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Interstella 5555: The Story Of The Secret System Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

Combine Daft Punk music with Matsumoto visuals for just over an hour and you get something simply amazing.

What They Say:
Interstella 5555 is the animated musical based on Daft Punk’s landmark album Discovery, which sold over 3.2 million worldwide. This Blu Ray is the continuation of Daft Punk’s video collaboration with the world famous Leiji Matsumoto, considered the living god of Japanese animation. It includes the songs “One More Time”, “Harder Better Faster Stronger,” “Aerodynamic”, and “Digital Love”. Experience this animated musical with stunning visuals and sounds in Blu-Ray quality.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is definitely something that’s meant to be appealing as we get a pair of DTS-HD MA tracks. Lossless Daft Punk is a huge draw, and having a stereo presentation and a 5.1 presentation should be a solid production. Unfortunately, while it is decent overall, it still doesn’t feel like it reaches its potential. It may just be in the materials available, but you have to really up the volume over your norms to get it to feel right and it lacks a real warmth to it. The 5.1 track does come across in a much better way in comparison, though it’s a forward soundstage mix so there’s nothing really discernible to the rear channels. But the 5.1 does create a much richer forward soundstage mix and that’s the one to listen to. But it still doesn’t come off as strong as you would think it should based on what it’s all about. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally released in 2003, the transfer for this hour long feature is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. The release essentially has all the problems of the DVD presentation, just magnified. There’s a fair bit of ghosting throughout it, a lot of line noise, some cross coloration the creeps into it and a whole lot of jaggies in general that are just hugely distracting. It looks as though they simply took the original materials they had and did an upconversion of it and that just made everything more blatant than it was before. And for some people, it’s going to be even more magnified since some of those problems were hugely distracting to begin with. There are some good scenes to be had here and colors generally look good, though not as vibrant as they could be, but by and large the video presentation here is a real disappointment.

Released in a standard Blu-ray case and done heavily in black with something of a theatrical poster style, the center image contains the guitar symbol used in the film. The front cover is pretty 70’s retro in its design and feel. Below the poster is the logo and a strip of headshots of the lead characters to the show. The back cover provides more small shots from the show itself and a brief dual language summary of the premise. The discs features are also listed in both English and French and there’s a good listing of the discs technical features. The included booklet starts off with a bigger shot of the front cover poster and then goes into song credits as well as providing additional artwork from the show. The last page has a bilingual note from the group about the production also.

Like the original DVD release, the menu layout on the top level is pretty nice, with a similar feel to the cover with the heavy black background and then white lined boxes that contain pieces of artwork, one large piece along the top and then small ones in the selection boxes. Navigating most of the menus is easily done except for the extras, which is all unlabeled. Access times are nice and fast and the menus load quickly, but the ball was seriously dropped with the extras.

As mentioned in the menus, the extras section is poorly laid out with numerous selection boxes along the bottom but none of them labeled. Some open up and you have no idea what to do in them. We skimmed through a few, which looks like a mix of storyboards, general character bios, trailers and some biography information. But with them as poorly labeled as they are, there was little incentive to go too deeply and explore them.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Back when the first music videos started to appear with the Matsumoto artwork and the Daft Punk music, I was keen to see more of it as the mesh of the two really seemed to work in that really tiny video window I had on my desktop. Add in that it was just basic PC speakers and it wasn’t exactly the greatest audio/visual experience in the world, but there was just something captivating about it.

Much like when I saw the DVD release of this, I intended to simply check it out and see how it looked and sounded. While the visual and audio side didn’t wow me, the show itself once again drew me in quickly and hard, since the designs are just appealing and I love the music. With Interstella 5555, I think we have something much more than a music video. The best kinds of videos, heck, the best kind of entertainment, are the ones that work on multiple levels. To me and how I read the storyline, there are several ways to take the story and what’s trying to be said, both by the actual songs or the animation. Considering how closely that Daft Punk and Matsumoto worked together via their translator and how much Daft Punk indicated that Matsumoto “got it” right away, it’s easy to see the subtext.

The basic storyline as told through the animation with the music pulsating throughout nearly the entire sixty-five minutes is simple and almost harkens back to the short science fiction story format. Tell something with only a few details; let the viewer fill in the gaps. With no dialogue in this other than the songs, the viewer really has to make that leap. Starting with a concert taking place in a star system far away, we see four musicians performing their popular music with all manner of people dancing and moving to it. It’s not long though before the four find themselves being chased by men in black suits with red goggles, eventually being captured and sequestered away in a starship.

During their journey across space, they’re placed in stasis chambers and their memories downloaded to discs. Their skin is repainted from the blue to human pink and brown, new memories are loaded into them and they find their wardrobe changed from the funky 70’s orange style to something a bit more contemporary. Before you know it, they’re repackaged zombies of sorts, brought down to Earth by a white haired manager who turns them into a band called the CrescenDolls.

As their lives become given over to performing for the manager and their popularity soars with their first single, we flash back to the other side of the galaxy where a fan of theirs who has his own starship romanticizes over one of the band members, the beautiful Stella. Once he finds out about their capture, he follows the trail that leads him to Earth, where he hides amongst the dark alleys trying to cover up his alien nature while looking for the band members.

His journey to free them from the control of the manager leads to a number of exciting situations, such as the dramatic awakening of several of the members to the chase sequence as they escape. With most of the band members freed, they try to figure out what’s happened to them and how they can become themselves again, having seen a glimpse of who they used to be. There’s some dark secrets involved and the manager’s role as the one who brought them to Earth proves to be larger than life, but at the same time brings something powerful to it as we see how he’s weaved his works throughout mankind’s history.

All in all, it’s a fun little tale told to really engaging music that (to me obviously) really gets you moving. Everyone I’ve shown this to all want to get up and start dancing and moving right away, it’s almost infectious.

What lets this be so much more, if you want to read that much into it, is what other things are being said through the visuals and music. From my perspective, I see it as a tale of how bands from other countries sometimes become “abducted” by powerful labels, usually brought to the US for the ultimate in stardom, and find themselves lost and not themselves anymore as they’ve been consigned to the control of the label itself. There’s cautionary tales about losing your identity to both fame and power of success. The entire sequence where the band is literally repackaged for consumption is the strongest aspect of that.

The animation for this takes a lot of Matsumoto’s strong points and really runs with them, from the alien worlds with the bright almost garish colors to the stark nature of parts of Earth cities, where you have the dark dank alleys right next to the heights of glitz and power. Matsumoto also balances this out nicely during one sequence where the group heads out into the country, and though it’s somewhat forced, it does provide a look at the rest of the country by saying, “look, it’s not all just that, this is all here too.”

In Summary:
Interstella 5555 is the show that got me into Daft Punk and made a good part of Tron: Legacy even more fun for me. While there are a number of levels in which you can enjoy the film as it tackles different things, it’s also a whole lot of fun in its most base form. I had watched this years ago with my kids when they were younger and it left an impression on them, so when it went back in they were just excited and loved every minute of it. And watching it fresh with a couple of others who hadn’t seen it before, they just had a great time with it as well. It’s a great show, a solid concept but one that could easily be expanded more and better, but accomplishes what it sets out to do. Unfortunately, the high definition presentation here is nothing to write home about at all and left me quite disappointed in it. Few releases have disappointed me as much as this one considering its potential.

Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, Japanese DTS-HD 2.0 Language, Extras

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B-
Video Grade: F
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: D
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Virgin Records
Release Date: October 4th, 2011
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 65 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

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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