Tokyology Vol. #1 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A

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  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: A
  • Extras Rating: A
  • Age Rating: All
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: nightjar
  • MSRP: N/A
  • Running time: 68
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Tokyology

Tokyology Vol. #1

By Mark Thomas     April 18, 2008

Tokyology Vol. #1
© nightjar

What They Say
TOKYOLOGY is a documentary exploring contemporary Japanese pop-culture.

Vicariously experience the diverse and colorful attractions of the world's largest city, as
Carrie Ann Inaba guides you through the legendary crowds of Tokyo.

Have fun at the blasphemous Christon Cafe, sneak behind the scenes at a Japanese Rock TV show that pretends it's shot in Los Angeles, stroll around fashionable Harajuku, go clubbing with outrageously costumed goths, or end the night at a super-stylish hair salon that is open for business until eight in the morning.

But there's more to Tokyo than crazy nightlife and entertainment: from anime to architecture, political art to gaming, from shopping and style to the Cherry Blossom festival, the city has something for everyone, and its share of surprises, too!

The Review!
Providing a bit of a different look at Tokyo, Tokyology Vol. 1 is a blast for anybody interested in Japanese culture.

Audio for this release is offered in both stereo and DTS Surround, which needs a DTS capable receiver. If a DTS capable receiver is not present, then selecting that option will provide no sound. Not having one, I was stuck listening to the stereo track, but it sounded really nice. They did a nice job making sure that Ms. Inaba and her interviewees could be heard over any of the hustle and bustle, loud music, or other commotion happening virtually everywhere she went; and when she would stop talking, that background noise came through well, helping to give a sense of the atmosphere.

The show itself is bi-lingual, as Inaba speaks mostly in English, but will switch to Japanese when necessary when talking to people. That said, the switch seems to be somewhat arbitrary as there are times she asks things in English and gets Japanese responses. It is a bit jarring the first few times it happens, but I got used to it fairly quickly. When people are speaking in Japanese, there are white subtitles with black outlines. Though not the more easily seen yellow as in many releases these days, there is never a time when the subtitles get lost in the picture.

In a pleasant surprise, this release has a 16:9 aspect ratio and enhanced for anamorphic playback. Though a standard definition release, it was shot in high definition, and it looks very nice. Even though Tokyo is filled with bright colors and lights, not to mention the various clothing styles of the people, the images were crisp and clean, with no bleeding or other technical foul-ups; and being in widescreen, we get broad views on the street scenes, which helps us see more easily the people going about their daily business around the presenter.

For the most part, the packaging is pretty basic, but well designed. Tokyology Vol. 1 comes in a digipak that has a red and white motif, referencing the Japanese flag. The front and the back both have the same faint, black and white picture of a crowded city street with a red filter on large portions on the image. The front just has the title information in white over the red sections, while the back has some screen shots, summary, and technical details.

The interior of the digipak has the same pictures from the outside, but the left flap is all red with the Tokyology Vol. 1 logo in the middle, while the right is all white. The right flap holds the disc, which is mostly red, but has an imprint of a busy street, though this focused a little higher to get some of the high rises in.

While a simple design, I do like it, except for one detail: despite being the same dimensions as a thinpak, the hinge of the digipak is along one of the short ends, rather than the standard long end. This means that either the case does not fit well on a DVD shelf as it sticks out, or the title cannot be seen if it is standing up. Considering how well the rest of the show is put together, I found this to be an odd choice, and a bit of a disappointing one.

The main menu follows the same theme as the packaging: an image of a city street with the top two thirds being red and the bottom white, yet now that image is a video instead. Selections for play, audio, segments, and extras are aligned to the left of center along the bottom of the red portion, and the Tokyology Vol. 1 logo is in the top right. In transitioning between menus, the background video continues playing, while the line separating the red section form the white rotates and moves into a new position giving a new look to the submenu. For the segments selection, they used a good amount of chapters, providing a break at the end of each section of the feature. Overall, these menus are easy to use and very stylish.

There are three extras available on this disc. The main extra is a commentary track with co-producers Julian and Felix Mack, which covers the entire feature. Unlike many commentary tracks, familiarity with the main feature is a must since all original audio from has been cut. Julian and Felix have some really interesting things to say here about why they made some of the decisions that they did.

Other than the commentary track, there is a blooper reel that runs about four minutes, and my personal favorite is a ten minute photo slide show from all areas of the main documentary set to some cool music. This slide show had some really beautiful, and some really fascinating, shots of the people, buildings, and scenery they witnessed during filming.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Tokyology Vol. 1 marks the first in house release for Nightjar, a company usually known for digital sound production, particularly in the anime community. If it is not obvious by the name, this documentary takes a look at Tokyo, Japan; however, it does not look at the traditional aspects of Tokyo and Japan, such as sushi or tourist spots, that are covered ad nauseum in other places. Instead, Tokyology Vol. 1 takes to the streets in an effort to examine modern fashion, pop culture, and just basic everyday life in the world's largest and most populous city. The result is a portrait of Tokyo that works well as a guide for emmigraters if not tourists.

