Utawarerumono Vol. #4 - 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: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Utawarerumono

Utawarerumono Vol. #4

By Chris Beveridge     July 19, 2007
Release Date: July 24, 2007

Utawarerumono Vol. #4
© ADV Films

What They Say
On a strange and foreboding journey where evil attacks at every turn, Emperor Hakuoro finds that freedom comes at the expense of moral convictions. As war continues to rage across the land, Hakuoro must summon his inner demon and confront the atrocity head-on. Meanwhile, another masked stranger takes an unsolicited interest in Hakuoro " but he is too busy fending off romantic advances, trying to save face with Eluluu and searching for the truth about his past. This exciting installment of Utawarerumono has it all: bloodshed, burning, death, destruction, redemption and resurrection. Add to that a cute mythological creature, a mysterious voyage and a drunken tryst or two " and you're in for a frenetic and fantastic adventure!

The Review!
With plenty of serious material in this set of episodes, Utawarerumono manages to put in some good humor as well to complement it.

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.

Eluluu finally gets a cover with this release though she has to share part of it with her sister. The design for her is one that is pretty solid even if it does have plenty of clichéd aspects to it. The logo, again using the foil, looks good along the bottom and the background in general has an eye-catching look to it with the green layered foil. 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.

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 get expanded a bit with this volume though it does keep to the basics. The usual suspects are here as we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences as well as a character artwork gallery. The extended episode previews are here for these relevant episodes and a new round of terms in the glossary are provided. Sadly no omake theater extras are on this volume but we do get a fifteen minute recap episode that covers the story so far. Done with a bit of narration and covering the key moments throughout, something like this is ideal for putting out in either a torrent form or some downloadable service for free.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With another set of four episodes that progresses the series right along, Utawarerumono continues to defy expectations by providing engaging and interesting storylines and some beautiful action sequences. The rise of Hakuoro to power has been one that shows that history sweeps up those it needs when it does and now he's facing some much larger challenges. At the same time, the character moments continue to build up as well which result in some comical but great moments.

The recent focus of dealing with Niwe and his plans become the main part of the first half of this disc now that a two prong approach is being taken. While Benawi and the majority of the troops are facing off against his massive armies, Hakuoro and his small band have made their way into the Imperial City in order to confront him directly. The approach works well in that it provides some large scale action as well as small scale and much more intimate material. The battles that Benawi leads everyone into is a limited one due to their intent of just drawing attention to themselves, but the way it's done is beautiful. The main episode where this occurs is essentially one long money shot as the quality is fantastic. The animation is so fluid and lush at times that it just shines.

This is also applied to the Hakuoro's approach which manages to have a bit more impact to it due to it being more focused on individual characters. The CG animation in the main battle is far more fluid than it was in the earlier episodes but it still pales next to the more detailed moments of Touka or Karula going one on one with various opponents. Karula in particular really gets to play well during this attack. She hasn't taken a back seat in recent episodes but the cast has gotten more crowded and she hasn't had as many chances to really shine. Between her and Touka as well as Hakuoro's straightforward approach, it all comes across as a big budget episode that highlights exactly what has been so engaging about the series. It's not all just about the fights but the characters, their motivations and the politics of it all.

The impact of the battle plays out in some fascinating ways as the aftermath has several repercussions. Though there is a big picture thing going on here, the focus is kept on the characters. The things that Hakuoro learned during his confrontation with Niwe and what he did because of it figure strongly into his mindset now. Who he is is still something of a mystery but there are new layers to it that now must be peeled away. His relationships with everyone continue to be interesting to watch as well, particularly when you see them all interacting together over meals. One telling point is the kind of camaraderie that they have. During meals you see them all at the table but Hakuoro isn't at the end of one presiding like an emperor, but rather along the side. Eluluu and Karula tend to be at the ends. Another is that he's so completely easily abused by the numerous women that are close to him. When a special pet is brought in for an audience with him, it's comical but telling that everyone who is dealing with him in the line are women that are important to him.

A new arc does start to kick off towards the end of this set of episodes which looks to take us to where Karula came from. A slave uprising is in the works and though Hakuoro can't intervene officially since the country cannot handle another war, he does get involved on some level due to Karula herself. She has some great moments that bring something new to the table when she formally asks him for help and that creates some amusing tension between Hakuoro and Eluluu. The relationship side of the main cast is one that just needs to be kicked around a few times so that people realize who they actually do have feelings for, but none more so than either Eluluu stating the obvious to Hakuoro or him actually getting a clue.

In Summary:
Utawarerumono is the series with a funny name that just gets better and better with every minute. The show certainly piqued our interest from the start but along the way it become incredibly engaging and has been one of the best fantasy oriented shows in the last few years, if not more due to the dearth of such shows. While it has its moments that play to the masses with fanservice and animals, at its core it's a great little political piece within fantasy elements. The cast is engaging, it expands at just the right rate without minimizing too many of the characters and has some interesting story plots to work with. If anything can be said it's that it feels like too much is happening too quickly in terms of story elements. Utawrerumono is a series that deserves a lot more attention and shouldn't be waited on for a collection release. The omake theater episodes in the previous releases alone are worth the price of entry. Don't miss this series.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,15 minute video "Utawarerumono: The Story So Far",Extended episode previews, Character art gallery,Glossary of terms,Clean opening animation,Clean closing animation

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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