Bringing the entire OVA series together in one release that surpasses the HD DVD release, Freedom finally gets the treatment it deserves.
What They Say
In the 23rd Century, mankind has fled earth and emigrated to the moon. The last outpost of civilization is the Lunar Republic of Eden, where the omnipresent Citizens Administration Council grants residents everything they need... except their freedom.
FREEDOM unleashes a revolution in next generation animation, seamlessly combining 2D & 3D graphics to weave an epic tale of repression - and revolt!
Having enjoyed the HD DVD release and praising quite a lot of it, the technical side of this review will contain a number of comparisons to it since it’s a very different release in that regard. This should not be considered format bashing but rather an examination of the differences and how it affects the experience.
The language options for this release are considerably different than what we’ve had before. The previous high definition experience was either a solid uncompressed stereo mix or the Dolby Digital+ 5.1 mix that maxxed out at 1.5mpbs. And both of those language tracks were specifically Japanese. For this Honneamise release, it’s been given a trilingual release with all three languages done in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 with its variable lossless encoding. Remembering the experience of the lossless stereo mix on the HD DVD, this new mix simply rises far above that and provides an entirely different and engaging experience. The bass level is richer, the surrounds more expressive and dynamic and placement is even clearer. Each episode offers something different in how the sound mix works but when it gets to the action sequences, rocket liftoffs or the races, it’s a strong and powerful mix. This is the kind of mix you get in theatrical anime releases sometimes and is one that really does change how you experience the series. With this release being targeted at Japan, the US and Europe at the same time, getting a Japanese, English and French TrueHD release works out perfectly and gives the viewer plenty of audio options that are rock solid.
Released to home video from late 2006 to early 2008, Freedom is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and encoded using the AVC codec. The original release featured a single episode on a single layer (15gb) HD DVD whereas this one features two episodes per disc on a dual layer (50gb) disc. The first three discs cover episodes one through six while disc four covers episode seven, which is a double length episode. Whether the space and layout is warranted or not depending on the technical side, the visual experience is very much worth it. Each episode is consistently in the low 30’s for the bitrate and it looks amazing. The original release had us seeing some banding issues in places, especially early on, but these are much more muted here. The clarity and sharpness is breathtaking at times, particularly in the lunar sequences and the various interior shots of Eden. The dark space sequences are striking with how solid and clear they look while the Earth bound sequences are rich and alive with vibrant colors that draw you even more into each scene. I really enjoyed the HD DVD experience but this one manages to eke out a better visual experience overall, especially one that is heightened by the audio experience.
Of all the things I liked about the HD DVD release, the one I hated was the packaging. The slim tall jewel case with the horrendous back cover design was nearly blinding. It had some good stylistic elements to it, especially with the clean front cover artwork, but it went against every design norm of the format at the time and of common sense itself.
The Blu-ray box set release isn’t the best I’ve seen, but in comparison it’s night and day. The problem that this set has is that when you actively take it out to watch it, it falls into too many different pieces. The whole thing is kept in a clear slipcover that uses some of the design elements from the previous release with the numerous lines going down it while the logo is kept at an angle and not even in full. It’s text heavy but still fairly clean overall. The downside is that it doesn’t really showcase itself in terms of artwork easily nor as a Blu-ray release either if not for the obi wraparound on it.
Inside this slipcover is what’s really another slipcover, a thin cardboard piece that’s done in full color with all sorts of shots that look like they came from the intro sequence. The artwork is colorful and it’s certainly appealing, but it’s hard to discern under the plastic slipcover. What’s worse though is that when you pull this out, it’s not actual bound together, so it all folds out. If you’re not careful, when you pull it out the whole thing will “fall apart” in your hands until you realize how it’s setup. Inside this box we get the four Blu-ray cases, all of which are black which I believe is a first. With the gold logo, it’s really striking and looks very different, but again is problematic this early on in the formats release since it could confuse a casual browser.
The individual cases all use some great pieces of illustration artwork from throughout the series for those respective volumes. Some of it was used for the original HD DVD releases while others weren’t. With the gold backgrounds and the illustration style, it’s all very classy looking without looking too bold or vibrant. The back covers are reminiscent of the text heavy HD DVD releases as well with a small strip of screenshots along the top and then two columns for each volume to describe each episode. It’s all very hard to look at after awhile, but at least it’s not stark black on white. The remainder is given over to the production credits and the technical grid that covers all the specs for that particular volume. No inserts are included nor are there reversible covers.
In addition to all of this, there’s also a very solid booklet included with the release. Done in black and gold, the booklet provides a top level Japanese staff listing which then leads into a mini manga for the show. The actual manga is translated into English (for this release presumably) while it contains both French and Japanese language text in the sidebars so you can have a trilingual manga release.
