A three part self-contained OVA series, Interlude provides a fascinating story that's built slowly but is marred by some awful technical choices.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix for the series is about average for this kind of show in that it's mostly dialogue driven that has a few moments of directionality across the forward soundstage. The action sequences when they kick in are when the mix is the most active and it uses the stereo channels well enough but doesn't exactly stand out or have too much oomph to it. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released through 2004, the transfer for the three OVA episodes here is presented in their original full frame aspect ratio. While an OVA series that animation doesn't stand out quite as strong as some other recent ones but it is a few notches above some of the better looking TV series running out there and it does have more actual movement to its animation as well. The transfer for the most part looks really good with only a few areas showing some aliasing during panning sequences. A couple of secondary characters' outfits showed some very minor macroblocking in a couple of scenes but that was with upconversion to 1080i. When played at standard 480p it was very seamless looking. Interestingly, the layer break is in the actual show itself and it is very quick and smooth and was barely noticeable. Colors look good and are nicely saturated without any bleeding and for the most part maintain a really good feel to them.
Using the artwork from the first Japanese release, the cover has a really good looking image of the three women that are key to the series and the one woman who provides copious cleavage for jokes as they all stand around a small green ball that looks into another world. The star filled background and the somber look of the characters gives this a nice moody feel that makes you wonder what it's all about. The back cover provides a long shot of Aya set against the moon and a few shots from the show itself against night sky backdrop while providing a decent summary of the premise. The discs production and technical information is mixed around the cover and is similar to how Geneon typically does theirs. In a strange twist, the bilingual cast is listed on the back here as well which is something we don't often see. The insert replicates the front cover artwork and opens up to a two panel spread that provides a breakdown of the three episodes and several shots from the show itself. The back of the insert is adverts for their other series.
The main menu is a very simple static piece with a darkened shot of Aya against the bright image of the moon behind her. Along the right side is the navigation buttons which allows for individual episode access but no play-all feature as well as the language setup. There isn't even any music from the show playing in the menu. With nothing here beyond the show, not even trailers, access times are nice and fast and it's definitely easy to move around. The disc did correctly read our players' language preset and played accordingly.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Part of the opening wave of titles from Toei, Interlude is by far the most accessible in a sense since it is a self contained piece that has the entire three episode OVA run and tells one tale from start to finish. As for the content itself, it's not quite so accessible as their other titles I think but that's because it's weaving a fairly slow and layered story that's really the equivalent of six episodes instead of the three that's here.
The show opens with a fairly standard school days kind of mix. We're introduced to the lead characters which is done in a really curious way. The male lead of whom the tale is mostly told by is left unnamed; the credits list him as Hero while the back cover just as He. He's an average high school boy who's going through an average life where the biggest thing he has to deal with is a childhood friend named Tamaki who is absolutely in love with him and she shows it constantly. She's overly energetic and she stays up late to come up with ways to show her love to him, which causes her to either be late or sleep through class. He's fond of her but he doesn't exactly return her love in the same way and almost seems to want to keep his options open.
Things are going along fairly normal but recently he's started to have some vicious nightmares where he finds himself cradling the dying body of Tamaki or seeing the world in ruins. These are becoming a bit more frequent and it's almost like he's crossing into another world. Waking dreams seem to start happening as well such as when a group of them are together at the train station and suddenly everyone disappears around him. One time that this happens though, he finds one other woman standing across the way and she seems as startled as he is to see her. Something strange is definitely going on and through a few other scenes that he's unaware of, we can see small creatures made of black fog and goo that are being squished by the newly arrived counselor.
It's this counselor in whom he and Tamaki end up making the most startling discovery. Hearing something from her office as they pass by, the peek through the crack to see her comforting a student who is sobbing about some dreams she's having. Her sobs turn to pain though as the counselor begins to grip deeply into her shoulder and then thrusts her hand straight through her back and out her stomach while grabbing one of those inky black goo creatures and squashing it. This so freaks the pair out that they run off and try to rationalize it before ending up with friends and just trying to forget all about it.
