Tokyo Underground Vol. #1 (also w/box) - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: C+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B-
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
  • MSRP: 29.98/39.98
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Tokyo Underground

Tokyo Underground Vol. #1 (also w/box)

By Chris Beveridge     January 26, 2005
Release Date: February 15, 2005


Tokyo Underground Vol. #1 (also w/box)
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.


What They Say
Deep under the ground of the capital city of Tokyo exists a forgotten sunless world called “Tokyo Underground.” From this world, two mysterious figures, Chelsea Rorec and Ruri Sarasa come escaping and find a temporary safe haven in the home of Rumina Asagi. Ruri is called the "Maiden of Life" and an important personage in the underground world. Chelsea is Ruri's bodyguard and she helps her escape. Villains chasing them appear on Rumina's doorstep and the fierce fight continues. Ruri’s miraculous power wakens Rumina’s latent Wind Powers. Rumina resolves to protect Ruri from the evil forces using his new-found strength and sets off on his long journey.

The Review!
Fleeing from the Company, two women arrive in Tokyo after surviving a harrowing escape from… below Tokyo?

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series is fairly action based at a lot of times so there are a fair amount of audio moments where directionality comes into play, such as the movements of the wind and blade fights. The dialogue doesn't get spread too far across the forward soundstage though but comes across well and is clean and clear throughout. In listening to both language tracks, we didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2002, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Tokyo Underground is one of those series of the past few years that really stands out as being a digitally painted show in that the characters tend to stand out more against the backgrounds and not blend into their settings quite as well, sometimes almost looking like they're really on top of things and not part of things. The transfer captures this feeling from the source material and overall it's a very good looking transfer. The series has a lot of bold vibrant colors and a couple of visual tricks that could play havoc with an encoding but it's well handled here. Gradient and blocking issues within the colors are virtually non-existent, aliasing and cross coloration isn't an issue and the black and white filtered scenes look good without any noticeable break-up. While the show itself may not look the best, the transfer does a great job of representing the source materials.

Packaging:
The Japanese release of the series featured a single character on each cover, something which is lost with Geneon's release as the opening cover is likely using the rental version artwork which has a group shot of the lead trio of characters from these first couple of episodes. It's a decent looking piece though there isn't all that much detail to the characters nor to the fairly indistinct red and black background. The back cover is well laid out with a strip of action shots from the show along the left while the right side provides a good summary of the premise and goes into detail listing the episode numbers and titles as well as the discs extras. The basic features and production information are mixed into smaller type below though and gets a bit hard to read in some places but isn't too bad. The insert replicates the front cover artwork while the reverse side lists the episode numbers and titles on this volume and release dates for the remainder of the series.

Menu:
The menu layout is nicely done and kept in tune with how some of the animation plays out in the show. Using a black and white line filter that appears behind the characters at key moments during the show, it plays havoc with the animation running underneath it in full screen mode here where we get both bits of animation from the show and its opening sequence, all set to some really creepy music when tied to this kind of look. The selections also "warble" in and out along the bottom except for whatever is actually highlighted which is left easy to read in a bold and brighter white. This is a neat looking menu that's designed with an interesting twist to it. The layout is easy to figure out and navigation is problem free. The disc also correctly read our players language presets and played accordingly.

Extras:
The extras for this release are pretty minimal for the first volume. The profiles section is one of those that I really wonder why they do them since it's just a single character shot and barely a sentence or two about the character. On the plus side, we get both a clean version of the opening sequence as well as the original Japanese text opening.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sometimes even when a show isn't based on a video game it can't help but to feel like one. Tokyo Underground, based on the manga running in Monthly Shonen Gangan, certainly comes up with an interesting premise but has a hard time really executing it in an interesting way as well as providing the right kind of characters to deal with it.

The series kicks off rather fun at first as we have two young women on the run in what's easily identified as an underground hallway. The taller blonde, Chelsea, is obviously defending the younger purple haired girl named Ruri, as there is a small troop of darkly clad helmeted men who want to capture them. Led by a red-haired cackling man who feels that he's got them trapped at long last, he's surprised to learn that they're as close to the surface as they are once Chelsea reveals that the water dripping in is actually rain from above. Before anyone can act, she wields her special power of gravity and thrusts it up into the ceiling, causing a cave-in around them and allowing them to escape up into the surface world.

