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TO (Tou) Film Collection: Elliptical Orbit & Symbiotic Planet Blu-ray/DVD Combo Review

9 min read

Real science fiction stories are rare to come by but those two stories from the 2001 Nights manga fit the bill perfectly.

What They Say:
Fifteen years after its last contact with our world, a space freighter known as the Flying Dutchman requests permission to dock at a remote moon base. This mysterious ship carries liquid protons: a power source essential to the survival of Earth’s population. But before the precious cargo can be delivered, the base is ambushed by galactic terrorists who seek to destroy the new form of energy and issue a death sentence to all of humanity.

Please Note: This is a Blu-ray/DVD combo set. The technical section covers the Blu-ray portion of the release.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release works really well overall as it has the original Japanese language track in 5.1 as well as an English 5.1 track that are both encoded using Dolby TrueHD. The two OVAs have only a few real moments of significant action and directionality to it from that, but the overall feel with the surround sound at times with the nuance and music works really well. This is the kind of series that works well with nuance and subtle audio placements with the ambient sound effects alongside the music that creates a good atmosphere. It isn’t a track that will overwhelm you, but when you get down to the work done on it, you appreciate how it enhances the feature overall. We listened primarily to the Japanese language track and had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally released in 2009, the two OVAs are presented on one Blu-ray disc in their original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. This is an HD native show for its source materials and it’s definitely an impressive looking piece in many places, providing you’re not against this style of CG animation. The opening sequence alone with all the schematics of the ships and stations with its detail in the black and white is really appealing, but it goes even more so when you deal with the show proper. The blackness of space is definitely black and that adds a whole lot of appeal to it as well since it sets the mood perfectly. The transfer here really brings the visual design of this to life in an engaging way and the whole thing just makes me grin watching it unfold in such beautiful colors and detail with a lot of clarity.

Packaging:
This release comes in a standard sized DVD case that’s clear and has a thin cardboard slipcover over it that has the Blu-ray bar across the top to signify that it’s included here. There’s also a big ass sticker on the front that blocks off a lot of artwork that’s actually on the slipcover and not on the plastic outside, which makes it easy to toss the slipcover afterwards. The slipcover and the keepcase covers are the same as the front has images from the second film with the man in the spacesuit as the ships fly overheard with their engines flairing. The logo is kept along the bottom and just the nature of the name makes it a hard one to really identify with. The back cover is done with a great soft white look to the background with lots of squares and rectangles of other soft colors to tie it together while the left side has a number of shots from the show. The right side has a breakdown of the two episodes while below that is a rundown of what extras are on the disc. The technical grid is absolutely atrocious though with small print and white on a very soft green background that makes it near impossible to read unless in direct lighting. No show related inserts are included but the reverse side features the schematic style black and white breakdowns of some of the ships.

Menu:
The menu design for this release uses some of the in-show designs to accomplish its goals and it achieves a really strong feeling that sets it apart from most of their other releases. Using the data screen in the cente,r it is just a series of clips, but it’s accented with htings around it that are moving and some technical goobledegook on the screen itself to tie it all together. There’s a certain filter to it that works as well since it’s replicating something from the second feature and it has the kind of curious science fiction feel to it that works really well in setting a mood. Then navigation is kept simple to the lower right with the basic top level selections and this strip also serves as the pop-up menu during playback. Language selection is straightforward and easy though once again the discs weren’t able to read our players’ language presets.

Extras:
The extras for this release are pretty good overall as we get about seventy minutes worth of them. The small extras come in the form the trailers for the individual episodes, the promo videos that highlight the rental and sell through versions as well as the TV spots and teaser. The big extras though come in the form of interviews, one for each episode, that features the director and the voice actors for it. Those run for the majority of the seventy minutes that the extras total and it’s interesting to hear them talk about the material, how they approached it and more. Fans of the director will definitely like spending more time with him as he talks about this production.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga 2001 Nights by Yokinobu Hoshino, Tou is a two episode OVA series done in CG animation as directed by Fumihiko Sori, who we last saw working on Vexille. The original manga was one of my early (but not earliest) introductions to manga as released by Viz Media in the mid 1990’s and it left a profound impact on me as it dealt with a series of fascinating, plausible science fiction stories spread over the centuries that played out almost as futuristic fables and cautionary tales as well as visions of wonder. How man could and would survive in these kinds of environments, to be a part of it all and to deal with the dangers and the beauties. While the manga was a very slow released from the mid 80’s into the 90’s, culminating in only three overall volumes worth of material, it was the kind of material that a small but passionate crowd could get into and still go back to easily over the years because it is largely timeless at this stage. Hoshino crafted his manga with plenty of details, but enough of it kept at a distance so as to not date it with particular devices and the like which gave it a futuristic and intangible feeling.

