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The Asylum Session DVD Review

8 min read

When the police start to crack down on a refugee camp of sorts, it inspires a cyborg within to show his true colors.

What They Say:
In a world where civilization has run its course and the mechanics of society have failed, a chosen few are still born with the ability to dream. Forced to run when her father blocks her visions of becoming an artist, Hiyoko finds herself drawn into a strange tent city set up in the ruins of an abandoned stadium, a place the residents call The Asylum. It is in this shadow community where she meets other gifted youths, including the mysterious Akira, that she finds herself and her purpose.
When profiteering officials and police plot to tear the Asylum down, destroying their last sanctuary, Hiyoko and the other refuges choose to fight back rather than flee. But rather than resort to weapons, their unexpected challenge is to create a street festival, using art and culture to win the hearts of the people: a festival they call the Asylum Session.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty basic with a stereo Japanese track encoded at 224kbps. The show isn’t one that stretches itself all that much in general as it’s largely dialogue based with a small bit of action in a way but even that doesn’t really stand out all that strong. There’s not many characters talking on screen at the same time and when they do there’s enough placement to know where it should be coming from. Placement in general is decent but often it’s just a single character talking and they’re center stage. The show is about what you’d expect with this kind of mix and it’s certainly serviceable though it’s not a standout. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally released in 2009, the transfer for this CG movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. CG shows like this are hard to pin down with their look since in a way there’s an unfinished look about them and Asylum Session is no exception as there’s a kind of washed out look about it when it comes to the colors, but also some really nice vibrant areas as well. The transfer is generally solid with just some of the expected background noise there as the encoding runs in the mid range which is fairly normal for most DVD releases these days. The transfer here captures the look of the show fairly well but it’s not a show that really stands out all that much.

This release is rather cute in that it uses a red standard keepcase which helps to frame the cover nicely. The cover artwork itself has a shot of Akira with his back to the viewer as he looks over his shoulder and it’s a good look as he’s got the shirtless thing going which shows off his tattoos. The background behind him is made up of steps and a wall of graffiti which gives it a very rough feeling that’s definitely appropriate for it and I like the bilingual logo that’s on top of everything since the red in it ties to the keepcase color itself. Going by the cover here, you’d be hard pressed to realize this is a CG show too which is pretty interesting. The back cover works in similar covers as the front as the top has a third of it given over to a small cast shot of some of the key players while the middle has the plot summary at an angle with black text on the dark green which can be a little tough to read because of the size of the font. The rest of the cover is given over to a few shots from the show and a clean breakdown of the discs technical features which is all accurately listed. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menus for this release run the same way as the cover design does with the character artwork transitioning here and the background layout combined with the the angled look from the back cover in order to put the menu selections below it. There’s not a lot here for selections since there aren’t any audio options and the extras have their own menu. The layout is very easy to navigate and everything is laid out very cleanly. When you have a simple show like this, keeping the menus simple works well and what draws you into it is the layout itself which uses the cover design well.

There are some good extras on here for the fans as there are three video interviews, two with the voice actors including Aya Hirano and with the feature’s director. They run between fifteen and seven minutes each so they add some nice extra content for the short feature.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One of the things that I like about the US anime companies is that they do, on occasion, take chances with strange and little known one shot titles. The Japanese company Comix Wave kind of specializes in that over the years and we’ve seen some of their works before. Asylum Session, a 2009 3D CG anime movie, is definitely the kind of title that fits into an almost avant garde kind of style in what it wants to be but fails to really capitalize on it. It has an almost art house appeal about it, but it also goes back in a way to how some older anime OVAs and short movies felt back in the late eighties and early nineties.

The Asylum Session has a kind of near future feel about it but at the same time it gives the impression that it takes place much further down the line as well. The world has a familiar feel as we meet seventeen year old Hiyoko, a high school student who is exceptional at art and comes by it naturally as her mother was a famous and gifted artist that died five years ago. There’s a strain between her and her father, a chief of police, and the two rarely see each other. He resents the way she’s falling into the art same as her mother as it’s something that he saw as ruining her life, making her increasingly unhappy and difficult to live with. That bleeds onto her and she has issues with him, which is why on her birthday when she returns home after school to find nobody there, she ends up wandering the streets.

What she wanders into however is a bad situation as the police are trying to evict a whole lot of people who have built a town inside a sports stadium that had fallen into disrepair over the years. It’s pretty elaborate and these people have built a real community with it, but it definitely has that kind of happy go lucky kind of feel about it. With the police trying to evict them though, it’s turned almost into a riot though as the residents there push back against them. What gives them the ability to make that push though is the arrival of Akira, a rough and tumble young man that literally falls into their presence because he’s mostly a cyborg who can use thrusters to approximate flying. He’s a punk in a lot of ways when it comes to fighting, but it allows events to turn into a stalemate.

It’s from here that the feature takes an unusual turn, one that keeps it from really connecting in a way. With Hiyoko involved in it at least peripherally as she makes a friend there, she ends up becoming friends with Akira and a few others when they find out about her mother. There’s talk of times past with how large murals and artwork inspired people, referencing Woodstock and the like, and how the people of the stadium need to do the same in order to make people aware of the struggle they’re going through. It has that kind of 60’s youth in rebellion feel to it as they talk about things, get to know each other and work through their issues, while seeing it all come to a head with a new confrontation between them and the police. There are some tangents that come up, small ones really as it explains a little bit about certain aspects, but the larger picture is pretty hard to discern, which makes the smaller and more personal aspects feel like they don’t come together well.

With this being a 3D CG movie, something I wasn’t aware of before it started playing, it’s one that feels like it’s a few years older than its 2009 pedigree. After being spoiled by high end productions like Appleseed and Vexille, going back to this feels like going back to the early part of the decade. The look isn’t bad, but it feels more like an art house style in a way, especially with some of the camera angles and execution. What kept throwing me was the size of their hands. They just looked disproportionate compared to what they should really look like. But then you look at your own hand and wonder if it’s closer to reality than it should be. There’s a lack of fluidity to certain scenes as well that gives it an odd feeling with how they move but that speaks more to its budget than anything else since it’s not a big name production.

In Summary:
The Asylum Session is the kind of short length feature that has some potential to tell an interesting if familiar story, but it skimps out on so many important details to help establish the setting that it never really feels like it comes together well. The thing that captured my attention the most was the really detailed artwork that Hiyoko comes up with as it’s really different from most of what we see and it has a very distinctive look about it. The storyline involving the people of the stadium and what they’re going through is decent enough, but it’s never given the background it really needs in order to give it some resonance. The Asylum Session is an interesting work that has too much of what it needs in the minds of the creators that never fully materialized in the show itself.

Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Running Time: 65 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480p MPEG-2

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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