Sasami: Season 1 Collection (of 2) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, August 18, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Magical girls and boys are beginning to appear all over the world and one of the more powerful one appears to be a cute cooking girl named Sasami…   

What They Say
Sasami has an amazing secret: magic courses through her veins! But the spunky fifth-grader is not alone, for all over the world girls and boys are awakening to their powers. Under the guise of the Cooking Club and with the guidance of Miss Washu, Sasami and her friends will learn to harness their newfound abilities and come to depend upon one another through thick and thin.

From homeroom to the highest mountains of far distant realms, their journey will be one taken hand in hand. Welcome to the Magical Girls Club, where strange spells and the mysteries of the unseen are everyday things, and friendship is the most wonderful gift of all!

The Review!
Audio:
Considering the general appeal of the series, it’s somewhat surprising that the show did receive an English language dub but I’m certainly not complaining about it. The release features a pair of decent stereo mixes encoded at 192kbps which service the material well. Sasami plays to a pretty standard design as it’s mostly focused on dialogue while providing a few mildly bigger moments here and there when it comes to what’s going on. Both mixes have about the same feel to them and come across well even if they don’t stand out all that strongly in the grand scheme of things. In listening to both language tracks, we didn’t notice any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
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. The series sort of defied my expectations as the thirteen episodes are done across two discs as a 7/6 format. The opening sequence in particular has a strong bitrate to it, mostly sitting in the nines, and it maintains a very good sense of solidity and depth. The main episodes themselves are much the same though the bitrates are certainly more variable. It helps that there are a lot of good static backgrounds with big bold colors and character designs that are straightforward and also kept to basic bold colors. There’s some noise to be found throughout, but it’s hardly noticeable on a 70” set for the most part. This is a very good looking show through and through and simply a pleasure to watch with all its colors and design.

Packaging:
This double disc release is packaged in a standard single sized keepcase in which the right interior side contains both discs laid on top of each other. Generally I prefer the keepcases that have the discs set on either side of each other instead of on top of each other. The artwork used for the cover lets you know exactly what you’re in for, in case you weren’t sure by the “Magical Girls Club” subtitle on it. The core cast of characters is here in their bright and colorful uniforms with plenty of hearts, stars, light colors and other little wing dings strewn about. It’s very colorful and appealing and there’s a good mention along the top that it’s got thirteen episodes across two discs. The back cover carries through with the light soft background on top of which it features several vibrant shots from the show and other character artwork. The summary does a good job of going over what to expect while there is another good prominent mention of the episode and disc count. The keepcase is a clear one and the reverse side has lots of pinks and other girlish colors as it mixed in character artwork along with the episode number and title listings. This is actually a good reversible cover as the spine and the lower section of the right main panel features the original Japanese logo for those that want to have something even more girly and “authentic.” No inserts are included with this release that are related to the show itself.

FUNimation has done something rather nice with this release, though it’s kind of small and something that I’m not sure really makes any difference with the fanbase. On the back cover, there’s a little circle that points out that this series is a Tenchi Muyo spin-off. I like that they’re working to tie things to a larger franchise, but anyone who has seen a Tenchi show will likely know that just from looking at the front cover with the name, right?

Menus:
The menu design for Sasami is similar to the cover artwork in that it goes for the cute and girly with no restraint. Each menu features a piece of character artwork as a cutout along with other pieces of paper around, some with additional artwork on it or elements that add to it, such as the hearts listing what season and disc it is. There’s also a cute recipe card included with it that gives it a little more relevance. The menu has a decent forty-eight second loop that has a bit of instrumental music playing to it but nothing that’s really upbeat that will set the mood properly. Submenus load quickly and access times are nice and fast but the disc, as usual, doesn’t read our players’ language presets and defaults to English language with sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
The extras are included only on the second disc and the only things that are actually included here is the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Running for thirteen episodes for this particular season, of which there is much going on and things planned for the second season that aired in 2007, Sasami: Magical Girls Club is a very cute spin-off from the Tenchi Muyo franchise that stands alone well while appealing to the fanbase that has adored the numerous Sasami incarnations there have been since that original OVA release. This season keeps to just a few of the characters once again while also returning those from the Pretty Sammy series as well.

The core idea of the series, beyond the magical girl aspect itself, is one that’s actually fairly interesting. Through the season, we learn the history of this world in which the Witches left it quite some time ago to avoid persecution and danger. Along with many humans that went with them, they built a society that existed to the positive aspects of magic and life itself. The humans that went along with them were known as Storytellers and became the ones to help pass down and impart the knowledge of the years to the newer generations. Some Witches stayed behind on Earth as well and along with some Storytellers, they continued to keep a link between the two worlds so that they would be aware of what’s going on.

