Mao-Chan Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B-

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: C-
  • Extras Rating: B-
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 89
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Mao-Chan

Mao-Chan Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     October 26, 2003
Release Date: October 28, 2003


Mao-Chan Vol. #1
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.


What They Say
Mao-Chan is a 2nd grader whose grandfather is the Chief of Staff of the Ground Defense Force. She has been trained to become a valuable member of the force since she was born. When she turns eight, she, together with her friends Misora and Sylvia, form the elementary school self-defense team. Mao protects the land, Misora, the skies, and Sylvia, the sea. These pint-size girls do their best to protect Japan from "cute" alien invaders.

Featuring seven bilingual 15 minute episodes per disc.

The Review!
They’re eight years old and defending the peace of Japan from aliens. This is the concept that shouldn’t work but amazingly ends up working in its own way.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series sports a decent stereo mix that has some nice moments of directionality, mostly with the aircraft or the sounds from the tank while the majority of the dialogue is center channel basic. During regular playback we had no issues with dropouts or distortions on the Japanese track and noticed no issues on the English track in spot-checking that.

Video:
Originally airing in 2002, Mao-Chan has a very sharp looking and vibrant transfer here that really showcases the colors well. The only real problem that cropped up for us was some chroma noise like issues with the red plane in a few areas where it seemed a touch more pixilated and alive than elsewhere. Other than that, colors are rich and solid throughout with no noticeable cross coloration or aliasing. This is one of those nicely vibrant recent shows that really display how far the digital coloring has come.

Packaging:
The front cover takes the word cute and tries to hyper it up a bit with a shot of Mao-chan running forward with her hair blowing behind her as the tank rumbles up in her footsteps. She’s got on her Ground Defense uniform and is just plain cute and bubbly looking. The cover is fairly eye-catching and manages to avoid being too pink for some peoples tastes. Tanks usually help people get past the pink. The back cover shifts between pinks and purples with a shot of the main trio of the series and listing the seven episodes and the episode titles. A little summary is there as well as a good listing of the discs features and basic production information. With this being a clear keepcase, the reverse side of the cover has a full color series of sixteen various images from the show, each showing off a character or location or some other little item. The insert replicates part of the back cover with Mao-chan and lists the individual episodes and their titles as well as the various chapter stops. Surprisingly, the reverse side of the insert is the old white page with a link to Pioneer’s site, something we haven’t seen in too many releases lately.

Menu:
The menus here bothered me right from the start with a load-up segment of Mao-chan talking in English (which immediately set me off from watching it dubbed) that goes on briefly before loading to the menu itself. It is thankfully skippable. The menu layout itself is similar to one of Mao-chan’s poses in the show with the green rising sun behind her while wearing her official uniform. The actual static menus themselves aren’t all that good either; the character artwork looks decent but all of the selections look very blurry and out of focus. Submenus load quickly and access times are fast, making navigation a breeze.

Extras:
A couple of extras are included in the first volume, such as the always good textless opening sequence. We’re also treated to a series of bloopers and outtakes (or outakes as listed in the menu) but they’re done in a strange way; while the blooper plays along in the English audio, we only get a still image of when it happens. This is just… strange. It doesn’t feel like it flows well at all.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Mao-Chan is one of the shows that I’m pretty sure there are a lot more of out there but are rarely brought over to the US since it’s expected that they won’t do well. There’s just something about them that gets little buzz or generates much in the way of excitement. After all, plenty of people who enjoy shows like this or other ones with younger characters get enough grief and name-calling about it. So when this first came up on the radar and the images came out, combined with Ken “Love Hina” Akamatsu’s name attached to the creative/conceptual side of it, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

After watching the first episode, I turned the disc off.

Something about it just didn’t sit right. I wasn’t sure about it at all and decided to clear my head for a day before tackling it again. The series opens with what could be considered a poor episode to start but decent later on; in an effort to have the trio working together, they skip deeper into the series and showcase the three girls and their three special military craft dealing with the invading aliens. It’s all by the numbers and plays quickly but with little real information about what’s going on or the why behind it. With it also being a short running length per episode kind of series, it ends quickly and leaves you with a “wha?” kind of feel.

So the next day, I sat down with it again and skipped the first episode. The second episode starts back in time some as we’re introduced to eight-year-old Mao Onigawara. She’s the darling of her grandfathers’ eye, which isn’t anything out of the ordinary. What is out of the ordinary is that he’s the ground defense forces commander in chief and has decided to use her in their latest program. By wearing a little cloverleaf tag and giving it a tap, her outfit is transformed into the “band” military style and she gets a baton along with it as well.

As the show progresses, she also gets a tank with a powerful AI inside of it, but the tank isn’t exactly a tank. It’s actually a 1:1 scale model tank, as we see the engineers with the snap-kit pieces and glue after putting it all together. After all, Mao-chan is just an eight-year-old girl. She can’t exactly have a real tank, now can she?

As the show progresses, Mao-chan’s friend Misora-chan also becomes involved by being used in the Air Defense Force’s plans to deal with the invading aliens. It also just happens that her grandfather is the commander in chief of that particular military wing. They also get a new friend in the form of Sylvia, the granddaughter of the naval wing who is considered a sneaky bastard by the other two grandfathers. With each of them having their own piece of equipment and their own base, each gets assigned to deal with the aliens as the come; but they want to work together while their grandfathers want them to work by themselves and garner all the fame.

Added into the mix is Colonel Kagome, a young woman with the hots for Mao’s grandfather who works for him. She’s trying everything she can to ingratiate herself with him so she doesn’t fight much when she’s assigned to take over the teaching chores of Mao’s class. She doesn’t exactly do the job with vigor though and is fairly lazy about it. Kagome’s biggest note to fame in these opening episodes is just how much she looks like Naru from Love Hina is, sans one of the antenna in her hair. Even Tama makes an appearance in one of the later episodes here in spreading turtle love.

To me, that’s one of the things that hurt the show. I had been curious to see if Akamtsu could get away from his prior creation and its popularity and do something different. While Mao-chan is definitely different and the main characters aren’t anything like his previous characters, he can’t seem but to help bringing in things like the turtles and the obvious Naru design. If neither had shown I would have probably liked this more and given him more leeway in what he was doing since it was moving away from something so popular and trying something different.

All that’s missing here is the aliens. And that’s the part where you both roll your eyes and yet get a chuckle because it’s the point that really gets the concept to work. The aliens that are invading the Earth, inexplicably entering the atmosphere and hitting Japan, are all cute. Very cute. Such as a cat or a bird. Now, you can’t very well have the SDF go after those with their weapons and all out style and have the media catching it. Imagine a soldier taking down a cute little kitty with an automatic rifle and see how long before heads would roll. Instead, we have these eight year old girls in their cute band uniforms and batons that go out and “bonk” the critters on their heads, causing them to fall unconscious and be captured and dealt with.

Amazingly, it works.

I ended up watching the 2nd through 7th episodes with my three year old (in Japanese) and she was laughing at the parts you’re supposed to laugh at and commenting on the cuteness of the characters at the right time. Mao-chan manages to be enjoyable to her age group and yet I still found a number of areas that were well done. This series suffers heavily from a bad lead-in episode though; one that I’ll almost swear gave me a headache when watching it. But watching it fresh the next day and skipping that episode, I found a good part of Mao-chan to be enjoyable and cute – almost too cute at times, but never crossing that line.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening,Bloopers & Outtakes

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.

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