Popotan Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B-

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: C+
  • Extras Rating: B-
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
  • MSRP: 24.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Popotan

Popotan Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     November 16, 2004
Release Date: December 07, 2004


Popotan Vol. #1
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.


What They Say
A mysterious traveling house and its inhabitants, three sisters and their odd maidservant, travel between dimensions from town to town and the three sisters must deal with the new people they meet without revealing the secret about their home. With no parents, the eldest sister, Ai, must take care of her siblings especially the youngest of the three, Mii, who has a strange obsession with anything soft or squishy- even monstrous beasts! Mai, the mostly-normal middle child, loves school and friends- unfortunately, the vagabond lifestyle forced upon her family by their house makes it very difficult for her to keep any friends?

The Review!
Popotan has many descriptions but none of them seem to really classify it properly.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series has a fairly simple stereo mix but it's not utilized all that much since it’s a pretty dialogue heavy show that doesn't really do much, even with incidental sounds and the like. The music uses both channels and reminds you that they do exist when it kicks in though both it and the dialogue come across well. We had no issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2003, Popotan is presented here in its anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio for this transfer. Overall, this is a very pleasing transfer but there are parts of it that look like they're intentionally off but having not seen the original I can't be sure. The colors for the show are very vibrant and richly drawn from in order to give it a very positive and happy feel. From the characters hair to their outfits and home, it's a great palette of colors but one that also mixes in a lot of the standard real world colors. Some scenes come across a bit softer than I expected considering how sharp and clear the show is in general but it may be intentional for those scenes in order to give it more warmth and feeling. The only noticeable problem, and it's very muted here due to the combination of my player and my monitor, is that there seems to be some cross coloration showing up along the edges of the characters hair, particularly if they're darker colored.

Packaging:
Geneon continues to work well with the Japanese cover art as the cover this time around has Ai in her usual outfit front the Japanese first volume regular edition, though it looks like the background artwork has changed from a more wintry feel to a tanpopo feel here. The artwork is nice and crisp and richly colored with a great amount of detail to it. Combined with the background it looks really good and provides a warm feeling right from the start. The back cover continues the flower theme with a layer of them along the bottom and a big blue sky above. The sky section has a breakdown of the four stories to be found inside while the flower section contains all of the technical and basic production information. The insert artwork is similar to the front cover but has Ai without the hat and Unagi popping out of her bosom. This opens up to a two page spread that talks about the various characters that we encounter during these episodes while the back lists the projected months of release for the other two volumes. Geneon also scored reversible covers with this release; the main panel uses the artwork of Konami from Japanese DVD volume 5 where she's got the beach and sky behind her while the other side uses the same setting but has her skirt flipping up in the wind and a surprised expression on her face. Fanservice or fanservice free covers. Bless 'em all.

Menu:
The menu style used here has shown up in a couple of Geneon releases lately and for some reason it still doesn't sit right with me but I can't quite put my finger on it. The layout is nice enough with the shot of Ai from the cover here set against the countryside with plenty of tanpopo around and the Popotan logo next to her with it making all sorts of blips and bloops along the way. There's a bit of nice animation to it overall and it's not overly distracting or simply too much. The selection layout is where the problem lays with the extras and setup being placed together. It just doesn't feel right to do it that way, especially since they then put the previews on the top level when tradition (which I admit can and should change at times) has it in the extras section. The other problem is that like one or two other recent releases, the sign/song subtitle track is placed first, so language defaults grab that instead of the full English translation.

Extras:
The extras for the opening volume are pretty slim with just an art gallery and a textless opening.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Popotan is probably one of the stranger shows I've seen recently and one of the ones that's really hard to peg down as to what it really is all about. At first, it seems like it's going to be one then and then it surprises you by doing the complete opposite. And again and again and again. At least the mystery of what Popotan is is revealed quite early on in the series.

First, Popotan is based on a video game so that can cover some of the oddness of the show. What we have is an extravagant large house out in the countryside that has a Christmas tree on top of it and lots of ribbons and trim. Inside the house, three women run the Christmas store that's there while a fourth serves as something of a maid and general clean-up person for the others. In the opening story, a young boy comes to the house with his camera in order to take pictures of the ghosts that supposedly reside there so that he can make a fellow classmate, Asuka, feel better since she believes ghosts exists but is routinely laughed at by her other classmates.

