Mania Grade: B+
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- Audio Rating: B-
- Video Rating: B-
- Packaging Rating: C
- Menus Rating: D
- Extras Rating: N/A
- Age Rating: 13 & Up
- Region: All Region DVD
- Released By: Media Blasters
- MSRP: 149.99
- Running time: 500
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Magic Knight Rayearth
Magic Knights Rayearth Memorial Collection 1
By Joshua Carvalho
February 16, 2002
Release Date: May 30, 2000
Shoujo: the very utterance of the word usually sends me running away, screaming to make it stop. Yes, that's right, I am not a big shoujo fan. I think FY is at best maybe worth a rental, Utena is just okay, and I won't give you my opinion on Sailor Moon to avoid death threats. Only a single shoujo anime has impressed me so far, and that's Pretty Sammy. So it won't surprise you that I went into MKR with a lot of uneasiness.
Picture if Lodoss War became shoujo, and you have a fairly good idea of what Rayearth is. The story of three girls transported to a foreign land where they will gain magical powers is not exactly new. Did this hurt the show? How did Media Blasters do on their first box set on DVD? Well let's see.
Well, I wasn't exactly expecting much in this department, and I didn't receive much either. It's very clear and much better than VHS quality; although it's not exactly something I'd show off either. The Japanese track definitely sounded softer than the English track. There wasn't much at all in the surround sound department outside of an occasional directional effect. So while it isn't exactly anywhere near DTS sound, it isn't VHS either. Overall, it's an okay job.
And for those who are trying to figure out why they can't play the Japanese op at the start even after selecting the track, it's because the Japanese op is on a separate video track entirely, so if your player is defaulted to English it'll play the English op unless you switch it. Skip a chapter and it should bring up the Japanese op. Also if you elect to go to the menu immediately and set the audio to Japanese in the setup menu, it'll correctly play the Japanese track. It's a bit odd the way they did this. Either they didn't feel like soft subbing the op or they were conserving disc space; this did become a confusing issue. The Japanese op is hard subbed while the English op is not, which is not very helpful to those who want to watch the op with no subs in the original Japanese audio.
Like the audio, the video was simply okay. Brand new anamorphic it quite simply is not. However, it is rather clear and looks good for video that's a number of years old. It's very clear and looks far superior to the VHS. And if you want to see just how superior it looks, take a look at the alternate ops and ends. I guarantee you will be able to see quite a difference.
Unfortunately, it didn't exactly bring out the video either and looked like they simply cleaned it up for the most part. Still, it's a very large improvement over the VHS.
Whew boy... This is where Media Blasters really dropped the ball. These menus are just a step up from being completely non-functional. This is the result of having a 400-pound gorilla that is completely wasted designing the menus for a DVD.
First off, they're as plain as can be. There's no animations or audio whatsoever. That is not enough to give a menu a D rating, however. Yet, at the same time, it definitely means the rating won't be that high.
Yet, they're a step even further down. They're very slow to use, much like the Battle Athletes Victory menus. In addition they don't function very well. Clicking on a menu option requires you to click on a small ball next to the text. Also, on some of the menus, mostly located in the extras area, you can see just how drunk the programmer was, as you have to search around a bit for the spot to click on as it's off from the little red ball.
And just to note how drunk our gorilla was we have one of the most interesting decisions as to how the menu options were done. On the main menu you'll find selections for each of the episodes, the extras, and the setup. Sound like something's missing? You guessed it: chapter selection. So where is the missing chapter selection? It's under "extras." That's right. Now while I've heard chapter selections labeled "extras" before, I've never actually seen them placed in the extras sub-section. This is probably because sobriety is usually maintained when designing most menus. The actual disc extras are an option in the extras sub-menu called "special features." One wonders why they couldn't have simply put the chapter selection on the main menu, the trailers in the special features, and lost an entire menu that was completely uncalled for. One also wonders why I'm paying $30,000 a year for college where I learn these tidbits and drunken gorillas are making money designing menus while I'm stuck learning why bright yellow and purple are not good colors for an interface. And to think that I thought that class was unnecessary...
It gets better, though. Some parts of the extras don't have any menus whatsoever, and you're simply given instructions to use the chapter skip buttons to navigate these sections. This isn't the worst thing in the world, but it's also like saying "hey, we're too lazy to give you actual menus so just start skipping chapters/we don't want you to have to see how drunk that gorilla was." There's definitely a lot of room for improvement here.
This is one area where the set was done mostly well. Throughout the set you'll find a wide array of typical extras such as picture galleries, spell information, and character information. Also, there are four omakes and alternate ops for both English and Japanese and an alternate Japanese ending. MB definitely invested some time into putting together a good array of extras that tops the vast majority of most anime DVDs out there.
