Spirit of Wonder (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, February 18, 2002
Release Date: Wednesday, January 10, 2001
This review is of the Beta DVD.
Please note: This review has been done using a BETA disc of the Spirit of Wonder DVD from AnimEigo. Although it is an actual pressed test disc (not a CD-R), some things may change for the final released disc. Shin Kurokawa at AnimEigo has given me permission to do this review of the BETA disc. Enjoy.
Just a plan jewel case with no insert or any label at all. Very disappointing. ;-)
Of course, the real release will have a keepcase and you can see the cover art at http://www.animeigo.com/Art/SOWDVD.GIF
The real cover is attractive and gives a good impression of the relationship between the three main characters as well as a beautiful picture of our heroine. One thing I wish they'd reused on the cover is the menu image of the telescope, which I thought was very attractive and well done.
When you start the disc, you get a copyright/license screen followed by the AnimEigo and Toshiba logos, all skipable. The main menu is a picture of the city the story takes place in as well as a telescope with an interesting animated effect that accompanies the pleasant tune playing. One note, for technical reasons the menu that appears after you watch the feature isn't animated. Not a major deal, but apparently caused problems on some players.
You have five choices on the main menu:
"View the movie" - Which naturally starts the movie playing. The movie will play automatically after one cycle of the music if you just leave it at the main menu.
"Jump to a scene" - Which lists the nine chapters that make up the feature. The one chapter not listed is the end credits. While playing the feature, you can use the number keypad on many players' remotes to jump to that chapter, much like the menu selection (again, this works differently on different players).
"Previews" - Apparently they had space left over, so they put on a whole bunch of AnimEigo trailers. The quality of the trailers isn't that great because they didn't remaster them, but they were interesting to watch once.
"Language" - There are four language choices:
English language, no subtitles
Japanese language, English subtitles
English language, English subtitles
Japanese language, no subtitles
They use speaker and word balloon icons to identify the options, which I thought was a cute touch. After selecting one of the items, it returns to the main menu with the 'view the movie' selected. Just letting the menu play through the music once, plays the feature. Since the disc uses alternate angles to display the title screen and end credits, using the language menu selects the appropriate angle to use.
"Credits/Website" - Credits for the DVD production and a screen showing the
One interesting bit is that AE has set up the menus so you can use the numeric keypads on many players to select menu items (top would be #1, next would be #2, and so on). I had to use the number plus 'ENTER' on my Sony DVP-S300, but how this works apparently varies from player to player.
Both audio tracks are clean and clear Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks. There's some directionality, but most of the story is dialog based and comes from the center.
After listening to both tracks, I can't say I noticed any problems in either track; due to mastering or from the original analog source. The music suits the story very well and is not overpowering or used to excess. The music during the climatic scene is particularly appropriate.
Saving the best for last (okay, second last), the video on the disc is nearly flawless. Most of the small imperfections I noticed were clearly part of the source and it looks like a lot of work was done to remaster and do a very clean transfer for this release. Comparing the video in the feature to the video in the un-remastered trailer that's included on the disc clearly shows the difference before and after.
I really didn't notice any major problems on my setup. There were a few spots that had a few noticeable jaggies and other slight digital artifacts of the transfer, but nothing that jumps out at you. If I wasn't paying particular attention to this beta disc, I might not have noticed them in a normal viewing of this disc. Overall, the video is very polished and well done.
For some reason on my Sony, skipping around to other chapters would produce a couple frames of square groups of video interspersed with black squares. They don't appear during normal playback, just when you skip to the next chapter or jump to a chapter using the keypad. AE used alternate angles to provide the original untranslated titles and end credits in all their Kanji glory. Of course, AE being AE, they didn't cover or remove the Kanji in the English angle either, so you get the Kanji in both angles, just with the English translation added in the English angle.
The alternate angle for the title screen is short (just a few seconds long), but the end credits is several minutes long.
One little gotcha in the end credits is there is a spot with Doctor Breckenridge talking without you hearing any dialog. His dialog is shown on screen with Japanese characters. The English angle has hard subs to translate this, but the Japanese angle doesn't. Apparently there was a technical problem that prevented them from using a subtitle track on the ending, so to see the translated dialog you have to switch to angle 1. Unfortunate, but not a disc killer. You also have to look at the English angle to see the song lyrics, as they are only on that angle.
I didn't have any problems with the alternate angles on the disc except on my Power Macintosh G4. On my Mac, I couldn't get the end credits to play at all no matter how I tried to access them. Might be a bug in the Apple DVD Player software or a problem in the encoding of the disc. I suspect the former.
After being unfortunate to have serious playback problems with the Urusei Yatsura discs on my Sony DVP-S300, I was dreading having similar problems with this disc. Fortunately, the skipping and stuttering problems I had on the UY 2nd pressing discs is not present on this disc (which was apparently actually part of a test pressing done at the new replication facility AE is using). This gives me great hope that I'll be able to enjoy future AE titles on my Sony player.
On my Sony, there's no timing information. Apparently this is due to the way the alternate angles are setup and won't affect every player. Unfortunate, but not the end of the world.
There is a second subtitle track that for some reason is blank, I never noticed anything recorded on it.
I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but there's a scene with some supposedly Chinese writing that is untranslated. Possibly since most Japanese viewers wouldn't understand it either, AE left it untranslated. Still, it'd be interesting to find out what it said and it isn't in the liner notes available on their web site.
The story revolves around a lovely young Chinese girl, called appropriately "Miss China". She runs a pub and is landlady to a very eccentric inventor called "Doctor Breckenridge" and his young apprentice "Jim". About the only thing that keeps this spirited girl from kicking out both of these two troublemaking, non-rent paying, inventors is her attraction to young Jim (who couldn't resist a guy with that great name? :-) ).
Without spoiling anything, the charming story revolves around Miss China's attraction to Jim and one of the doctor's amazing inventions.
The story isn't an epic tale, but it's very charming and keeps you interested throughout the short 45 minutes.
In the end, young Jim's attempts to impress Miss China are... shall we say... unique. Next time, Jim, just buy a diamond for the girl. :-) You'll understand this statement after you see the Spirit of Wonder, which I do recommend you check out.
Sony DVP-S300 DVP player, Sony DB-930 receiver (S-video and optical AC-3 connections), Sony Trinitron KV-32V15
Also: PowerMac G4 (Dual 450MHZ G4); Hitachi GD-7000 DVD-ROM drive, Apple DVD player 2.2, Viewsonic 20" VGA monitor
Mania Grade: B
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: AnimEigo
Running time: 45
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Spirit of Wonder