Mania Grade: A+
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- Audio Rating: N/A
- Video Rating: F
- Packaging Rating: N/A
- Menus Rating: C
- Extras Rating: N/A
- Age Rating: 13 & Up
- Region: All Region DVD
- Released By: Central Park Media
- MSRP: 29.99
- Running time: 90
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Urusei Yatsura
Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer
By Ben Rudiak-Gould
February 13, 2002
Release Date: September 08, 1998
As previous reviewers have said, this is an excellent movie, one of the few great anime classics to be available right now on DVD. However, in my opinion you are better off with the subtitled VHS version. The reason is that the video quality on this DVD is terrible. It is literally the worst I've ever seen, and that's not hyperbole. In fact, there's a wide margin between Beautiful Dreamer and the next worst-authored DVD I've seen (which is Grave of the Fireflies, also an early CPM release).
I'm at a loss to explain why the other reviewers didn't notice the problems with the video. It could be that CPM has remastered this DVD since they made the version I saw, but in every other respect it seems to match the descriptions in the other reviews. It could also be the higher-fidelity equipment which I used (a Trinitron monitor instead of a consumer TV). It is not my MPEG-2 decoder, though I tried two different decoders just to be sure.
The problem is not the brightness of the colors, but a constant "pulsing" of the entire image at a rate of twice per second, throughout the movie. This is a known problem with some consumer-grade MPEG encoders at low bit rates. (For the technically inclined, what happened is that the encoder intra-coded every fifteenth frame, and did a bad job encoding the intermediate P and B frames (perhaps not allocating enough bits). As a result the picture degrades over the intermediate frames and then suddenly pops back into focus, twice a second, every second.)
In anything but an Oshii movie this might not have been so much of a problem, but Oshii loves dark and slow-paced scenes, and these are exactly the times at which this problem is most noticeable. It came close to ruining, at least for me, the scene in which Ataru and Mendou are stopped at the traffic light while the band crosses the street. It's supposed to seem like a moment suspended in time, but the effect is ruined by the constant "tick, tick, tick, tick" of the background. In the brief shot looking up at the sky, the clouds seem to jump from place to place instead of gliding smoothly.
This serious problem aside, the video encoding is generally shoddy. There's obvious blockiness in fades and gentle gradients, and scenes which pan over a static background are badly blurred (and in an animated movie, that's a lot of scenes). This is absolutely inexcusable at DVD bitrates. We are not talking about Internet streaming video here.
The picture is pan-and scan, not anamorphic or even letterboxed. It is encoded at 30fps instead of 24fps, which makes no difference on ordinary TVs (they display at 30fps in any case) but has a disastrous effect on video quality on HDTV and PC players. The only DVD-video benefits you get are (slightly) higher resolution, brighter colors and the ability to turn off the subtitles. I'm conversant in Japanese and I like the ability to watch movies unsubbed, but in this case the MPEG artifacts mar the picture much more than the subtitles do.
In addition, the last few minutes of the movie are completely missing! The original credits scroll over this part of the movie, and apparently CPM didn't want to expose its audience to the sight of Japanese text. So they simply fade to black and run the English dub credits, starting off with everyone's favorite character, "Aturu." The Japanese voice actors are not credited at all.
The subtitles are almost the same as the VHS subtitles, though some are missing and there are typos and formatting problems which are not present in the VHS version. I actually rather enjoyed the dub (which I listened to only briefly), for the same reason that I enjoyed The Beast of Yucca Flats -- it goes beyond being merely bad to the point of being entertainingly inept. At least Ataru and Mendou spoke their lines with relish; it's too bad they couldn't act. Interestingly enough, CPM seems to have used the sub script for its dub (rather than the other way around), so the dub is unusually faithful in words, if not in tone.
The main menu features a picture of Lum topless (from the chase scene at the end). I really wish they had picked any other scene from the movie. Menu navigation is broken, as a previous reviewer mentioned. It takes a fairly complicated sequence of clicks to actually select anything; it took me a while to figure it out. Grave of the Fireflies also has this problem. I haven't noticed it on any other company's DVDs.
Aside from language/subtitle selection and trailers for other titles, there are two extras on the DVD: "A Brief History" and "Meet the Cast." "A Brief History" is a very short summary of part of the first half of the first episode of the TV series, which had been running for nearly 100 episodes at the time this movie was released. It might help in understanding the one scene in the movie which relates to this episode, though people still won't get the main joke in this scene.
"Meet the Cast" sounds good, but is actually useless. It takes you to a menu listing several characters from the movie chosen apparently at random. Selecting a character plays a short clip from the movie containing that character (with dub soundtrack only). That's it. There's no textual description of the characters, except for a hilariously inappropriate epithet attached to each character's name in the menu. For example, Megane is listed as "Megane, the Father Figure." Father figure? Führer figure, perhaps. He spends most of the movie in full Nazi regalia and sentences one of his loyal underlings to death for taking a candy bar--and anyone who's seen the TV series knows what else he's capable of. Sakura is "Sakura, the Inquisitive Nurse," if I remember correctly. You get the idea.
The point of the "Meet the Cast" extra, as I eventually realized, is that it can be put together by someone who knows absolutely nothing about the movie. You simply fast-forward through it, pick some characters who seem to show up a lot, pick a scene in which they appear, and link it all together with a menu. Then you get to say that your disc includes extras, without actually having to provide anything that wasn't already there.
What's saddest about all this is that this is a movie which really could have benefited from good extras. The disc could have included a real description of the characters and their relationships, perhaps even with clips from the TV series. These are, after all, characters with a very long history prior to this movie. (I'm sure AnimEigo would have allowed the footage to be used. They're not in competition after all--they have non-overlapping monopolies). It could have included a summary of the Japanese legend of Urashima Tarou, so that people would understand the numerous references to Taro and the Dragon Palace and turtles and the Princess. (If you haven't heard it, there's an interesting retelling in Wabei Translation's Quilt Stories.) It could even have included at least a brief mention of director/screenwriter Mamoru Oshii and perhaps a list of his other films. (Again, why not? There's no competition.)
To summarize, CPM contracted this movie out to a fly-by-night operation which took their money and tossed off the disc over a weekend, not bothering to waste time on the multi-pass VBR encoding which is necessary for high-quality video. CPM has since switched to a different DVD producer, but not before ruining Grave of the Fireflies as well as this movie. I wish they had experimented on their bad stuff (they certainly have enough of it), instead of their two best titles.
Celeron 433, Princeton AGX 750 17" Trinitron monitor, ATI All-In-Wonder 128, ATI DVD Player (Cinemaster) and PowerDVD