Freedom Vol. #1 HD DVD - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: D
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: All Region DVD
  • Released By: Bandai Visual USA, Inc.
  • MSRP: 39.98
  • Running time: 24
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78.1 Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 1080p
  • Disc Encoding: VC-1
  • Series: Freedom

Freedom Vol. #1 HD DVD

By Chris Beveridge     June 09, 2007
Release Date: June 26, 2007


Freedom Vol. #1 HD DVD
© Bandai Visual USA, Inc.


What They Say
Contains episode 1.

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. His mandatory education complete, 15-year-old Takeru is in a six-month period of freedom while the Council determines his social status. Uneasy about the future, Takeru and friends decide to race their customized Lunar Terrain Vehicle in the ultimate tube race!

The Review!
Please Note: This review pertains only to the HD layer of this Twin-Format disc release. Please see our seprate review of the DVD layer.

Even 300 years into the future, kids will continue to race hot rods in tunnels.

Audio:
Bandai Visual has given the HD DVD version of this release a bit of an upgrade in comparison to the DVD version. The DVD contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix while the HD DVD has a Dolby Digital+ 5.1 mix which can top out at 1.5 mbps second. Our player doesn't allow for the bitrate to be seen so it could be anywhere up to that point. The DVD side maxes out at 448 kbps. The Dolby Digital+ mix comes across as more vibrant and dynamic than the included 2.0 LPCM mix but it doesn't provide much activity to the rear channels. The bass makes out well by the 5.1 mix however and overall placement and forward soundstage directionality is good.

Video:
Originally released to video in 2006, the transfer for this OVA is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is encoded at 1080p. The 3D CG animation blends well with the 2D animation and overall looks fantastic here. It's a clean and crystal clear looking production that eliminates some of the flaws that can be seen on the DVD side. Notably, the color gradient issues are greatly reduced in general, particularly at the start of the end sequence as the blues and blacks merge. The DVD side showcase the gradient more as well as blocking lightly along it. The gradient is still visible here but the blocking is gone and it's much smoother. There's still some line noise persistent in panning motions but it's inherent in the source. Amusing, the flaws in the 3D animation is more apparent in the HD version. A good example is at the start of the show when you have a sideways look at Takeru's helmet at the tube race. The black line across the white on the DVD version is quite a bit softer but looks more like a smooth curve. The HD version is strikingly sharp which removes some of that curvature to it.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release is something we don't see very often in the US and for good reason. The keepcase is actually one of the super jewel cases and it has a cardboard sleeve over it. The cardboard sleeve is minimal in its design for the front piece as it features the image of Takeru set against a white background. The series logo and volume number is included but it's small and in the lower corner. There aren't any of the usual logos here such as the DVD one nor one for Honneamise. The back of the slipcover almost hurts my eyes as it uses a white background with a black striped border. No artwork is here and about seventy-five percent of the cover space is made up of the summary that feels like one run on sentence. With no paragraph breaks and surrounded by the striped border, it's very harsh on the eyes. The bottom quarter of the cover is filled out with a deep technical grid that breaks down what's on each of the discs layers. The discs features are listed along the bottom and broken down by what's on each later. There are also plenty of notices about what each player requires and what will work where.

The super jewel case goes in the opposite direction as it's a black design for the background on the inserts for it with a silver pencil sketch design of one of Takeru's room. The series logo is through the center in the same font and style as on the slipcover. The back of the case is the only part with full color artwork as it has a grimy interior shot. The reverse side has the cast and staff breakdown on the left while both of them have technical schematics in silver similar to the front of the jewel case cover. An insert is also included that covers what needs to be in place to utilize the interactive apects of the HD DVD layer and the importance of being up to date on firmware.

The shrinkwrap for this release does contain a couple of stickers worth pointing out; one of them has the HDi logo which indicates that there is an internet interactive aspect to the release. The other is a bright red stick that has a bit of a pr plug for the show and the basic logos and what kind of disc format it is.

Menu:
Freedom features both a top menu and a pop-up menu for its playback functionality. The top menu has the series logo through the center while some static animation is behind it as well as a brief bit of animation. Along the bottom is the navigation strip which also doubles as the popup menu navigation during playback. Freedom defaults to playing the feature and not going to the menu. The menu navigation fits well with the theme of the show and thankfully provides a button to turn off the beeps made when moving the cursor and making selections. Navigating about the menu is slightly slow at times but is likely more related to our first generation player more than anything else. Access times are decent otherwise and moving about is pretty painless and intuitive.

Extras:
The HD DVD release of Freedom comes with some rather neat extras but it's the implementation of them that wows. While audio and video improvements in the high definition arena are solid and can change a shows presentation, the wow factor continues to be in how the extras and features related to them are implemented.


Staff Credits


The staff credits are provided on the fly at any time during the presentation from one of the four feature buttons. When selected, the video in progress is shifted to a smaller sized picture as seen above and the credits video scroll is brought up along side it. The video complete with subtitles and audio as previously selected plays along for the duration.


Storyboard Content Example


Freedom contains a storyboard feature that is quite different from previous DVD implementations. Similar to the staff credits presentation, selecting that feature shrinks and moves the video stream to the side and has the storyboards playing along beside it.


