For Love. For Honor. For Vengeance.
Queen Emeraldas is our first review from ADV Films, an anime-only distributor who has just started sending us their discs. The story is a spin off of a highly evolved world-set known as the Star Blazer or alternately "Captain Harlock" universe to otakus (the Japanese term for anime fanatics). Fortunately you do not need to be conversant with that universe (I wasn't) to grasp what is going on. Basically it is a well-animated space opera concerning the journey of a young boy who wishes to grow up to helm a starship, and the well known heroine Emeraldas, a warrior of renown with a spaceship so powerful it destroys whole fleets. The first two episodes of a continuing OAV (straight to video) series are on this DVD and provide an introduction to the series. Great video and sound and tons of trailers might make up for a too short running time.
I have the distinction of being the judge to bring anime (Japanese animation, for adults and shown in prime time often enough) to The Verdict. I am an unlikely hero for the genre, however; as I was only a casual fan exposed to it through friends. As I did research for my reviews I found that there are legions of fans who know every bit of trivia about a whole host of anime films, videos, and manga (Japanese comic book versions of anime type fare). These folks know a lot more than I do on this subject, and I'm several hundred videos behind them for any chance for me to match their knowledge level. So the real otaku may find my slant and my knowledge on the naïve side. That said, I feel my role is to expose this genre to the people who really know little about it, and perhaps to spur on some interest and increase the numbers of people exposed to and buy anime. Of course my knowledge of video and audio strengths and flaws in DVD transcend genre and can apply to any disc, so those who simply want to know whether a title looks and sounds good can depend on me. So take that for what it is worth, and take my reviews as coming from a relative newcomer.
Our story is of Hiroshi Umino, a boy who has stowed away on a freighter type starship to visit another planet in search of a man who has designed the greatest fighting ships ever built. He hopes to learn from this man and build his own ship that will ultimately make him powerful enough that he needs nothing from anyone. His troubled past and rejections by family and others has led him to this way of thinking, and he is nearly stubborn enough to try to be an island in the sea of humanity. The ship he is stowed away on is nearly destroyed by a fleet of ships belonging to some evil race called the Afressians. Just in the nick of time some cloaked invisible ship comes and provides its defenses to block the weapons that would have destroyed the freighter, and when it turns on it's own weapons, destroys most of the enemy fleet within seconds. The fleet commander barely escapes; running away quickly when he the ship finally appears next to him, far larger than his own ship and flying a red skull and crossbones. That insignia he knows belongs to Emeraldas, and prudent evil overlords know when she shows up its time to find a new locale.
Hiroshi arrives at his destination and takes a job at a sleazy tavern to make ends meet. The evil folks show up since they've been ordered to find Emeraldas' ship by the Eviler Overlord (title mine). It turns out Emeraldas is already there, silently having a drink, and everyone is struck with awe when she pulls back her cloak and they see her scarecrow thin scarred self. With good reason, as she turns out to be capable of taking out bunches of them, and even shoots down a small ship with a laser pistol while standing in the middle of the street, in a scene right out of Patton.
Emeraldas apparently sails the Sea of Stars in search of a lost love, though I detected little of that aspect of her character in these episodes. Perhaps I just wasn't in tune with the storyline enough.
The next episode takes up afterwards, when the Afressian fleet assembles to kill Emeraldas by luring her into a trap by taking the gang at the saloon, including Hiroshi hostage. Here Hiroshi learns the lessons of friendship and being able to depend on someone besides himself.
Both half hour episodes combine dramatic dialogue scenes with space opera battles involving hundreds of ships. Some CGI effects combine with the animation to provide some nice eye candy and space looks pretty realistic considering it's drawn. I found it an entertaining mix, unfortunately over all too soon. Apparently there will be follow-up episodes coming. The animation is typical anime; meaning that it doesn't have the fluidity of a well done Disney picture, but has a style all its own and does quite well.
The video is striking; with vivid colors and sharp detail. There is some shimmer in a few CGI effects and a bit of video noise in some busier scenes, but these are small, almost unnoticed flaws in an otherwise stellar transfer, unfortunately in full frame. These are straight to video productions of what was originally television fare, so that is not such a handicap. Still, epic spacebattles always look better in widescreen.
There are three audio tracks: English, Japanese, and French, all in Dolby 2.0 stereo. Being the non-otaku weenie that I am, I always use the English track when I can. Subtitles are preferred by some die-hards, but then again I'm not die-hard. There are English and Spanish subtitles as well for those so inclined. This seems to me to be the best course, to give people the option of "sub or dub," whichever they prefer. I found the English track excellent, with good voice acting and no problem with lip-synching. Animation far exceeds live action when it comes to a dubbed language track. The soundtrack was nicely separated with the stereo tracks, with good bass response and crisp, clear dialogue. The score was not quite up to the standards of the rest of the track, however, sounding a little thin. Fine soundtrack overall however.
Extras are on the light side, except for the trailers. Two text screens explaining who Emeraldas and Hiroshi Umino are and some stills from the film are all there is. On the trailer front, there are no less than 12 of them. The anime discs covered include: Tekken Sensation Mix, Slayers, Legend of Crystania, Sonic the Hedgehog, Queen Emeraldas, Sakura Wars, Battle Angel, Bubblegum Crisis, Burn Up W, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ninja Resurrection, and Those Who Hunt Elves.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One very disconcerting sight in the film is Emeraldas' ship. It looks like a huge dirigible that is holding a 19th century sailing vessel below it as a gondola. Emeraldas lives inside the dirigible part though, making this tall ship sailing vessel below extraneous and anachronistic to the rest of the story. No explanation of why the ship has this "feature." Perhaps I should know better than to quibble on design philosophy of anime, which was written for the Japanese market and perhaps is some obscure reference to the worldset of which I know little.
Perhaps the biggest problem here is we only have 1 hour of running time; two half hour episodes of a continuing story. At $30 online for an hour of a continuing story the price is pretty steep for any but the committed viewer who knows the story. If it were me, I'd be waiting for the complete series to hit DVD and look for a box set.
There is a technical issue on the disc for those who want to listen to the Japanese or French tracks. Chapter 5 of the disc has the two language tracks transposed; if you were listening to Japanese the language would switch to French for that chapter then back to the correct track, and vice versa. Since I only listen to the English tracks and don't speak Japanese (and only a year of college French) it isn't an issue for me.
I really can't recommend purchase of the disc, simply because it is only part of the story and the price is too steep for one hour of running time and doesn't even have a real finish. I highly recommend a rental however; the story is engaging and the video and sound quality excellent. Of course that problem with the other language tracks could be troubling for some viewers. I look forward to reviewing the rest of the series.
ADV has acquitted itself nicely in its first appearance before this court. The only real problems here are the language track problem, and the desire to get more episodes per disc in the future. I look forward to their next appearance, which will be soon.
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