolby Digital+ 5.1 mix which can top out at 1.5 mbps second. Our player doesn't allow for the bitrate to be seen so it could be anywhere up to that point. The DVD side maxes out at 448 kbps. The Dolby Digital+ mix comes across as more vibrant and dynamic than the included 2.0 LPCM mix but it doesn't provide much activity to the rear channels. The bass makes out well by the 5.1 mix however and overall placement and forward soundstage directionality is good.
Originally released to video in 2006, the transfer for this OVA is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is encoded at 1080p. The 3D CG animation blends well with the 2D animation and overall looks fantastic here. It's a clean and crystal clear looking production that eliminates some of the flaws that can be seen on the DVD side. Notably, the color gradient issues are greatly reduced in general, particularly at the start of the end sequence as the blues and blacks merge. The DVD side showcases the gradient more as well as blocking lightly along it. The gradient is still visible here but the blocking is gone and it's much smoother. There's still some line noise persistent in panning motions but it's inherent in the source.
The packaging for this release is something we don't see very often in the US and for good reason. The keepcase is actually one of the super jewel cases and it has a cardboard sleeve over it. The cardboard sleeve is minimal in its design for the front piece as it features the image of Bizmarck in some ragged survival gear set against a white background. The series logo and volume number is included but it's small and in the lower corner. There aren't any of the usual logos here such as the DVD one, nor one for Honneamise. The back of the slipcover almost hurts my eyes as it uses a white background with a black striped border. No artwork is here and about seventy-five percent of the cover space is made up of the summary that feels like one run on sentence. With no paragraph breaks and surrounded by the striped border, it's very harsh on the eyes. The bottom quarter of the cover is filled out with a deep technical grid that breaks down what's on each of the discs layers. The discs features are listed along the bottom and broken down by what's on each later. There are also plenty of notices about what each player requires and what will work where.
The super jewel case goes in the opposite direction as it's a black design for the background on the inserts for it with a silver pencil sketch design of the ruins of Las Vegas. The series logo is through the center in the same font and style as on the slipcover. The back of the case is the only part with full color artwork as it has piece showing how humanity is currently surviving. The reverse side has the cast and staff breakdown on the left while both of them have technical schematics in silver similar to the front of the jewel case cover. An insert is also included that covers what needs to be in place to utilize the interactive apects of the HD DVD layer and the importance of being up to date on firmware.
The shrinkwrap for this release does contain a couple of stickers worth pointing out; one of them has the HDi logo which indicates that there is an internet interactive aspect to the release. The other is a bright red stick that has a bit of a pr plug for the show and the basic logos and what kind of disc format it is.
Freedom features both a top menu and a pop-up menu for its playback functionality. The top menu has the series logo through the center while some static animation is behind it as well as a brief bit of animation. Along the bottom is the navigation strip which also doubles as the popup menu navigation during playback. Freedom defaults to playing the feature and not going to the menu. The menu navigation fits well with the theme of the show and thankfully provides a button to turn off the beeps made when moving the cursor and making selections. Navigating about the menu is slightly slow at times but is likely more related to our first generation player more than anything else. Access times are decent otherwise and moving about is pretty painless and intuitive.
Just like the earlier volumes, the HD DVD release of Freedom comes with some rather neat extras but it's the implementation of them that wows. While audio and video improvements in the high definition arena are solid and can change a shows presentation, the wow factor continues to be in how the extras and features related to them are implemented. The staff credits are provided on the fly at any time during the presentation from one of the four feature buttons. When selected, the video in progress is shifted to a smaller sized picture as seen above and the credits video scroll is brought up along side it. The video complete with subtitles and audio as previously selected plays along for the duration.
Freedom contains a storyboard feature that is quite different from previous DVD implementations. Similar to the staff credits presentation, selecting that feature shrinks and moves the video stream to the side and has the storyboards playing along beside it. Picture in Picture is utilized on this release as well in order to showcase the use of the 3D CG animation. Showing the simulation footage alongside the final video stream, you're able to manipulate it in a few ways. You can:
In addition to being able to change the size of it or set it up in a side by side manner, you can also change the transparency level of the second stream during playback to two or three levels lighter than when it starts. Another nice feature is the ability to swap the streams out, making the main video the secondary picture and the 3D simulation footage the main picture. This does bring in some quality issues though as the secondary stream isn't authored to look fantastic as a main stream video. The 3D simulation footage looks solid when it's done at the 3 different sized tiers but when it's full screen on our 70" set you can see plenty of artifacting.
