Project Arms Vol. #1 (Mania.com)

By:luis
Review Date: Thursday, July 17, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, October 08, 2002



The Review!
After seeing the front cover and reading the description on the back cover, I sat down not expecting much from Project Arms. At the end of three episodes, I stood up surprised to find that an intriguing storyline, one that I had enjoyed watching develop.

Audio:
For my primary viewing session, I listened to the Japanese audio track. There were no noticeable problems resulting in a solid stereo mix. There was some good use of the forward soundstage during the action scenes, but these first three episodes lay the groundwork of the show through dialogue resulting in most of the action coming from the center channel. The dialogue was sharp and clear making for an enjoyable listen.

Video:
Simply put, this show looks great; the day scenes are bright and rich while the night takes on an ominous feeling. There were a few spots where the dark blue was a bit too dark and obscured the action, but the transfer was clean with no major problems.

The subtitles were white, small, and used the same odd font that has been used on other volume one titles from Viz. It is not a standard font for my eyes, and it always takes a few minutes for them to adjust. Once they do, the font is readable though it could be slightly larger for ease of reading.

Also, the subtitles seemed to appear late at times averaging around half to a full second of dialogue occurring before the appropriate subtitles appeared. It is most noticeable in the first episode but subsides for the most part in the remaining episodes.

Viz continues their tradition of hard subtitling the credits onto the video as well as using pure English title and dialogue cards. However, they surprised me this time by using the original Japanese title card but hard subtitling the translation beneath it.

The video for this show is great and really deserves a higher grade. However, the continued practice of hard subtitling credits and title/dialogue cards continually drags the score into the B range.

Packaging:
The front cover features Ryo and his "ARMS" while the large, red head of the villainous Claw dominates the background. Absent on the front cover is an indication of what volume number this disc is.

When you flip the case over, you find the episode titles listed above the standard boilerplate description of the show. The right-hand side of the back cover contains a collage of screenshots while the remainder of the cover is dedicated to the disc specs and production credits.

The back cover also contained the "13UP" sticker plastered directly on the case. To complicate things, the security label was pasted on top of the sticker resulting in the sticker being torn despite my best efforts to liberate it from the evil security restraint. Fortunately, the sticker itself covers mostly dead space and only partially obscures one of the screenshots.

Inside the case is a one-sheet insert that contains the chapter listings on one side and a portion of text from Alice in Wonderland on the other. Unfortunately, the only explanation for why this text is used is contained in the promo trailer in the extras section (more on this below).

Menu:
After a quick animation, the main menu loads up; the left side is taken up by a nice series of clips from the show itself. To the right are menu options letting you play individual episodes, enter an episode's scene selection menu, setup the languages, or view the extras. A nice segment of background provides the final touch.

Overall, the menus were functional and easy to use. They were not cluttered and allowed one to get setup and into the show quickly. The only item missing was a "Play All" feature, but the disc will play the remaining episodes after choosing to view one episode. I still find this a bit annoying as it takes control out of my hands a bit and does the unexpected. I expect to be returned to the main menu after selecting "Play episode X"; it is a minor quibble though.

Extras:
After reviewing a few Viz discs, the extras on this volume were no surprise, and they still are a nice set that I do not see on most discs I have watched or owned. The textless opening and ending sequences are present but have no translation unfortunately. Also bundled in the extras are Two line art galleries: one for episode storyboards and one for character designs.

The final extra is a five minute long promo trailer in English which gives a great overview of the series. However, it provided a lot of information that I would consider spoilers for upcoming episodes. I made the mistake of watching it before the episodes and felt a bit too forewarned about what was coming.

The trailer does explain why the Alice text was used on the disc insert, but the details explained did not occur in the episodes present in this volume. While it is a nice extra, it probably should have been held off until all the material present in it was released and watched by the audience. If you plan on following this series, you might want to hold off viewing this promo until you get deeper into the show.

Content:(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I went into this series with a bit of trepidation; while the front cover looked cool, the cover and series synopsis on the back did not give me much hope that this would be anything but a gratuitously violent action series. After watching the initial three episodes, I was surprised to find that it contained a decent storyline and setup. Despite my initial misgivings, I found that I enjoyed watching it.

The first three episodes cover a lot of background material and can be a bit on the narrative side. Here are the highlights; Takatsuki Ryo almost died in a kindergarten accident. He survived but gained a remarkable healing ability in his right arm. He now leads a normal life in high school and has acquired a friend named Katsumi.

Ryo's life takes an unexpected turn when Shingu Hayato transfers to the school. Ryo's arm vibrates when Hayato is near and soon learns that Hayato's left arm can turn into a deadly weapon that he calls his "ARM". Hayato wants to kill Ryo though Ryo does not know why. Aside from his vibrating, fast-healing right arm, Ryo displays some amazing martial arts abilities in escaping Hayato's wrath and some amazing tactical abilities by subduing a military group that attempts to capture him at night.

Hayato lures Ryo into a battle by kidnapping Katsumi; however, both boys are surprised when a villain named Claw shows up and informs them that they both have "ARMS". Cue Ryo's "ARMS" transformation please... While Ryo's "ARMS" trashes Claw, Ryo has little control over it. Claw informs Ryo and Hayato that there are two other "ARMS" bearers that they must join if they want to stand a chance against the mysterious Egrigori group.

Naturally, Ryo and Hayato find the next "ARMS" bearer has transferred into school the next day. Tomoe Takeshi and his sister Maya have transferred from school to school as constant bullying has caused Takeshi to use his "ARMS" to harm his tormentors. In an amusing turn, Takeshi's "ARMS" turn out to be in his legs.

Three of the pieces have been assembled and each of them share more than the "ARMS" in common. Each suffered a major accident as a child, and each has had their injured body part implanted with "ARMS". Hayato explains that they have been implanted with nanomachines and that he is after the Egrigori for annihilating his village. He is especially after Keith, the man who murdered his father and cut off his left arm.

All of this seems pretty standard fare, but the narrative setup worked well and establishes a nice group dynamic. Hayato's first instinct is to fight, but he is held in check by the rational, calculated mind of Ryo. Takeshi simply wants to lead a normal life and wants no part of tracking down the Egrigori group. Katsumi is stuck in the middle of things she cannot understand.

What really drew my into the show was its style. The music and visuals blended well together giving the show a dark, mysterious feel that was mirrored in the events that were unfolding. At times the visuals were hypnotic, reminding me a bit of Lain. I think what drew me in most were the X-Files like elements.

You have a government conspiracy unfolding, one that involves implanting unwitting subjects with advanced technology. It gives the group the task of learning how to control their powers as well as the task of unraveling the mystery behind the conspiracy. They do not know who to trust or where to turn for answers. It is an intriguing storyline that is filled with promise.

There was one non-story related item that was troubling about the disc's content. The disc did not seem to contain any credits for the Japanese voice actors, and the Japanese staff, excluding the director, were not credited in the opening credits. Why the original creators were not credited in the opening and the Japanese voice actors not credited at all is baffling; let us hope that Viz rectifies this in future volumes.

While the show breaks no new ground, it balanced the action and plot building very well. This balance will hopefully be maintained as the series progresses. For now, it remains a pleasant surprise from the violent action genre.



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: 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