Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou ~ Quiet Country Cafe Vol. #1 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B

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  • Audio Rating: A+
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: All
  • Region: 2 - Japan
  • Released By: Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc.
  • MSRP: ¥5600
  • Running time: 36
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou ~ Quiet Country Cafe Vol. #1

By Paul Grisham     March 07, 2003
Release Date: December 18, 2002

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou ~ Quiet Country Cafe Vol. #1
© Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc.

What They Say

The Review!
After letting the property lie dormant for four years, Sony Music Entertainment Visual Works return with a new installment in the magical universe of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, but what you get out of a viewing of it will depend greatly on what you bring with you, your knowledge of the series and your expectations. Although the show should please fans of the manga, those who are only familiar with the first OAV series and those coming to the series for the first time may find themselves wondering what the fuss is all about.

The new series is a technical improvement on the original in every possible way. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the audio, which includes a stunning 5.1 channel surround track. This is not a show with big explosions or car chases or any of that, but when you stop to pay attention to the fidelity of the ambient sounds, or variations in the gentle rumble of Alpha?s scooter as the terrain changes, you realize that a lot of work and attention to detail went into the production of this mix. There is one scene in particular, as the camera pans around Alpha playing her lute, where the very timbre of the instrument changes believably as the sound passes around the viewer in the surround channels.

The stereo track is also very nice, though certainly less engaging than the DD 5.1 track. For those with only two speakers, you are missing out, but the stereo track is hardly an afterthought here. The addition of the isolated music track is a welcome addition. Like the first series, the music is an important, and well-executed, part of the production. Choro Club?s contribution to the soundtrack is a delight, and should promote sales of the soundtrack CD. Unfortunately, the addition of an orchestral score to certain scenes feels a bit overwrought and unecessary. (See the Content section for more on this.)

This is a brand new, digital show, and the video is nearly flawless. Gone are the annoying rainbow and digital artifacts of the first series? DVD release. The show is still interlaced, as most home video anime will be for years to come, but even watching it on a PC the interlacing is scarcely distracting. Colors in this series are brighter, as this is a much sunnier and shinier series than the previous series, and the video on this DVD presents them well. While the character animation is slightly less detailed this time around, there is more complicated scene motion and some fairly elaborate lighting and focus effects (computer assisted, no doubt.) The one time I thought I saw a mistake in the video mastering, it actually turned out to be part of the story, so I don?t really have any complaints except for the interlacing.

Like the previous Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou release, this disc comes in a white keepcase, and features another glorious picture of Alpha on the cover. This time, Alpha is sitting sitting demurely, holding her lute. Once again, the cover illustration, drawn by manga artist Hitoshi Ashinano, is pleasing and eye-catching. The back lists the production details, as well as full DVD specs. The design style of the new release doesn?t quite match the release of the first OAV series, but it is very nice in its own right.

The menu is actually quite nice, allowing the viewer to select the desired audio track directly from the main menu. Since the show?s audio and music are central to its production, this is actually a feature most people will want to take advantage of. Submenus use the Choro Club?s wonderful score as background.

Compared to the spartan extras on the DVD release of the first OAV series, we get a surprisingly rich set of extras here. First, we get a healthy dose of production character sketches, at least one page for each character in the episode. Then, we get a gallery of the lush, painted, background images that give the show its rich, warm look. My only complaint is that these images are framed, rather than fullscreen, which limits their impact. Finally, we get four short storyboard comparison scenes – you knw, the kind where the finished animation runs alongside the timed sketches. Personally, I love these kinds of extras, and only wish that other DVD makers would follow Studio Ghibli and Buena Vista?s bold lead and make them more readily available. The only omission is a non-credit version of the ED, which will hopefully appear on the next volume of the series.

(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)

The first Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou OAV series, based on a long-running manga by Hitoshi Ashinano, was one of the most beautiful and moving anime I had seen in a very long while. Placing imagery and emotion ahead of dialogue and plot, the first series became a wistful elegy to the passage of time and the fading of memory.

Set a couple of years after the events of the first 1998 series, things get underway with Alpha and Kokone out on a leisurely ride through the countryside. Though Alpha?s friendship with Kokone has obviously developed over the years, life in the quiet areas around Yokusuka has not changed much at all. Alpha continues to run the Café Alpha, living alone and engaging herself in the daily operations of the shop, taking small pleasures in such things as roasting and brewing coffee. She still has the camera her mysterious owner left for her, and she still takes pictures of whatever captures her fancy. But somehow, Alpha seems different than we last saw her. Except for the moments she shares with Kokone, she seems more melancholy, lonelier, reading books with titles like The Lonely Fairy. She laments the lack of customers for the shop, and in a way seems to be talking more about her life in general. She seems to be caught in a moment in time, unable to break free.

Things begin to change when a particularly fierce typhoon strikes the coastal regions. The kindly Oji-san lets Alpha stay the night in his sturdy, squat gasoline stand, figuring it might be safer than the wooden, deteriorating café. After a blustery night, Alpha surveys the damage left behind by the storm and realizes that with a little bit of rebuilding, life could return to normal at the café. She decides, however, that it might be a good idea to use the storm as a reason to get out of Yokosuka for a while, to expand her horizons beyond the too familiar regions that have been her home for so long.

