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SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next
I haven't been impressed with Bandai Visual's recent releases (not to be confused with plan ol' Bandai...they've been putting out some good stuff.) Releasing very expensive anime discs without even going to the trouble of creating an English dub would have been bad enough but what's worst is that the shows aren't that entertaining. The discs of theirs that have crossed my desk (Galaxy Angel Rune and Super Robot Wars) have been either yawn fests or a waste of time. That's why I didn't have much hope for the awkwardly named SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next. I didn't know much about the show, aside from that fact that it was a stand alone 45 minute story, and wasn't expecting much. This show is based on a manga by legendary comic creator Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) however and the film itself is very good. Filled with charm, excitement, and adventure this is a great anime disc. It's just too bad that the cost will deter people from buying it.
When Ryuhei Ozaki, a fifth grader living in Tokyo, finds his father's elementary school notebook where he maps out the tunnels under the city that he and his friends explored, he becomes inspired. There're references to a treasure hidden in the underground and Ozaki is determined to find it.
Going to his favorite kid's chat room, he asks in anyone wants to accompany him and gets two volunteers, Shun and Yoshio. Along with Ryuhei's little brother Sasuke, the quartet meet in the heart of the city, find the manhole that the journal describes, and heads into the unknown. There are rumors that the Japanese Government hid all of their gold at the end of WWII, and the kid's heads swirl with dreams of riches. What they find however is even more interesting and unusual.
This was a great film in every respect. The kids acted like real kids, being afraid of the unknown but wanting to have an adventure at the same time. It's easy to get attached to the four boys (and the mysterious Mr. Acid Rain) and their trip is quite enjoyable. Anyone who has ever been a kid will find it easy to identify with the main characters.
The animation is wonderful too. This was theatrically released so it had a much larger budget than your average anime episode and all of the money went up on the screen. The backgrounds are just fabulous. The city streets look like real city streets, with interesting signs in story windows, odd bits of garbage here and there, and detailed building facades.
The people move is a realistic manner, bobbing when they walk and seeming to interact with their environment rather than simply floating over it. The characters themselves look somewhat like rotoscoped images, but they aren't. They were created with a computer. The whole film is made with CGI and it works very well. The people, still looking a little odd, are much more realistic than those done even five years ago. With the whole production being computer animated there is none of that (sometimes) jarring mix of 2D and 3D animation. Everything flows together very well and that makes the production look more natural. Overall this is quite an impressive looking film.
The Blu-ray Disc:
This film comes with on a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded disc that looks really, really good. The first thing that strikes viewers about this disc is the incredible detail, especially in the backgrounds. This isn't a Hanna-Barbeara cartoon by any means it's a carefully constructed film with some amazing, finely detailed artwork. The Tokyo cityscape is amazing, but even the more pedestrian scenes are filled with objects that make them looks natural. The alley where the boys find the manhole cover has refuse and garbage in the corners where the wind has blown it. Even these seemingly inconsequential objects are rendered carefully and with a lot of fine lines.
The colors fit in with the natural look of the film. They are dazzlingly bright and intense, but realistic looking. The blacks are deep and solid without being crushed and some of the most impressive scenes are the ones in low light where the whole world turns to a brownish hue. Digitally things look fine. There isn't any aliasing, something that often plagues animation, and posterization and blocking are also absent. This is a fine looking disc.
The film is presented with the original Japanese audio in a nice Dolby True HD 5.1 mix. There is no English dub, and for the price they're asking for this disc there should be. While I usually prefer to watch anime in Japanese with subtitles, there are many people who would rather watch a dub (which, since it's animated, isn't anywhere near as painful as a dubbed live action film) and it is standard practice of present anime with English or Japanese options. I'm really disappointed (though not surprised) that Bandai Visual didn't add an English track and my audio rating reflects that.
As for the Japanese track, it sounds very good. The underground sounds are thrown to all corners of the room, and this really creates a nice atmosphere. It's a subtle effect too, which is nice. There's nothing worse than an over eager sound engineer who turns up the digital echo. That doesn't happen hear, and the result is a realistic sounding movie.
There are a couple of action scenes in the film, and the audio really kicks in the. The scene with the fleeing rats was especially impressive with their panicked squeaks totally engulfing the viewers. The battle at the end gives the subwoofer a good workout too. A nice and solid effort.
This movie comes with a commentary track, but it's not one of those lame ones where the English voice actors goof around and crack jokes over the story. This track includes people who actually worked on the show, namely director Shinji Takagi, CGI director Masashi Kokubo, and chief animator Tomonari Nakajima. Their comments are in Japanese with English subtitles and though the track can be a little on the dry side at times it is interesting to hear their thoughts and their description of how the film was made.
There's also a 17-minute making-of featurette (in SD) that covers the creation of the 2D and 3D CGI animation, the lighting, the facial expressions, etc. It was adequate though anime fans will have doubtlessly seen similar things countless times before. This section had the narration dubbed in English.
Next up is a series of creator interviews (nine minutes altogether, presented in SD once again.) This features the people in the commentary as well as legendary manga creator Katsuhiro Otomo. They talk about the project and how the feel it turned out. The bonus section is wrapped up with a theatrical trailer.
Although it has a horrible name, SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next is easily the best thing that Bandai Visual has released in the US. This funny, exciting, and heart-warming tale is just a lot of fun to watch. Whether you're an anime fan or not, this excellent looking (and sounding) disc is definitely worth checking out. Highly recommended. The price and lack of a dub track are the only things keeping it from a higher rating.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.