Paralleling that, we're introduced to a young man named Rumina who is starting off his new high school career today. Like a lot of other young men who live only with their grandfather in older style homes, he has to face a litany of challenges each morning as spears, traps and other things try to snare him on his way to the front gate. To his surprise though, his grandfather has left him a note saying he's heading off to the hot springs for awhile to celebrate Rumina's becoming a high school student but ensures that his training must continue. Rumina's trying to get away from all of this since he spent much of his junior high school life being the "king of fighters" and having to deal with fights every day from challengers. What he wants now is a rose-colored academic career where he'll get to hold the hand of a young woman and become something more.

This doesn't last long once he reaches school since a couple of seniors are already giving a couple of freshman some grief over their holding of hands since they're a couple. Being who he is, and reacting before thinking, Rumina ends up taking them down quickly and then panics about it. Hoping maybe that they'll see him as a savior and thank him for it, they instead all pull back not wanting anything to do with him. Well, except for his continual best friend named Ginnosuke, a bespectacled young man who is just a touch too easily excited. So before his career has even started, it's over and Rumina prepares himself for the return of daily fighting.

Rumina's in more for than he expects though as that evening at his house, the front walkway starts to crumble and out of a sinkhole that crops up there comes Chelsea and Ruri. Surprised at the idea of attractive women crawling out of holes, he helps them as much as possible and tries to get a handle on the situation. Chelsea's actually fairly decent about giving out a bit of information and talks about where they're from and that they were trying to escape the Underground so that she could take Ruri to somewhere where the real wind blows or to see real flowers that she actually loses track of Ruri, who stepped out during the dialogue with Rumina so he could show her a real flower garden. While he's not howling at the moon, Rumina finds himself smitten with the attractive young woman and does his best to impress her.

This includes his bravado when those seeking Chelsea and Ruri come calling above ground at his house and storm onto the property ready for a fight. With his kind of skill and youthful energy, Rumina's ready to rumble with the bad guys to salvage some of his rose colored life he can see having with Ruri and leaps to get involved after Chelsea finds herself and her gravity powers too weak after their escape. This is where things start to get interesting since as we've learned that there are people with powers from the Underground, there aren't any on the surface world like that. The way events unfold with a powerful and skilled force against a rough and tumble lad isn't unexpected but how Rumina handles things after being touched by Ruri is as he starts to use the power of Wind, a power that's not been known in the underground for as long as memory serves.

With Rumina apparently having a power, this makes him a new unknown when it comes to the Company and those that are after Ruri for her own rare powers. Instead of being ignored or just tossed to the side outright, he becomes an active part of the plan by those from below to be captured. Unfortunately, this turns into an attack of the week kind of gig and we get a variety of attackers in just the first five episodes of the series as they try to retrieve Ruri as their primary goal but also to figure out what this wind controller is all about. What time isn't spent fighting is often given to Rumina showing the girls a bit of his world and letting them experience the open nature of things, something you'd think they'd almost be frightened of. We don't actually get a lot of discussion about the Underground world nor any real visuals of it to see what it's like. The most is a few words from Ruri about it being enclosed and lots of hallways and rooms but that's it, and that unfortunately is one of the weak parts of the show.

With such an interesting concept behind it, to not really give much of anything on it seems like a crime in a way. While we do get some interesting fight sequences with powered up people using things like water, gravity and fire as well as Rumina's own wind powers, the real mystery is what the Underground is like and how it could be as undiscovered as it was for as long as it was. Then there's the actual problem of if it's self-contained and doesn't have any wide open spaces, shouldn't those who come up to the surface be freaking out over such exposures? I know, too much reality inside of anime is not allowed.

In Summary:
Between that and the look of the show, which is a bit too glossy at times and just has that feeling of being similar to a video game plot, Tokyo Underground doesn't come out swinging too hard with what it has to try and attract and keep a viewer. The first couple of episodes aren't bad but I have to wonder how well it did in retaining an audience on a weekly basis since each episode is decent but nothing that really screams to tune in again next week. A more group viewing such as the five episodes on this first volume may help the show flow better and to keep a persons interest since things do happen and there are some interesting possibilities to follow through with here. The series has opened fairly weak but not terrible and there's plenty of potential wrapped up in this entire Underground aspect that really hasn't even been touched yet.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Japanese Opening,Textless Opening

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, Monster Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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