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Personal Picks from the DVD Files
By Oliver Chin
Reprinted with permission by the author
It's been a while since I reported on how the consumer electronics and Hollywood giants had allied to push Digital Video Disks as the new and improved way to watch home entertainment. Now industry analysts report that 15 million DVD players have been sold in the US since the platform's introduction in 1997 (three times more than CD players and seven times more than VCRs during the same initial four year period), and predict there will be a total 10,00 software titles available in 2001.
Anime fans quickly adopted DVD and persistently push American producers to distribute as many titles as possible. Now it is common for these smaller publishers to release "day and date" (new titles available in both DVD and VHS simultaneously) just as the large studios do. Prices, thanks to web distribution, can be under $20 per disc, while the amount and variety of extra content (trailers, interviews, tracks) stretch the limits of storage capacity and design ingenuity. The market for DVD animation is so healthy that companies question how long they should still cater to the VCR audience.
Today viewers can enjoy browsing thru classics and current hits at the same time. A case in point is how Manga Entertainment has released the critically acclaimed epic "The Wings of Honneamise" and the fresh video-game adaptation of "Street Fighter Alpha" within two months of each other. So I've decided to pick a few of my favorite new titles that exemplify the best qualities of the platform: fast-paced action highlighted with innovative techniques, deft soundtracks, and clever yet fluid menu design. But the best trait that each share is that they leave the audience wanting more.
When I first saw this show, my eyes couldn't follow the action fast enough. Taking a spin on the common theme of "civilization is recovering from apocalypse but continues to flirt with global disaster", this plot delves into how the earth has become flooded to the point where nations have united with hi-tech submarines to fight genetically engineered marine mutants created by a renegade scientist. This series seamlessly blends 3D computer graphics (CG), stylized character designs, and intensely choreographed battle scenes while exploring a part of the world which is as taken for granted in real life as it is in the realm of entertainment. But periodically, just as with the movies The Abyss, Titanic or The Perfect Storm, public attention is refocused on the sea. In its own way, Blue Submarine is the most entertaining of the lot.
According to Nobu Yamamoto, Bandai Entertainment's marketing director, the OVA (original video animation) "was a big deal" in Japan, and has developed loyal support in America. The four volume enjoyed greater DVD sales than VHS, due to increased demand after appearing on the Cartoon Network in October 2000 (and is rerun in single episodes occasionally). Indeed Bandai has sown sudden and increasing success with TV distribution. Outlaw Star followed the big footsteps of Gundam Wing, and Escaflowne briefly aired on FoxKids and is now on Canada's YTV.
Confident in the long term prospects of DVD, starting in November 2000 Bandai begun releasing new series only in DVD starting with Tenamonya Voyagers. Gundam remains the only exception that is available in VHS. To cap off Blue Submarine, in April 2001 Bandai is releasing a special DVD "Toonami" movie version (135 minutes, edited for TV) at the low price $19.98.
Sol Bianca - The Legacy
DVD certainly has allowed older series to get resurrected. Previously with two VHS releases by ADV Films under its belt, Sol Bianca shows little signs of wear in the current 3 volume set (2 episodes each) published by Pioneer Entertainment. With the same mystical ship piloted by the same attractive crew of female space pirates (named by months of the year, captain April, spiritual Jun, earthy Feb, brawny Jani), this latest story takes flight, powered by exquisite CG and gorgeous photo-realism.
Directed by Hiroyuki Ochi, creator and director of Armitage III (Polymatrix and OVA), this series packs a punch at a more lyrical pace, as the feisty heroines aren't shy to fight as they travel through space. A better than average seller, Sol Bianca again has sold more in DVD. Pioneer's Marketing Manager Chad Kime notes that these fans "appreciate the clean look that an all-digital animation system can provide for DVD mastering." Its unique menu design fits the plot like a glove, and the soundtrack similarly compliments the narrative's fast pacing.
However, the computer animation makes this title standout. Scenes are staged quite beautifully, practically encouraging the viewer to freeze-frame them. Kime cites that the "100% Digital painting and camera work make this title noteworthy. Similar to the way in which Disney adopted a completely computerized ink and paint system, many of the studios in Japan are learning the techniques and refining their skills in these electronic systems that eliminate cels."
Neon Genesis Evangelion
This best-selling VHS buzzsaw was a long time coming in DVD for legions of impatient devotees. The only series with a American manga equivalent (comics and graphic novels by co-creator Yoshiyuki Sadamoto available from Viz), AD Vision has produced 7 DVDs to match the pre-existing 13 VHS tapes.
Tokyo again is in mortal danger! Having survived puzzling catastrophes already, Tokyo-3 is now under the protection of the techno-agency NERV to avert the next impending disaster. To the delight and confusion of viewers everywhere, human controlled giant robots and aliens are destined collide...with unanticipated and unexplained results.
However, this controversial series upends expectations of traditional narrative structure and plot development. Mysteries abound and the viewer is left hanging each episode with strands of information, waiting for the next clue to tie them together. Each volume tempts the audience with frenzied action sequences between huge gun-toting EVAs (piloted by patriotic yet immature teenagers whom we can all identify with) and cryptic, menacing space creatures. However these bursts of adrenaline turn out to be less frequent and less important than the interactions among the main characters and their psychological motivations.
The DVDs break new ground with four language tracks in stereo (English and Japanese plus Spanish and French) and provide extras include widescreen mode and character biographies. With that rocking theme song and crisp video presentation, this package is hard to beat. Over twice as long as the other anime series, Evangelion pulls off the difficult feat of being as (if not more) addictive by displaying enough clashes, panache and plot twists to satisfy any collector's appetite.
Oliver Chin is a professional media consultant. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.