Neo Ranga Vol. #1 (also w/Box) - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 15 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.98/39.98
  • Running time: 120
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Neo Ranga

Neo Ranga Vol. #1 (also w/Box)

By Chris Beveridge     February 27, 2003
Release Date: March 04, 2003


Neo Ranga Vol. #1 (also w/Box)
© ADV Films


What They Say
Across the ocean, on the tiny island kingdom of Barou, something wakes an ancient god-Neo Ranga-from his slumber. He is drawn to Tokyo, and nothing's going to stop him as he searches for Minami, Ushio and Yuuhi, three beautiful sisters who are unwittingly linked to him. But instead of rolling out the red carpet, the military rolls out the weaponry, and things start to get nasty.

As Neo Ranga goes on his rough-and-tumble, crush-and-crumble romp through the city, the mystery grows. Is he a vehicle for corruption, or is he simply uncovering what already dwells within the city? Is he a messenger with a warning for humankind, or just a big boy out for a good time? Can Ranga defeat the military's fully-loaded ACE robot and the power-mad pilot who's out to blast him to bits? When they're forced to confront him - and each other - will the people of Tokyo actually learn anything from all this? And what's behind Ranga's mysterious eyes?



The Review!
Every time I think the giant robot genre has been exhausted, yet another show comes out that shows there’s still plenty of material and styles to mine in it.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. The show has a pretty decent stereo mix for both language tracks, though the majority of dialogue is center channel based. The action sequences provide a number of good moments of forward soundstage directionality while the music does a solid job of filling an overall field.

Video:
Originally airing back in 1999, Neo Ranga’s transfer is reminiscent of a more traditionally animated show. The color palette used for the majority of it is very muted and earthy, giving it a darker and slightly dirtier feel. The area where this makes things look not so hot is in some of the water scenes or dark night sequences where the dark blues look very grainy and shifty. Colors otherwise look good, though there are some moments where you can see some blockiness in Ranga’s brown face when they have him move up and down. Cross coloration is non-existent and aliasing is very minimal, so overall the transfer is pretty good looking.

Packaging:
ADV’s dipped into the clear keepcase realm for the first time I believe with this release. Of course, (silly) controversy erupted when the cover art for the first volume here was released, as it’s been modified from the original Japanese cover. In the original, you have the three lead women with the squirlies on them but set against their flesh, not black bodysuits. Of course, such things just don’t get sold in mainstream USA stores, so it’s no surprise that they were easily painted over. And while I do think the original looks better, I think there’s a slick look to this version of it as well. But, ADV will give you your cake and let you eat it as well as there is a reversible cover here with the original artwork and only the original completely Japanese logo here. The back cover of the modified version has more of the squirlies and provides a brief summary of things and a listing of the discs features and extras while the reverse side of the back cover provides a map relevant to these early episodes. There is no insert included with this release.

Menu:
It’s not that often that a menu is as darkly black as this one, but it again fits the Ranga character perfectly with its deep black background offset by some of the red squirlies keeping menu selections to the left side. Like Kurumi, you can jump to any of the eight episodes right from the top while the remaining selections provide quick and easy access to the extras and setup. Access times are nice and fast as well as being free of transitional animations.

Extras:
There’s a good mix of extras here for this first release. Some of the staples are here, such as the textless opening and ending sequence as well as a gallery of production images. The ADV trailer for the show is also provided. But the best extra here is the very detailed many paged translators notes that covers so much material, from the family names to a new honorific suffix I hadn’t heard of yet. There is a lot of detail about the area in which the show is set and its historical background, that once you read it (after the show), it will really help flesh things out nicely. It’s not often we get as detailed and interesting notes as these.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Whenever I see the folks at Pierrot involved in a project, I tend to pay a bit closer attention as they always manage to find something that really entertains and intrigues me. And having seen a few shows in the half-episode format now and becoming used to their style and pacing, I was looking forward to seeing how they would handle it. After taking in the first eight episodes of Neo Ranga, they’ve managed to achieve such results again.

For the first several episodes, the tale is told in a backwards/forwards style where we have the here and now but also mix in how they got there once it gets rolling. Narrated by a young man, he introduces us to the three women they we need to be familiar with for the tale, the three women of the Shimabara family. The eldest, Minami, is described as someone who lives a simple life and shuns most material goods, instead trying to keep things minimalistic. Being the eldest and out of school, she works in TV production studio which brings about some trouble later on.

