Mania Grade: A
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- Audio Rating: A
- Video Rating: A
- Packaging Rating: B
- Menus Rating: B
- Extras Rating: A
- Age Rating: 3 & Up
- Region: 1 - North America
- Released By: ADV Films
- MSRP: 24.98
- Running time: 90
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Sakura Wars / Sakura Taisen
Sakura Wars OVA 2 Vol. #1 : Return of the Spirit Warriors
By Robert "DarkSong" Piekut
September 03, 2002
Release Date: October 08, 2002
To quote one of Iris' favourite sayings - "WAI!". It's been a long time since the release of the first OAV, and almost unbearably painful for the Sakura Taisen fanatics like myself. Fair warning - if there's anything I like even more than CardCaptor Sakura, it's Sakura Taisen - Sakura Wars in R1 terminology. However, I'll do my best to remain as objective as possible for me in this review.
To my complete surprise and utter satisfaction, we got a Japanese 5.1 audio track with this release. I'd say that they made good use of the other channels in this release - it came across very well especially in parts of the first episode on the disc.
The English track is a normal stereo one, and I listened to it briefly to see if the VA's did any better a job than was done on the first OAV. I can say it's better, but I'm going to make a statement some people might find unpopular. Quite frankly, if you are watching this show with the English audio track, and it's not because you are physically incapable of reading subtitles - you are wasting your time. One of the MAJOR attractions of Sakura Taisen is the amazing voice acting talent that is in it. They are what have made the franchise the long running phenomenon that it continues to be to this day. They not only do the voices of the characters in the show, they all sing the songs you hear in the various performances, and the voice actors themselves regularly put on live shows featuring comedy skits, performances of songs from the shows and games, they sing and dance while dressed in character. It's not just a bunch of anime episodes, there is so much more to it than what we've seen here in Region 1. If this intrigues you at all, you owe it to yourself to listen to the Japanese audio track, and experience what the amazingly talented voice cast have done to turn their roles into living and breathing personalities that so many people have come to love. It would be a crime not to.
Wow! ADV managed to get a very good quality set of masters for this release, and it definitely shows in the finished product. I was unable to find any significant artifacting at all, and only noticed what Chris mentioned in his review after reading his and looking for the problems specifically. And I've got to admit that the displaying of either the Japanese or English VA's in the OP sequence depending on the audio track selected is a very nice touch. One thing to note is that if you watch using a DVD-Rom, and you do NOT use the DVD menu to set the audio tracks, you may not get the proper VA's displayed in the OP sequence. Not a big issue, but something to mention since it is NOT a problem with the disc itself, but in how some software players interact with it.
Ugh - this would have been a straight "A" review if it wasn't for the cover and the menus. The keepcase I got is one of those 3 piece Amarayish-style hubs that I like, even if it's no so easy to get a disc out, it does a good job of keeping it in the case securely. The insert is a small poster featuring all eight of the girls of the Tokyo squad, with interviews with the chief Producer and the Music Director for the show, which is really neat to have. My grief with this release is the cover, however. I'll say that the spine is nice that it's numbered, and the back has all the features and the technical info clearly laid out, as well as some interesting shots from the episodes. My beef is the front cover and the overall colour choice. I would love to know what went through the person's head that decided to go with this horrid gold colour for the cover. Rather than lending a warm glow style to the cover - which I'm assuming was the intent - it instead manages to give everything a washed-out appearance. YUCK!! And then the images they chose to use for the cover - first off, there is this tiny image of Maria holding her pistol in the upper-right corner as part of a small banner containing the volume number and the volume title. It doesn't stand out at all; in fact it kind of disappears into the background with the lack of colour contrast used. In the centre of the cover we have images of Sakura and Sumire, and below them pictures of Kohran's and Oghami's Koubu, with the Sakura Wars title right below that as well. Finally there is a dusting of falling sakura petals, but with the colour combination of the gold and the pale pink of the petals - they are nigh invisible.
I'm sorry, and with apologies to whomever did the work on the cover - but it looks like a hackneyed Photoshop job from a bunch of artwork lying around. If you've ever seen the actual R2 covers for all six volumes of this OAV, you'd see the amazing artwork out there for this. I do understand that often the rights for the R2 artwork cannot be secured, but I truly believe that something better than this could have been made. This looks like the work of a hung-over intern, or a first year art student. I was not happy to see this cover, and that alone is enough to knock it down a full letter grade.