Daichi is surprised when he gets there however that there are actually people living inside and it's not an abandoned house at all. He quickly ends up running into the eldest of three sisters, Ai, as she's coming out of the bathroom and loses her towel. She's not shy about it but she's not flaunting it and is more concerned about his welfare than her modesty. Ai's a very overendowed beauty with green hair and an eternal smile that wears a Christmas styled outfit at all times. She's quickly cast aside as the youngest sister, Mii, arrives on the scene and is instantly attracted to Daichi and his "puffy" soft skin. She's the typical hyperactive young child who is all over the map. So what's left? The middle-aged serious sister named Mai who is concerned about her chest size and the fact that Daichi simply walked into their house and could be charged with assault based on what happened with Ai.

The oddest of the characters though is Mea, the maid/servant of the house. She's very quiet, very serious and only says what's really required of her. During most of the first episode I think you could easily think she's a robot considering how controlled her emotions are as well as the way they designed her, from the thick lochs of hair to the almost gray like skin. There's even some lines across her that would let you think she was made in parts. But as the episodes go on, you get to know her a bit better and she's less stiff and quiet than she is in the first episode. She does however retain the mysterious image better than everyone else.

As you get to the end of the first episode, you can get a feel for how it's going to go. Daichi's a fairly cute boy and the girls overall like him, even Mai starts to get a bit soft around the kid as time goes on and you can see them all encouraging him towards Asuka while having fun with him themselves. But as Daichi comes to visit them to tell them about what's happened, their house is gone and never to be seen again. What we learn from here and into the next three episodes is that the group is traveling around the country looking for fields of popotan, which is just a backwards spelling of tanpopo, the Japanese word for dandelions. Ai is able to communicate with the plants and is having all sorts of conversations with them wherever they travel to search them out, but the reason for the search continues to be a mystery.

Each of the four episodes has a tale focused around one of the girls and someone they come across in their journeys and how it all affects them and their relationships with the others. The search for the dandelion fields serves as the method to get them to move and it allows them to have some strange mysterious powers as you can imagine them to be something more than human now but the crux of it is the stories of humanity. Mai deals with trying to cope with the heartbreak of continually moving and not having friends while Mii dresses up as a magical girl and tries to spread her own kind of happiness and joy to others. As character stories, they're pretty mild and inoffensive. They certainly don't challenge much but they're the kind of nice simple stories that can warm you up a bit and bring a small smile to your face.

It's easy to see how this would all work well within a video game since that's the shows origins. The character designs also give some nod to that I think with their somewhat generic look at times but they manage to come off rather well in the long run. The designs are very clean in their faces but they make up for it with some good outfits that they wear and the overall style of the character with the big vivid eyes and the hairstyles. As is the norm for shows like these, where you get your basic stereotypes for designs, it's the secondary characters that are the most interesting. Konami comes across as one of the more interesting looking characters and she even snares some cover art from the Japanese run. Miyuki's another one that just comes across better, especially when compared against Mii in the cosplay outfits.

In Summary:
Going into Popotan, I was expecting yet another harem anime and thought that was what I was going to get as the first episode played out. But as that progressed and the dynamic changed, I wasn't quite sure what I was getting anymore. There's a soft and almost lyrical quality to the show in what it's trying to do but it's still just on the first few notes and it's hard to say what it's all really about. Part of me is very leery based on the fact that it's an anime from a video game but another part of me is intrigued by the mystery of the popotan and what the girls are after. The series looks to be very character based and revolving around character interaction issues so there's going to be a fair amount of slow paced episodes and the occasional hyper-charged Mii episode but it does look like it's avoiding the harem mentality pretty well. I'm not sure of the target audience here and I can't even be sure if I'm actually really interested in it or whether it's just given me enough of a mystery to hook me back. Popotan for now defies any real explanation.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Art Gallery,Textless Ending

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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