Fushigi Yugi Suzaku Box Set (Mania.com)

By:Jim Lazar
Review Date: Saturday, February 16, 2002
Release Date: Friday, November 26, 1999

The Review!
Menus: A-
All of the discs start with the same basic main menu except for the background artwork (which corresponds to the artwork on the disc and the cardboard case). Each menu screen identifies the disc that is inserted, useful if you somehow forget which of the four discs is inserted. The menus are responsive and are very legible on my setup. All the menus have a 'book' theme in keeping with the book theme of Fushigi Yugi itself. Nice touch.

Setup menu: B
This menu allows you to choose the language for the audio and if subtitles are on or off. The defaults are English audio with subtitles off. Only problem here is there is no visual indication of which is the current selection. The only way to tell is by seeing which selection you can highlight using your menu cursor buttons, the current selection is the one you can't select (if English is the current setting, then you can only highlight the Japanese setting). This menu was very poorly thought out, but is only a minor nuisance (especially since I rarely use menus to select languages/subtitles, I just use my remote).

Index menu: A
Each disc has two index menu screens with 3 or 4 episodes listed on each. Each episode is listed with its name, a very small picture from that episode, and is divided into 5 chapters, which can be selected from the index menu screens.

The opening, part A, part, B, ending, and preview for the next episode all reside on different chapters. Those who (for some reason) don't want to watch the gorgeous endings, previews, and openings can skip them with the chapter buttons on their remotes. One warning: The cliffhanger to each episode (some are more dramatic than others) is partly on the chapter containing the ending, so don't skip ahead until you're sure the episode is over or you'll miss part of the story.

Overall, it would have been nice to have four parts containing the story instead of just two.

Footnotes: A
Basically: Liner notes! Although nowhere near as numerous as those found on the FY fansubs, they are a welcome addition to the set. Originally my thought was to recommend waiting to read them until after viewing the disc once to avoid spoilers, but upon further examination it would seem be beneficial to look at them before watching the episodes. But for the most part they don't seem to contain spoilers, so enjoy!

Opening: A-
My only complaint is the use of hard subs for the opening songs. I rarely care what the words are to a song and would prefer they use DVD subs.

Ending: A-
Thankfully Pioneer listened to fans and left these intact. Since each ending is different with a montage of scenes from the episode and the ending music starts as the episode's cliffhanger happens, removing the endings would have left some sudden music changes. And like all the FY songs, the ending song is great to listen to over and over.

The one problem with the ending is that they did not subtitle the song (hard or DVD subs). Although not a big deal for me, I know some people like the songs to be subtitled.

Apparently, the VHS tapes had the song subbed on a credits scroll at the end of each tape, but those are not present of the DVDs (the 4th disc has the credits on a DVD menu). Hopefully Pioneer with rectify this on the 2nd DVD set (with DVD subtitles, please). I have a feeling they may have skipped the subs because of the problems with generating them for each different ending sequence. At the very least they should have included DVD subs for the 'extra' credit-less OP and ED on the fourth disc, but they didn't.

Subtitles: B (due to not using different colors for dialog/songs)
Yellow with a medium black boarder. They looked good on my setup with no flickering.

As others have noted, they used the same color and style font for the songs and the dialog, so this makes it very hard to know which is which. Another thing I hope they fix in the next box.

Video: A-
The video was, for the most part, flawless. I saw little to no artifacts and no problems with pixelation. There was some shimmering at the edges of lines when some scenes panned horizontally, but I couldn't really tell if this was a problem with the DVD authoring or the original video source. There was some very noticeable shimmering and jitter on the end credits, but this does appear to be due to the original source and not a DVD problem.

As a test, I played episode 13 on the DVD and the same episode from my FY fansubs using PIP. Of course the video of the DVD was far superior, but I didn't notice any of the shimmering in the fansub that was noticeable in the DVD image. That could be due to the higher resolution of the DVD image, of course. The shimmering is the only reason the video didn't receive an A+.

Japanese Audio: A
No noticeable problems and sounded great on my setup.

English Audio: C (due to poor casting and direction)
Again, no problems and it sounded very crisp and clear. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the English VAs.

Pioneer usually has very good English dubs and I personally prefer them when they are good (meaning they do not alter the dialog beyond what is necessary to match mouth movements, make the dialog flow better when spoken, and only change cultural references so they are more understandable).

The FY script seems to be fairly accurate to the sub script and the fansubs I've seen. One nice thing about DVDs is you can compare the dub dialog to the Japanese audio and subtitles and see where they might be different. These days companies should take this into account when they get the urge to alter the dub dialog more than is necessary, since we can now easily compare the different audio tracks and subtitles. For instance: It's painfully obvious how much the Battle Athletes OVA English dub script was altered from the original.

As for FY, I only spotted a few spots where it looked like the toned down some of the more suggestive moments, but it's not widespread as far as I can see. I hope they don't have plans of toning down dialog in the second. There are some very serious moments where softening the language could very easily destroy the impact of the story.

One glaring change was in episode 20 where Nuriko screams when the cat appears and Chiriko bursts in. The dialog in the sub script would sound very offensive to many people, but the dub dialog is very tame and loses the point of the coarse/offensive language from Chiriko. It was SUPPOSED to be offensive. I'd go into more detail, but that would be a spoiler.

Unfortunately, the otherwise acceptable dub script was ruined by some bad choices for English VAs. The dub acting is definitely not up to Pioneer's usually standards and I wonder if they didn't expect FY to be a big seller and scrimped on production costs somewhere.

Miaka is voiced by the same actress that did Anna in BA and Lain in SE Lain. She starts out very rough, but by the second disk most of the problems are ironed out and she had improved (not perfect, but better).

