Strait Jacket (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Magic and science come together in an alternate world where things aren’t quite what they seem.

What They Say
 In the city of Tristan, where advanced technology works side by side with sorcery, people are under constant threat of demon attack. To protect the defenseless citizens, the Magic Administration Office employs skilled warriors known as Tactical Sorcerists.

One day, a half-human, half-demon girl named Kapelteta Fernandez introduces Magic Administrator Nelin Seemonz to the reclusive Tactical Sorcerist Layot Steinberg, a crack shot who fights with a powerful humanoid Mold weapon. Despite his incredible skill at defeating demons, Layot is tortured by the sins of his past, and longs only for death.

The Review!
Audio:
Manga Entertainment has a good track record when it comes to their English language adaptations and Strait Jacket is no exception. The English language mix has been done in 5.1 encoded at 448kbps while the original Japanese stereo mix is done at 192 kbps. The English mix is certainly very strong with a good deal of directionality during key scenes, some solid bass performance and overall an engaging design. The Japanese track isn’t able to really compete against it, but it does a solid job of presenting the OVA gone film as it was originally shown. Both tracks are free of problems such as dropouts or distortions during regular playback, but like many Manga shows, it’s the English language mix that’s meant to be the real draw here.

Video:
Originally released in 2007, the transfer for this feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With a strong set of visuals to the series, a poor encode could turn this out to look really subpar. In fact, we were given originally a screener that had the feature done on a DVD-R that was anamorphic but with a bitrate cap of 5mbps. Watching the feature again in this format was like watching a different show and reminded once again how much of a difference presentation can really make. Strait Jacket is a mostly dark show but it has some good depth to it along with some really vibrant moments here and there. The fluidity of the animation is variable depending on the scene, but when the money is poured into a scene, it shows. By and large there’s little to dislike here about the encoding as it’s generally free of problems, at least outside of the fact that it’s three OVAs spliced into one feature.

Packaging:
Manga Entertainment has done up a nice release here with a slipcover edition of the feature. The slipcover, which has the same artwork and design as the keepcase cover, has a raised aspect to it with a lot of silver foil to really grab your eyes if you see it on the shelf. The front cover has a good looking shot of Leito with his gun out while behind him is a Mold with the magical sigils behind it. The cover is rather stark and barren overall but it allows for the character artwork to be really eye-catching. The back cover has several shots from the show which take up most of the real estate along with a basic summary of the premise of the feature. Add in the production credits which run over one of the pictures and a basic technical grid and you’ve got a decent looking piece that has that sort of minimal feeling that Manga Entertainment releases have had for quite some time. No inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design utilizes the elements from the front cover with Leito taking the foreground aspect of it. With a simple and rather basic static shot, both it and the background image of the Mold with the magic sigils behind it gives it a good vibrant feeling, but it does feel a bit flat, more like the difference between the slipcover and the keepcase cover itself. With nothing on the disc besides the setup aspect and playing the feature, navigation is quick and simple with no problems. It’s a very basic menu for Manga Entertainment who usually includes a bit more animation and design to it than this.

Extras:
None.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on a series of light novels from X, Strait Jacket is the latest entry from Manga Entertainment that serves as a solid standalone piece that will likely be easy and accessible to a lot of people. The film is one that takes some rather good production values and runs with it to create a familiar yet interesting world that blends science and magic while telling a tale revolving around characters that are mildly conflicted, sometimes aloof and often simply trying to eke out a living. Unlike some of the other features that Manga has put out in the last few years, Strait Jacket is one that I don’t think will be quite as popular simply because it doesn’t have a really strong hook to reel you in.

The story idea for Strait Jacket, which has something like ten or so light novels to pull from, takes place in a world where magic has become almost mundane really in the world. The practical application of magic has changed every industry from when it was first formally recognized by the world and the opening of the film provides us with some interesting views of how it’s all changed. From the way the medical profession now works with healers coming in to provide assistance in dire cases to agriculture where plants and food are given help in growing in new and stronger ways. Of course, there’s also the practical application in the military world which is almost somewhat archaic in how it’s being approached.

In a way, Strait Jacket doesn’t really follow the military side but rather something more specific. As it turns out, if you don’t use magic properly, you can run into quite a lot of problems, most notably in that it sort of overwhelms your body and you turn into an out of control demon. What you have to take care of this are “tactical sorcerers,” sometimes called sorcerists which are also apparently called “Strait Jackets” though it didn’t really sound like it was said within the show all that much if at all. Sorcerists was the most common phrase used for these people who deal with the spawning of demons that come from magic gone awry. They’re licensed and able to take down these former people without issue through the use of special armor that is made for them through magic and science. These “molds” give them heightened abilities and allow them to withstand the physical attacks that so many demons throw at them.

Strait Jacket has a small cast of characters that it deals with and it all starts by revolving around Simmons, a relatively young member of the organization that handles a lot of the problems with magic. She’s not exactly the most confident person but she’s got enough backbone to do what needs to be done. It’s through her that we meet Leiot, a freelance sorcerist in a world where there are none. He’s given free rein to do what he does simply because he is the best of the best and because he generally does it with a low profile and without a lot of flash. He’s skilled, quite and not a problem in any way with the establishment. There are problems that come up though, such as when the licensed sorcerist Isaac comes across him and realizes that Leiot was the man who killed his mentor. That causes a fair number of issues that play back and forth between the two men as the demon spawning problem continues in the city.

The design and presentation of Strait Jacket is one that is quite good though at the same time it has a sense of the familiar about it. The visual presentation is solid with some great looking animation to it, but it doesn’t have anything that really sets it apart and stands out. At times, it was reminiscent to me of Jin-Roh because of the armor used and the quasi-military aspect that’s brought into play. They just applied magic to it in order to give it a bit more of a hook. The animation is certainly fluid and you can see the budget on the screen when it comes to the big action sequences as well as the smaller simpler scenes where it’s dialogue and conversation among the characters.

Where a large part of the problem comes in is that there isn’t any really solid connection to these characters or the tale. Things are presented quickly out of the gate which is good in terms of the world backdrop for how magic fits in with science, but after that it’s almost a trivial thing that doesn’t come up outside of the actual encounters. When you have the strong silent type characters like Leito, you can admire how they look on the screen and portray themselves, but once you get past that they turn out to be pretty unmemorable. Even more problematic I think for this release is that Manga Entertainment has once again done the trick of splicing OVAs into a movie format. The original three OVAs are now a seventy-six minute feature which provides for some mildly jarring transitions at times which seem to come during when an episode would break. The narrative flow of a story told in OVA form compared to one done as a true theatrical/movie form is very different, and that flow starts to stutter once you get past the first third of the feature. This isn’t a new trick – nor one that just Manga Entertainment does – but Strait Jacket seems to suffer because of it to me.

In Summary:
Strait Jacket was a fairly decent little show but one that in the end is rather unmemorable. The premise is certainly a fun one to explore but it ends up trying to take itself far too seriously and it doesn’t have the actual weight to carry such an attitude. The visuals for the feature are certainly good and the interaction between the characters and the magic CG aspects is really nicely done. It’s all quality when it comes to the visual presentation but the actual story leaves a lot to be desired. It has some good moments here and there, but certain parts like the transformation of characters into demons was far too reminiscent of Akira’s big end scene at times. Overall, it’s not a bad way to spend some time and it’s one that I imagine would come across even more beautiful in high definition. If only they had done it as the original episodes uncut instead of this spliced together form.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 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-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 16+
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Manga Entertainment
MSRP: 19.98
Running time: 90
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2