Movie: Fans of anime have long found some of the most interesting titles converted into videogames. Granted, those games often turned out to be hack jobs that relied more on marketing to sell than quality but then there is also the case where the reverse is true; a game is turned into a series. In the case of Sakura Wars TV: The Complete Collection, the series actually worked pretty nicely although offering a lot more filler material than you'll find in Sakura Wars: The Movie released by another company. I reviewed about half the volumes a few years ago but let me tell you that the newly released boxed set was such a better deal than those individual releases that I'd be misleading you to not mention it right up front. Here's a look at the show in general though.
The series is set in the 1920's in Japan. Earth had been invaded by demons intent on taking over and were barely fought off by groups around the globe. The means to do this fighting came not from the technologically lame conventional weapons of the era but of steam powered robots somewhat smaller than those popularized in other shows but substantial nonetheless. The trick to the technology was that the only people that could pilot the machines were young people (from preteen to mid twenties) with sufficient virtue and spiritual cleanliness. This concept was a bit less explained than most of the others in the show but the general idea that there was a scarcity of potential pilots for the machines and of the ones who could pilot them, few would be good at it. In an interesting twist, almost all the pilots were young ladies with few men measuring up.
In Japan, the force fighting the demons were headquartered in Capital City in the Imperial Floral Capital Defense Force which was strangely located in an old theatre or opera house as they were called. The lead character was Sakura (played by Jenny Larson) who came from one of the rural areas of Japan but had a long family legacy in fighting for Japan (her dad being a legendary fighter of some note). She arrives in town and eventually finds herself at odds with the others in the fighting troupe, all of whom are rehearsing for an opera performance. Not knowing what's going on, she falls on the wrong side of the gals, each of whom seem to find performing in opera more important than their demon fighting chores, except for the straight-laced Sakura. As the series progresses, she slowly ends up befriending her coworkers who learn to respect her skill with a sword as much as her high levels of spiritual energy. They lose friends and associates along the way as the demons press forward their repeated attacks but the troupe refuses to cave in to the evil forces knowing what the consequences will be. Here's what the box covers said about the volumes:
"Young Sakura arrives in Capital City to fight for the Imperial Floral Capital Defense Force, but all she finds is a weird opera company preparing for a big performance. What's worse is that the ladies in the company won't let Sakura join in any of their Rheingold games. Can she win them over by unleashing her Spirit Energy? Based on the video game that took the world by storm, Sakura Wars TV brings you even more of the beautiful warriors made popular in the original Sakura Wars. Follow Sakura as she joins the fight of her life. Will she ever be accepted? Does the world have a chance against the evil Wakaji and the mysterious Crimson Lady? Can everyone learn their lines before opening night?
It is the 1920s, and Japan is under attack by demonic invaders. The government has designed sturdy, albeit steam-powered, robot armor suits for the impending battle, but only young ladies with the proper combination of virtue and spirit can pilot the robots successfully.
Enter young Sakura, arriving in the Imperial Capital from the countryside to join the Imperial Flower Combat Troop. She has the qualifications to be a fine robot pilot, but she's surprised to learn that this secret Defense Force has a cover story as a musical theatre troupe-and they take their cover jobs very seriously indeed. It's costumes, line readings and robot combat galore, as Sakura struggles to learn the ropes, learn her lines, and do her part to save the nation!
The Imperial Flower Combat Troop gains two new members: Kouran the Brain and Kanna the Brawn. But the Evil Darkness has gained new members too: Setsuna the Imp and his trusty companion Resatsu the Lumbering Brute! To make matters worse, the printing shop has delivered the programs for the Gala Premiere and they're full of spelling errors!
Based on the video game that took the world by storm, Sakura Wars TV brings you even more of the beautiful warriors made popular in the Sakura Wars OVA. Can these lovely lasses harness their inner power to defeat the demon world? Will Sakura finally prove herself as a true member of the team? Who will survive when Sumire finds out about her billing in the show?
The forces of evil are growing stronger—even Mother Nature has turned traitor and is itching for a fight. The world needs a team of defenders: a dedicated group that will work together in harmony and ace precision; a band that will refuse to give into their petty squabbles and haunting pasts in order to stand strong against the forces of chaos!