Tomahome, Hotohori, and Nuriko are also a little rough at first, but soon are acceptable. Chichiri is good as well, but Pioneer's choice to use 'you know' to replace his 'no das' takes some time getting use to.

Unfortunately, that is where the 'good voices' end. Yui is okay, but I just can't get the right feeling from her English VA as the original has. Nakago's VA should be sent back to acting school. He reads the lines Period. I can't even recall him trying to match the tone of the scene or show any emotion at all. Granted, Nakago isn't an emotional guy, but compared to the Japanese VA, the English VA is probably the most glaring difference I've heard so far in FY and he showed no improvement over the course of the episodes he was it.

Tasuki is... well... his English VA tried to do a gangster type accent and it fails miserably. To wrap this up, the other minor characters are a mixed bunch; some do a good job and others, quite frankly, stink. It's impossible to get a perfect cast, but the glaring differences in quality of voices and inattention to the emotions that should be there is very upsetting.

Overall, this is very poorly put together dub and I am really surprised that Pioneer would put out such an inferior product for an otherwise great title.

Packaging: F
Those who've seen my comments about the packaging will not be surprised at my feelings on the packaging: It's bad.

The artwork is very gorgeous and the layout is very well done and stylish. The red box will be complemented by the blue of the second set.

Unfortunately, as good as it looks, those looks won't last. The main portion is made out of cardboard. Yes, cardboard. One would have hoped Pioneer would have left the cardboard DVD cases behind when they started using Amaray keepcases for their releases, but as with the Tenchi OVA boxset, they took a giant step backwards and used a flimsy cardboard case. There are four clear plastic trays to hold the discs glued to a four-fold cardboard back. But in anything, the case is only as good as it's weakest part, which is the cardboard in this case.

Although attractive, the cardboard construction is sure to wear out over time. In fact, my set came with one nick in the edge already and a creased spine. This last problem seems to be partly due to the spine being a little wider than the inner plastic pieces that hold the discs when the case is closed. That allows any pressure on the spine to cause it to bend. The Tenchi set didn't suffer this problem, since the three disc trays fit together more snuggly.

The clear plastic trays for the discs do allow the artwork to show through and the art for each disc corresponds to one of the four gods from the story. The big problem with the trays is the hub that holds the disc. The tabs are way too stiff and make the discs hard to remove. Over time they will loosen up, but they are still poorly designed in my opinion. Due to the clear plastic of the trays, the tabs are brittle, so one on my set has broken off already. Time will tell if the rest will break. Ironically, the hubs make it hard to remove the discs, but my disc 2 was loose in the package when I received it. Fortunately no damage was done to the disc.

Overall, a pretty package that won't stand the test of time and makes it ridiculously hard to remove the discs. In my mind, DVD packaging serves three purposes:

1) Attract potential customers - The FY box does accomplish this task with its beautiful artwork.

2) Protect the disc during shipment and storage - The FY box fails in this regard since there were several reports of loose discs in these sets (and the Tenchi set). Even if that was due to the packers not pushing down on the disc hard enough to seat it properly, it's still a flaw if the hub design makes it hard to seat the disk properly (of three sets I've had like the FY box, all three have had loose discs in them, compare that to over a 120 Amaray cases without a single loose disc). Also, unlike Amaray cases which are pretty much sealed, the FY boxset doesn't have any protection from dust, liquids, etc... getting to the disc when the case is closed. Add the fact that removing the discs does require some bending of the disc unless you are very careful and remove the disc just right. Removing a disc from a case should not be this complicated.

3) Last, but not least, the packaging should last as long as the contents are expected to - And the FY set's cardboard construction will obviously not last repeated openings and closings to get to the discs.

So, on those three points the FY set only passes one. 33% is a failing grade in my book. At least what my teachers always told me in school.

Extras: B
Besides the liner notes, there is a full-color glossy booklet included with the set (although some sets reportedly did not have the booklets). The booklet is very nice. It contains the chapter stops for each disc, he cover art from the VHS tapes, episode names, a brief one-line synopsis for each episode, character information, and credits. One warning: Do not read the booklet before you watching the discs otherwise there are spoilers in the episode synopsis and character information.

The Japanese VAs are listed along with the characters they played. Unfortunately, the English Vas are listed, but not with the corresponding character they played. Considering the below average dub, maybe that's for the best. Apparently, this is a contractual requirement with the studio that did the English dub for Pioneer.

On the last disc there are several extras listed under the 'Appendix' menu item. In addition tot he footnotes found on the first three discs there are:

Interviews: Sadly these are only text screens of Q&A sessions with Yu Watase (the creator of the original manga), Hajime Kamegaki (director of the anime), and Hideyuki Motohashi (character designer). A nice little tidbit, but would have been so much nicer as video interviews (with subs, of

Gallery: 26 still frames of promotional artwork and scenes from the anime.

Omake: Contains the opening and ending without credits. As mentioned earlier neither are subbed. The ending is a nice uncluttered piece with only the left side of the end credits shown (which is artwork from Yu Watase). The right side is blank and is where the montage from the episode would normally be placed.

There is also a relationship chart on this menu. It shows the major characters and their relationships to each other. Selecting one of the relationship indicators plays a short clip detailing the relationship. Both English and Japanese audio are present, but no subtitles.

Bibliography lists the credits for the Japanese and English version of the anime and the Pioneer selection is the usual information about Pioneer's other titles. The title info is the same as Pioneer's other discs: just text screens, which is for the best. I'd rather the bits be spent on the video and audio of the actual episodes, not advertisements.

Review Equipment
Sony DVP-S300 DVP player, Sony DB-930 receiver (S-video and optical AC-3 connections), Sony Trinitron KV-32V15

Mania Grade: NA
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: F
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 199.98
Running time: 650
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fushigi Yugi - The Mysterious Play