Law of Ueki Vol. #01 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: C

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B-
  • Extras Rating: B-
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
  • MSRP: 19.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Law of Ueki

Law of Ueki Vol. #01

By Chris Beveridge     March 29, 2006
Release Date: May 17, 2006



What They Say
Ueki is an average junior high student who has the power to change trash into trees. This power was granted to him by Mr. K so that Ueki can participate in the "Battle of the Supernatural Powers." If Ueki wins, Mr. K becomes the new King of the Celestial World while Ueki will receive the "Talent of Blank", allowing him to choose whatever talent he desires. However, the battle will not be easy since he will have to face many unsavory opponents who want the "Talent of Blank" for their own selfish reasons. Ueki will undergo many trials and sacrifices in order to win the battle and prevent the "Talent of Blank" from falling into the wrong hands.


The Review!
If you were given the choice of any power, would you be like Ueki and choose the power to create... trees?

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. With the stereo mix that's used, it's fairly active with both the left and right channels during the fight sequences, particularly when the trees are being used to attack, but outside of the fights the show is like most others in that it's a pretty straightforward mix. There isn't a huge amount of strong directionality with it but it fills the forward soundstage like you'd want it to. Dialogue is clean and clear and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The design of the show is one where it's filled with some interesting color choices that when combined with the animation style gives it a feel where it almost seems like some of those early CG shows where backgrounds and character animations don't quite blend all that well. The style of the shows animation just feels like it's off here somehow but the transfer for it is very clean and looks great. There weren't any noticeable issues such as cross coloration or aliasing, colors are strong and vibrant and backgrounds come across very well here.

Packaging:
Practically a rainbow, the cover for this release is filled with colors while keeping with the standard action shot of three of the characters that make an impression in this volume behind Ueki. The character designs are fairly standard and aren't any more detailed than you get in the show itself while the background is a basic fiery type. The logo for the show, which was already in English, is just filled with colors and design that really doesn't work well for it since it doesn't seem to have any real focal point to it. I can't remember the last time I saw a logo with so many different colors in it. The back cover is a bit more basic and easy on the eyes with a top half that has a summary of the shows premise and a decent shot of Ueki while below it is a two layer strip of shots from the show. The bottom half is a fantastic change for Geneon titles that I hope carries onto other new releases as underneath the production information is a full on technical grid with all the information I want to be able to find out quickly, including video codec and whether the disc is a single or dual layer one. The insert replicates the front cover artwork while it opens up to a two page spread that covers the various characters met during these first four episodes. The back cover lists the episode numbers and titles for this volume.

Menu:
The menu layout at first is a bit strange looking but it keeps to the shows slightly off kilter feel as the left half has animation playing throughout it from the show and the right side has the image of one of the trees from the show with the navigation selections over it with a bit of music playing along to it. The menus are a bit more animated than a lot of other Geneon menus as there are some brief transitional pieces that shift to the submenus when selected but they don't last long and are pretty smooth. Access times are nice and fast and the layout is easy to use while the disc does also read our players' presets and played accordingly.

Extras:
The opening volume kicks off with a simple extra of that being a clean version of the opening sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga series of the same name, the Law of Ueki is a show that seems to fit into the standard battle/boys genre but has some rather strange quirks to it. While there have certainly been plenty of shows where you have a lead character who isn't all that keen on the fighting element that he's been involved with, it's unusual to find one who is so laid back and disinterested as Ueki seems to be at times.

The premise of the show is fairly straightforward as we get to know the main lead characters over these first few episodes. It does almost mess with you a bit as a number of secondary characters appear briefly that might seem to be more important than they are. Through the eyes of junior high school girl Ai, she discovers that her friend Ueki has the ability to grow trees out of his hands. Or more specifically, he has the ability to transform trash of different kinds with his hands into living trees, vines or some other variety of the tree. This power was given to him by his teacher, Mr. K, who is part of something much larger. As it turns out, he's actually a Celestial, one of a hundred that have been chosen by the Celestial King who then choose a particular junior high school student to give them a power of their choice and compete against each other in a massive tournament.

Though it seems like only Ueki is unsure of what's really going on, the competition is pretty fierce as there are some serious prizes involved. The Celestial whose student wins the tournament becomes the next Celestial King while the student gets to pick a "Talent" of his choice. Most people are fairly good and choose things that they're interested in but there is an element that will pick talents that will let them control and dominate others. So there is that kind of issue to the tournament that comes up. There's a downside to everything as well. The students with the powers cannot use those powers against anyone who isn't part of the tournament. To do so will mean that they will lose talents of their own. Not the one that allows them to compete but other things.

For example, Ueki gets attacked by a group of thugs and he uses his power to smack them down and suddenly he's lost his talent of "being liked by girls". Now whenever he's around girls in general, they have derisive comments about him and they're generally mean to him. Another fight he gets involved in causes him to lose his talent to study. Things that once took one session to understand now takes a hundred sessions. On the plus side, each victory against someone in the tournament gives him a new talent in a different direction so he's able to grow and acquire new things along the way. But the loss is the real danger because if he loses all eleven of his original talents, he'll simply disappear.

Law of Ueki has an unusual vibe to it as it plays out. It does some of the basic things you would expect from shows like this by having various enemies appear to challenge him, some with motivations that are just mean while others are only trying to achieve their own goals. A lot of it is very short sighted on the characters parts since they're thinking only of the immediate things, such as one power user who wants to win the tournament so he can gain the talent to run which will allow him to stay in the track and field club. Some are more obvious as the thuggish types who want to be able to dominate others around them. Most of them tend to have fairly straightforward powers for the tournament such as fireballs or spikes they can fling. Only Ueki seems to have the weird power which as we see through flashback he gained due to the way Mr. K. dealt with him in approaching him about the entire event.

Naturally, the power is much more useful than you'd expect it to be and certainly it's applied creatively at times, occasionally to the point where you know they have to be rolling their eyes at the source material about it. It does allow for the fights to be interesting here and there and to see how Ueki will have to get out of it. But it's Ueki himself that is the hardest part to deal with. He's introduced early on as a very disinterested person about, well, almost everything other than taking care of trees or plants and even that isn't given all that much attention. The character is just so laid back that it's hard to really connect with him. We don't get to know a lot about him early on but there just doesn't seem to be much to him beyond being an otherwise normal student who ended up in a strange situation.

The shows animation quality is pretty good but the design of it reminds me of some of the shows that had a difficult time transitioning from traditional animation to digital animation in the last few years such as the Saiyuki Reload show. There's a blend that doesn't feel like it quite works between the character animation and the backgrounds which has it almost seeming like the two are disconnected at times. Each of the pieces is decently done on their own but when brought together it's like I'm watching an unfinished show in some respect that I can't quite put my finger on. In a way, you can tell right from the cover by its character design with the colors that it's something different.

In Summary:
For fans of the show, the release is overall well done and is free of problems. For those who've never even heard of it before, this one is a real hard sell. I had a hard time connecting with any of the characters, the pacing during the first couple of episodes is very fast and almost a bit awkward is tries to cover the basics and the plot itself is something that we've seen in its most base form a million times now. There are some interesting quirks to it and they do a nice job in playing up the different kinds of powers and ways of manipulating them but you can find that in just about anything. The show does have an advantage in being relatively short and being priced to move at $19.95 for four episodes so it's an easy title to take a chance on and see whether it clicks for you.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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