Movie: Every once in awhile, I need to be reminded that anime is more than just a fancy term for cartoons made in Japan for kids. In fact, whether or not you believe it's a medium or genre, there exists a larger audience for animated shows in Japan then here in the USA (if you believe the network suits that is). Not all of it centers on impossibly skilled teenagers somehow knowing how to operate complex weapons of mass destruction, life in space fighting aliens, or the magical dramas most of us associate with the anime releases we're used to on this side of the Pacific Ocean. Today's review is of a series I hadn't heard about or seen any press whatsoever yet it was deserving of some accolades, even if it wasn't exactly my type of show. The name of the DVD was Human Crossing 3: Message In White and the cover advertised it as "A collection of Human Stories". Thankfully, I wasn't up the creek without a paddle not having seen the first two volumes of the show since each is a set of stand alone episodes that do not require the viewer (or, in my case, reviewer) any knowledge of the previous shows. Here's what the back cover said about it:
"Families, husbands and wives, lovers and people.
Dramas that emerge from life's human crossroads...
Ordinary people muddle through life and intersect with one another in random ways. Like people walking along road crossings in different directions with no apparent destination in sight. Human Crossing is a realistic portrayal of everyday people in modern Japan with all its beauty and ugliness. In this volume, Human Crossing examines the lives of a female prisoner who longs for a reunion with her family in "Message in White", a business man who receives a surprise visit by his father's mistress in "The Smile" and a painter who rediscovers his passion in Paris in "City". Human Crossing is a collection of short vignettes about hope, a reminder of the small victories one can achieve amid the vicissitudes of life."
Each story is about the human need for hope in the face of all logic and odds. They don't employ supernatural means or highly technological gimmicks and the end result is a rather pleasing set of stories that would all fit right in on network television if done in an anthology format with live actors. The first episode of the trio was Message In White, the story of a female prisoner about to finish her sentence in jail for embezzlement. She fell prey to the usual human weaknesses in her previous life and was now fighting her return to society based as much on her fear of what would happen to her life next.
The second episode was The Smile in which a member of an extended family in Japan worms her way into a family after the passing of a man. His son is at odds with his wife about how to handle the woman and in the course of the episode, we learn that not all family is strictly blood related. The last episode was City in which the comforts of a successful life and all the trappings that go with it eventually steal the passion out of a relationship. Each of these shows managed to say something about the human condition and how we compromise to fit our circumstances, sometimes leading us away from who we are deep inside. If we let society determine our goals, we lose some of what makes us unique but the cost in terms of identity is sometimes more than we care to think about until it's "too late" (or nearly so). Upon reflection, each of the episodes lends itself as a guide to keep in mind the bigger picture, defining success is vastly different terms then we're used to in order to avoid the trappings of society.
So, what do you rate a show that is pleasant but has little replay value and only offers three episodes with bare extras? Well, as much as I liked the DVD, I think a rating of Rent It is the fairest I can be to it. As I said earlier, it's not my favorite type of anime but it did manage to grab a hold of me in a way I have yet to define. I'd love to see the previous volumes to see if they were as good as this one since I think the episodes have a universal appeal to them but I recognize that this one would need to be marketed in a completely different manner to most shows I've seen in the past to get the kind of attention I think it warrants (on several levels). If you check it out, you'll see what I mean but steer clear of it if all you want is the kind of thrill a minute action shows most anime producers offer.
Picture: Human Crossing 3: Message In White was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was produced in for broadcast in Japan. It was clean looking with a low frame rate but the background detail was often very interesting to look at. The colors were accurate and I saw few problems (a bit of shimmer and pattern noise a few times) as I watched it twice. There were no compression artifacts during my viewing and it fit the story elements nicely.
Sound: The audio was presented with the usual choice of the original 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese with English subtitles (signs only or dialogue too) or an English language dub in the same format. Both tracks came off as well made here but I thought the dub showed a slightly better dynamic range in the background effects and music. I know subtitle snobs might disagree with me but the producers seemed to go out of their way to find appropriate voices for the roles this time and the quality of their work showed up nicely on the audio track. The subtitles weren't a direct translation of the show either but they were very close in most cases (a word or two changed from time to time).
Extras: The extras were minimal this time with some trailers, a paper insert listing the volumes of the series, and a clean credits section. With only three episodes on the DVD, I had hoped for more (or a lowered MSRP) but this was one area of weakness that a series with low projected sales could be expected.
Final Thoughts: Human Crossing 3: Message In White was one of those shows where you could perhaps entice someone less interested in anime into watching to see the kind of human drama offered up in realistic settings in hopes of converting them into a fan. As such, it was worth watching but also for the little touches displayed throughout the episodes that showed more compassion and care than I usually associate with an anime release. It's not going to replace Samurai 7, Cowboy Bebop Remix or Area 88 as the show to see anytime soon but I think the attention to the technical aspects combined with the subject matter was well handled and worthy of a better marketing campaign than this one has received to date.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article or regular column Anime Talk