Unfortunately, all it has is the Imperial Flower Combat Troop…
A meteorite crashes to Earth, bringing with it a deadly virus known as M34 that infects humans, turning them into lethal beast-like monsters. The world's top organizations gather to form the organization CURE to combat the infectious disease. One organization, NOA, stands in the virus' destructive path by using solders implanted with super nanotechnology to fight the vicious disease. But as the virus continues to spread and mutate into different strains, mankind's only hope may be a sixteen-year-old girl…
Sakura finally realizes her dream of starring in the Imperial Flower Combat Troop's new show, but the devious Satani has more than a bouquet of roses with which to reward our star. What will the team do when their key player is running plays for the other side? And how can they win if their coach is missing in action? Will the old traditions prove to be the way to a new victory?
Based on the video game that took the world by storm, Sakura Wars TV brings you even more of the beautiful warriors made popular in Sakura Wars. This volume takes you four episodes closer to the exciting conclusion of the epic battle between our high-strung heroes and the tireless shadow dwellers. Things will get a lot worse before they get any better.
Our heroes are on the run after the combined forces of evil destroy the headquarters of the Imperial Flower Combat Troop. Without a base of operations, the girls are at the mercy of Satani and his infernal crew. But the forces of good still have a few unplayed cards. Will it be too late in the game to win the jackpot?
Based on the video game that took the world by storm, Sakura Wars TV brings you even more of the beautiful warriors made popular in Sakura Wars. The grand adventure comes to an end with these four episodes of danger, despair, destruction, and defeat! When the fate of the globe hangs by a thread, the future depends on who holds the scissors."
Okay, so what was the series actually like? Well, it seemed geared to females in my estimation and that's not a bad thing. There was enough for me to enjoy too with a moderate amount of action, plotting & scheming by the forces of evil, and the usual exploits when people are forced to work closely together for extended periods of time. The boxed set worked better than the individual releases (that were sold months apart) and while there were virtually no extras included here, the pricing made this a far better deal for newcomers to enjoy the show. The themes of the stories were standard anime; with friendship, loyalty to a cause, fighting for honor and all the other associated deals in full bloom. I enjoyed the dub nearly as much as the original Japanese language track, bouncing between them for this review to make sure I covered them both adequately.
I'm going to rate Sakura Wars TV: The Complete Collection as Recommended although some of you will think it's worth more than that as a boxed set for all it had to offer. It was a decent deal and once again I applaud ADV Films for providing this version of the already popular series in the increasingly popular boxed set style. The only thing I'd have liked better would be if the original extras were included but given the savings of the set, I don't want to appear too greedy.
Picture: Sakura Wars TV: The Complete Collection was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was broadcast with in Japan a number of years ago. The picture was a bit weaker than some of the newer titles on the market but it still had a lot to like with appropriate colors, camera work like a real set of movies, and only some minor artifacts from time to time. I spot checked the DVD transfer to the older release and it actually looked the same so there's no need to worry about any reduction in quality this time from the looks of it.
Sound: The audio was provided on the ADV Films standard with the original 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese track comparing favorably with the newer 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track on the English language dub. For vocals, I favored the original although the subtitles seemed a bit off in some places, and for the music and sound effects, I preferred the dub as ADV Films seems to readily improve on the separation and dynamic range whenever they get the chance. This was one such case and I think they did a fine job of it overall with both tracks.
Extras: The down side to getting the episodes far cheaper is that something has to give. In the case of the boxed sets coming out, that means almost no extras with the cardboard case and some trailers all you get. Consider how often you're going to watch the extras on a domestically produced anime show and you'll likely find that the extra cost won't merit paying extra for the original releases in almost every case, such as here. I do miss the paper inserts though so perhaps a compromise could've been worked out to include them.
Final Thoughts: Sakura Wars TV: The Complete Collection was another fine boxed set from the folks at ADV Films as they seek to provide the kind of value some of us reviewer/critics have railed about for years. The show itself was entertaining (far more than the video games it was based on) and had some replay value with decent technical values to satisfy most otaku. While not quite the homerun of other recent releases by ADV Films, Sakura Wars TV: The Complete Collection was easily comparable to a two base hit with bases loaded given the amount of bang for the buck this boxed set offered. Check it out and I don't think you'll be sorry at all.
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, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.