Ugh, part two. The menus keep the same washed out colour effect due to the gold overdose. The layout itself is nice and efficient, and is snappy to use. We get music playing along with the menus, either the Overture OP piece, or a softer, mellower piece, depending on which menu you are on. There are also background bits of animation going on as well. However, due to the overpowering use of the gold colour background, and what I feel seems to be a heavy-handed abuse of the "diffuse" filter in Photoshop, the images in the menu backgrounds are so softened to the point where they are fuzzed-out and unattractive. Once again I am cursing out whomever was responsible for the artwork on this as well, and I'm sad to say that I am docking it a whole letter grade here as well.
I'll admit that I'm usually not too big on extras, as normally here in Region 1 we get the short end of the stick for that stuff, as compared to Region 2. However, when I heard the extras list for this disc, I'll admit to starting to drool. And once I actually got the disc, I must say I was not disappointed one bit. The first thing we get is a clean opening sequence featuring the original logo, which is always nice. The production sketches, rather than being the usual collection of images to flip through you normally, is an extensive slideshow with music playing and commentary on the various images displayed. I was really happy to see it done like this, as you got some info you might ordinarily only get if you had someone translate the text in an artbook for you. Next are the character bios, and I agree with Chris on that if you're a newbie to the show, you won't get enough information from these bios. But those of us who are Sakura Taisen fanatics like myself might be amused by the character bios. They also include the cover and insert artwork from the R2 discs - and let me tell you, take a look at the R1 cover, and then take a look at the R2 ones, and you'll see why I'm so unsatisfied with what we got in R1.
Lastly, and the one that made me the happiest to see, is the Original Japanese promos, which include trailers for the first 2 Sakura Taisen games for the Sega Saturn/Dreamcast, and 2 of the live action musicals. And unlike the Utena musical, (which is a real horrorshow) or the Sailor Moon ones - both of which take themselves FAR too seriously, the Sakura Taisen musicals are mostly comedic, with it looking like the entire cast is just having a lot of fun. Needless to say, R2 DVDs of the musicals are on my to-buy list.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This OAV series takes place, in the game continuity, between the 2nd and 3rd games. Oghami has just been given orders to go study in France, and each episode starts off with him packing to leave. In the prelude sequence of each episode he finds a particular item, and the rest of the episode tells the story of how he got said item. The first episode deals with Maria's past as a revolutionary and a mobster coming back to haunt her, and how she deals with it. The second one is about Iris, what happens when she has a temper tantrum and decides she's had enough of the constant rehearsals, and decides to have a day out on the town - with all the ensuing havoc that occurs. The last episode features the Hanagumi filming their first motion picture, and dealing with the vengeful ghost of a silent movie star who's determined that nobody but her can be THE star of the show. Sumire, of course, has her own feelings on who the real star is.
If you got this disc expecting to see them fighting in their mecha, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed, because the only time the Koubu appear, is in the Opening sequence. However, if you wanted to see more interaction between the members of the troupe - you'll definitely get it here. Also, since this takes place after the second game, those people only familiar with the members from the first OAV will see a few new faces. You meet two new squad members, Reni and Orihime -who is my personal favourite of the Tokyo squad - and the very amusing mobster "Dandy Boss" and his 2 henchmen. However, since a lot of the appeal of the Sakura Taisen franchise is not merely in the mecha combat, but the character development, those of us that have played the games will find this a delight to watch.
Thinking back to what got me hooked on the Sakura Taisen franchise, for me it's a combination of things. The setting - Taisho era Japan combined with a rather "steampunk" era of technology - the steampunk genre has fascinated me for quite some time. It is handled well in these stories - with enough attention to technical details to make it entertaining, but not so much as to make it tedious. The other thing that sold me on the franchise is the character designs. The games used Fujishima's designs, and they were carried over rather well to the anime, too. I'm a sucker for anything Fujishima Kosuke has done. And finally, the characters themselves - and the work the voice actresses have put into making them someone you feel that you truly have come to know. Unfortunately, most of that came through playing the games, and not from watching the anime.
As much as I dearly love Sakura Taisen, I also have to say that it's hard to recommend the OAV's to someone who knows nothing about it. The majority of the character development and plot occurs in the games, and the anime they've put out seems more like something they have done for the fans of the games. Of course, with as insanely popular as it is in Japan, it's understandable why they have made the OAV's. For those without any real foreknowledge of the Sakura Taisen, I'd recommend waiting for ADV's upcoming release of the TV series. The series is a retelling of the events of the first game, and although some of the character traits are different, it will give people a better idea to what this is all about. Then by all means come back and revisit the OAV's.
1) RCA 25" TV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE845 DD/DTS receiver, S-video cables, Fibre optic audio out to receiver, Paradigm speakers. 2) Toshiba MD-1612 DVD-Rom, PowerDVD 4.0, ViewSonic G810 monitor