Sakura Wars (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, February 18, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, October 26, 1999
Hey folks! It's been a while since my last review, but I got this disc earlier today and I wanted to write a review about this as soon as possible. (you'll hear why shortly...) First I'll do purely the technical aspects
The audio is standard Dolby Digital 2.0, and has some decent stereo effects. Nothing that will floor you, but enough that it doesn't make you think the disc could've been done in Mono. Both tracks have fine audio - I listened in to the dubbed track for a little while when there were multiple languages going on to see what it sounded like. The rest of the time I listened to the Japanese audio track - when it would let me.
Apparently other people have the same problem where when a new episode starts the languages reset (in my case even if I went to the language select screen before playing the disc it would reset as soon as the feature started). Now, I've set my default language to Japanese so I don't get infected by the English voice actors by accident, but I had to remember to turn the subtitles back on every time a new "act" started. Also there must be a problem with the track programming, because the Chapter Forward/Back buttons do not behave correctly. Hitting them will make the disc act like you were at the first chapter of the first episode (so track forward will bring you to the opening credits, track back will take you back to the very start). This was very annoying, as I'd try to skip the opening credits and end up way back at the beginning, forcing me to go to the menu and use the Scene select function. And on that segway...
The menus are one of the disc's few strong points. While it does have a few minor flaws (selections on the Language screen don't light up) it is otherwise active and very pretty. As someone earlier mentioned, the music does reset whenever you change screens, but I have a feeling that this may be a technical limitation of the DVD format.
The video looks good other than the rainbow effects you get on some of the characters. Some people have mentioned that this is inevitable, but I disagree. I have only seen this problem occur with discs that were encoded in interlaced format. On Progressive-scan discs the rainbow effect either doesn't appear or is not as pronounced. For instance, I've never seen it on 8 Man After, the Tenchi Movies, etc, even though the same type of picture (lots of whitish colors with black lines in-between, where the rainbow effects occur most often) was present.
And as for the alternate camera angle during the intro - it's a joke. I was expecting the REAL Japanese credits, not the English ones only listing the Japanese voice actors. I would've liked to see it in it's completely original presentation, but that was not meant to be. It was a nice idea, but the way that they did it makes it pretty useless.
I did like the previews that were included on the menus, the only problem was that they were obviously encoded at a low bitrate, because I was able to view lots of artifacts during them. Plus, all the ones that showed the actual packaging showed a tape! Even the Tekken trailer shows a picture of Tekken on VHS. Why on earth would they tell people who've gone and bought the Sakura Wars DVD to go get Tekken on VHS when it's available on DVD? And why don't they say that Queen Emeraldas/Slayers: TMP/Legend of Crystania are coming soon to DVD?
Now I'll get on to the content. I don't like this series. Hate is too strong a word, but I definitely think that I should've maybe rented this one from Netflix or something before buying it. I had heard a lot of good things about it, so I decided to give it a go based on some recommendations, but this turned out to be a very poor anime, in my opinion.
First of all, the plot is horribly convoluted and nothing is ever made quite clear enough to the reader. Imagine watching The Matrix, only you're never told that it's this computer world, you just see people moving in and out of this weird place through phones and displaying inhuman strength - that's what I felt like watching this. You never hear about what the Demon Wars really were, you are never told what the heck this Capital Defense Force is, or how this spirit armor stuff works, or why Iris has telepathic powers, or why they keep doing these plays...the list goes on and on.
The worst is when the introduce the new leader of the force. You see him meet Sakura, then jump to the next episode and blam, he's now suddenly the center of attention, yet we know very little about him. It's like if saw Luke Skywalker for the first time in Return of the Jedi. It just doesn't make sense.
I admit I've never played the video game. Heck, I didn't know anything about it besides that it was steampunk (which is very cool) but you shouldn't have to have played the game to enjoy an animated feature. I've never played Fatal Fury but I enjoyed the movie. The least they could've done is provided some text summaries or information on the background of what's been established. I felt completely lost throughout the whole 120 minutes, and while the animation was beautifully done and I liked the atmosphere of Tokyo in 1920, setting and visuals don't make up for a story that's lacking.
As I watched I couldn't help but think that this should've been a TV series. The final "act" screamed TV filler episode at me, as did many parts of the other episodes. Perhaps they originally planned on making this a series and then cut it off at the last minute and just released it as OVA's, but I doubt that because the animation quality is too high for a TV series. Oh well, live and learn...
While I know that some people will disagree with me, I recommend that you steer clear of this disc unless you have some knowledge of the world it takes place in. Even a fan of steampunk like myself couldn't get into it, as there were simply too many characters, and none of them were developed properly. If you want to see some nice visuals, then this would be a fine disc, but I have a feeling this will end up sitting on my shelf for a while.
Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: A
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: All Region DVD
Released By: ADV Films
Running time: 120
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Sakura Wars / Sakura Taisen