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Old Skool Anime: Windaria & Birth

By Ralph Jenkins     -

Welcome to what I hope will be a series of columns spotlighting oft forgotten anime titles from the '70s and '80s that are again seeing the light of day in the form of remastered DVD editions. As the North American (region 1) industry has a tendency to focus on what's currently in vogue -- i.e, popular and highly marketable series such as Love Hina and Gainax's FLCL -- often older features, OVA's, and series fall by the wayside or get substandard treatment (did someone say Project A-ko?). Fortunately, with 378 anime DVD's released or announced in Japan so far this year, the Japanese (region 2) market has been picking up the slack. Because of this, this column will primarily examine region 2 discs, although any region 1 releases of note will certainly not go overlooked. If my nefarious plot reaches fruition, U.S. fans will realize what they've been missing out on, and start clamoring for some of these vintage titles to be released in region 1, with bells and whistles like remastered audio and anamorphic transfers intact.



This first installment will take a look at two classic films produced by Kaname Productions in the mid-'80s -- Birth (1985) and Douwa meita senshi Windaria (1986). The VHS and LD versions of these seminal OVA's had been out of print for years when Victor Entertainment (JVC) reissued both of them on DVD late last year, complete with new prints taken from new telecine masters and linear (uncompressed) PCM audio. The result is that both of these titles look and sound much better than they ever have before, particularly Windaria, which was graced with a new 16:9 transfer so pristine it is difficult to believe the film is now 15 years old. It is also worth noting that both of these features had the dubious honor of being heavily edited and rewritten by Harmony Gold in the late '80s in an effort to sell them to TV stations as part of a package deal that would have also included the stillborn Robotech II: The Sentinels pilot; these edited versions eventually were released on videotape by Streamline Pictures under the titles Planetbusters (or World of the Talisman) and Windaria (or Once Upon a Time). LD releases through Image Entertainment were threatened, but -- aside from The Sentinels -- never actually happened (to the best of my knowledge). Please note that neither of these DVD's contain English subtitles; no faithful translations were ever produced for these films outside of fansubs.



Douwa meita senshi Windaria (literally Fairy Tale War Windaria, though the official English title is Legend of Fabulous Battle Windaria) is the quintessential anime tragedy. Imagine Saving Private Ryan set in a land of beautiful princesses and unicorns and you have Windaria; this is a heart-wrenching war movie in the guise of a fairy tale (a little like Jin-Roh). The overriding theme of this grim allegory is that a promise -- especially between lovers -- is something so sacred that it thrives even beyond death, and taking it for granted can beget devastating consequences. When two pairs of young lovers become embroiled in a war between rival kingdoms -- the primitive but resplendent Isa and the militaristic but undisciplined Paro -- greed, envy, and pride will be their ultimate undoing. Windaria is now mainly remembered for the luscious character designs of the renowned illustrator Mutsumi Inomata (who also designed the characters for Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yoko, released by Right Stuf on VHS). The score is also extremely memorable -- sad and dramatic, as befitting the film. Akino Arai, who performed "Voices" (Myung's Theme) for Macross Plus and the first Outlaw Star ending song, provides the poignant anti-war ballad "A Beautiful Planet" that ends the movie. The DVD package, featuring a brand new illustration by Inomata, is a bit disconcerting at first because her drawing style has changed fairly dramatically since this film was released in 1986 (the cover more closely resembles her illustrations for Brain Powerd). However, if you prefer her mid-'80s art styling, there is a very nice pin-up inside of all the characters drawn in the original style (this is the same piece that Streamline used for their VHS cover). On the reverse side of the pin-up are several B&W stills from the movie, a comment from Inomata, and an interview with director Kunihiko Yumama (who, strangely enough, went on to direct the Pokemon movies).



The DVD itself delivers an immaculate anamorphic video transfer that puts both of the Japanese laserdisc editions to utter shame; Ibelieve the video could be compared favorably to Miramax's Princess Mononoke disc, and this movie is 15 years old! The linear PCM audio is also clear and crisp, with no distortion or other problems that I could easily discern. The only downside to this DVD is that it is a pretty bare-bones disc. There are absolutely no extras on the disc itself, unless you count the menu, which simply contains a chapter list with a static image in the background. Missing are the trailer, the pilot film (which showed the characters with slightly different coloring than the final version), and the second audio track -- all of which were on the LD. The tradeoff is that they made use of that extra space to have the best audio and video possible, which is something I can't really complain about.



Birth was something of an experiment in the early days of direct-to-video anime (along with Greed, Nora, and Leda, it was one of very first OVA's). In order to depict the lengthy, high-speed chase scenes and other action set pieces, the animators actually painted the backgrounds directly on the cels for many cuts. The result is often dizzying, with the backgrounds moving just as much as the characters in some of the more frenzied sequences. The animators also made practically no effort to synch the characters' voices with the lip flap, instead concerning themselves mainly with synchronizing the animation to the synth-rock soundtrack For this reason, the "Making of Birth" documentary that is included on the DVD is especially welcome. I found the documentary, which guides the viewer through each stage of production, fascinating to watch. The DVD package sports a new illustration by character designer and animation director Iko Kanada, and there is a full-color pin-up inside featuring frame-by-frame stills from an assortment of animation sequences along with an interview with the producer. The video on the DVD is clear and vivid (like Windaria, this is an all-new transfer). Birth is a difficult anime to recommend; it is essentially an extended music clip replete with action and effects. It is more of a curiosity due to its animation technique than a coherent story.

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