Young love with small but challenging obstacles face Seto and Iori in a beautiful and touching piece of work.
What They Say
I"s: Iori Hazuki is a beautiful high schooler with ambitions of becoming an actress. Ichitaka Seto is an indecisive sort with a crush on Iori from afar. Itsuki Akiba is Ichitaka�s cute childhood friend who has returned from abroad. Put all three �I�s together and you have a tale of love, comedy and dreams��
I"s Pure: The course of true love never did run smooth, and hapless Ichitaka has a ton of obstacles to overcome to win the heart of his classmate and budding actress Iori: pranks and misunderstandings, stalkers and romantic intervention, but most of all staying true to one's feelings. Are the two "I"s destined to find happiness together, or does fate have other ideas?
Viz Media has given this release a surprising level of attention when it comes to the English language track. The release has a set of standard bilingual tracks with the English and Japanese languages done in stereo encoded at 224kbps. Each mix is solid when it comes to placement and depth when appropriate and it has a very clean and clear feeling to it with no problems. The surprise comes in that Viz went and brought in New Generation Pictures for the English language adaptation, a company I don't think they've worked with before. In regular playback of both language tracks, we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions.
This release is made up of two separate OVA series. The first OVA series was released in 2002 and 2003 and is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The second OVA series is six episodes and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Both of these shows look really good as the quality of the productions are very solid, the six episode one even more so. The first OVA series is on its own disc and runs just under an hour while the second one is on its own disc as well and runs just under three hours. The second series obviously comes across better as its more recent, widescreen and has better production values, but the authoring for both of them is quite good as they're free of significant problems. Beyond some mild noise here and there and a bit of line noise in a few panning sequences, it's easy to come away pretty pleased here, especially when you see the bit rating peaking at 10mbps at times on the second OVA series. Curiously, that series is set into two titles as well, each one running for ninety minutes which gives the possibility that this may have been planned to be a two disc release at one time.
With a show like I’s, it’s hard to say what the best way to sell it will be. The show is very much a romantic drama series about high school kids so you want to show that it’s got attractive women in it to get the men to buy it. At the same time, the appeal of a show like I’s is also very much in its character designs. The cover here works nicely as it has two of the female leads in their school uniforms which shows off their designs quite well. They’re a bit closer to the norm than a lot of Katsura’s designs in some ways so it doesn’t really separate it too well from the pack, but enough so that it’ll catch the eyes of those interested in the genre. The back cover is a bit of a better sell for me as it showcases a lot of artwork of the girls and shots from the show that brings out the differences in the designs. The summary is pretty small and simple and they don’t do a good job of talking about how much material is on here in terms of episodes and run time which is bad. The remainder of the back cover is given over to the production credits and not much of a technical grid since it’s just logos. We do get a runtime but nothing on audio inclusions or the makeup of the video side of the release.
While the packaging itself is spot on, there's a problem within the package itself. This two disc release has the discs silk screened incorrectly as the I's Pure disc is actually the first OVA series and vice versa, at least with out copy. If your show is in widescreen and you were looking for the first OVA series, swap out your discs! Though I do think it works better to watch the six part OVA series before the two part OVA series, but that's just me as we discuss in the content section below.
The menu design for I’s is very simple as there isn’t a lot to each disc outside of the show itself. The 1st OVA disc has a single illustration shot along the right half while the navigation is along the left under a bright beautiful strip of blue. The second OVA has a piece of artwork in the same format but with three of the girls in it. With nothing on the disc besides the show though, the navigation itself is very minimal and easy to navigate. The discs don’t read our players’ language presets unfortunately, but Viz gets props for showing what actually is selected in the menu and noting it properly when there are changes. Everything loads quickly and without a problem making it a pleasant experience.
Based on the fifteen volume manga series by Masakazu Katsura, I's is made up of two OVA series. The first one is a two part OVA from 2002 and 2003 which serves as a side story of sorts, an OVA made for the fans of the manga, while the six part OVA series that was released in 2005 and 2006 is aimed at a broader audience. Due to the way Viz screwed up the silk screening of the discs, we ended up watching the second OVA series, “I's Pure,” first and I think that really works out for the better. In fact, going back to the two part OVA series afterwards only makes its awkwardness all the more apparent.
I've long been a fan of Katsura's work as I saw Video Girl Ai very soon after its initial release in Japan. The show made a huge impression on me for its music design, the character designs and the way it approached the relationships of the characters. Though it introduces an amusing science fiction element in the whole Video Girl aspect, the humanity and personality of the character sis what sells it so well. Katsura's other work that has been released over here, DNA2, was more of a comedy but it shared the same kind of romantic heart with very similar character designs. I's really feels the most “pure” of the works that I've seen of his so far as there's nothing otherworldly to be found here. Here, it's all about the characters.
