Trouble Chocolate Vol. #1 (Mania.com)

By:luis
Review Date: Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, October 22, 2002



The Review!
My first taste of Trouble Chocolate? Will it be sugary sweet to the taste, or bitter like the darkest of dark chocolates? While cast members and certain plot elements are clearly send-ups of Urusei Yatsura, the first taste turned out to be semi-sweet.

Audio:
The Japanese audio was listened to during my primary viewing session. It is listed as a mono track but seems to have some decent stereo effects. There were no noticeable dropouts or problems during playback. To my surprise, I found the opening and closing theme songs quite catchy.

Video:
While the show was released back in 1999, the video looks as good as recent titles. The colors were vibrant and fit well with the overall tone of the show. The picture was sharp and provided some great detail for the characters and backgrounds. There were no noticeable problems during playback.

The subtitle font used was the same unique font used for the first volume of Great Dangaioh. As with that volume, I found myself needing five minutes or so to have my eyes adjust to reading the font. Hopefully, subsequent volumes will use a more standard font.

The video grade is taken down a peg by the dreaded phrases ?hard-subbed? and ?overlays?. For the opening and ending sequences, the credits are in English and are hard subtitled. The credits take up a good portion of the screen detracting from enjoying the sequences. Did the original Japanese credits take up that much of the screen? We will never know as there is no way to view the original credits. To top it off, the opening and closing does not have their songs translated on the screen; fortunately, they are subtitled on the versions in the extras section. The current and upcoming episode title cards are also hard subtitled with English translations.

The overlays come into play during the portions of the show where Cacao is typing messages on his computer. The messages are subtitled in English which was not surprising. When I went back to play the scenes without subtitles, I was surprised to find no Japanese text on the screen; it had been completely overlaid with a white background. Why Viz chose to do this with a late 2002 release is beyond me, but it detracted from my viewing enjoyment.

Packaging:
Viz cleverly packaged this show as the cover art resembles a chocolate bar. The cover appears as a shiny orange wrapper that has been ripped open on the front cover to reveal some tasty looking chocolate. Below the exposed chocolate, Hinano stands over a banner stating ?Collect all five DVDs!?.

The back cover continues the candy bar motif with a listing of nutrition facts that contain the disc specs. Cacao stands next to the usual boilerplate descriptions of and images from the episodes. My back cover also had a ?13 Up? sticker placed on the case itself; nothing was blocked though as it was luckily placed in a blank spot near the edge of the spine.

On the inside, there is a one-page insert that has the chapter listings on one side and a big ?TC? logo on the other.

Menu:
When the menu first loads up, you are greeted by Hinano, voiced by her English actress, welcoming you to ?Cranky? Sakai Town, the setting for this romantic comedy. Once the greeting is over, a piece from the opening theme plays in the background. Hinano?s face is present in the center of the menu while Sakai Town is the backdrop for the menu.

The main menu contains each episode title with the option to play the episode or go to its scene selection menu. Rounding out the main menu are options to take you to the language selection menu and the extras menu. There is no background music present for the sub-menus which was a bit disappointing.

Viz continues two pet peeves of mine; first, we have scene selection menus that are really not needed. Each episode consists of four chapters (except for episode one which has five): opening, body, closing, and next. I have no ability to jump to a scene within the body of the episode. Further aggravating me was the fact that the insert indicated that each episode consisted of six chapters: prologue, opening, part A, part B, ending, and next episode preview. Who dropped the ball on this one -- the person in charge of packaging or the person in charge of authoring the DVD?

Second, is the fact that the menu has no ?Play All? option listed on the screen. However, once you hit ?Play? on an episode, the disc will play all the episodes as if you had hit a ?Play All? option. This is not standard practice and is a bit unintuitive to me.

Despite these two points, the menus are functional with no lag in transitions. They get you into watching the show quickly and reflect the style and tone of the show.

Extras:
The back cover lists one of the extras as ?Behind-the-Scenes Promotional Material?; this turns out to be animation stills from the episodes along with a character gallery. The character gallery is the best feature of the two as it provides character model sheets for each of the characters in the episodes. It is a nice behind-the-scenes touch that also provides a quick reminder of just who these crazy characters are.

