Movie: ADV Films has long been a leader in releasing anime in the United States, albeit with a few glitches along the way. Led by John Ledford, a native Houstonian, the ever-expanding company has been on a mission to bring anime in all its glory in any way possible, from tapes to DVD to even starting their own anime network, aptly titled the Anime Network (sadly, it is not available in John's own hometown yet but Time Warner has never been on the cutting edge, yes?). I've grown to enjoy many of the company's releases over the last few years and one of them really stood out for me, RahXephon. The television series was one of the best to come out of Japan for its fusion of audio and visual style with a lot of excellent writing to boot. The show was so well received in the seven volumes that came out last year, winning a coveted spot on the DVDTalk Best Of Anime feature, that the company decided to explore a new way to market this superior title, with a movie, RahXephon: The Motion Picture: Pluralitas Concentio.
The movie is effectively a sampler for the series, taking footage for the entire 26 episodes and adding in just enough new material that completists such as myself will consider this a "must have" as the story is revisited in some very interesting ways. Make no mistake, the series was such that I wouldn't have edited out a single frame but this newer version provides a few changes that actually made some of the story elements more accessible to casual viewers and seasoned watchers alike. Here's a quick look at the show if you haven't been fortunate enough to see it:
The show revolves around a young man, Kamina Ayato, caught in the middle of an intense battle between Earth and Mu. The superior technology of the Mulians is countered by the vast numbers of Humans and without spoiling too much of the action, Ayato is put in a position where his unique talent to pilot the most advanced Mulian warship, The RahXephon, makes him a highly coveted prize to both sides. Initially a clueless teenager, Ayato soon learns that his memories are all lies and his background far more complicated, placing him in a precarious position of choosing between two equally offensive sides. As he struggles to find out who he is and where his place in the universe is, Ayato falls in love and ends up a target of factions from both sides that would just as soon see him dead as working for their enemy.
Okay, the battle robot genre has rarely been as interesting as this although it draws from a host of previous shows in terms of themes so much of it will be familiar ground to anime fans but even those of you who have never understood the wide appeal of this type of show will probably find it texturally rich enough to leave your preconceived notions aside to enjoy what Japan, by way of ADV Films, has to offer. Dare I say it; I'd be willing to bet that this movie could convert some of you due to the way it handles so many elements in unison, something that rarely happens in more mainstream movies too.
I'm going to rate this as Highly Recommended for all those reasons and more but I admit to being a highly biased fan of the original show. The dubbed version was actually among the best I've seen and ADV should be commended for taking the time and energy needed to "get it right" once more. I know that other shows have also received the series-to-a-movie treatment but I think this one shines head and shoulders above the pack, making me long for the next series by Bones, the company responsible for this one, and the creative team at the helm. RahXephon might not be for everyone but it was better than so many flavor of the month releases from Hollywood that you'll owe it to yourself to give it a look.
Picture: The picture was presented in a 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as it was originally produced. Although I'm not sure if it's possible, I think it looked even better than the original series with stunning colors, no visual defects, and a host of visual effects that made me truly appreciate the series. I saw no compression artifacts and if you're looking for a movie to showcase anime on your home theatre system, this is as good as it gets in terms of a full frame release.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice between a 5.1 Dolby Digital Japanese or English track, with optional English subtitles for those who care. I actually preferred the dubbed track (I'm not a language snob) as it appeared to have better directionality and even clarity but I know many of you want to hear the Japanese track too. The original track has a couple of issues with the speaker placement, mostly in a few dialogue exchanges, and I'm of the opinion that someone messed something up in the middle chapters of the show. Otherwise, the music was superior and the vocals, both sets of them, exceptionally delightful to listen to, as were the special effects.
Extras: There are two versions of the movie and mine was the bare bones version so your mileage will vary as to the extras. Personally, I enjoyed the feature enough to dismiss the extras as not being overly important but the 16 page booklet that came with my version was really informative. The only other extra was a series of trailers for other ADV anime shows, something I appreciate but don't care much about.
Final Thoughts: I really appreciated being able to relive the RahXephon experience all over again, as seen through a new set of eyes in a way. The themes, the technical matters, and the way it used the anime genre to its fullest extent was enough that I'll be forcing friends to watch this version for years to come. Maybe it will intrigue enough of them to want to see the whole show and then assist my write in campaign to get the Anime Network on a local cable television network so I'll be able to keep up with all the neat stuff ADV has to offer. In short, this is a great movie to promote anime and ADV Films deserves all the credit for having the foresight to offer it as an alternative to a full series.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime article!