And that is pretty much all that happens over the course of this episode. The 1998 OAV series? plot might not have been overly-complicated and even struck many people as dull, this new series takes simplicity of plot to a whole new level. The whole episode feels very much like a prologue to a longer adventure, rather than an engaging story in its own right. The ?adventure? in the 1998 series was an internal one, a journey for Alpha to discover the undiscovered country within herself, even as she rode through the familiar countryside. At the end of this episode, Alpha has scarcely made her goodbyes and set forth on her journey. Though this outer journey parallels her already-taken inner journey, after the pace of this episode and with only one episode remaining, I wonder how much time we have to share that journey with her.

A major shortcoming of this new series is that it takes much of the backstory of the manga for granted. Like the 1998 series, we are hardly given any introduction to the characters or situations. Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou ~ Quiet Country Café is not a true sequel to the 1998 series, but it seems unlikely that anyone could fully enjoy the series without being familiar with at least that much of the story. It is much more a tribute to fans of the manga than even the 1998 series was. In a strange little epilogue, the character of Maki, a character from later chapters of the manga who doesn?t even appear in the original OAVs, shares a scene with Takahiro that marks a change in their relationship. Unfortunately, unless you have been following the manga, you have never heard of her before, and it is hard to appreciate that change.

Only Sony Recording Artists Hekiru Shiina (Alpha) and Akiko Nakagawa (Kokone) reprise their roles from the 1998 series. Once again, Shiina utterly becomes the part with the kind of effortless performance, full of texture and warmth that might lead one to think that she was born to play the role of Alpha. The other roles are filled well by their new actors, and Toshiyuki Toyonaga brings a deliciously uncertain adolescence to the role of Takahiro, now bearing traces of the man he will soon become.

Fan-favorite Tomomi Mochizuki (Princess Nine, Umi ga Kikoeru) takes over the direction of the series, and does a capable job, though he seems to be trying to maintain the style and direction of the manga and the 1998 series, rather than bringing his own style to bear. In the 1998 series, Director Takeshi Anno skipped around the early Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou manga stories, skipping some, supplementing others, changing around the order, all in an attempt to assemble a structured argument made of images and emotions and philosophies. Mochizuki seems to be more content to simply tell a straightforward story. He has certainly proved himself to be talented at it, but the story here is somehow less satisfying and less thoughtful, not seeming to fill out the running time. Mochizuki does tend to direct with a light touch, never melodramatic, which is admirable. In perhaps the finest moment of the episode, as Alpha surveys the damage caused by the typhoon, we see the extent of it conveyed entirely through Alpha?s reactions. It is not until the following scenes that we understand just how bad it really was.

There is also a gentler flavor here, reflecting the general mellowing of the later manga storylines. The glimpses of a lost, forgotten past – sunken cities, incongruous relics of a violent past, sweeping elegiac pronouncements – are all abandoned in favor of a warm, happy feeling. Even Alpha?s nature as an android is never directly referenced. If you have not been following the story up till now, you might never suspect that she is anything other than what she appears to be. The animation quality is much improved over the previous series, using digital techniques to create a fairly sophisticated look. Though the character designs are much simpler (Alpha?s hair, for instance, seems to have fewer individual strands), the character animation is much more believable, having a more realistic weight and balance, without feeling rotoscoped or wireframed. There is an artistry to some of the scenes involving Alpha that remind me why I love animation.

Taking over music duties for guitar duo GONTITI (famous for claiming to make the ?most comfortable music on Earth?), Sony Recording Artists, Choro Club, fill in admirably, producing a whimsical, warm, upbeat score. It is remeniscent of GONTITI?s music, and yet distinctively unique, fitting the style and mood of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou perfectly. The only problem with the music in this series is simply that there is too much of it. In the 1998 series, there was hardly any background music at all, giving the whole affair a spartan, melancholy feel. Minor scenes in Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou ~ Quiet Country Café are filled with a syruppy orchestrated score, remeniscent of Vince Guaraldi?s Peanuts work. The one moment of musical transcendence is a simple one in which Alpha plays her lute over the wreckage of her café. It is exactly the kind of scene that hints at the classic experience this series could have been.

Somehow, each aspect was wonderfully done, but the show feels somewhat less than the sum of its parts. It could be the way in which the more linear structure exposes the simplicity of the plot. It might be the fact that it takes over 30 minutes to get the real journey started. It might be the way in which it obsesses over small details, while ignoring the bigger issues of character and situation introduction. It might just be that this chapter of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou has very little to say about life and very little for us to think about afterward. But whatever the reason, with only one episode on the disc at the inflated OAV price, the first release in this new series is a difficult recommendation. It?s fun, but not very filling, like a piece of sweet candy. For those curious about the series, you would be better served by spending your time and money picking up the original manga or tracking down the DVD of the 1998 series.

Still, I?ll be following Alpha on her journey to Kamakura, and maybe there?s time yet to for the series to put itself together something meaningful and memorable. I do wish the series well, however, as I hope that if the series becomes popular enough, someone will take a chance on licensing it for the domestic markets. I get the feeling that Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou would appeal to a lot of people over here.

Japanese Language 2.0 Stereo,Japanese Language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround,Isolated Score Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround,Production Character Sketches,Background Illustrations,Storyboard to Film Comparisons

Review Equipment
Panasonic Panablack TV, Codefree Panasonic RP56 DVD player, Sony ProLogic receiver, Yamaha and Pioneer speakers, Monster cable. (Secondary equipment, Pioneer 105s DVD-ROM, ATi Rage Fury Pro, ViewSonic A90f, PowerDVD 3.0)


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