But then the two worlds seem like they're crossing together more and more and he's intent on figuring out exactly what's going on even though it causes him to push Tamaki away. Encounters with people from the City Hall happen in both worlds as well and a trio of women from there open up more possibilities of what may be really going on so he continues to explore it and what's happening. His only lead is something mysterious called the Pandora Project but every time he seems to get closer to some part of it something starts getting in his way to throw him off or try to eliminate him.
Interlude is hard to describe in a way since it's a mystery and going to deeply into it will spoil it immensely. The writers did a really nice job of layering the discoveries of how the lead figures things out while also making the viewer work for it a bit. It's disconcerting at first because of the different worlds and the times the events are taking place but it all does eventually fall into place and it does make sense, though one of the key pieces to everything is left as something that's simply an event without explanation, though we do see the end results of it. The mystery of the show as it goes from a large group down to a pair of characters and then expands again works nicely here and even though some important characters are set aside for practically an entire episode, they're still as important when we return to them.
This is the first Toei disc we've managed to see in full and it's certainly deserving of some separate technical comments. Unlike the two TV series released at the same time, this release does have chapter stops in each episode though it could have used a couple more. They do some things that I really like; the video is essentially untouched from the original and the opening and end credits are left in Japanese. Directly following that is a fully translated set of credits and then it goes into the next episode, which is exactly how I like it. What I don't like is that it goes to the menu after each episode as no play-all feature is included in the menu.
I'm disappointed that the "cast talk" extras included in the Japanese release didn't make it here. This should be far less of an issue since it's Toei directly releasing things here but I will for the first releases give them the benefit of the doubt since there could still very well be issues in bringing that over. What is silly not to include is trailers of its other shows that are in release. All three of their opening releases should be cross-promoting the hell out of each other to raise product awareness and to give people an idea of what else you have. It's simply foolish not to do that.
I can't speak for the dub since I only listened to it in the background and I don't consider myself to be someone who can really comment much on dubs since they're not my preferred viewing, but what I heard at least sounded decent. What I can comment on is the subtitles though. In the over two thousand reviews that I've written since starting this site, I've tried hard to avoid using certain words of phrases regularly because when I do use them I want them to really have meaning. In watching the subtitles for this release, I am fully believing that whoever worked on the subtitles for this release is essentially incompetent " at best. Anyone who had a problem with what DreamWorks did with Ghost in the Shell 2 will find what's done here to be on the same level as some fifth generation piece of Hong Kong bootleg. That's not in the translation mind you, but how the subtitles are laid out.
Anyone who deals in subtitles on the creative side will probably admit that while there are technical aspects to it, it's also something of an art to be done properly. The subtitles here are done by a two year old in that respect. They contain constant close captioned style references in brackets. Horrible close captioned pieces that actually spoil what's going on. Here's some examples: Running with effort. Runs until surprised gasp. Hungry grunt. Wounded grunt. Sigh. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. And the best one of them all at the beginning of the show, (Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmmmmmmmm). I kid you not. And what even takes the cake from there is that there are multiple instances of three-line subtitles in the show but even those are outdone by several instances of five line subtitles. I'm a very seasoned and fast subtitle reader but this was just beyond real because it covers up so much of the screen and you're spending so much time reading it that you can't take the entire scene in. The subtitles here are truly horrible and done on such an incompetent level that I was stunned. I've never experienced anything like this before.
Interlude is a very fascinating little story whose three episodes at forty minutes each is almost the same as having five or six episodes by the same runtime (as there's no real opening sequence to these). Having the time to tell its tale, it reveals it layer by layer with a few peeks into the future along the way to really tantalize. The lack of a name for the lead certainly makes talking about the show difficult but it gives it an interesting perspective and adds to the surreal nature of things as it progresses. It's unfortunate that the release is so completely marred by an incompetent subtitling job that it actively detracts from the show and pulls you out of the moody and atmosphere scenes. This release if done right would have been a perfect easy sell for so many people to try out a new studio's works but instead is best used as a visual aid for how not to release a show. Interlude deserved better and so did the fans and consumers.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.