Spirit of Wonder - Mania.com

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 2 - Europe
  • Released By: Beez
  • MSRP: £24.99
  • Running time: 135
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Spirit of Wonder

Spirit of Wonder

By Dani Moure     May 04, 2006
Release Date: April 24, 2006

Spirit of Wonder
© Beez

What They Say
Based on the characters from the original manga by Kenji Tsuruta, Spirit of Wonder is a 5 OAVs series, produced in 1991 by Studio AJIADO (Street Fighter 2 - The Movie, Ruin Explorers). This series is made of a two-parts story: 'The Scientifics Boys Club', directed by Takashi Anno (Yoma, Dark Myth, Hakkenden) which tells the childhood stories of a group of three boys who dream of finding out if there is really life on Mars or not. The second part consists of 'The Shrinking of Miss China', 'The Planet of Miss China' and an unreleased in the US episode called 'The Drinking of Miss China', directed by Masaya Fujimori (Pokemon, The Movie - Inuyasha, The Movie).

The Review!
An interesting premise, a nice cast of characters, and a lack of a fulfilling story. That just about sums up Spirit of Wonder.

I listened to the first OVA and the bonus short in the Japanese stereo track, and the rest in the English stereo track. I noticed no technical problems at all on either track, and these are pretty solid stereo mixes.

The English dub is from New Generation Pictures, one of my favourite dubbing studios, and has some great performances along with an accurate script that flows extremely naturally. All the voices retain the same endearing qualities of their Japanese counterparts, which is a feat in itself.

Spirit of Wonder looks pretty good throughout, as I only noticed a few instances of cross colouration while watching the disc. The colours aren't all that vibrant, but that seems to be the almost dull nature of the source material more than anything else. I didn't notice any other artefacts during regular playback.

Subtitles were white in an easy to read font, although there were a few spots of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

Beez have produced a really solid package for this release. Coming in a fold out digipak, the cover features a really nice image of Miss China standing over the Earth on the front, with the show's logo at the top. The company logo is kept small to the bottom right, while the BBFC rating is a small sticker on the cover. The back of the digipak is black with a kanji imprint on it, along with production credits. Inside we have a gorgeous image of all the cast of the Scientific Boys Club, along with another image of Wendy standing with the airship in the background. The illustrations really are gorgeous here.

Also included is a four page booklet featuring an interview with the director of Scientific Boys Club on the inside, the cast image on the front and production credits on the back (though sadly, no English dub credits).

The main menu on the first disc begins with a short sequence of all the cast in The Scientific Boys Club, before going to a themed graphic with a blue hue, and clips from the OVA playing faded in the background as the theme from this OVA plays. The one sub-menu is just static text on a still from the OVA.

The main menu on disc two opens with a rather extensive animated sequence of Miss China from one of the shorts, before going into a themed image with clips from the Planet of Miss China short. Selections are all across the centre, and a theme from the show plays in the background. Sub-menus are all static with no music but follow the same graphical theme. Access times are fast after the initial animations, and the menus fit the show well.

The big extra here is the subtitled only short episode "Miss China's Sakazuki", an episode that was not present on the US release (hence the lack of a dub). It's a great inclusion as I can only assume it was part of some sort of special limited edition or something in Japan, so it's great that Beez have brought it over. There are also two TV spots and a bunch of character profiles to keep you interested.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I didn't know a great deal about Spirit of Wonder before I watched this review copy, other than remembering it was a title I was planning to pick up at some point in the future. Having watched the OVAs now, I'm still not quite sure what to make of it. On the one hand, the main story here is a great tale of believing in your dreams and seeing them through, even when everyone thinks you're a bit crazy for doing so, but on the other it has to be said that not a great deal really happens, and the pacing is such that it feels at times as if the show is just meandering along without purpose.