Rounding out the extras are textless versions of the opening and closing theme songs. These versions seem to default to playing the themes with subtitles for the songs; this is a great touch as I found myself humming along to the songs by the end of the disc. While it may not be a truly textless experience, it is good to have the songs translated somewhere on the disc.

Content:(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Welcome to ?Cranky? Sakai Town, home of Micro-Grand (MG) Academy and people who like to collect cards from chocolate bars. While it seems like any other town, it is host to a horde of wacky characters. One such character is our protagonist, Cacao. As In Comes Trouble opens up, Cacao wakes up to find a green-haired girl sleeping with him in his bed; he has no memory of who she is and how she got there! His confusion grows as the girl wakes up and proceeds to offer no clues to the mystery; in fact, she mostly says ?Your Welcome? at the most inappropriate time.

In the first few minutes, we learn that the girl?s name is Hinano, and she seems to have quite an attachment to Cacao. We also learn that she is made of wood, possesses enormous power, and can cook a huge meal; the last part benefits Cacao the most as he possesses an enormous appetite. Cacao rushes off to school to try to find out what exactly happened the day before; essentially, this is just an excuse to quickly introduce the crazy cast of characters.

By the end of the episode, we learn that Hinano was the result of a faerie summoning by Professor Ganache gone wrong when Cacao had an allergic reaction to a 200 year old, expired chocolate bar. When the summoning went wrong, the lines between the real and spiritual world began to blur as evidenced by a purple creature appearing from a discarded chocolate card.

This leads us to Meet the S.M.A.T. which is a showcase for the bizarre relationship Murakata and Deborah have with each other and with the rest of the school. Both are immensely popular and are quite in love with each other; they also have a penchant for forming teams to tackle any problem that arises such as the giant purple beast that is destroying and eating everything in its path.

The final two episodes Mega-Rich Transfer Student and Hunger Panic introduce us to two final characters for the disc, Truffle and Almond. Truffle is the grandson of the head of the Big Deal Corporation, which means he is really rich and flies a jet to school. Almond seems to be a by-product of the failed summoning and has an appetite that rivals Cacao?s. These episodes also set up the premise that Cacao might be a promising sorcerer and that Big Deal fears this potential.

Trouble Chocolate tries to be as wacky and self-aware as Urusei Yatsura and ends up succeeding in some areas while failing in others. The characters are clearly send-ups of various UY characters; Truffle is the Mendou Shutaro clone complete with ?army on demand? (trademark pending), white uniform, and katana. Some of the plot elements are also send-ups; we have a young, clueless guy who is suddenly saddled with a powerful and equally clueless green-haired girl. Various characters love each other or are in love with someone who is in love with someone else. And generally, wacky things are constantly happening to anyone and everyone causing large-scale property damage.

Where the show works is when the wackiness provides some subtle comedic bits (two guys bonking their heads together as they both try to turn and run away from a monster? classic). Some of the parodies, most notably the sentai parodies, worked as well. I found myself laughing out loud at points and generally enjoying the stories as they progressed.

Where the show fails is that the wackiness goes a bit too far at times without providing much comedic pay-off. Murakata and Deborah provide the best example; each time they see each other, they break into a deeply romantic moment. They look longingly into each other?s eyes and speak to each other of their undying love. While it was amusing the first few times, it quickly grew old by the end of the disc. If these characters do not break out of this pattern, the gag will become a major turn-off as the series continues.

Overall, the show has presented an interesting cast of characters; not much romance has occurred yet, but that is to be expected as these episodes are mainly being used to introduce us to the characters. I have been a huge fan of Urusei over the years, and this show has yet to bring anything new to the romantic comedy table. It is trying to reach the bar set by UY and is not quite reaching it yet. However, I did find myself enjoying the show and am looking forward to the next volume. Maybe the Chocolate gets better with age?



Review Equipment
Mitsubishi 27" TV, Pioneer DVL-919, Sony STR-DE915 DD receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers, generic S-Video and audio cable.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 24.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Trouble Chocolate