Utawarerumono Vol. #1 - Mania.com

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: TV 14
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Utawarerumono

Utawarerumono Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     January 04, 2007
Release Date: January 16, 2007

Utawarerumono Vol. #1
© ADV Films

What They Say
Everything about him is shrouded in mystery: the mask he can't remove, a past he can't unravel and the very survival of the people who have chosen them as their leader. But what Hakuoro doesn't know is this: he was gravely injured in the forest and left for dead. A kind young girl named Eluluu found him and nursed him back to health. Welcomed into a barren land where strange creatures roam, an angry god seeks vengeance and an oppressive government slaughters the innocent while a bloody war looms on the horizon.

Will the masked hero be able to liberate the people who saved him? Can he unlock the memories that elude him, or will he remain a stranger... even to himself?

Contains episodes 1-5.

The Review!
When a masked stranger awakens with no memory of who he is, his presence will change the course of that village.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series sports a strong stereo mix that has plenty of well placed directionality across the forward soundstage. There are a number of good action sequences throughout but it's the dialogue and incidental sound effects that come across rather well here. The English mix is done in 5.1 and brings that extra bit of clarity in placement as well as with the music. With both tracks the dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no trouble with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Similar to a few other new series from ADV, the presentation here looks very strong with lots of great looking solid colors with lots of vibrancy. Backgrounds in particular look very strong with little in the way of shifting or noise and the characters hair avoids noise or blocking as well. The color palette isn't an overly bright or saturated one so we get a good mix of strong but earthy tones here that serve the material well. Add in that it's free of cross coloration and very minimal with aliasing and you have a very solid presentation.

The cover artwork for this release, which isn't the same as the Japanese, is the second title from ADV Films in January that's using special foil covers to attract extra attention. The design of the cover is very eye-catching and enticing as it is, with the grass filling it up while the mask lay in the center with a few flowers growing around it. I'm not sure it really needed the extra shine to it, which is more visible at an angle, to make it stand out more. The back cover doesn't make out too well with it though as holding it at even a slight angle to read, particularly in the overhead lighting of a retail store, will make it difficult. The top third is given over to the summary for the show and a listing of the extras while the middle has shots from the show and a tagline to sell it with that's done in the silver foil. The bottom third brings about the standard clean layout of the production information and technical grid which incorrect lists the number of episodes but gets the running time right. No reversible cover is provided but we get a good looking booklet with some character artwork on the cover that opens up to multiple interviews with both the Japanese creative staff and the US staff.

The menu design is rather simple and effective as it uses the cover artwork zoomed in on the mask along with all the grass around it. Behind it there are clouds passing by at a brisk pace that blends into the color scheme which gives it a really interesting sense of movement. Overlaid on this image is access to all five episodes while the languages and extras are accessible along the bottom. Combined with a bit of fast paced instrumental music from the series, it comes together well and sets the mood nicely. Submenus load quickly with no transitional animations and the disc read our players' language presets and played accordingly.

The extras are a bit basic but welcome here though something is missing. A brief glossary of terms and name distinctions are included as is a character artwork gallery. The etended length episode previews also make an appearance here but what is worth the price of admission is the six minute long omake theater. This is a very nicely done piece that lets the characters be themselves and then be a little more human as well in a comical way. What's missing is the clean version of the opening and ending sequences, a rarity on an ADV release. Hopefully they'll show in the next volume.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Over the years Aquaplus hasn't been involved with too many shows but they've been somewhat centered on a certain kind of show with the likes of Comic Party and To Heart. Utawarerumono breaks their mild trend with something very unlike their previous works. Though somewhat superficial and conventional at first, numerous hints and teases along the way has the series really being something that entices if you give it the chance to do so.

Very few fantasy based shows are out there these days so it's an area that can be tapped fairly well even if it's been mined heavily in years past. The story introduces us to a young man " not a boy " who wakes up in the care of a young woman who had been tending to his wounds. Eluluu, the granddaughter of the village chief, had found him unconscious and wounded in the forest and brought him back. When the man awakens, he's confused and unsure of things and completely without his memory of who he is. Even more problematic for him is that there is a mask attached to the upper half of his face that seemingly can't be removed.