The menu design is one that does admittedly frustrate. When it loads up, you’re given the language selection option for the region. If you select English, meaning you want English language menus one would suppose, it drops you into the start of the episode with the English language dialogue and that’s it. If it had read our player presets, it wouldn’t have been an issue. But if we select Japanese, we still have to manually make changes to get subtitles. The menu layout itself is different, though I prefer the HD DVD menus better, with a simple lunar shot for the background while the bottom navigation strip has the selections in various themed boxes. Each episode can be selected individually but when you click on the extras for each disc, it takes you to a separate menu and out of the show if you’re watching the show and using the popup menus. This is very distracting and poor design since you should be able to browse the extras and play them without it having to take you to a separate menu. Menus do load quickly though and everything is easy to access, but the interface in general is setup oddly, even in comparison to some of their past releases.
One of the best extras from the HD DVD release is sadly not present here. The picture in picture storyboard mode was my favorite from there and I’m disappointed they weren’t able to do it here for whatever reason. On the plus side, there is absolutely no locked or downloadable-only content here so what we get on the disc can be played everywhere without keys or having to download it to the player.
Disc 1: The opening volume provides us with the prologue, though that’s not really an extra as it plays first thing out of the gate. The Freedom Digests, recaps basically, of the first two episodes are included as is an introduction trailer. There’s also the amusing Nissin Cup Noodle commercial piece. An interesting piece is the inclusion of an additional racing sequence from the show that wasn’t used as well as the “Talking About Freedom” in which the creative staff is interviewed about the series.
Disc 2: Not surprisingly, the supplements slow down a bit volume by volume. This one features the second session in the “Talking About Freedom” piece as well as the digest recaps of the third and fourth episode from this volume.
Disc 3: The digests for the fifth and sixth episodes are included here but the real fun is in the “Freedom in the USA” sessions, which run between ten to thirteen minutes each. This has the director making a trip to Anime Expo in 2007 to show off the series HD DVD release and meet the fans. The second one has him heading to the Smithsonian and the Air and Space Museum to see everything that is relevant to the show, enough that he’s practically overwhelmed by it. These are fun to see since they tackle the US side of both fandom and the show itself.
Disc 4: The digest for this episode is the most familiar thing at this point, but we get some new materials for this final volume. The original next episode trailers are included and that has a total runtime of nearly ten minutes. I’d still rather they were in their original place at the end of each episode however. One really great extra, if confusing at first, is entitled “Freedom: The Hope”. It only runs about ninety seconds and seems like a deleted scene at first but turns into something really great afterwards and definitely deserved to be at the end of the seventh episode. It’s exactly what I wanted to see. Also included is a brief two minute piece with “Messages from the Characters” where the leads basically say thanks for watching. For history fans, there’s a pair of really good short documentary pieces that talk about the original Apollo missions and the lead-up to Freedom itself that serve as good primers to encourage you to find out more.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One of the more high profile new OVA series in the last few years, Freedom is a seven part OVA series that was produced with Nissin's Cup Noodle providing some advertising integration into the show. The integration was considered so well done that Nissin actually won a Clio award for it. Thankfully the noodles don't quite intrude on the show as badly as some other advertising done within shows do and we're still left with a very interesting series that's slowly starting to reveal itself.
The story of Freedom is one that is really engaging to someone like me. Taking place a hundred years after the Great Calamity of 2101, all that remains of mankind is on the moon. Living within a series of six domes called Eden, nearly twenty million people remain. Originally they were to be part of the staging ground to head towards Mars to terraform the planet, but when the massive space station above Earth crashed into the planet, humanity faced a terrible ordeal that essentially left the planet for dead. With only the occasional look at the barren wasteland called Earth, the remnants of humanity built up a controlled society that values order and sterility over all else. Humanity comes across as happy and problem free here as they all work towards the common goals of survival.
Into such a society there are elements that don’t fit in. The series revolves around a group of youths who rebel in mild ways, mostly through racing their vehicles in the tubes. The one that it focuses on is Takeru, a brash and outgoing kid who is trying to catch up and surpass Taira, the current hotshot of the circuit. Takeru has worked hard to take an old lunar terrain vehicle trike and convert it over to a racer and he’s starting to gain more of a name for himself. This also gets him into trouble and he ends up on duty outside of the dome where he discovers something that crashed into the surface. That discover is of a small module that contains numerous strange items including a picture of an attractive young woman in front of a launch gantry with bright blue skies and green grass around her. On the back of the picture it says that Earth is well and everyone is there.
