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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Popotan - Vanishing House
Popotan - Vanishing House
Geneon // Unrated // December 7, 2004
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Don Houston | posted January 5, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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Movie: Those of us who enjoy anime have long been in on what amounts to one of the worst kept secrets on Earth. That secret is that anime really isn't "all alike" as so many thoughtless (I'll refrain from calling them "clueless") people believe. Just scratching the surface of the Best Of Anime 2004 article, you'll find shows about giant robots, orphans, harems, and travelers (among others) and the fact remains that anime opens up more possibilities for story tellers than it closes (as with more mainstream genres). Anything a writer can think of can be translated into a show and this is an area where that Japanese have long excelled; with huge numbers of shows that are made for adult audiences as well as their kids. This said, the subject of today's review is a little title known as Popotan: Vanishing House (Volume 1), a short series that was full of surprises for even a jaded old reviewer like myself.

Much like the Magical Play series I reviewed not long ago, the show was a bit difficult to pin down. The action centered on a group of young gals, Ai, Mai, Mii, and Mea, that travel around helping others in need as they collect their precious "popotan", essentially dandelions that power their efforts. Each gal had their own personality but the show's deliberate pacing didn't unveil all the cards at once with each of the first four episodes focusing on one of them in turn more than the group as a collective whole. In the opening episode, Secret House, the oldest sister, Ai, dealt with an intruder of sorts with a special quest. In the second episode, Friends, Mai made the most of her situation at school (people that move around a lot could probably identify with her). The third episode, Magic, had the youngest sister, Mii, figuring out that she wanted to be a "magical girl" like her television anime hero as she assisted a dying young gal. The final episode, Alone, dealt with Mea, the maid, as she tried to figure out the mystery behind a lost little girl in need of her doll being fixed (or was that all she needed?).

While my description of the series sounds pretty straightforward, the show itself was not nearly as clear cut. There was a bit of animated nudity but it wasn't usually blatant. There were harem-like aspects but without a male lead character, it was very much unlike the usual Tenchi style show. I can honestly say that I'd like to see the next two volumes in this three part series but I wonder if the folks at Geneon will be able to maintain the fresh approach as the secrets of the characters are unveiled even more. While I wasn't able to pigeonhole the show into some nice, neat category, I think the show has a lot of potential to entertain. By combining elements from shows like Kino's Journey, Magical Play, and about a dozen others, it fused them in a whole new manner. Whether that's a good thing or not remains to be seen but this DVD was worth a rating of Recommended for all that it had to offer.

Picture: Popotan was presented in an anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a wonderful array of colors and visual effects. Rather than just make it a brightly lit, sharp contrast style of anime, the original releasing company, SHAFT, went with an offbeat approach that fit the material far better than what I usually see in anime these days. The style managed to supersede the minor limitations of video noise and occasional compression artifacts giving it a slightly unique look.

Sound: The audio was presented with the usual choices of either the 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese or the equivalent English language dub; both with the option of two separate subtitle streams (one for signs only and the other for the vocals). I really liked the English dub a bit better this time and while the separation between the channels was noticeable only when the music played, it wasn't bad. The dynamic range of the show's audio was pretty good too but it wasn't as fully realized as it could have been.

Extras: The only real extras this time were some trailers, a paper insert with character information, a double sided DVD cover, a clean opening, and a short art gallery from the series. While I'd have preferred more, most shows these days seem to have settled on providing these basics as standard fare.

Final Thoughts: Popotan 1 was a bit of an enigma in terms of what audience it was made for. It had some nudity, a group of gals living on their own terms without any men around, and a gentle spirit designed to appeal to the lighter side of life as the characters went around assisting people in need. The dynamic between those characters was left very much up in the air at the end of the first volume but it seemed to set the stage for something more in the next two releases. Geneon is known for taking chances in its anime releases unlike companies that take the easy (safe) route but if you want something a bit off the beaten track, this may be it for you.

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!

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