There's one double-edged sword for the set though. Probably the most interesting extras for the set were the interviews with the English cast. There are six altogether: Hikaru, Umi, Fuu, Mokona, Zagato, and one group. The good thing about this as this was a very substantial extra, even if it was the English cast and not the Japanese. The bad is that the audio is just so horrid that it's virtually unintelligible. I mean we're talking far below VHS quality. We're talking like the audio on a one hour movie compressed into two minutes in real player format type quality. So while it's the best extra on the set, it's also hurt badly by being nearly impossible to understand. I really would've liked some subtitles in this section.
Joy, another box set where, on one hand, there was great packaging that was then ruined by several stupid decisions. There are five individual keepcases for the set inside of a cardboard box that is sort of like a software box, only instead fitted for DVDs. The artwork for each cover is well done, displaying pictures of characters in the series. Yes, finally one company listened and chose to go with keepcases instead of hubs o' death. Now this would've been instant A material had it not been for a few problems elsewhere. I'm glad to see one company finally paid attention, though, and wisely used keepcases. A trio of bad moves ends up hurting the packaging though.
The first is the fact that the DVD discs themselves are not labeled. Instead, there is simply a picture matching a portion of the cover artwork (not always the full cover) on the disc. It's bad enough the volumes aren't labeled numerically (although I guess if you logically assume midnight comes after noon you shouldn't have much trouble figuring it out), but add to it this. It's not very troublesome matching up the picture on the disc with the cover picture, but still there should be a label somewhere on the disc.
Problem number two will severely irritate you spoiler freaks out there. Don't look at the cover to the fifth disc until you have watched the first sixteen episodes! In fact, don't look at it until you're finished watching the series altogether! The cover to this case contains a *huge* spoiler for the series. I think it was a really bad move on the part of the art design department to put such a huge spoiler right on the front cover of the case. Luckily, by the time I noticed it, I had already figured out that particular aspect of the story.
The final problem with the packaging is the box itself. As described, it's a laminated cardboard box. Unfortunately, this box is completely impractical. The flaps on the top tend to get stuck. Opening it without tearing the box is extremely troublesome. I suggest that you open it from the bottom instead of the top. Most people will probably toss the box and just keep the cases separately, which is unfortunate, as, aesthetically, the box looks really nice.
I decided after my last review to add in a technical score to the rest of the ratings. And it was desperately needed on this set too. There are a few problems, although one giant one stands out and is responsible for nearly an F grade on the technical score.
That is the fact that there are no time codes on the episodes. For those who don't know what time codes are, they're not the time display you see during the episodes. Time codes are what allow you to skip to any point in the video of the disc. It's always been one of the best features of having DVDs for myself. No more tedious fast forwarding and rewinding were needed. Only three discs/sets have lacked time codes on them in my entire collection of some two hundred DVDs. This is one of them. Without time codes, if I say stopped five minutes into an episode, I had to sit there and fast forward back to that spot later on. This is very poor. Heck, this isn't even VHS. What really burns me is that there are only two chapter stops on each episode (op and end don't count as they're separate tracks altogether). That's a huge gap, some 8-11 minutes, considering the time codes aren't there. It really got to me later on when I discovered that several of the extra tracks, like the alternate op and end, had time codes on them.
Any company that reads this please pay attention: not having time codes on a DVD is beyond inexcusable. I really don't like having to sit there and fast-forward through the video every time I want to get to a certain spot on a disc. Even on VHS you can stop a tape at a certain point. Lacking time codes is one of the ways you can instantly make VHS superior to a DVD in this particular area. I can only hope that Media Blasters will realize their blunder here and not repeat it on discs in the future.
There was one other little interesting technical tidbit with this disc, besides some of the ones covered in the menu reviews and such. Going back to the op and end, I need to bring up the issue of the separate track issue. I don't think there was any real need for doing this. Now while the disc correctly goes to each op and end track between episodes appropriately, you'll run into problems if you start trying to skip chapters. For instance, when I tried to skip to the start of the first episode on a disc, I had to skip through the English track, through the Japanese, and then it actually stopped the DVD on my player. It causes a bit of confusion that isn't needed. Was it necessary? I have heard some people say there is alternate video in the two ops and ends. The only difference I saw was the hard subbing on the Japanese tracks. I think it would've been much better to have had the ops and ends in their appropriate positions with different audio tracks, like the majority of anime DVDs, and to have soft subs instead. I can't understand why this decision was made.
Considering these two technical tidbits in combination with the other flaws, such as menus, overall the disc was just, technically, not very good at all.
So the set itself isn't all it could've been. The most important part of a DVD is the actual content, right? Well, I'm happy to say that the content was the one really good part about this set. First off, this show is by CLAMP and it's shoujo. Therefore, if you hate CLAMP or hate shoujo, skip the set. I'm not a big shoujo fan at all as I stated earlier. Certain things about shoujo have always turned me away.