The two OVAs here cover very different things and have a great approach to them. The first one involves a transport station above the Earth some hundred years or so from now as a ship has arrived from a fifteen year journey to Alpha Centauri. They have some nine tonnes of material that could power the entire planet for a decade so it has a lot of importance going for it, but it’s treated as fairly routine here which is kind of odd until you really get into the way things would work in this environment. There’s a small crew here on both the ship and the station and as they come together, they explore some of the dynamics and there’s a touch of a mystery to one of them as the two captains know each other from the past. It all goes to hell quickly though when a group of terrorists arrive to make a statement about the African War that ended a few years prior. They want to destroy the moonbase with the cargo and that leads to some good action here that really lets the kind of men and women who would take on this roles shine.

The second story goes in a very different direction as it moves us up another hundred years or so and to a planet where two factions each have a colony there to see about colonizing the whole planet after going through the studies to understand how it works and what the nature of the world is like. This gives us a blatant Romeo and Juliet story, referenced in the show itself early on as well, as a young man and woman each from different sides meet out in the wilderness in their protective suits and have gotten close, but never met truly in person. What complicates matters is that the United Nations is about to arrive with an envoy that will help determine the status of the planet and see to the plans that are being offered as to how it can be broken down. But there are plans within plans by one of the sides here and the personal side of it gets caught up in it as well.

The stories may be simple in a way, but it’s the execution of them that’s really appealing. The two shows are filled entirely with adults and are dealing with situations that have that air of reality about them even though it’s in the realm of the fantastic. It’s like watching the first two Alien movies because you know that it’s science fiction, but it has the right approach to draw you in and to keep it reasonable by expanding on the present in a logical way. It’s not leapfrogging thousands of years ahead to a time when mankind would be unrecognizable, much as we are today to our ancestors, but it’s an incremental and appropriate shift forward that allows us to still feel connected while knowing that things have changed.

With Sori having been involved with the original Appleseed CG movie and then on to his work in Vexille, I’m really pleased by the overall growth in the process as this release looks really great with the animation. Each new piece has some added fluidity and natural movement to it that it draws yo in all the more and you pay less and less attention to the fact that it is CG. With a show of this nature, CG is perfect for it and the look of it all works perfectly, giving it a much more appropriate feeling than traditional anime style would. This gives it a more international feel and keeps it accessible without being defined as anime. And after watching some truly awful CG shows as of late that have come out, it’s refreshing to see one that’s so rich in detail and design that you can spend a lot of time just looking at all the backgrounds to see how much is there.

In Summary:
Having adored the manga back when it came out, learning that this adapts two of the chapters from the series practically made me leap for joy. 2001 Nights is a defining moment of what manga can do, but rarely does because it’s not filled with cute girls, big mecha or magical boobs. What we have here are stories of men and women set against a science fiction backdrop with great looking animation, solid acting and engaging designs. Though it’s short, it’s worth every penny if you’re this kind of fan who will savor it as you can find yourself rewatching it on day one just to soak more of the nuance and detail. The Blu-ray edition of it in this combo set is gorgeous as it captures the alien worlds beautifully as well as the simple blackness of space and the detail of the transport base. This is the kind of show that needs many more episodes done, to bring all the chapters to life in a way that the source material deserves. Highly recommended.

Features:
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Interviews with Director and Cast, Original Trailers, Promo Videos, TV Spots, Tease

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

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: June 7th, 2011
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC HD Native
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

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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