Freedom Vol. #5 HD DVD -

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Mania Grade: C

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  • Audio Rating: B
  • 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: 30
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 1080p
  • Disc Encoding: VC-1
  • Series: Freedom

Freedom Vol. #5 HD DVD

By Chris Beveridge     May 05, 2008
Release Date: April 22, 2008

Freedom Vol. #5 HD DVD
© Bandai Visual USA, Inc.

What They Say
After a 200,000-mile quest to Earth, Takeru somehow finds Ao - the girl in the photograph - living in a desolate Florida village among the ruins of the NASA space program. But he soon discovers his search for love has just begun... As he tries to fit in as an alien on his own home planet, he learns of a mysterious legend known only as "FREEDOM." And the Chapter of Earth continues...

NOTE: This DVD is in HD DVD/DVD twin format disc (a single-sided, double-layer disc). To play the HD-DVD side, your HD-DVD player must have firmware version 1.5 or later installed, and some network content may require additional updates.

Access to some special content on this disc requires an internet connection to your HD-DVD player to obtain an access key.

The Review!
Takeru and Biz get familiar with how things are working on Earth where they learn of the longing people have to reach the stars they came from.

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.

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 showcases 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.

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 an illustration of Takeru and Ao together on Takeru's cycle. 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 the launch pad and village that Ao lives in. 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 piece showing the village close-up as the sun sets and the lights come on. 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.

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.

Just like the earlier volumes, 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. 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.

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. 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:

In addition to being able to change the size of it or set it up in a side by side manner, 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.

Downloadable Content:
Similar to the previous volumes, the downloadable content available here feels rather insignificant.. The first extra is one that really irks in that it's a keyed piece in that the extra is on the disc but I have to download the key in order to unlock it so I can watch it on this player at this time. The extra itself is one that shouldn't be locked in this way as it's a 90 second 1080i/2.0 PCM digest of the fourth volume of the show. It's nice enough to get caught up on what happened before if you have a lot of time between releases, but it's not the kind of content that needs to be locked. The second downloadable extra is the original Japanese commercial for the release of the fifth volume on DVD, which is pretty darn short. Amusingly, in my review of the fourth volume, I lamented what would happen should the format fail and these keyed and downloaded pieces eventually become unusable once support for it dries up. It now feels pretty pointless to even try downloading these things.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While the first three volumes of Freedom were fascinating, the second half of the series has taken the turn into an area where it hasn't quite grabbed me as much. Once the show shifted to Earth, some of the allure went out as the lunar landscapes and all that was entailed with Eden was really captivating. With Takeru and Biz on Earth, there are plenty of things that could be engaging to follow with it as we see how the planet has changed, but what we've mostly gotten are weird things involving hippies and skintight gold suits. With highly visible crotches. I just didn't need that.

While there are some brief mentions of Eden and what's up there, it's all done from the perspective of Takeru and Biz which means that we don't get any insights into what's going on up there since their explosive escape. The two young men have found themselves in Ao's village now that she's accepted on some level that they're from where they say they are when Takeru produces the picture she had put on board one of their rockets. Though some of the others in the village naturally distrust the pair, and Takeru really isn't earning much more with his somewhat flamboyant style, they're able to be welcomed for the most part since there's so much going on for the new festival. Every year they launch a new rocket to the stars in order to try and find someone out there that was lost in the previous cataclysm.

What's left to the bulk of the episode is some casual relationship exploration as Takeru infers why he came to meet Ao. His interest in her is pretty much just pure physical attraction based on the picture he had retrieved on the moon so now he gets to know who she really is and finds that he's still attracted to her. On the plus side, Ao seems to be a pretty well adjusted standard young mother figure type as she takes care of several orphaned kids and almost always has a pleasant smile on her face. She's a bit motherly in her dealings with Takeru as well which isn't a surprise since it's something she does regularly with the kids. There are some typical dorky moments involving one of the kids who doesn't like Takeru but it's standard fare for most series and it doesn't add much here.

Where Freedom really left me feeling uninterested in this episode was in that they went for a very predictable "action" subplot towards the end. The villagers scavenge parts from the area in order to build their rockets that they use each year to send messages out into space. This year the festival for it is just about to happen but a massive storm starts blowing in and the rocket is in danger of being ruined. You just know exactly how it's going to go when one of the kids tries to save it himself and Ao and Takeru have to save him, help out and save the day. It does help to set things up for the next episode and gives Takeru and Biz more of a tie to the village but it was just such a standard plot device that I expected more from the show even at this point in the Earth arc.

In Summary:
The first half of Freedom really wowed me from the start and kept me fascinated by what it was showing. The look and feel of the show was simply captivating. As it transitioned to Earth, the look of it has been engaging in a different way with its more detailed and familiar backgrounds as well as seeing how Canaveral has changed and how the villagers are piecing together the past in a strange attempt to connect with it and possible survivors on the moon. Yet the majority of this episode felt like it was just passing time in order to get to the next episode, providing a bit of setup for what's needed to get them moving again. There are some great little nuggets in there, such as when Takeru starts describing the lunar population to Ao, but by and large this episode was the weakest of the batch. Going by the trailer for the next episode, there's a lot of tension about to hit and it'll be interesting to see where the show intends to go since right now it's pretty open. I'm still enjoying the series overall but I'm really hoping the next two episodes recapture the magic of the first three.

Japanese 5.1 Language,Japanese Dolby Digital+ 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,DVD: 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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