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

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, July 25, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2008

When Mizuho finds himself honoring his grandfather’s wishes by going to an all girls school, his life takes a number of unusual turns.

What They Say
Mizuho can't believe his ears when Grandpa's will is read out. Grandpa's final wish is for Mizuho to attend the same academy as Mizuho's mother. The catch is it's an all-girls school. With the help of friend Mariya however, he gets a makeover good enough to fool everyone at the academy.

The Review!
Otoboku is released only in its original language form so what we get here is a pretty straightforward simple stereo mix encoded at 192kbps. Outside of the music in the opening and closing sequences, the series is really just about the dialogue as there aren’t many action moments and what music there is in the background tends to be rather mellow. The mix doesn’t offer much because of what it is so the low encoding doesn’t come across too badly. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of it.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Otoboku has a fairly soft look to it, intentionally, which causes the show to have a fair bit of noise at times with some of the backgrounds. In general, it has a pretty clean look and is free of issues such as cross coloration, but there is some aliasing creeping in during the many panning sequences that the animators employed. The design of the show is one that has a lot of bright colors to it, especially with all white uniforms, but it’s wonderfully contrasted by the very richly colored an detailed background shots. Many of these are scenes you’d want as stills to look at separately. Otoboku is all about atmosphere so the soft look is likely pretty intentional and it does give the show a distinct enough feel at times.
The cover art for this release is one that’s somewhat problematic if only because of the logo. Using the short-form version of the series name along the top with the subtitle under it, it simply comes across as too busy and nonsensical. The “t” in Otoboku is used as a gender symbol which completely throws off the readability of it as it looks more like it’s saying “Ooboku” instead. The character artwork does help to make up for this though as it has Mizuho and Mariya together in their fall uniforms with lots of detail and very cute girlish-blushes going on. The soft and indistinct background helps to draw all attention to them. The back cover is rather busy as it has a full length shot of Shion along the left while the right has the basic summary of the premise. Along the top and behind part of all of this is a number of shots from the show. The white background and the green used for the accents draw it all together well and gives it a very light and bouncy feeling. The discs technical grid along the bottom is cleanly done and the standard bits of production information can be found here as well as the listing of what extras are on the disc.
The menu design takes the natural page from the front cover artwork as it reworks the layout to a wider setting. The character artwork along the right is brighter and more vibrant in general while the left side features the awkward logo, which does not look as good in this brighter shade of sea green. The navigation menu is straightforward but rather laggy, especially when it comes to the scene selections as it wants to use highlights when it hits different chapters. This works exceedingly well on Blu-ray releases but it’s still a chore for DVD releases to handle. Submenus load quickly themselves and getting around is easy enough otherwise. With only a single language on here and no separate sign/song subtitle track, player presets are pretty much pointless as it defaults to what’s needed.
The only extras included on this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences from the “summer uniform” versions.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on a visual novel by Caramel Box and originally known as Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru, Otoboku is a twelve episode series with a follow-up OVA that’s devoted to crossplaying. Otoboku uses a rather tried and true story idea and executes it competently enough before it takes a sad and unfortunate turn around the fourth episode. The franchise, which originally started as an adult visual novel, has made serious progression into the mainstream world with manga, light novels and a PS2 game that were all free of the adult content. Sadly, I think it’s the adult content that would probably make this better.
The launching point of this series deals with high school boy Mizuho who has just learned from his grandfather’s will that he must attend Seio Girls Academy as his dying wish. The reasons for it are unclear, but it’s easy enough to figure out within the first couple of episodes if not within the first few minutes of the series. Otoboku is fairly predictable in this manner so it must survive in other areas in order to succeed. Mizuho is a rather androgynous character – even more so when we see scenes of him as a young boy with his long deceased mother – so transferring into the school isn’t all that big of an issue when he decides to do it. He’s not going it alone either as his childhood friend in Mariya already attends there and has agreed to help him hide his manly status.