I's centers around high school seniors Seto and Iori. Seto has long had a crush on Iori but he's never been able to properly express it to her. Seto is such a classic nice guy, and nice guys rarely win in the real world, that it's almost painful to watch him. Particularly so if you're similar of nature as you can see a lot of yourself in him, and I certainly can from that time in my life. His friend Teratani is a classic quasi-confident geek of sorts who doesn't seem to have an interest in girls but wants to see Seto succeed with Iori, or at least express his feelings to her. Events start to change a bit though when Teratani shows him a magazine that Iori had apparently posed for where she's got some swimsuits and provocative pieces in.
That turns Iori into quite the center of attention for a lot of the guys in school and they all start going after her with innuendo and other suggestive tones. It's certainly not what she was after and she even admits that she was somewhat tricked into the photo shoot. She has dreams of being a legitimate actress and this is giving her unwanted attention. Seto is such the white knight in all of this that he does his best to stop the others from bothering her but more often than not it ends up seeming like he's the one causing problems. Everything rises to a crescendo when one of the guys in the school sets up a club photo shoot with a few friends and they design it so that when the girls get changed, it gets recorded one video. Suffice to say, Seto and Teratani do their best to foil this but it turns into a bigger mess as the bully ends up getting expelled which puts him on a path for wanting revenge.
But that is a subplot that runs through a decent chunk of the series. The main story is one that revolves around the slowly growing relationship between Seto and Iori as he gets closer and closer to her and she gets friendlier with him. Naturally, there has to be an obstacle in the way on a regular basis and that arrives in a childhood friend of Seto's named Itsuki. Itsuki actually left for America several years ago and is mildly famous for being a young Japanese sculptor who created the look for a monster in a new big Hollywood monster movie. Returning to Japan, she ends up living in Seto's place before he realizes it and it throws a monkey wrench into the start of the relationship that Seto dreams of having with Iori.
Predictability certainly does ensue from there. The six part OVA really does cover a lot of the very basic kind of material you get in a romance series. It isn't a romantic comedy, but there are lighthearted moments throughout. This is a series that revolves around emotions and feelings, young love trying to find its way and the awkwardness of trying to reveal your feelings to someone else and fearing rejection. What makes a show like this works it that there is such a sense of honesty and realism to the characters, awkward as they are at times, that it feels like it has that huge kernel of truth to it. It doesn't feel forced or contrived, though a situation or two does have you rolling your eyes. It does get stretched out over time a bit before the reality of everything starts to set in, but it also rings true to how a lot of these kinds of awkward high school relationships go. And with the prism of friends and other interests intermingling with it, that only gives it more weight and more truth.
The two part OVA, which as I said previously has the feel of a story made for fans of the manga rather than a broader audience, takes place within a portion of the Pure series when you look at it but it has that kind of awkwardness to it that if it's the first thing you watch, it may not feel like you want to watch much more. It has the heart and character to it, but it doesn't have the context necessary to make it enjoyable without seeing the later OVA series. It's also a bit more forced in its story since it has a murder happen, deals with more childhood issues that don't click all that well because of the shortness of time allotted to all of it. It's enjoyable because it's more of the characters I like, but it's not in the same league as the I's Pure OVA series.
When looking at the I's Pure series, it's all about love for me. The show has such a great sense of pacing, it has an elegance in how the characters move about and the settings are beautiful. I've always adored Katsura's character designs because even if they do look similar series to series, there's a certain detail to them that makes them feel Japanese while still adhering to a lot of conventions. His costume design is highly appealing yet still within the realm of functional and almost appropriate. The backgrounds for I's Pure really are beautiful, whether it's the scenes within the city or school or when they make the trip to Kyoto where it's even more magnificent. I's Pure is almost a lavish production in some ways and the Kyoto trip in particular makes it very apparent how much impact a setting can have on the mood and atmosphere of a setting.
I'm hugely biased when it comes to Katsura's works but I'll even admit that I didn't get past the first volume of the manga, though that's more because I was tired of manga in general at the time. This OVA release is a real surprise from Viz Media, from their quick license announcement to the quick street date for it. I also wonder if they originally planned it as a three volume release based on the disc design itself. The end result of all of it though is that we get a complete collection of the anime release in a solid package that's very well done and given a top notch dub by one of my favorite dubbing companies. Fans of the property will be in love with this while everyone else should at least give it a shot if they want to step away from the realm of predictable romantic comedies with aliens, the supernatural and other elements. This is one of those quiet but beautiful gems of a series that needs to be seen.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
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.