To balance her out, there’s the middle sister Ushio. Ushio is the sister that has strong feelings of justice and a sense of what’s right, but also a strong empathy for wanting other people to be happy, even if it costs her own happiness. She’s in middle school and manages to keep the three sisters tightly kept together. The third and youngest is Yuuhi, a dark looking young girl in the sixth grade who wears a lot of very sexy lingerie that’s apparently given to her by lots of men. She’s very introspective and has a pair of eyes that you can see are constantly watching and assessing what they see.

Things kick off here right in the middle of everything, as we find Ushio rushing off to save someone from a local police officer. The someone in question is a young boy named Joel, who we come to learn is the girls nephew. The girls are trying to get their lives going, as their parents are long gone and their brother has disappeared, but their lives are going to be anything but normal. As they try to get just this day underway, the entire city of Tokyo falls into chaos as a massive black clad robot arrives in Tokyo bay and starts making its way through the city, looking for something.

Much of the early episodes are focused on Neo Ranga’s slow journey through the city and the problems it causes, but it’s also mixed with the three sisters finding out about its arrival and how each of them decide to try and handle it. But why would they be the ones to deal with it? Well, that’s what the flashbacks are handy for. We see when Joel originally arrived in Tokyo, telling them he would take them to where their brother is and offering up plane tickets for them. After a long journey into the south west pacific, they arrive at the island kingdom of Barou, an island that had been previously ruled by both French and Japanese before finally being free.

The girls are all welcomed and very well greeted by the locals, because as it turns out, their brother had come to the island quite some time before along with a princess, and ended up becoming something of the island’s master before he passed on and his wife died of illness. This, the local elders tell them, means that the three girls are the new kings. Minami makes an amusing comment about wondering if there is oil on the island, but for the most part they’re struck by the news of their brothers passing. There disbelief about things ends up having them brought to somewhere deep in the island where they reveal to the girls Ranga, their god. Covered in moss and overgrowth, all we see is the massive face of this beast, but after communicating mentally with Joel, it rises up and leaves the girls shellshocked.

So it all comes together that some time after the girls get back home to Tokyo, something called Neo Ranga from Barou and it’s come looking for them. It’s arrival and subsequent “domestication” by the sister provides both amusement and danger, as varying members of the community are both for and against Ranga being there. What becomes fascinating as the show progresses and the sisters begin to interact with Neo Ranga is that you see how their inner selves are reflected in Ranga’s actions. When none of the girls are directly interacting with it, it’s eyes are the simple black empty shafts, which gives the impression of a lifeless beast that’s going by instinct. When Yuuhi takes it over, it comes alive with her own eye color and shaping.

In fact, it’s Yuuhi that I find to be the most fascinating and intriguing character out of this growing cast (as we’ve deliberately left out a number of the interesting supporting cast, since they provide such fun little surprises). In some senses, Yuuhi suffers from being in the sixth grade so that while she’s drawn very alluring, some people will get a bit weird about that. With the way they’ve portrayed her, particularly in the opening where she’s in the more tribal dress of Barou, she is the one sister that really looks and feels like she’s powerful and has a presence to her. When she takes Ranga out for a walk around town, she sees him as something that she can use to help save people, much like Ushio does, but Yuuhi is different. With her young age, she sees the world in much more simple black and white terms, more right/wrong instead of the many shades of gray that there are, and this is beautifully if sometimes very subtly brought about. Yuuhi tends to get so convinced by her beliefs that she can’t believe that there’s another side. Now give her a hugely powerful “god” that’s under her control and it’s a dangerous and intriguing mix.

One question I’ve gotten repeatedly since the release of the artwork was, is the series itself painted over inside, to which I can say that it’s edit free. The only changes made are the ones that ADV does with nearly every release, and that’s to use a clean opening and insert English translated credits into it, though I believe it retains the original logo when the opening sequence does start (around episode four if I recall, as the first several episodes were just title cards as the time was given to the show itself).

With this series being done in the half episode format, but still with enough episodes to cover six volumes, I’m very intrigued to see where it’s going. Right off the bat we were snared by the haunting music and the design of the world that the characters inhabit. The hints of things to come as presented by the opening sequence looks very exciting and I can’t wait to see more of this show. Every time I think the giant robot genre can’t do something different, they continue to prove me wrong and drag me back in. Neo Ranga is just such a beast.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Clean opening and closing animations,Original Neo Ranga trailer,Production sketches,Translators Notes

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" 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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