Bandai Visual continues to see if American consumers will pay premium
prices for anime with their latest Blu-ray release: Yukikaze.
This five episode OVA series is an interesting choice to release in HD
because, while the animation is dynamic and very impressive, the show itself
was created in 480p. Still it is a visually interesting show and
while the story itself is nothing new the aerial dog-fights between high-tech
planes are exciting and fun to watch.
Over 30 years ago, an alien race, the JAM, attacked the earth.
They created a portal over Antarctica from where they launched their invasion.
The United Forces of Earth fought back with high tech fighter planes.
One of those planes, the Yukikaze, is a very fast high altitude jet piloted
by Rei Fukai. Rei's job is to monitor and photograph aerial battles,
but not to take part in them. The tapes he makes are presumably used
to analyze the enemy's tactics. While returning from a mission, Rei
encounters an unidentified plane that is exactly like his. He can
not make radio contact. Something strange happens to Yukikaze's on
board computer, as if someone was trying to hack into it. The radar
display identifies the unknown plane as a hostile, and Rei, following Yukikaze's
advice rather than the evidence of his eyes, shoots it down. No wreckage
Since the plane was never identified, Rei is grounded while an investigation
is carried out. This causes him to brood and become depressed.
He talks about how Yukikaze is the only one he can trust, and how much
the plane means to him. Soon he's flying again, and the plane seems
to share a bond with Rei. It gives him advice during fights and control
keeps flipping back between the computer and Rei. But when the Yukikaze
is fitted with a system that allows it to fly without a pilot, Rei goes
almost catatonic, and Yukikaze, in a break from its programming, fires
upon some United Forces planes that it has identifies as the JAM.
Have the JAM succeeded in infiltrating the Earth forces, or has the plane
Visually, there's a lot to like about this show. The attention
to detail is amazing with even the smallest items being accurately rendered.
From the air rippling in the heat of a jet's exhaust to a missile's vapor
trail, every detail has been carefully animated. The CGI effects
are meshed perfectly with the traditional animation to create an amazing
world. Not only that, but the futuristic plane designs are dazzling
as are the battle scenes.
The downside is the plot and characterization. I never really
connected with any of the people in the show, and it's even hard to identify
with Rei, the series' lead. You know it's bad when you connect with
the plane more than the pilot. Seeing this series for the second
time (I originally watched it when it was released on SD) the plot does
make more sense and it flow much better than the way it was originally
released: over a period of a couple of years. Being able to
sit through these five episodes (which run about 3 hours altogether) in
one session is much better than waiting years between shows like anime
fans originally had to do. Having said, the story that this show
is trying to tell is not impressive or overly interesting. Filled
with SF clichés and a lot of brooding, the creators tried to make
it seem more engaging by making it convoluted and hard to understand.
This was more of an irritant than anything else however. When all
is said and done there isn't much that anime fans will be able to bring
away from this pedestrian plot.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The five episodes that make up this series are contained on three Blu-ray
discs (one 50 GB in size and the other two 25 GB), each one in a regular
BR case. The three cases are housed in a nicely illustrated slipcase.
There is also a 20-page book included with the discs that has an interview
with the director as well as some nice line art.
Since this show was originally rendered in 480p (and with a 1.33:1 aspect
ratio which is preserved here), I was very interested to see how this 1080i
up-conversion compared to the standard DVDs being up-converted. These
AVC encoded discs were created from the original materials and the additional
space for information that BDs have means that any imperfections that crept
in squeezing the show onto a significantly smaller DVD are gone.
Don't get me wrong, I thought the SD releases looked great (for SD DVDs)
and these look a little better. The posterizing that is visible in
some sky shots in much smoother and less noticeable and details are slightly
more visible in dark areas. There are a lot of fast moving action
in this show, with planes zipping across the camera's field in fractions
of a second, and these are a bit smoother looking too when compared to
the up-converted SD DVD.
Overall the show doesn't look as impressive as many Blu-ray discs.
The image isn't as tight and sharp as I was expecting. The show is
filled with straight lines from the various planes and these are soft at
times. Some of the character renderings aren't as tight as they could
be either. While this does look better than its SD counterpart, these
shows are not the best that Blu-ray has to offer.
The audio was impressive however. Viewers can listen to this show
in the original Japanese, or with an English dub. Both languages
come with a Dolby Digital True HD mix that is excellent. I viewed
the show with the Japanese track and spot checked the DD mix and English
dub. Both of the tracks sounded phenomenal with excellent placement
of sounds. Missiles launch from behind the viewer and zoom to the
front of the room. Planes swoosh from left to right engulfing the
room in sound. But the best part is that the audio doesn't collapse
to a mono or stereo track when there is not a lot of action going on.
The full soundstage is used throughout the show. This is a very impressive
mix that is reference quality and a great disc to show off your sound system.
There are English subtitles.
With the third disc devoted to extras, I was hoping for a bit more.
The first thing that is offered is a trailer: Yukikaze Experimental
Movie, a conceptual piece that they used, presumably, to sell the show.
This runs about 5 minutes. Then there's a half hour interview with
a former fighter pilot who discusses how the show compares with really
flying faster than the speed of sound and how some of the aspects of the
show would work in real life. It's a nice piece that was pretty interesting.
This is a case of style over substance. The show is flashy and
dynamic with some stunning visuals that will keep you eyes glued to the
screen. Unfortunately the story isn't nearly as impressive.
Another strike against this disc is that the show was created with a 480p
resolution and up-converted for this disc. While a direct comparison
with the SD version of the show up-converted to 1080p still leaves this
new set looking better, there is a very subtle difference that doesn't
jump out at you. While the image is a bit soft and not impressive
from a HD standpoint, the TrueHD audio is amazing and a significant improvement.
Overall, I'd say this would be a good rental, but nothing more.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.