The first disc in the two-disc set presents the main feature, a two part OVA entitled "The Scientific Boys Club". These two episodes follow a young couple, Jack and Windy. The two clearly care deeply for each other, but much of Jack's time tends to be spent at group meetings with the rest of The Scientific Boys Club - a group of old men, one of whom is Windy's father. The group is trying to build a machine that will take them to Mars, using the "Ethereal Currents" that exist throughout the universe according to the book on the theory they believe in.

That book was written by Windy, and although she's pretty much given up on anyone taking her seriously, the club members are certain they will realise their dreams of reaching Mars. They all meet up every day, and it's almost guaranteed that Jack will turn up drunk every night from drinking with the old men. Windy is never really sure what to do about it; she loves Jack and understands what he's doing but she just wants to live a regular life. That is, until the club members, and Jack in particular convince her to help, since it's her theory they're using and she is a master of maths. The old men use Jack as bait to draw her on board, but do eventually lift off in their concocted airship in the hope of reaching the red planet.

Watching this first set of OVAs was a strange experience for me. For the first fifteen minutes or so I was pretty bored, but then towards the end of episode 1 and into episode 2 things really started to pick up a bit more, as things got moving on building the craft and actually getting on their way towards Mars. There's actually a fair amount to like here. The characters are a really good bunch and their hearts are all in the right places. Sure, Windy's dad tricks her into joining them and uses Jack to do it, but it's quite funny and in the end all he really wants is to get to Mars along with the others. One of the old men is a complete pervert, yet again he's quite an endearing character. Windy is perhaps most endearing of them all, as for all her annoyance at what Jack does, she sticks by him and is extremely loyal, wanting to see his dreams come true as well. Jack is perhaps a bit selfish in what he does but his love for his wife is clear, and the two really do make a great pair.

The sense of wonder is something that's readily apparent throughout the episodes as well, as the characters just want to achieve what they set out to long ago. And yet even with a nice cast and that fulfilling sense of achievement, I couldn't help but be a bit disappointed. I don't really know why as I had no expectations going in, it just felt like there wasn't much meat to the story and in the end, not a great deal was achieved (not in terms of what the characters achieve, but in terms of the story). It's something that's hard to put into words as it's really just a feeling, but it was there and put a damper on things a bit.

The second disc is made up of three shorts focussing on Miss China, who appears briefly in the episodes on the first disc, and appears to have been the main character in the original OVA. The longest one is "Planet of Miss China", running at just under twenty minutes, this one is a nice exploration of what it would be like if Miss China went to Mars (and even fought a monster while there). Dr Breckenridge is present throughout the shorts, along with a character named Jim who seems to rent a room at Miss China's restaurant, and looks remarkably like Jack (but then Miss China bears more than a passing resemblance to Windy).

"Shrinking of Miss China" is the second short, running just over ten minutes, and is pretty funny as one of Breckenridge's machines inadvertently shrinks Miss China gradually down to mere inches. It's amusing to see her go about her daily routine, and also quite sweet to see how the people around her all react to her change. The final short is "Miss China's Sakazuki", a bonus subtitled only episode not found on the other English language releases. This one sees China travel to Bristol here in England to learn about her family's classic ways of distilling alcohol. The most interesting thing for me in this episode was seeing the Japanese take on the UK in anime form. As for the shorts overall, while there's little plot point to them at all, they're all quite nice and fun in their own ways, showing different sides of Miss China.

In Summary:
Spirit of Wonder is just a strange one to try and sum up. On the one hand you have a nice cast of characters and a true sense of wonder in their adventure, with feelings of warmth emanating from it all. On the other, there's a feeling that not a lot happens and in the end it all seems a little unfulfilling and, dare I say, pointless? Whether you'll enjoy this will come down to what you want out of it. Looking for a really interesting plot with twists and turns? Look elsewhere. But if you want to see a nice little character-driven tale, this may be up your alley.

Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (2.0),English Subtitles,Bonus Short: Drinking of Miss China,TV Spots,Character Profiles

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Philips DVP5100 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.


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