Otoboku Vol. #3 (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, November 20, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The series draws to a close as Mizuho’s secret is discovered at long last. 

What They Say:

With the end of the school year approaching, special events are starting to come up on the Seio calendar. Mizuho and Takako are to perform Romeo and Juliet as the two principle characters, and the kissing scene has more than one person flustered. Mariya begins to realize her feelings for her childhood friend, and a little date ends on a threatening note that may compromise Mizuho's secret. In the end, it is Mariya who helps smooth things over during the school ball, and Mizuho is able to save the last dance for a special someone.

The Review:

OtoBoku is released only in its original language form so what we get here is a pretty straightforward simple stereo mix encoded at 192kbps. Outside of the music in the opening and closing sequences, the series is really just about the dialogue as there aren’t many action moments and what music there is in the background tends to be rather mellow. The mix doesn’t offer much because of what it is so the low encoding doesn’t come across too badly. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of it.

Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. OtoBoku has a fairly soft look to it, intentionally, which causes the show to have a fair bit of noise at times with some of the backgrounds. In general, it has a pretty clean look and is free of issues such as cross coloration, but there is some aliasing creeping in during the many panning sequences that the animators employed. The design of the show is one that has a lot of bright colors to it, especially with all white uniforms, but it’s wonderfully contrasted by the very richly colored an detailed background shots. Many of these are scenes you’d want as stills to look at separately. OtoBoku is all about atmosphere so the soft look is likely pretty intentional and it does give the show a distinct enough feel at times.

The cover art for this release naturally suffers in the same way as the previous ones when it comes to the awkward logo. Using the short-form version of the series name along the top with the subtitle under it, it simply comes across as too busy and nonsensical. The “t” in OtoBoku is used as a gender symbol which completely throws off the readability of it as it looks more like it’s saying “Ooboku” instead. While we’ve had pairings for the first two covers, this one gives us a full cast shot of the primary characters and they all look really nice here in their flowing dresses and the shorter skirts on some. The detail is nice but it does have a bit of that whole visual novel/game feel to it in some ways. The back cover is rather busy as it has a full length shot of Mizuho along the left while the right has the basic summary of the premise. Along the top and behind part of all of this is a number of shots from the show. The white background and the purple used for the accents draw it all together well and gives it a very light and bouncy feeling. The discs technical grid along the bottom is cleanly done and the standard bits of production information can be found here as well as the listing of what extras are on the disc. I’m amused that they listed Episode 13 as a bonus and then a star with an explanation elsewhere on the cover to inform us that it is “a hilarious bonus parody of the Cinderalla story.”

The menu design takes the natural page from the front cover artwork as it reworks the layout to a wider setting. The character artwork along the right is brighter and more vibrant in general while the left side features the awkward logo, which does not look as good in this brighter shade of purple. The navigation menu is straightforward but rather laggy, especially when it comes to the scene selections as it wants to use highlights when it hits different chapters. This works exceedingly well on Blu-ray releases but it’s still a chore for DVD releases to handle. Submenus load quickly themselves and getting around is easy enough otherwise. With only a single language on here and no separate sign/song subtitle track, player presets are pretty much pointless as it defaults to what’s needed.

The extras for the final installment are pretty good. There’s a clean version of the special ending of episode twelve here which is definitely nice to have included. In addition to that, there’s a nearly six minute music video by Yui Sakikabara which is really nicely done. For fans of other voice actors in it, there’s a fourteen minute live concert piece where just about all the primary actors get to do a song about/in their character as well as some group performances towards the end. It’s fairly standard promotional concert material footage, but it’s good to see the voice actors having fun with it and getting out there.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The final four episodes of the series brings things to a close as Mizuho is getting closer to graduating. But before he can get out of there, there’s still the play to deal with and a few other responsibilities as Elder Sister. The show does close out well here, providing you look only to episode twelve, as the thirteenth episode is pure direct to video fun that has no impact on anything. Well, other than lessening my interest in the really solid closing episodes that come just before it.

Otoboku has been a good bit of fun overall even as it does tread through rather familiar territory, especially for Media Blasters and their Yuri Fan line. Other than the dip into the supernatural which really felt out of place, this has been a good bit of fun as it has some solid production values for the most part, entertaining characters and situations that play as expected but manage to make you smile anyway. These last three episodes of the main storyline do manage to keep everyone solidly in character while also actually making some progress on how they all live. The story of the play alone delves into familiar territory as you know there’s going to be a dramatic kiss, but it’s one that really does send a shockwave through the recipient.

When Takako gets that kiss, in a moment of covering up something else, it cuts right to her. She’s been fighting her own fight for so long, viewing everyone as an enemy, that the feeling she gets with Mizuho really throws her off. She’s been pushing back against those feelings for awhile now but the kiss seals the deal for her in a way she never expected. She can’t exactly be free because of the personality she’s built up, so she becomes all the more uncertain how to proceed. She’s been cool towards Mizuho at best before, but now it takes on a different feel, one that Mizuho is of course completely blind to.

The capper to the series is that there is a big dance that happens every year at this all girls school. The girls come in pairs, with one half of the pair donning black to signify the lead/male part, while the other wears white. Most everyone comes this way but there are many that come alone. To make sure they have their dance, the Elder Sister is there to take on the male role and make sure that they all get out there at some point. Mizuho is apparently quite the good dancer on top of everything else and he’s completely into the idea of it, which is cute and fun to watch as he teaches the girls that live near him such as Kanna and Yukari.

The spanner that gets thrown into the works comes when Takako finds herself about to be kidnapped by some thugs for a ransom only to have Mizuho save her. The kidnapping is foiled, but the revelation about who Mizuho really is changes everything. This comes at a time of conflict for several of the characters. Mariya has been struggling with her relationship with Mizuho since she saw him and Takako kiss during the play. She’s wanted to be more to him for so long but is slowly coming to accept that they’ll only be what they are now to each other, no matter how much more she wants. With Takako struggling with the kiss itself, discovering that Mizuho is a guy is both a positive and a negative, since it means she’s not into girls really but that she’s been lied to for so long. Everything goes frosty as they back away from each other until they can work it out in their heads as to what they really want.

To my surprise, there’s a good bit of emotion throughout these last episodes. The play itself wasn’t given all that much attention and what was shown was welcome enough in that it didn’t dominate. It provided the catalyst for what was needed to set everything into motion for the conflict. Watching the characters deal with the situation was engaging enough, especially when you have Mariya actively engaging Takako about things and showing her a very different way to look at it all. Mizuho is kind of kept out of a lot of this, generally unaware of things and unsure of how to deal with it since nobody else is talking, but watching the other two girls grapple with things and work to figure it out gives it all a rather strong feel for a series I didn’t expect such warmth from.

In Summary:
My expectations of the series were never high to begin with but Otoboku managed to make me smile a lot outside of a few small things. The closing to the series was spot on and while a lot was wrapped up in the closing sequence stills, the whole thing came together well and with a certain sense of closure to it. I’m still feeling ambivalent about the standalone episode afterwards with the Cinderella comedy storyline of Tsunderella with Takako in the lead, but that’s more from having had a strong emotional ending and then going into pure super deformed comedy mode. Barring that transition, this final volume helps close things out right and made the series easy to recommend to fans of this particular genre. With good looking characters, enjoyable if somewhat predictable stories and a pace that works well, Otoboku is good clean fun with a man in drag.


Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Live Event in Kawasaki, Promotional Video Clip, Clean Ending (Last Episode)

Review Equipment:

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: C+
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 16+
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
MSRP: 19.99
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (Mixed/Unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Otoboku