Last but not least is a feature that's definitely fun for anime fans but also very useful for someone like me who has to review things, and that's the bookmark feature. This feature lets you take snapshots of any scene that you want within the show and access it quickly through the popup navigation menu whenever you want. These bookmarks are stored on your player in its persistent memory so when you come back a year later and put the disc in, you can quickly access your favorite scenes.
Similar to the second volume, the downloadable content available here feels rather insignificant.. The first extra is one that really irks in that it's a keyed piece in that the extra is on the disc but I have to download the key in order to unlock it so I can watch it on this player at this time. Heaven forbid when the format is dead and Bandai Visual USA doesn't support the server anymore and I lose that content when get a different player. The extra itself is one that shouldn't be locked in this way as it's a 90 second 1080i/2.0 PCM digest of the third volume of the show. It's nice enough to get caught up on what happened before if you have a lot of time between releases, but it's not the kind of content that needs to be locked. The second downloadable extra is the original Japanese commercial for the release of the fourth volume on DVD, which is pretty darn short.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After three slow but fascinating beautiful volumes on the moon within and outside the city of Eden, Freedom finally moves to its goal of reaching Earth. Much of what drew me to the series in the first half was its beautiful visuals and the concept of how a small contingent of humanity would operate after the Earth had been lost. Shifting it to this area, with two young boys as the leads still, presents an interesting set of problems for the show to overcome.
The pair of Bizmark and Takeru is one that works well since one is brash and outgoing while the other is more pragmatic and uncertain about moving forward. Bizmarck not wanting to be on the ship that takes them to Earth has him all the more upset about things and in a way lets him rail more easily against Takeru's wild abandon at just following his heart. What makes Bizmarck even more reluctant is that after their crash landing, they find themselves in a place with nobody around as Las Vegas has succumbed to the land. It's amusing at first since you see the statue of liberty and a pyramid and you have to wonder if the Japanese sense of geography is once again at play or whether they really did intend to start their American leg of the journey off at Las Vegas. Thankfully it does seem intended and years of bad storytelling and geography don't come too badly into play as the pair has to repair their vehicle and move forward towards Florida.
That journey itself however is just... unusual. Takeru and Bizmarck certainly have no idea what to expect based on the pictures they have, but the barren wasteland with nobody about is certainly discouraging. Seeing how many miles they have to travel with the limited resources they have while seeing nothing but ruins and decay is demoralizing at first. Once they're able to get moving though, the two realize just what a big world they're actually on and it's incredibly liberating as they take in the real beauty of it all. This is where the series is both great and bad however. Their reactions are wonderful once they get into it, but I can't help but wonder that they should have had a bit more adverse reaction to all that open space. Lunar excursions are one thing for these young boys, but that's what they grew up with while in space suits. Being in the open wind with a big blue sky overhead, I expected a bit more of a negative reaction from them.
What they encounter on Earth is something that like the Lunar experience that I hope really does get explained. The Eden colony had itself revealed in small ways across the first three episodes with some great moments in the third. The start of the Earth leg of the journey brings in some very unusual characters in the bus as well as those that are living around the outskirts of Cape Canaveral. How humanity has survived is something that really needs to be explored in addition to Takeru's obsession with finding this girl from the photograph. Without that understanding, without getting to know how people survived and their mindset, it's going to be hard to connect with them after seeing so much from the Eden side of the show. There is a lot of potential here, but whether it can be properly exploited in the next two episodes remains to be seen.
Freedom's fourth volume isn't a bad episode but it's a transitional one that has some of the same feelings that the first one did just without the adjustment to the animations style. Takeru and Bismarck are on an even bigger adventure now that they're on Earth, but I would have liked to have seen more of their journey from the moon as well. This future vision of Earth is something that like Eden deserves more of an explanation, especially when they bring in some weird 60's aspects that feel very out of place in the grand scheme of things, which will hopefully help to more fully realize the story they want to tell. It doesn't have quite the same haunting beauty of the Lunar episodes, but Freedom still has a whole lot to offer as an overall package, especially here in high definition.
Japanese Language,English Subtitles,DVD: Next Episode Trailer,
HD DVDL FREEDOM 3 Digest (Internet connection required), HD DVD: FREEDOM 4 TV CF (Internet connection required), HD DVD: Next Episode Trailer
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD player via HDMI set to 1080i, 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: D
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: All Region DVD
Released By: Bandai Visual USA, Inc.
Running time: 30
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 1080p
Disc Encoding: VC-1