Final Fantasy VII Limited Edition, Disgaea, and Solty Rei
a bi-weekly column by Todd Douglass, Don Houston, and Wen-Tsai
Alright boys and girls, we have been busy working our fingers to the bone typing up reviews for this week's column so listen up! We have a big load of reviews to check out, some more bargains from Wen-Tsai, and a featured review for Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children: Limited Edition.
One of the greatest games for the PlayStation 2 has finally had its anime released in America thanks to Geneon. Disgaea tells the tale of a young demon who aspires to be Overlord of the Netherworld. Before he can do that though, he has to travel with his vassals Etna and Flonne through a messed up world where his every step is dogged by conflict. Full of charm, humor, and fantastic design the anime embodies everything that made the game a fan favorite. If you loved Disgaea: Hour of Darkness then checking this show out is a no-brainer.
Solty Rei's second volume has finally arrived and continues the slow-paced character development and fleshing out of the world the show takes place in. Beneath the surface this show has me boiling with anticipation for what's coming but so far little has happened. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but knowing that Solty, Rose, and Roy can kick as much butt as they can a little bit of action couldn't hurt. We still haven't learned anything about Solty's past yet and Roy is continuing to look for his daughter. Each episode feels like a story about nothing and focuses on showing us the depth of its characters.
A priest, two demons, and a monkey king walk into a bar. Okay, that's not the punch line to a joke but something that happens on early in Saiyuki. This fantasy tale about a time when demons and humans lived together features protagonists who love to drink, gamble, and smoke; hence the bar. Genjyo Sanzo has been tasked by the powers that be to stop the resurrection of a great devil and bring an end to the recent wave of demons attacking humans. Joining him are a trio of demons that are unlike the others thanks to the fact that they willfully keep their power limiters on. Saiyuki's complete collection by ADV presents all 52 episodes and both of the original seasons. From start to finish this is a ruckus affair with memorable characters and many fun adventures along the way.
The original Tekkaman series came out back in the 1970's and stands shoulder to shoulder with other classics such as Gatchaman. Unlike Gatchaman though, Tekkaman was actually remade into a new series known as Tekkaman Blade during the 90's. Until now the series has only been released in America as the English dub edited Teknoman though thankfully this collection changes that. Including the first uncut 16 episodes with the original Japanese language, Tekkaman Blade Collection Volume 1 harkens back to the days of yore when mankind fought a hostile alien threat in space with mechanized suits and weapons of unthinkable destructive capabilities. Forget that Teknoman silliness, Tekkaman Blade is a completely different experience that exemplifies the reasons why the series was popular in Japan.
In our last column we took a look at Beet the Vandel Buster which was one of Illumitoon's first anime releases. Another of their shows, Bobobo-Bobo-Bobo has also popped up. Many of you may recognize the insane title as the series where a guy with crazy nose hair uses it to fight bad guys. The show goes beyond random and nonsensical to the point that it crosses the line of stupidity. To top it all off the DVD is severely flawed thanks to useless subtitles that leave the English dubbing as the only alternative unless you are fluent in Japanese.
Every once in a while a series comes into your hands that makes an instant impression. For me Elfen Lied was one of those rare shows. This horror-laden science fiction tale may use dual personalities and amnesia as plot devices but it strays very far from being cliché. The premise behind the show involves a mutated form of human that has a bizarre power that is essentially a collection of invisible arms that extend from their mind. One subject in particular escapes from a lab and is hell bent on seeing mankind pay for what they did to her. When she is shot in the head though her inner child of sorts comes out and her personality turns from demon to innocence. The tension doesn't stop from start to finish and this is without a doubt one of the definitive collections in ADV's library.
The final volume of Baki the Grappler has finally been released and unfortunately it doesn't bring the series to much of a close. For twelve volumes and 48 episodes we have seen Baki travel the world in order to train for the day that he would fight his father. It was brought to the point where the title match pits him against his brother to see who would have the chance to fight Yujiro. Unfortunately the rug is pulled out from right under us in the last episode and things are left open-ended with no "ending" in sight. The series was a lot of fun throughout its run but too many so-so volumes leave this one strictly for the Baki diehards.
Full of originality and a powerful story Area 88 tells the tale about a wartime photographer and his quest to capture a picture of a renowned Japanese mercenary pilot. If you haven't heard of this show yet then you're missing out on one of the greatest anime to ever focus on flying the friendly skies. This series is definitely not a Top Gun rip off and there are complexities at play here that will leave a lasting impression long after the final episode's credits roll. Area 88 was more than I ever expected and quickly became one of the best shows that I have seen in years.
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by Todd Douglass
Sitting down to check out this Limited Edition will mark my sixth viewing of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. My original feelings regarding the film stand firm (because the feature has remained untouched) and if you want to check out my review for the first release you can do so here. There is background information on Final Fantasy VII included in that review that I will refrain from repeating in this one. After all if you're going to drop upwards of fifty clams on this version chances are good that you already know what happened in the game and loved every minute of it.
