Hoop Days Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B-
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Bandai Entertainment
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Hoop Days

Hoop Days Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     May 16, 2005
Release Date: June 28, 2005


Hoop Days Vol. #1
© Bandai Entertainment


What They Say
Do you have what it takes to win the national championships? Kazuhiko Aikawa does and at 5’8” he can slam the ball with the best of them. But just winning the Nationals isn’t enough for this high school standout. Transferring from his old high school to Mizuho, Kazuhiko is looking for a challenge and wants to take his game to the next level – The problem is…there is no men’s basketball team at Mizuho! Inspired by Kazuhiko’s kills and passion for the game, the remaining Mizuho team members quickly resume practice and together they’ll aim for the Nationals and prove all the doubters wrong!

The Review!
When a transfer student arrives as Mizuho, the remnants of the basketball team come back to life and sets them on a course to try and realize just what they're made of.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix for the show is really quite good because they opted to be minimal for a lot of the track in terms of ambient sounds and effects. What they kept in is making things like the noises of shoes and enhancing that, particularly on the basketball court. When the players are in motion the forward soundstage is very active as they're everywhere. The mixture of the tracks from Avex blend in perfectly and doesn't overwhelm the dialogue or the action from the show. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing back in 2003, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The materials used for the show overall look good and the transfer does an excellent job of bringing over what the creators did visually but it's not completely free of problems. One of the areas that's minimal but noticeable is that there's some bleeding going on with the reds, generally seen on the scoreboards with the team names. There's some slight aliasing that shows up in a few areas throughout as well where there's some tight line work on the uniforms but otherwise it's pretty clean. There's a lot of visual tricks done with the photography of the show that either soften or sharpen areas of the show and those came across well but could be confused for authoring issues.

Packaging:
I'm really glad that Bandai used the original Japanese cover art for this series but turned it on its side. I'm still ambivalent about the covers being done in the other direction but with how they turned it here, it allows for the headshot on one side that takes up most of the space and just looks good with the face shot against the bright orange and yellow background while the rest of the empty space can be used in the back panel to provide a bit of continuity. The back cover provides one action shot from the show and does a decent job with the summary and listing the discs episodes and features. The technical information is a bit haphazard to find but it's at least together but I wish they'd be much more detailed about what's available on the disc. The reverse side of the cover features the same artwork as the front but without what's covering up the back cover as well as providing the original series logo and design. No insert is included with this release.

Menu:
The menu layout is a nice static piece that sets the tone for the show with a cast shot of the five leads in their team uniforms set against an action shot from one of the games. It's all done with a lot of blue line work that gives it an interesting feel and isn't a color or style you'd normally associate with basketball, or at least I don't. The menu looks good overall and navigation is quick and easy. The disc unfortunately only read one of our players presets properly as the full English subtitle track is the second listed English subtitle track. Access times are nice and fast and everything loaded just as it should otherwise.

Extras:
The extras are pretty slim for the opening volume but probably the standard for what we'll see. The only things included are the clean sequences for the opening and ending. Hopefully we'll get a Japanese version of the opening so that we can see the original logo as well.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While we're not in the golden age of sports anime over here, we're certainly in the biggest wave of it yet with several series running and even a couple from the same sport. Originally released in Japan as Dear Boys and given a much more macho name of Hoop Days for its US release, we're treated to a twenty-six episode series about basketball that doesn't have too many similarities to another big basketball series currently running.

And interestingly enough, I don't think I would have been able to enjoy this series at all if I hadn't been watching Initial D for the past couple of years. It's cliché, but whenever Avex is heavily involved in a show it's tempting to call it "Initial D for Basketball" or whatever it is they're doing. But it's more than that. Initial D gave me a show with great music, a highly addictive storyline, horrible CG vehicles and truly ugly character designs. What Hoop Days brings to the plate is some great music though more rap oriented, a very engaging and fun storyline, some layered animation that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't work against the CG court and balls, and some designs that don't always look like they've got any sense of depth to them. If I had seen this prior to Initial D, I'm pretty sure I'd be cringing at a lot of what's done here. Instead, I'm intrigued by it and enjoy picking out the moments.