Not wanting to be entirely dependent on those who cared for him, he's quickly up and about within the village and getting to understand things. The people are interesting though he doesn't see any real difference between him and them, as he doesn't seem to have the same lengthy cat-like ears. The men are normal otherwise while the women have low hanging ears and tails. Before long though, he ends up getting into problems with one of the locals who's related to a baron of the area. This sets off a chain of events that spirals across these first five episodes that has him questioning how they deal with the forest god and the royalty of the kingdom.

Utawarerumono is fairly conventional in its approach to the story in the first five episodes and will seem so if you've ready any amount of fantasy novels in your life. It covers the basics where the leads are introduced, we get some fleshing out of how the world in this particular area works and some of the character quirks. These are important themes that need to be done early on to allow you to empathize with the leads as they deal with the more complex situations that will surely arise later. Having the masked man, who is eventually named Hakuoro, become attached to his new home and getting involved in defending it allows him to connect with everyone. It also allows for his natural talents to show through which give hint to what he may have been like before.

Where Aquaplus gets a little unconventional here, much to my liking, is in how Hakuoro is portrayed. The mask doesn't diminish his character but it doesn't overwhelm either. He's also in design, both artistically and through the Japanese voice actor, a character that you wouldn't suspect as a leading male. In almost any other series he'd be the suave and smooth talking villain that you can't help but to like. Here, he comes across as confident but not arrogant, sure of his innate abilities but also very sure of how the world should work. He's not a dark leading man or an anti-hero, but rather what you would imagine as the common man pushed too far and no comfortable in his shoes with having to deal with problems.

The only area that gets mildly creepy is in how they bring him into a more familial way in the village. The chief, Tuskuru, has lost both her sister and her children which has left her only with the two granddaughters she lives with. Eluluu and Aruruu are very simple but warm characters that take well to Hakuoro as they live together. At first, it's not too creepy that he's given the clothes from the girls father since he died some years ago, but to eventually give him the fathers name as well? This isn't quite so bad when it comes to the younger Aruruu since she takes to him in a fatherly way, but for Eluluu who clearly exhibits something a bit more than just familial interest in him it really pushes that father figure aspect too far.

The theme of family is definitely very strong here but not one limited to blood relations. With war being prevalent in other countries, it's common for soldiers fleeing battle to end up here. Tuskuru as the chief welcomes them when they arrive if they're willing to become a member of the community. This has made a lot of the villagers have strong bonds to each other and this is an area that gets much strong with Hakuoro there. Hakuoro has a very subtle charisma to him that draws others in when it comes to the men and puts women to comfort. Hakuoro does fill the role given to those who gain the status of myth in folklore very well with how he's portrayed here.

Visually, the show is quite a treat as it's very well designed and filled with rich looking earth tones and animation. The numerous greens and blues for the background give it a lot of life and lightness that it helps to bring the characters to life even more. Their designs are rather enjoyable as well, as they've managed to take the marketing gimmick of the catgirls and applied it so that it doesn't seem like it's an overwhelming presence. Outside of one or two quick chuckles about chasing tails, they're not really intrusive to the story. The clothes also are well designed with a simple but eye-catching sense of style that lets everyone be their own person yet still fit within the guise of a village in a fantasy show.

In Summary:
Utawarerumono starts with a simple and time tested premise but like most stories that do that these days they present enough interesting nuggets along the way to show there is much more to it. The characters are obvious in some ways but that feels a bit more like a feint than anything else as we get to know them more and their natures are revealed. Over the course of the five episodes, the series drew me in more and more until I became completely engaged in it and wished I had not only the next volume but all of the volumes on hand. These episodes turn into "page turners" pretty quickly and do a very solid and entertaining job as the first chapter of a larger story. Definitely recommended to check out.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Glossary of Terms,Character Artwork Gallery,Extended Episode Previews,Omake Theater

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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