Advent Children takes place two years after the events of the game and features a world where Sephiroth no longer exists though his shadow plagues the land. An illness known as Geostigma has appeared and has been making children sick all across the globe. Not much is known about the disease only that there is no cure, so as you can imagine things are pretty bleak. The city that was once great lies in shambles and the once powerful Shin-Ra company is no more. Yes, this is a different Midgar than we last saw and the inhabitants have taken to living on the outskirts of the crushed capital.
The first familiar face we see is Tifa who has reopened the 7th Heaven Bar and is running a delivery service with Cloud. They have also taken in some children including Barret's daughter Marlene and a Geostigma kid named Denzel. Tifa has become kind of a mother to these children and several others which is a definitive change to her character from what we came to know from the game. After the film introduces her the next famed character that we get to see is Cloud as he fights off three new villains on his way to see Reno. This is but a prelude to the future conflict and it's the first time that he meets Kadaj, Yazoo, and Loz despite the fact that they keep calling him brother and mention that he knows where "mother" is.
The three are obviously related to Sephiroth in someway though it doesn't become clear until later in the film what that relationship is. At this point you'll notice is that they have the same type of Mako energy inside of them that Cloud does due to the nature of their eyes. They also possess special powers such as the ability to summon shadow creatures and can even match Cloud in melee combat. For some reason though Cloud seems weaker than the last time we saw him and we learn that he has been infected by Geostigma as well. At any rate we learn that Kadaj and company are indeed trying to bring about the Jenova Reunion that Sephiroth talked about in Final Fantasy VII. In order to accomplish the Reunion they have to capture the children that are inflicted with the stigma and locate Jenova's head.
A series of events intertwines Cloud and Tifa's goals with Shin-Ra's. The president of the company, Rufus Shinra, is still very much alive, but he wants to atone for his sins and repay the world for the chaos that his organization caused. This all leads to a tumultuous series of confrontations with Kadaj and the gang, including a battle with a familiar monster. However, one of the biggest conflicts in this movie doesn't have a single thing to do with over the top action.
Any fan of Final Fantasy VII can tell you that the most prolific event to occur in the game was the death of Aerith. It affected Cloud in a big way and really set the tone for the rest of the game. Fighting Sephiroth became more than just saving the world; it became revenge. Since the end of the game Cloud has withdrawn and truly has become a shadow of his former self. In order to beat Kadaj and save the day, he has to defeat the demons of his past and overcome his personal agony. This was a sub-plot that really sold Advent Children for me. The main story seemed to be just a means to an end to pull together the phenomenal action sequences. Fans of Final Fantasy VII will definitely revel at the amount of character development that takes place for Cloud. Even something as subtle as showing that Cloud lives in Aerith's church, where she grew flowers, speaks volumes at the torment he is feeling because of her loss. After six viewings of the film seeing this still welled tears to my eyes and leading up to the end it's testament to the real emotion that Advent Children offers.
If I have any beef with the movie it's the fact that its action scenes play out more like Dragon Ball Z rather than something slightly realistic fighting. I realize how silly that sounds considering we're dealing with magic, monsters, and super-powered humans but the film went a little too far in some scenes. Most battles were amazing but the characters all seem to have the ability to fly (see Cloud's fight with Bahamut) and it really disconnected me from the action every time it happened. I guess it just didn't mesh well (in my opinion) with the super-realistic CGI.
Another thing that didn't sit well with me was the way that other characters were tossed in as mere plot devices. Apart from Vincent and Tifa, the rest of the crew was only brought in for a couple of sequences. Given the runtime of the film and the need for plot focus I guess it was for the best though I can't help but wish that Yuffie, Red XIII, Sid and the like were incorporated in a way other than "the gang's all here".
Despite these minor gripes Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was everything that I wanted it to be as a fan of the game. The plot was light, but fun, and the development of Cloud's character was on par with everything that the game had done in my opinion. If you do not have any prior knowledge of (or experience with) Final Fantasy VII you will most likely be lost right from the get-go. This film is to be thoroughly enjoyed strictly by those who loved their PlayStation experience.
After running a side by side comparison between the Limited Edition of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children and the prior it's safe to say that the transfer is the same. That is to say that it's absolutely brilliant.
In the gaming world Square-Enix is regarded as one of the leading developers when it comes to visual presentation. This movie is no different and the image quality is absolutely stunning. There are a couple of moments where some aliasing and artifacts are apparent but don't let that get you down; this entirely digital world is crisp, clear, and beautiful from start to finish. At times I found it hard to believe that I was indeed watching a digital production because the images were so realistic.
The art direction for this film, much to the delight of fans, is loosely based upon Tetsuya Nomura's original designs. Advent Children also has some very strong ties to the world of anime. The characters all jump around and react like ninja once the action gets started. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. The good part is that it makes the action more intense and gives the movie a unique sense of style.
