Project Arms Vol. #1 (Mania.com)

By:Gareth John Basset
Review Date: Saturday, November 16, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, October 08, 2002



The Review!
With many complaining about Viz's recent release titles including "Inu-Yasha" and "Trouble Chocolate", and many people adding "Project ARMS" to their list of Viz titles that have disappointed them, I wondered if I was making a mistake in purchasing the first "Project ARMS" DVD, "The Claws That Catch". Part of me said that these were hardcore anime fans nitpicking about things that an average anime fan would find acceptable, while another part of me screamed they knew exactly what they were talking about. So, with mixed expectations, I popped the DVD in my player and watched the first three episodes of this series with fingers crossed.

Afterwards, I walked away understanding why people were so irate with this release, but I walked feeling very, very impressed with it as well.

The story of "Project ARMS" won't win any awards by a long shot, but that doesn't keep this from being a very enjoyable series. The story deals with Ryo Takatsuki, a typical high school student with an average life and flippant yet responsible-when-need-be attitude. But everything was suddenly turned upside down with the arrival of a new student, Hayato Shingu, who can transform his arm into a deformed and menacing weapon and who apparently wants Ryo's death for some strange reason. Things get even more bizarre when Ryo learns that he and Shingu, as well as two other people in the world, possess what are called ARMS, and it's these ARMS that a mysterious organization wants to find and claim the technology for themselves.

Nitpickers may find some things to complain about, but people like me looking for a really interesting and overall well-developed story won't be disappointed with "Project ARMS". Unlike some series that tend to drag plot points over many episodes, "Project ARMS" moves the plot along at a fast pace; even though there are only three episodes on this disc, quite a bit of action and back story have already been revealed. Of course, it'll take a few more episodes to see if the series can keep this momentum going and keep it going smoothly, but so far "Project ARMS" has proven it deserves a chance and that's good enough for me to stick with this series.

On the visual side, "Project ARMS" reminds me of a series that was drawn unpolished intentionally. The visuals of this series really are stunning, but they have a grittiness and coarseness to their look that gives the series a moody atmosphere. Colors are very dark and drab, even in daylight scenes, but that simply adds to the mood. As for the visuals on this disc, there really wasn't anything wrong I could see. Colors were crisp and clear despite the overall dark feel, and the viewing experience simply felt clean overall.

One thing many purists will be upset about is that in the first couple of episodes a series of black backgrounds with kanji have been removed and replaced with English translations. However, in this case, I am very willing to forgive Viz for a couple of reasons. First, the kanji was not integrated into any other scenes and didn't contribute to anything artistic. Second, Viz did not take liberties with the translations but instead kept them faithful to the original phrases. Finally, Viz took the effort to make the English font match the style of the original kanji, thus preventing the text from feeling out of place.

Subtitles bring in a mixture of good and bad. On one hand, the color of the subtitles is white, which is a good choice for a particularly dark series and makes them that much easier to read. On the other hand, the timing of the subtitles is off, thanks to the odd decision to put more in words per subtitle line. This may annoy some people, but I can tolerate it very easily.

With the music, you won't find Yoko Kanno or Kaoru Wada. However, you will find a score that fits the series perfectly. With simple melodies that demand no powerful emotional response, the soundtrack to "Project ARMS" shows that sometimes complexity isn't needed. And like many a Yoko Kanno song, some of these songs make the scene that they're used in that much more memorable.

As for the voice tracks, the Japanese track is here and sounds clean without any noticeable sound distortions or popping. However, strangely enough, it's the English dub that shines.

I will say this here and now: if the Oceans Group has ever done a better dubbing job than the one with "Project ARMS", I have yet to hear it. This is not a dub that was just thrown in to appease the "dubbies" who accidentally stumbled across this DVD; using some very familiar voices, Viz has given this relatively obscure series one of the best dubs I have heard in recent memory. Some people may find it annoying that Kirby Morrow, Brian Drummond, and Brad Swaile star as three of the main characters (after all, they've started in virtually every famous Oceans Group dub), but once you listen to them speak you cannot help but feel the effort they've put into their characters. I was especially blown away by Brian Drummond, whose performance as Hayato Shingu matches the intensity of the original Japanese voice actor. Part of the credit has to be given to Fred Burke, who adapted the English script. Unlike Trish Ledoux with the "Inu-Yasha" script, Fred doesn't try to drastically change the original dialogue for the s

The packaging for the disc is a very eye-catching one, using a picture of Ryo Takatsuki baring his ARMS weapon over a creepy looking mask; it's definitely a very striking that makes people take notice. The only problem I can find with the packaging, however, is that there is no indication of which volume number this disc is. As for the menus, they open with a picture of the English Ryo screaming and running before switching to the menus. A pretty cool effect, although with my low-end DVD player it takes a brief moment for the menus to load. Extra-wise, there's the standard textless opening and ending as well as some line art and an English promotional trailer (beware, the trailer contains some).

Overall, I was very impressed with this disc. Many things that will annoy a DVD and/or anime enthusiast - no subtitled opening or ending, no mention of the Japanese voice actors - didn't bother me as much. The timing of the subtitles was merely a minor nuisance, something that the excellent dub more than made up for. The true value of this series can only be determined later on with future episodes, and with only three episodes per disc that can be a major strain. However, I've decided to give "Project ARMS" a chance, as it has completely blown me away with "The Claws That Catch".



Review Equipment
Mitsubishi DVD video player DD-4020



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 24.98
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Project Arms