Spiral Vol. #4 - Mania.com

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Spiral

Spiral Vol. #4

By Chris Beveridge     April 22, 2005
Release Date: April 26, 2005

Spiral Vol. #4
© FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.

What They Say
A high stakes game pits Eyes Rutherford’s steely nerves against an old friend. Strategy, precision and skill are the difference between freedom and conscription by the Blade Children. But when both Rio and Hiyono are taken captive by Hunters, Ayumu, Kousuke and Ryoko must team up to track them down.

The Review!
Trying to regain its momentum in the second half, the Hunters come into play in a more visible way and Ayumu finds his fate being tied closely to the Blade Children.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix is pretty solid with some moments of directionality apparent across the forward soundstage. There's a lot dialogue in this show and not quite as many action moments so a lot of what we do get is center channel based or has a full feeling to it. In checking out the other two mixes, the English stereo mix came across slightly louder which isn't unusual but the English 5.1 mix was significantly louder, enough that we had to turn the volume down quickly since it was such a difference. We didn't notice much in terms of directionality or clarity in the 5.1 mix as it was more just a volume different to our ears. We had no trouble with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of the Japanese language track.

Originally broadcast in 2003, the transfer for Spiral is presented here in its original full frame aspect ratio. With this being a recent show, the source materials are in tip top shape and are very clean and problem free. FUNimation has once again employed alternate angles for the opening and closing sequences where one angle has the English production credits being prominent and followed by a portion of the Japanese production team while the other angle retains the original Japanese text. The transfer in general here looks great though with bold solid colors that have only a few faint moments of blocking going on. Cross coloration and aliasing are virtually non-existent but there isn't exactly a lot of expressive animation in the show as it is very dialogue heavy with pans and stills.

Using some of the artwork from the Japanese DVD cover, Kousuke finally gets a cover to himself though Rio looks to be in the background a bit but at least she makes sense in being there since he's looking after her. The back cover plays off of this and provides a smattering of shots of the characters from the show in a spiral form. The top has a brief sentence to hook you in while below the artwork there's the standard summary information and a listing of the discs features and extras. This section is far better than many other recent FUNimation releases as it's very clean and clear and doesn't use bad colors on top of bad colors to get the info across. As seems to be more consistent with FUNimation, there's no insert with this release and I really like that trend.

The menu layout for the series is both attractive and bothersome at the same time. The backgrounds chosen, still images of the characters that are really beautifully done pieces of artwork, look great and really fit with the haunting piece of instrumental music chosen to go with it. The part I don't much care for is the renaming of the selections to things like "progression" for play or "skew" or "exponents" for extras. Maybe it makes sense later in the series but it doesn't seem to have any relation to it in these first episodes and it certainly doesn't for the first time viewer just getting into the show. The access times are solid though and submenus load nice and fast. As usual, we didn't bother wondering if the language presets we have worked due to the angles and odd way that FUNimation sets up their discs.

There are a few extras included on this volume. Both the opening and ending songs are included in textless format and there's an image gallery of shots from the show as well as a set of character profiles. There is also a brief piece called Prologue to the Series which is exactly what it seems. One new extra we do get on here is an audio commentary by the director and the two lead voice actors as they get to talk about the show and their take on it as they've been working on it. This is set to the first episode on the disc only.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the first half of Spiral, I had found a show that was at best going to be very predictable and repetitive based off of the first few episodes that then shifted gears into a longer and more interesting storyline as the Blade Children introduced themselves and challenged Ayumu in a game of wits and confidence in ones abilities. Through the second and third volumes, we got a pretty interesting storyline that continually upped the stakes and brought new revelations before it finally got its closure.

With this volume, we move into the second half of the show and the series has a huge problem right up front of needing to take the energy and momentum generated by the first half and running with it. Unfortunately, the first episode here is a recap episode that has Ayumu and Hiyono sitting down together to document what's gone on so far over the course of a day so that they don't forget any of the details. It's a fairly standard recap with some minor new animation mixed in and with a show like this where a lot has gone on, not entirely unwarranted, but the episode completely loses the forward push that the series had up until this point.

They do manage to recapture some of that energy though as the next three episodes progress, but it's not until the last episode almost that it really gets things into gear again. There's a lot of discussion about how things are now and what the Blade Children are up to but Ayumu finds himself being lightly scolded by Madoka again to stop interfering in things. For her part, she's finding her job more difficult as well as her senior there is actively encouraging her to find different work elsewhere. She still has leads she wants to follow up about her husbands disappearance but is being stymied at every turn, leaving her even more worried about her brother in laws fate.

The dynamic changes a bit as a new Blade Child is brought into play by Eyes as he needs one that had left the group some time ago. Ryoko, a very athletic and strong runner at the school, finds herself being confronted by Eyes in a competition that will determine whether she goes back to do what he requires, with the exception of killing someone, or whether she can continue to live her life free of their problems. She knows her limitations as a Blade Child and the problem of the Hunters but she'd much rather take her chances on her own. Her own past is explored and we find that she's got ties to Kousuke that become apparent again as Kousuke himself is being more used by Eyes now.

Eyes' plans get pushed to the side for awhile however when a pair of Hunters arrived and kidnap Rio and Hiyono and set up a trap in an abandoned hotel on the outskirts of town. Ayumu teams up with Kousuke and Ryoko to save them in what becomes similar to the previous arc in a way as they work through a series of traps using logic, leaps of logic and plenty of imagination towards the top floor where they're being held. It's a creative piece and it certainly gets things flowing again with the energy from the last arc but it also brings in some new revelations that help push the overall storyline forward as well. I wasn't sure if the series could recover from the last arc and get back to the same kind of feel but this arc does a really nice job of putting the pieces back into place and going forward again.

In Summary:
Spiral continues to be a strange show in a way because it's so hard to pin down what it really aims to do. A lot of things are still kept a mystery that shouldn't be but at the same time the lead characters are growing nicely, such as in this volume where Ayumu really gets his confidence and it changes how he proceeds in things. The addition of a new Blade Child doesn't feel terribly forced and helps to expand on things without overcrowding it either. The mysteries and puzzles are the main attraction to this show and they're done creatively with the hotel portion of this release. While I don't hold out hope for the show ending cleanly, I'm enjoying the ride much more than I expected when I saw the first volume of this series.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Series Prologue,Textless Songs,Image Gallery

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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