However, because the designs are more realistic this time around it comes across as a little too cartoon-like at times. For instance in one battle Cloud jumps literally half of a mile into the air and hovers while he relentlessly hacks away at a monster with his sword. You'll also see the characters do various limit breaks from the game such as "Finishing Touch" and "Climhazzard". The fan in me loved to see these moments unfold, but my movie-goer felt that these bits were a little tacky and over the top. Overall though, this is an amazing looking film that received a marvelous transfer and the only change between the Limited Edition and the previous one is the artwork on the disc itself.
The audio for the Limited Edition once again produced an identical experience to the previous release. The technical quality for Advent Children was, and remains, very impressive from start to finish. With great use of every channel both the English and Japanese Dolby Digital tracks offered a great sense of immersion and intelligent use of rear channels. I didn't encounter a single flaw while listening and for the entirety of each dub the tracks held up to scrutiny.
Steve Burton (Cloud), George Newbern (Sephiroth), Rachael Leigh Cook (Tifa), and Steve Staley (Kadaj) come together with a great supporting cast to make a fantastic English dub. I typically listen to my anime/foreign films in the original language so for me to give praise to the English team says something about the quality. The Japanese language track is very good as well with voice work of equal caliber.
To further solidify the connection between the original game and the film, the soundtrack carries familiar tunes as well. Nobuo Uematsu's fantastic scores from the game get some playtime here as well. Tracks such as the game's opening theme to Sephiroth's theme "One Winged Angel" and even the Battle Victory tune make their appearance here. Sometimes it fits with the atmosphere of the movie and sometimes it doesn't, but either way the music is just as great in Advent Children as it was in Final Fantasy VII.
Ok, so this section is the only thing that you really have to check out when it comes to the Limited Edition for Advent Children. After all this is the only place where you will find different features that makes the $50 MSRP worth spending. Your appreciation of this material will also hinge solely on your adoration for Final Fantasy VII. If you are only an avid fan there is little reason to upgrade from the prior edition.
Each supplemental feature from the first release of the film makes a return here. In short that list includes "Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII", which is a video montage of events from the original game, a collection of eleven deleted scenes, some footage from a Venice Film Festival, some original trailers, and a making of featurette. I have left the summaries for those materials out because this release is most likely a double dip for you. However, if this is your first time seeing Advent Children on DVD you can find detailed information on those special features here.
As far as the Limited Edition is concerned there are only two differences to be found on the disc content. The first thing that you'll notice is some new material being featured in the "Distance: The Making of Advent Children" featurette. If you're returning to the special features for Advent Children you'll notice that English voice actor interview segments have been added to the original featurette. They don't bring much to the table other than to say what an honor it was to work on the project, how much pressure they feel, and how much respect they had for their Japanese counterparts. In other words there's nothing new that is groundbreaking included in "Distance" and in total the run time has had a measly three minutes added to it.
The real reason to check out the Limited Edition release for Advent Children is the inclusion of the original Final Fantasy VII direct to DVD anime episode called "Last Order". Animated by Madhouse "Last Order" depicts events leading up to the start of everything in Final Fantasy VII. Zack and Cloud are on the run from Shinra and the Turks, Sephiroth is on his way to see momma Jenova, and Tifa discovers her dying father. The three plots all come together at the end of the short episode (about 24 minutes) and it leaves you wanting more. Being a long-time anime fan and lover of Final Fantasy I was enthralled by every minute to be had in "Last Order".
Other than the features available on the disc the packaging for Advent Children is downright sexy. A nicely designed box houses the two-disc case as well as a collection of ten postcards, a printed version of the script, and a 53 page novella with snippets about the lives of Barret, Denzel, and Tifa. The script and short stories were interesting and definitely added to the overall value of the package while not really adding anything to the experience of watching the film.
As a fan of the game I was blown away by Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children the first time I watched it. The characters and world were what I had grown to love while experiencing Final Fantasy VII and though the plot was a little light at times and the action a little too extreme Advent Children was everything I had wanted. After six viewings I still profess that this is the best video game themed movie that I have ever seen. Unfortunately, enjoyment of the feature is almost entirely exclusive to fans of the game though I suppose that is the person whom this Limited Edition release is targeted at anyway.
The big Double Dip question comes into play with the latest version of Advent Children. Are three minutes worth of English voice actor interviews, an animated episode from Final Fantasy VII, postcards, and booklets worth the cost of admission? To be honest it depends on your feelings towards the game. I personally loved "Last Order" and for me, that was enough to peak my interest. Whether or not you'll deem this set worthy of the price tag is entirely up to you. This is still a great film with a solid transfer and if you held off on the prior release there is no reason to miss this one. Highly Recommended
In our last column we tossed shot at you to test your anime knowledge! We heard from Jimmy H. who correctly guessed that it was a screen from Outlaw Star! Congrats Jimmy! You're the otaku of the week! Your prize is bragging rights to your friends and the adoration of millions... in other words you didn't win anything. Here's another screenshot to boggle your minds with until the next column:
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