PiP Initial View


Picture in Picture is utilized on this release as well in order to showcase the use of the 3D CG animation. Showing the simulation footage alongside the final video stream, you're able to manipulate it in a few ways. You can:


Change the size of it up two times



Change it to a side by side presentation to see it clearly


You can also change the transparency level of the second stream during playback to two or three levels lighter than when it starts. Another nice feature is the ability to swap the streams out, making the main video the secondary picture and the 3D simulation footage the main picture. This does bring in some quality issues though as the secondary stream isn't authored to look fantastic as a main stream video. The 3D simulation footage looks solid when it's done at the 3 different sized tiers but when it's full screen on our 70" set you can see plenty of artifacting.

Last but not least is a feature that's definitely fun for anime fans but also very useful for someone like me who has to review things, and that's the bookmark feature. This feature lets you take snapshots of any scene that you want within the show and access it quickly through the popup navigation menu whenever you want. These bookmarks are stored on your player in its persistent memory so when you come back a year later and put the disc in, you can quickly access your favorite scenes.


A Couple of Bookmark Selections


Downloadable Content:
Freedom marks the first HD DVD worldwide I believe to contain downloadable content to the players' persistent storage. Our HD-A1 has about 131 mb of persistent storage to it. Accessible from the popup menu, a separate menu is loaded that allows you to view downloaded content that belongs to the program, connect to the server to get more content and to go back to the main menu. The menu is nicely designed to be in theme with the show and maintains the same layout and dynamic as the standard popup menu. Moving left or right, there are five pieces of downloadable content that you can get. Each is clearly marked as to what its audio/video specs are


A Video Content Download


The content included for this release is the special prologue to the series which runs just under seven minutes. It's provided in two flavors; one is a Dolby Digital+ 5.1 mix and one is an LPCM 2.0 mix. Both are encoded with VC-1. A preview for the next episode is included as is the promotional trailer for the series as well as a TV commercial for the production.


A Keyed Content Download



The content downloads fairly quickly to the player and it has a well designed countdown meter so you can tell there is actual progress going on. When the individual content piece is played, there is a twelve second delay as the disc itself is loaded back into the foreground as it was playing off of the player directly. The concept of downloadable content is not one that bothers me but what does bother me is that all of this content is material that should have been on the disc and been encoded at a higher rate.


An Image Content Download


What is here looks good, be it the 1080i material or the 480p material, but it should have been on the disc without me having to spend the time not only to download it instead of just clicking a button to watch it, but without me having to maintain it (hey, my player died!) or having the keys for the content revoked at some future date (hey, I wanted to watch it again!). Downloadable content within the context of home video releases is still finding its way and I'm curious and intrigued to see where it will go. This is an example of how it works but the content provided is not what should be provided in this manner.




While the keyed and video content downloads worked without issue, the image content download for the volume two advertisement did not work as expected. What it is supposed to do is download the image and then when you back out of the downloadable content menu and return to the top menu is to place that new image as the background image. What happened instead is what you see in the picture above, the resulting error. This actually locks up the player and required a power down. Booting the played back up brings us directly into the show (as it does not go to the menu first) so the movie is still available. However, upon going to the top menu, the player brings the error back and locks up again, thereby making the rest of the extras and downloadable content inaccessible.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One of the more high profile new OVA series from Bandai Visual in the last few years, Freedom is a six 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.

With only one episode here there isn't a lot to go into but the foundations are clearly laid down. Taking place three hundred years in the future, we're introduced to a group of teenagers named Takeru, Kazuma and Bismark. Takeru has managed to convince his friends to help work on his racing vehicle by illegally modifying it so he can take it into the tube races against his rivals. No matter the century, there has always been teenagers racing against each other for status and even on the moon in the 23rd century it's no different. Life in the lunar city of Eden is fairly regimented and strict but the kids still find ways to do what they want and be like most every other teenager out there.

The backdrop against which this story is told is that of a place where humanity has apparently mostly died out after the Earth has been made uninhabitable. The story of Earth is barely even that of a fairy tale anymore, at least among the kids qualify as mild punks who don't spend much time with book learning. Takeru and the rest are an interesting mix as they're talented when it comes to the mechanics of things but they're also properly respectful when brought under questioning by the authorities. Add in that they are just kids and simple romances are in the offing as well as the usual disappointments make them seem quite human. If not for it being on the moon where we start to get small glimpses of how things have progressed, it could have easily taken place in any major near-future city setting.

With only one episode at just over twenty minutes of actual content to deal with, it does manage to cover a number of key moments in the setup and provides a hook for the future episodes. Between that and the preview for the next episode it appeals 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. 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.

In Summary:
While Freedom doesn't have anything terribly new in terms of a story to tell here, it does have some beautiful moments to it in addition to an interesting enough storyline. The core storyline is something that I've seen in numerous novels over the years so there is an appeal to seeing another Japanese take on it. The sweeping vistas when they're outside in spacesuits and we see the lunar landscape are quite striking and come close to creating a sense of awe. The interiors live up to the kind of detailed worlds that people like Otomo have made over the years which makes it easy to envision this as a movie that's being broken up into six parts. This is a gorgeous looking release overall and one that through what it offers can herald a real change in how anime is presented.

Features
Japanese Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Language,Japanese 2.0 PCM Language,English Subtitles,8 minutes of bonus footage including special prologue and trailer to the series (Internet connection required),Next episode trailer



Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD player via HDMI set to 1080i, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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