Hosted by Carrie Ann Inaba, Tokyology Vol. 1 looks at fifteen different segments of life in Tokyo. Some of these segments examine entire districts, such as Harajuku or Akihabara, whereas others look at something smaller like an interesting business, park, or TV show. Each segment is made up of Ms. Inaba interviewing people, whether business owners or random passersby, and giving us a lot of pertinent information on that area: why it is famous, interesting, important, or even just fun.

By far, my favorite portion, and likely to be the most interesting to many people, is the segment on Akihabara, which is Tokyo's electronics district. Essentially, if you are trying to find something electronic, and it cannot be found in Akihabara, then it probably cannot be found in Tokyo. Over the years, I had heard many stories of Akihabara, but was glad to finally get to see some of the sights of it. This section has Inaba mostly walking the streets, but pointing out some of the more interesting stores.

Somewhat related to the Akihabara section, I also really enjoyed their visit to the Nanzuka Underground Art Gallery in Shibuya, exclusively featuring contemporary art. At the time of filming (2006), the gallery was staging an exhibition of art protesting a government law coming into effect that banned the sale of used electronics made prior to 2001. The ultimate goal of the law was to help stimulate the sale of modern electronics, but many people felt that a side effect of the law would be the closing of many stores dedicated to used electronics and the loss of some of the atmosphere in Akihabara. This exhibition not only features traditional works of art such as paintings, drawings, and photographs, but also 'electronic' pieces of art that react to sound, video images interacting with pictures, and a sound device that reproduces the daily sounds of Akihabara. Some of the works shown in this part are neat to see on screen, and I can only bet would be fascinating to see and use in person.

There is stuff in here to please the "anime-only" crowd too, as the crew visits the Tokyo Anime Fair and interviews Yoshitoshi Abe, artist and creator of Haibane Renmei among others. At the Tokyo Anime Fair, we get some glimpses at Japanese cosplay and typical booth setups, along with some soundbites from a few people in the business. The interview with Abe is a little more informative as they discuss his processes, both creative and technical, along with his views as to why manga and anime are such a central part of Japanese culture. Though brief, this interview gives a nice look behind the scenes of one of our favorite pastimes.

However, despite all of the fun information, what I really liked about the approach that they used, which Julian and Felix discuss a bit in the commentary, is that they took this subject matter and presented it in a "look how different this is, how cool is that?" way rather than the "look how different this is, aren't they funny?" way that many documentaries about foreign lands, and Japan in particular, take. Carrie Ann Inaba in particular was more than willing to dress up in fashions or be involved in 'crazy' antics, and played it up as if she was the silly foreigner rather than the other way around. At one point, she even stopped to dance alongside a girl in Akihabara trying to drum up interest in the store she worked at. Inaba really had a way of setting people at ease that might otherwise be nervous about talking to an American film crew.

Because of this, we get a better understanding as to how the Japanese live and think than we might have otherwise. Besides pointing out that random passerby 'A' has dreadlocks, or random passerby 'B' dresses as if stepping right out of a horror novel, she talks with them to find out why it is that they have chosen this style, allowing us the opportunity to better understand why their society accepts all manner of styles and clothing, even those that are relegated to anime or sci-fi conventions in this country.

She is also quick to point out reverse ideologies of things we consider normal, but are nothing more than our own idiosyncrasies. For example, the second section of the documentary explores Christon Café, a restaurant done up to look like a Catholic Church. Features of the restaurant include a large table designed to look like the last supper table, stained glass windows, and an alter imported form an Eastern European church. The restaurant is also available to book for certain religious ceremonies such as weddings. While there are people in the West that would consider this restaurant sacrilegious and/or in bad taste, Inaba notes that we think nothing of drinking alcohol from ceramic Buddhas or similar objects, so are we not essentially doing the same thing?

If I had any problem with this documentary, it is that I felt they could have done more with some of the segments, particularly the segments about Akihabara and Harajuku. It is all well and good that Harajuku is the fashion center of Tokyo and Akihabara is the electronics center, but it might have been nice to get to go inside some of the stores and see more of what was on offer in those areas. While she does spend some time in some businesses, street shots show us many smaller boutiques and specialty shops that would have been interesting to see inside.

Now, that said, their approach was still well done, and in a way, not showing taking us inside these stores just makes me want to go check them out myself. Ultimately, that is the reason documentaries such as this exist. And perhaps that was their idea: give us enough to whet our appetite and leave the rest for us. As Inaba says in the closing moments of the show: "maybe we even inspired you to check it out yourself."

In Summary:
Tokyology Vol. 1 is an interesting and entertaining look at a side of Tokyo that is usually only seen if there. Taking brief, serious looks at many facets of pop culture, fashion, nightlife, and other entertainment separates it from other documentaries that would be more interested making fun of that culture. The positive and enthusiastic attitude of host Carrie Ann Inaba lends a certain credibility to the subject matter that other documentaries lack. While not a traditional "tourist" show, it gives many different ideas of places to find that otherwise might go unnoticed, and would certainly serve well as a guide for those looking to spend an extended period of time in the Japanese capital. Even those just interested in seeing what daily life can bring in the world's biggest city would do well to check this one out. Highly Recommended.

English 2.0 Language,English DTS 5.1 Language,Commentary Track,Blooper Reel,Photo Slide

Review Equipment
Magnavox 37MF337B 37" LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (S-Video Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System


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