Residing in one of the small dorms, he quickly ends up becoming friends with a few other girls. Mariya is his primary confidant who helps to keep him out of trouble and it’s plainly apparent that she has strong feelings for him. She’s fun and outgoing but not over the top which helps a great deal. Mizuho also makes friends with Yukari, who is like Mariya but a bit more of the hyper type and one that gets caught up in situations fairly easily. Complementing this group within the small dorm is Kana, who like Yukari is a first year student. Kana is the epitome of the smaller and cuter blonde character that everyone feels protective of and does their best to make happy. She’s cute and happy and wanting to make sure that Mizuho is happy, so she brings those elements into the show very easily.
At first, only Mariya is aware of what Mizuho is going through but that doesn’t take too long to change. In fact, when Mizuho meets Shion, the current Elder of the school, she’s able to figure it out almost instantly. Strangely though, she doesn’t intend to reveal it and the two end up becoming rather good friends. Shion’s past is something that serves as a catalyst for the first real arc of the series as the girls decide that Mizuho is ideally suited to be nominated for Elder status since it’s that time of year. Even though she’s a new student, something which infuriates the student body president, the cool and slightly mean looking Takako. The rivalry is slowly being set up there between the two but it instead starts to turn to something different, which was one of the better moments of the show since it could have been far too predictable otherwise.
Up through the first three episodes, we get a fair bit of standard setup and plot elements so nothing was too much of a surprise. Otoboku is all about the “moe” factor, bringing about an atmosphere that makes you like the characters, care about them and feel good about seeing them interact. It does it well even if it doesn’t have an amazing hook. Hence my wondering if it’d be more interesting if they kept in the adult material. Where Otoboku takes a near fatal turn in my opinion is in the fourth episode where they go down the path of doing the ghost stories in the dorm routine. Predictable, too much so and so early into it even, but if it was just that it would be easy to just sigh and move on.
No, they actually have to introduce a ghost character into the show. Drawing on the past from twenty-two years prior when a young student died waiting for her Elder to return, Ichiko resurfaces in the present when she comes into contact with Mizuho who is the striking image of her Elder from all those years ago. Ichiko of course can’t go outside of the dorm and she’s smitten with Mizuho, even more so because she realizes that unlike her original Elder, she could actually marry Mizuho since she knows she’s a he. Ichiko brings in a certain kind of spunky high energy cuteness to the show, but the introduction of the supernatural element is completely unexpected based on the first three episodes. And frankly, it’s quite unwelcome since it throws the dynamic off a lot. Everyone takes it in stride eventually and before you know it, they have a resident dorm ghost.
With Otoboku being all about the atmosphere and mood, they set things up quite well when it comes to the character designs and animation in general. All the girls are unique enough among themselves that there isn’t any mistaking anyone for someone else, though Mariya and Yukari are a bit too similar in some ways. The school uniforms, of which we only see the summer designs here, are simple and cute and certainly easy enough for Mizuho to force himself into. Sometimes you have to wonder if the animators are forgetting that he’s really a guy though and end up making him a bit too female in form and movement. Complementing the character designs, the backgrounds look really good considering they’re working from standard private academy material. They manage to bring in a lot of color and beauty while keeping it to a very soft and mellow atmosphere which helps to make it all feel very lived in and real in a private academy way. It’s not a stretch to imagine a place like this.
In Summary:
Otoboku started off with a familiar plot device and started to spend its time going through predictable setup material. In some ways, it reminded me of parts of Princess Princess, especially when it came to the Elder status piece. It’s even reminiscent of Strawberry Panic in this way, which puts yet another similar show in the Media Blasters stable. While the first few episodes didn’t grab me hard, I was curious about where it all could go considering how pleasantly the characters interact with each other. But once it introduces the supernatural element, Otoboku lost what little steam it was building and took me out of the show completely. Likely enough so that it’ll be hard to really recover from it in the future.
Japanese 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: C+
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: Media Blasters
MSRP: 21.99
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Otoboku