Probably the number one thing about shoujo that always causes me to not be interested in it is that the lead female characters in most shoujo I have seen are extremely annoying. The name Miaka causes me to run away in terror now, I have become so annoyed with her. Any complaint about male characters suffering from "Ranma" syndrome ends up applying about ten fold to some of these characters. Many steal the spotlight, are absolutely dull characters, have guys falling all over them despite having done absolutely nothing to deserve it, and what not. Thank you, Hikaru. Hikaru is the antithesis of these characters. While "Hikaru worship" still surfaces on occasions, such as episode two where I thought it was about to turn into the "Hikaru worship" show for awhile, it is never that annoying at all. Hikaru is a teammate. She doesn't have guys swooning over her, and she isn't any more useful to the team then any other member.
Still, Umi and Fuu are the more interesting of the knights. Umi quickly became my favorite after a few episodes. Not only does she sport the coolest spells, but also the funniest scenes always belong to her. Fuu is probably the most complex of the three, and the only one to delve into romance in the first season. Overall, the three lead heroines are all interesting characters in the end, and none of them are glory hogs.
The villains are also quite interesting. Only maybe one villain is a bit on the two-dimensional side. The rest range from misunderstood to complex to tragic villains. Although it takes a bit into the series before they start developing the villains, in the end I can't think of one that was really uninteresting. Don't expect any of these villains to end up as typical evil soulless villains.
The only character that hinders the supporting cast is Mokono, who should be renamed "deus ex machina with fluff." He's simply in there to provide whatever is necessary to the knights to get past a particular obstacle, and to make a bunch of annoyingly cute sounds. The most interesting character out of this group is Princess Emeraude, who appears pretty two-dimensional at first, but will shock you near the end.
The plot itself starts off a bit cliché. Three girls from Earth are transported to the world of Cephiro where they are asked to save the world from High Priest Zagato. For much of the story, the show plays out like an RPG. Later on in the series, the show itself even jokes about the extreme RPGish nature of the story. There are plots involving learning spells, upgrading weapons, and finding objects needed for the quest. And each episode, Zagato sends out one of his servants to try to kill the knights. Yes, it is a bit cliché, but it actually doesn't play out quite as badly as it may seem, and a lot of the cliché feeling is used to fool the viewer into a false sense of security for later. And in the end, the characters make the show more then the plot itself.
There is a lot of hilarious super deformed humor in the show. Some of the early episodes had me laughing out loud. And fortunately, unlike FY, this feeling to the show lasts even past the halfway mark of the series, not moving over to a more serious story until it's actually needed. Unfortunately, a bit of the dryness and the repetition happened in the transition period. Mostly on disc four, the show kind of moved over a bit too soon and started to get a feel of repetition to it. There was a bit too much recapping too. I wish they hadn't moved over quite so soon, but I was definitely glad with the result of when the transition finally finished. The last series of episodes will have you glued to the screen and are simply excellent. The conclusion is one of the best I've seen in an anime series and will definitely leave a "wow" effect on the viewer.
The series had the advantage of avoiding a lot of needless filler due to the fact it was only twenty episodes instead of twenty-six. It definitely felt like that was the perfect size for the series as you could feel it dragging a bit as I mentioned, so you knew they had hit the point as to how far the current story could be taken. Outside of the part that drags a bit, only one episode stuck out as really bad, that being episode six which is far too cliché and far too predictable for an RPGish type story. Overall, though, the series has great characters and is mostly interesting. It also avoids the pitfalls of many shoujo series.
Final Thoughts and Notes:
One thing I want to note here as I finish this review is to keep in mind that my rating system is reflective of only myself. I grade as to how I see things, not how any other reviewer on this site sees it. So if my ratings seem lower then some, keep in mind that I like to scale things appropriately. A show that receives a B+ on content has done very well for itself.
The set may not be so hot, but the show is great. This definitely changed my opinion towards shoujo and I will probably give more shoujo a chance now that I've seen that some series avoid the pitfalls of things like "Miaka syndrome." CLAMP did a really good job on this series and I say without hesitation that if you like this show, you should get this set.
However, don't get this set for any other reason. The rest of the set ranges from pretty good to flat out bad. Media Blasters could've done a much better job on the set. Make sure you're going to enjoy this series before shelling out the cash for it. I think the original price of $130 would've worked better for this set then the current price too, especially given that the set didn't deliver as much of a punch as it could've.
As always, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or comments on this review.
Sony 17" monitor w/ five speakers and sub-woofer, 3d sound card for surround sound. 6x Sony DVD-ROM. Power DVD 2.5.5 software drivers