And this is a good thing because there is a growing number of “outbreaks” of Witches showing up across the world. With mentions of ESPers showing up in America in the newspapers and rather public showcasing of powers in Japan on television, something is quite obviously going on in the world today when it comes to magic. Thus, from the Witches world, management has decided that it’s time to become more involved and to train these young witches – to control their powers at first and then to grow them – as all these signs seem to point to them that the earth wants there to be a stronger bond between the two worlds. Not everyone is game for this though, some with very personal reasons, but the real challenges fall to those young boys and girls who are discovering their abilities.

With a series named Sasami, obviously it features a lead character with that name. The very cute and outgoing fifth grader is part of a stable home, one that is fully aware of her rather strong magical powers. There’s regular discussions about how she needs to hide it, which is all the more apparent with the way the world is going. Sasami’s use of magic is something that has drawn the eye of an amusing woman named Washu who has just joined the Isana Elementary School as the new nurse and club advisor. She’s also one of the Storytellers from the Witches world and is there, along with an older gentleman named Daimon, to properly train the girls. Sasami is the catalyst from which everyone else is drawn however and the discovery Sasami has of someone else with magical powers begins the path.

That path first brings in the quiet and shy Misao, a very cute young girl who hasn’t a friend in the world and is generally derided by the other girls because of the way she is. Her powers are fairly different in that she has some very dark shadow snakes tied to her emotions and that gives her something dangerous and uncontrollable. When these two girls truly meet, Sasami’s nature has her trying to draw out Misao and they become quick friends with a strong connection. Not quite so strong is the second girl that’s discovered, a spunky and feisty shorty named Makoto. Makoto’s a problem student in that she’s completely focused on getting taller since she’s shorter than most of her classmates. This gives her a complex when dealing with others and she’s a bit of a difficult fit at first with Misao and Sasami, but like most stories of this nature, it just takes time and persistence.

The final two girls are a bit less interesting, even after taking in the entire season. The third arrival is Tsukasa, a cool and remote young girl who only just returned to the school after her father had pulled her out for awhile. Having lost her mother and being part of a wealthy family, she’s not feeling a connection with everyone else, though her powers do eventually reveal themselves since she doesn’t know how to truly act around others. Tied to her, though likely something Tsukasa would do without, is Anri, a boisterous and outgoing girl with green hair who is completely infatuated with Tsukasa and will do anything she does to be like her and gain her favor. Anri is the kind of character that brings friction to the group but also a bit more of that radical view to things. Like most five person team shows, everyone has traits that they all need to survive and work together properly. That also means that just about every situation can be solved since they simply have to lean on each other.

Much of the first half of the season deals with introducing the girls and their basic backgrounds as well as how they function with each other. As it progresses into the second half, it expands things by taking them all on a field trip to the Witches world where we get more of an idea of the larger storyline dealing with the outbreak of powers and how this could affect the world in general. There are plenty of fun moments to be had during all of this, as there are other groups, potential dating situations and basic storytelling to help the girls form the right bonds. But the underlying material is what’s intriguing as it’s something that feels like it should be explored and could be done in a way that would feel new, especially for this particular genre. And, of course, there is a tournament to be had in this season which ties a lot of things together well for the ending which helps to give it some mild closure while still making sure you want to come back for more.

This series plays to pretty standard designs when it comes to the animation as it’s a real world show for the most part. With the softer color palette and some good vibrancy with the magical aspects, often done in CG, it gives it a good feeling that what’s going on is otherworldly at times. Everything in the show could be conceivably done outside of the Tenchi namesake and it wouldn’t make a difference, though whether it would be as cute is another matter. What doesn’t work in the show are two very different things however. The first is that I’m really not liking how their eyes are design. With the whole “windows to the soul” idea, anime characters eyes are almost always very expressive. Here though, with the puddles of color in them, they’re incredibly distracting and without focus most of the time. The other area that’s simply awkward is that within this particular school, every one of the lead characters wears a different uniform. Color me foolish for looking for logic within a magical girl show, but this really makes no sense that I can figure out.

In Summary:
The first season of Sasami is a very cute and enjoyable show that once again takes a few of the characters from the Tenchi universe and plays with them in a fun way. The production qualities of it are pretty strong, it touches on some diverse subjects along the way and it has a back story that could be rather engaging should it explore it all. And in addition to all of that, it features a bevy of cute girls exploring magic and the bonds of friendship. It’s entirely predictable in many ways but it’s done so competently and smoothly that it’s easy to get caught up in the lives of these girls and enjoy it. With a strong presentation with the English language adaptation as well, this is a solid crossover title that should be used to bring over the intended audience – adolescent girls. Just from the first episode alone, I had a group of kids hooked and wanting to see more of it. For Tenchi fans, you’ll already know if you want this or not if you’ve seen the various previous Sasami incarnations. If you haven’t, take the risk and enjoy one of the best characters from the franchise re-imagined once again.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles

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
Video Rating: A=
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 39.98
Running time: 325
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Sasami: Magical Girl Club