Shuffle Vol. #6 (also w/box) (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, September 15, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The girl is chosen, confessions made and the truth is finally revealed with much heartbreak.

What They Say
When the competition's over, you'd think a little peace would follow, but Rin faces his biggest battle yet! His new love, Asa, is very ill and only she holds the cure. The problem? The spunky girl is too stubborn to do the right thing no matter how much Rin begs her to help herself. What can a guy do when the girl he cares for won't listen to reason? What will a man do when the one he wants won't face the facts? Rin finds a drastic answer to the hardest question he will ever have to consider. Every contest has a winner... and suddenly Asa risks losing her prize forever!

Contains episodes 21-24.

The Review!
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 full frame aspect ratio. 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.

Packaging:
It took until the last volume to get what I really wanted, but in the end we finally get a solid Asa cover with her holding a bundle of sunflowers while looking positively radiant and happy. Not unlike every other cover, the blue sky background combined with the sunflowers and Asa’s own expressions make this a very happy looking cover. 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. The back cover shows FUNimation’s love of the sideways design as it features the arrows pointing in different directions to contain blocks of information. 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 has Rin and all the main girls along a sidewalk as they fall over on each other, causing skirts to go flying in a teasing manner.

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 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. The last episode has a different ending but no clean version is provided here, likely because none of the animation is covered up during the regular playback.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Shuffle draws to a conclusion with the final four episodes and it really manages to do everything that I had hoped it would do for the most part. The strength of the show has been that it really does focus on the characters and their relationships and it gives them the space to be open and honest about them – eventually. While it does follow the somewhat traditional aspect of having several girls after one guy, the more you get to know Rin and how he deals with everyone, the easier it becomes to see why there are those that are after him. It also becomes clearer with these episodes the feelings of those who have known him the longest.

With all that happened in the last volume, it’s little surprise that the focus is well split during the first couple of episodes here. Kaede’s reaction to what started becoming more obvious between Rin and Asa pushed her kind of far over the edge and that put Rin in a position where he had to do something, namely moving out. What wasn’t expected was that Rin would actually know the real reason he had to move and that was because of Kaede’s complete focus on him and that he knowingly let her do that because he was afraid she’d try to kill herself otherwise. If she didn’t have a reason to live, she wouldn’t. For the ages that they’re at, it’s not a surprising reaction or plan by Rin when that occurred and they ended up in a comfortable manner for the most part. At least until Rin realized that his heart ached for something else, something that wasn’t quite so dependent on him, and he had to follow it.

The situation is one where everyone is sort of trying to tiptoe around it, especially as Kaede stops going to school and Primula is becoming more and more concerned. It turns into something where the emotions have to come out, to have that release, so everyone can move on. Before Rin and Asa can really talk to her though, they have to settle their own accounts by being clear and straightforward with each other. Though I often wish scenes like this come earlier in a series so more time can be spent on the actual relationship, when these scenes do happen they’re always very enjoyable. The full confessions by the two about how they feel about each other, with Asa talking even more about how she first became aware of Rin through Kaede, is heartwarming and very emotionally charged. The reactions and emotions that Asa expresses as she tells him, complete with the location and the return visits later, are entirely romantic – and realistic, which is something I can say from personal experience.

The triangle story between Rin, Kaede and Asa comes to a rather good conclusion while still being open-ended enough along with the other girls that you know there is still far more story to tell. Rather than try to cram all of that into the end and make life difficult for Asa and Rin, Shuffle instead goes in a different direction by working directly on explaining what Asa’s illness is all about. That it gets tackled is very welcome and it certainly adds to the charged atmosphere going on here as the relationship is just getting off the ground and emotions are running high. But that it ties into the earlier storyline with Primula’s past is a surprise. The loose end of sorts from that gods and devils history provides for a different angle than I would have ever guessed. Even better is that Asa’s reasons for not doing what needs to be done in order to get cured revolves entirely around emotional issues tied to her mother.

The second half of this volume tends to keep events closely tied to just Rin and Asa, which is both good and bad. The series has been such an ensemble piece so far that to go and bring it down to just the two of them feels a bit off. At the same time, with them now being a couple and Rin having moved out, it works in that direction as the two start to get to know each other better in this new light. Everyone does filter in and out of it as needed, but their impact is minimal for the most part in order to let the focus stay on Asa’s health and issues. The closure to the series is spot on however as it’s done with narration by Primula as she’s moving on to school now and looking a bit more grown up. It’s also interesting that she seems to show more emotion in those few minutes than during the entire series prior to that.

In Summary:
When Shuffle started, you couldn’t be quite sure what you were getting, especially with its game origins. It provided for some interesting ideas with the gods and devils but they never really capitalized on it, which is good. Instead it was left to being a plot device used for key moments while the bulk of the series focused on the kids themselves and their relationships which aren’t really affected by where they come from. And these characters are all interesting enough when given time and they’re all characters that you want to see more of. Even the last couple of episodes redeemed Primula for me, which is saying a lot. This last volume gave me everything I wanted out of it with clear confessions and a progression of a relationship. It also tied nicely into earlier events in a way I didn’t see and left me feeling very happy about the experience overall. Shuffle is very recommended, even if you’re a jaded fan who has seen it all before. This one breaks some new ground.

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: A
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: 29.98/39.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2