Movie: Anime has a number of well-worn genres with varying levels of quality and creativity. Whether you prefer the romantic-comedy of Ai Yiri Aoshi, the spy type adventure of NOIR, or the Mech-robot type action, adventure of RahXephon, there is something for almost everyone to enjoy. One recent stand-alone anime movie I ran into this week was Sakura Wars: The Movie.
The movie is a follow-up to the series and OVA that won over a number of fans with its quirky nature. The setting is in the 1920's Tokyo. The world had been at war with a horde of demons from parts unknown and conventional weapons weren't doing any good. In the television series, it was established that a new form of weapon, steam-powered mech robots, was developed in order to combat these evil beings. The catch was that they could only be operated by young, virtuous girls. I haven't seen the series so the specifics of why this is so escaped me when watching the movie but if you can suspend your disbelief to accommodate that fact, you'll have a lot of fun watching the show. The show revolves around a specific group of girls who are part of the Imperial Fighting Troupe, Flower Division, with one young gal, Sakura, as the central character. With the basic premise of the television series now established, let us look at the movie itself.
In the movie, the initial wars are over but there are still demon incursions taking place all over the globe on a regular basis. The Flower Division is faced with the fact that their robots are outdated and an American company is offering a replacement that seems much more advanced. Various elements of the government are quick to see the benefit of removing the young ladies from dangerous fighting by use of the new weapons, which don't need the girls "spirit power" to operate, and the head of the company is persuasive, to say the least. Members of the division are also disappearing at an alarming rate and the remaining crews are very suspicious about the new technology employed, as well as this new executive that seems to promise the world. What secrets does he hold and why shouldn't the girls accept the changing times? Find out by watching the movie!
I think those of you who've seen the television series will appreciate this more than those who haven't but it also works to a large degree as a stand-alone movie. The characters are well thought out and the plot was interesting (and better than most anime movies to date). Yes, there were a number of inconsistencies with minor issues and a few things I'd have preferred be explained in more detail but overall, well done! The voice acting, both in the original Japanese and English dub, was solid enough to interest me with the subtitles translating the material a bit differently too.
The anime itself looked high budget too with a combination of CGI and traditionally drawn anime with very intricate sound effects. In short, it was what most of us want in anime: something more complex that can be appreciated on many levels. The fight scenes were not the boxing-match kind so many low budget releases rely too heavily on as well. In a sense, it might have used a retro background (early 1920's Japan) but it was a refreshing breath of air in terms of so many elements of the production. I think those factors combine to make this one worth a rating of Highly Recommended.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.78:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen and looked very clear with great colors. There was a bit of video noise at times but not much and if you're watching the story, you probably won't notice it either. The anime style was very colorful and a mixture of more conventional drawing and CGI to make it look very eye-catching.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either English or Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and optional English subtitles. Both tracks were very well made and I didn't notice any flaws when watching the movie. There was considerable separation in the tracks during the action sequences but the vocals were as clear as the well-thought-out music.
Extras: The extras included 3 photogalleries (character, mech design, and backgrounds), TV trailers, a double sided dvd cover, and a press conference pilot video (another trailer).
Final Thoughts: I would've appreciated more extras here but I'd be in denial if I suggested it wasn't good enough to make me want to see Pioneer create even more projects long this line. This was a combination of high-end production values, intelligent writing, solid voice acting, and a story that'll give you lots of replay value. Check it out if you care at all for anime, robot stories, and character development.