The idea of Earth being alive isn’t exactly on Takeru’s mind as much as a real cutie that he is now intent on seeing. This leads him to challenging the status quo and finding that there are ways off the moon. A fringe society living within Eden becomes known to Takeru and he begins to understand more of the original nature of the place and how he can use it to get to where he wants to go. The first three episodes are made up of this part of the journey and exploration of what Eden is like, as well as some really stunning visuals of the lunar surface as Takeru and others deal with figuring out what they’re doing. These episodes, upon the original viewing in single episode fashion, were among some of the most engaging near-future science fiction episodes I’d seen in a long time. Watching them again in quick succession painted a much stronger storyline which only reinforced my enjoyment of it.
The second set of three episodes is a little more problematic. Once Takeru and his friend Bismarck land on Earth, it takes a surreal tone as there are hippies on a bus driving around, the bulk of the landscape in ruins and hardly anyone there. The journey to Florida reveals the only apparent pocket of civilization which is just weird considering how well off they are overall and the dynamic and energy of the series is pretty much drained during episodes four and five as it’s focused more on a relationship and figuring out whether they can all trust each other at this point. Or even believe Takeru with what stories he’s telling about the moon. Episode six is the salvation of this segment as it starts to give everyone a real purpose again and it explores both the past and the figure as Takeru becomes a catalyst for change.
Originally, the series was planned for six episodes and that episode does end on a positive note, albeit one that is an incredible tease more than anything else. Thankfully, the seventh episode was produced and it’s a double length piece, essentially turning this into an eight episode OVA series. This finale to the series was never released on HD DVD/DVD in the US, so the first time it’s available is here. And it’s exactly what I wanted out of the series for closure. The return to the moon two years after Takeru ends up on Earth showcases a lot of changes going on there with old friends who are now in the power structure. Eden continues on as before but now it’s far more personal for Takeru as he tries to find out why the Council lied about the state of Earth all these years and as he tries to awaken the citizens to the truth. There is a great deal of action here, so many revelations and minor twists, that it comes fast and engaging. This episode went by quicker than I would have wanted but it kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time.
When you take in the epilogue piece at the end and then the “Freedom: New Hope” piece from the extras, the entire series is given a very proper classic science fiction sendoff.
Freeom is very eappling because it plays strongly to the kinds of humanistic science fiction stories I like to read about. Freedom does share a number of similarities to other properties though, most notably with Akira if only because of the influence that Katsuhiro Otomo has with this. Otomo's role in character and mechanical design is obvious here as it feels like an alternate take on Akira in a strange new form. There’s a scene with Takeru where he’s calling out in anger to Kazuma and you could easily imagine him yelling out “Kaneda!” instead. With similar kinds of kids, street racing and the uncertain future of becoming adults, they share a lot of traits. It is something very different though and the episodic nature of it allows it to break away from heavy comparisons. Otomo's works are so few and far between and his style so striking that it's hard to make the break at times.
Where this show really stands out is in its animation. Using the 3D technique for the character animation brings in some new challenges but Otomo's character designs are ideal for use with it. The rounded faces and their overall body designs are well conveyed here. Some of it does come across awkwardly though, such as a scene where Bismark's hand seems out of proportion to his main body. Movements at times seem a bit stilted and unnatural and a little jerky but just like when the shift to digital animation came around I suspect that this will be smoothed out in term. Look at something like the SD Gundam series which employs some similar techniques and this one, the progress in the last couple of years is amazing. How it comes across here however is something that could really turn a lot of traditionalists away and even make newer fans unsure of it. It looks like anime a lot of the time but it stands out as CG in a bad way as well at times.
Even with a weak couple of episodes in the middle, I absolutely adore Freedom. I was really unsure about the show at first because of its visual style, but after the first viewing of the series I was hooked because the engaging and fun storytelling and characters trumps all. As the visual style grew on me and as I saw it working a well as it did with the story, it made sense that they went this route to try and push things forward, especially with the level of publicity it receives. But in the end, it’s the story that counts and Freedom gives me just about everything I want from this kind of series. Great visuals, fun characters, lots of action and a plot that teases and toys with my particular fandoms from youth. It has a few bumps along the way to be sure, but with the inclusion of the seventh episode, Freedom stands out as one of the new gems in my collection that will be viewed fairly regularly and shown to others. This Blu-ray edition is missing one or two things I liked in the previous HD DVD edition when it comes to the extras. When it comes to the actual presentation of the show itself, it knocks it out of the park and gives me an incredibly strong audio and visual presentation that kept my eyes and ears locked on the show. This is pure eye-candy with a great story as well. Definitely recommended.
Japanese 5.1 Dolby TrueHD Language, English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD Language, French 5.1 Dolby TrueHD Language, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Introduction trailers, Digests, Next Episode Trailers, Talking about FREEDOM, FREEDOM: The Hope, Fly Me to the Moon, FREEDOM in the USA, Another Vehicle Race, Nissin Cup Noodle TV Commercial Digest, Messages from Characters
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.