The plot is really very simple but that makes it all the more accessible. We're introduced to an ace basketball player named Aikawa. He's just left Tendoji high school where things were so heavily focused on the sport that the fun of the game had been completely eliminated and it was akin to military service with how the coaches dealt with the players. Aikawa has transferred over to Mizuho and now lives on his own and is looking to join the basketball team there so that he can get back to enjoying the game and having fun. Mizuho's got a great basketball team he learns when he gets there but it's the girls team. They've gone to the regionals the last six times and they're gearing up to go to the nationals this year. The boys team it turns out doesn't even truly exist. Of course, he learns this through some difficult encounters on his first day but it'd happen regardless due to his happy outgoing attitude.

The boys team has been in disarray for pretty much a season now. As it gets explained to Aikawa, the previous coach had a very specific method of coaching and treated his players like pawns and expected them to simply do what he told them to. This upset one of the players named Fujiawara and he went and belted the coach. Unfortunately, some reporters were there at the time and caught it on film. The incident was used to show how violent things were getting and the team was forced to sit out the remainder of that season. To make matters worse, the coach then quit at that point and left everyone hanging. At the end of the season, the seniors graduated and moved on but the juniors just left, leaving Fujiwara and three of his friends all that was left of the team. With only four players instead of the minimum of five and nobody interested in joining, the club gets together in the room but they don't practice or truly meet. And with the girls team being so hot right now, they didn't even want to get involved.

With the new transfer student there though, he brings a new energy into things. Aikawa's an interesting character to be the technical lead of the show. He's an ace player but lacks that arrogance or superior confidence of his skills. He's not wishy washy and he's not trying to continually better himself to prove it to someone or to himself. He's simply a guy who is at his happiest when playing basketball. The other guys tend to ignore him when he gets there so he ends up doing things with the girls team and he's able to show them up politely enough with his skills that the coach, who is also one of his teachers, is impressed by it and sees him as an asset to at the least help the girls team.

But his playing catches the eye of the other four guys and you know what'll happen from there. His energy and style causes them to want to show him up and put him in his place and after some pushing back and forth, eventually they all come together to realize that they kick some serious ass together and can actually work well. With Aikawa not wanting to do more than to have fun and enjoy the game, the rivalry piece isn't there that would otherwise drive the show. Instead, it changes its focus to the group in general trying to overcome what they've become, starting with a practice match against the former coach. This brings everything from the past back up to the forefront and challenges each of the prior players to see if they've really gotten beyond what they had been dealt before.

A show like this isn't free from girls since there's an entire girls team so we get some slow building relationships creeping into that but it's nicely done. What you would expect in the lead girl would be for her to go for Aikawa but she has a pre-existing relationship with Fujiwara that gets re-awakened here. Her friend Mai who is also on the team is the one that you see being interested in Aikawa and he's already cute with her, nicknaming her pony(tail)chan. The relationship level is kept fairly low here since the focus is on rebuilding the team but there's a core level to it that's being threaded along to help it all surface nicely. It's a plus to see it as a small part but not a central motivating part to the plot.

The look and feel of the show is really hard to in down. A lot of times, the character designs are done in such a way that areas of them look really flat. Fujiwara and Aikawa's hair in particular with the lightly blue and green coloring mixed into it gives them a look that's very flat instead of layered, especially when placed against a CG background of the ball court. Movement on the court has a similar feel though it's not a constant thing. What I really liked that helped move things along is that they added a lot of flare and other visual effects to their moves. One thing that's shown early on is that when Aikawa is completely in his game, he's glowing all around like the sun. This becomes more and more as the rest of the team gets into the game and it helps to add some feeling of animation to a scene that's otherwise a carefully constructed pan movement. The old way this would be done would be to change out from the anime to a detailed illustration piece instead, so both work but this one allows for something a little more creative I think.

In Summary:
I had no idea what to expect going into this and was simply hoping that it wouldn't be a repeat of another basketball series. Instead, it showed its differences right from the start and plays them up well along with the similarities. There's a certain kind of rhythm you have to accept or like to be able to get into most sports shows since they all focus along similar lines of teamwork and winning. For some people that can make all the shows far too similar. This was a problem I had years ago with fighting series but have found the way to treat them more as their own shows than part of a larger genre. Hoop Days is something that starts off strong and carries it through five very enjoyable episodes. It's left me at the end wanting more and wanting to see how this very different team will deal with their challenges. There's no magic and no monsters. And while I'm sure fans of basketball will point out things that can't be done, it plays well within its own rules and is very enjoyable. I can't wait to see more.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Original Unedited Textless Ending,Original Unedited Textless Opening



Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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