I’m a sucker for decent science fiction, and it’s been a while since I last saw any. Freedom to the rescue, then, as post-apocalyptic Earth rejoins the space age, while humankind’s “final outpost”, the lunar colony of Eden, does its best to pretend that they really are alone in the universe…
What They Say:
“Akira” creator and “Steamboy” co-writer and director Katsuhiro Otomo’s unmistakeable visual style shines throughout Freedom, a beautifully envisioned sci-fi anime series of cinematic scope and quality that puts most TV animation in the shade. Written by Katsuhiko Chiba (Blue Dragon; Slayers), Yuuichi Nomura (Xam’d: Lost Memories) and Dai Sato (Casshern; Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex), directed by Shuhei Morita (Coicent; Kakurenbo) and with Otomo on board as the series’ character and mecha designer, this seven-episode (plus Prologue) series will more than satisfy those hungry anime fans who are eagerly waiting to see what Otomo will produce next.
Audio is provided in English and Japanese 5.1 surround. I listened to the Japanese track for this review. While it’s pitched as surround, though, there’s not very much use made of the rear channels here. Front channels are given a decent workout, though, with dialogue and effects placed nicely. Audio is clean and clear, with no sign of encoding issues.
Video is provided in its original 16:9 widescreen aspect. There’s been good effort made on the backgrounds, which carry plenty of detail, while the colour palette tends towards the bright side, making for some very nice scenes. Character models take a bit of getting used to, though, as the CG nature of the series is most noticeable with them, with facial shadow in particular not looking too natural. Can’t complain on the encoding side, though, as there are no obvious defects.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
The main menu features a three-way split, with the left-hand side running a segment of the opening sequence, the lower portion of the screen featuring a montage of clips from the series, and a blank top third. On the episode discs, options are provided for Play All, Episode Selection and Setup; on the extras disc, a list of the available extras. There’s a short transition animation the runs when an option is selected, annoyingly slowing down the operation of the menus.
The selection of extras on offer here is probably the most extensive I’ve seen on a UK release, and it’ll take a long time to plow through them all. Along with the traditional opening & closing song clips, there are several video segments looking at aspects of the shows production, background material, location information, and more besides. An impressive collection.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The year is 2267 and, following a global catastrophe that rendered the Earth uninhabitable, mankind has settled in a vast, domed moon colony originally intended to be a stepping stone for manned space missions to Mars. Known as Eden, this artificial environment provides a peaceful, albeit heavily regulated, existence for millions of people. Among them is 15-year-old Takeru, who, along with many other boys his age, spends most of his free time racing souped-up Lunar Terrain Vehicles for fun. As a punishment for crashing his LTV on a public road during one particular race, Takeru is sentenced to several hours of “volunteer” work, which involves doing routine maintenance checks on equipment on the lunar surface outside Eden’s dome. During one of his “volunteer” shifts, Takeru witnesses an object falling from the sky and goes to investigate
What he finds amazes him: a collection of what to someone on Earth would be everyday objects – shells, crystals, trinkets – and a collection of photos of an attractive young girl. On the back of one of the photos is a message: “We are safe. Is anyone out there..?” To Takeru, it’s a wake-up call that the Earth isn’t as dead as he and the other residents of Eden have been led to believe and, with some help from old man Alan, who seems to know a lot more about Eden’s inner working than someone his age should, he sets about visiting the ‘dead’ world with the aim of meeting the girl in the photo…
I have to say, I love the setting for this. Eden is an impressive piece of engineering – six huge interconnected domes, each one housing over 2 million people, with the interiors transformed using terraforming techniques that had been intended for Mars into as good a replica of Earth as you could hope for – albeit one that is thoroughly reliant on technology to maintain itself. As with other shows I’ve seen featuring post-apocalyptic city states (Daphne in the Brilliant Blue, No. 6), the elite in Eden like to keep their citizens on a tight leash – a leash that would be loosened if they knew that Earth was once again habitable. As for Earth, in the 100 years since the Great Panic, which began when a giant orbiting station fell to Earth and triggered environmental meltdown, it’s gone to ruin – humans are still there, but they’ve regressed to a far simpler life than what those in Eden would live. For generations, the majority of both populations have been unaware that that other even existed – Eden’s population told that Earth simply couldn’t support life any longer, Earth’s population knowing that a colony had existed on the Moon at the time of the disaster but refusing to believe that it could have survived on its own. Freedom, ultimately, is about a young man and woman who refuse to accept things the way they are, and who do their best to bring their two worlds together again.
There were two things I had to get used to here. The first was the show’s animation style – Freedom seems to use CG animation similar to that used in the recent Appleseed, which I always find quite distracting – although here the effect isn’t quite as noticeable, other than in fairly static scenes. The second is that a high level of suspension of disbelief is required to really make the series fly – not least around the subject of teenage boys and girls building and piloting spacecraft with little to no training. Takeru’s initial flight to Earth I could let slide – it’s in an old Eden escape pod, which you could fairly safely assume was pre-programmed to get its passengers down safely. But when people start building functional Saturn V rockets, or flying old Mars colony ships, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow and go “okaaaaaayyyy…” – but getting the most out of the series kind of relies on you accepting that. Easier said than done.
If you can, though, you’ll be well rewarded. Takeru and Ao are both hopeless idealists in their own ways, naive about the things that keep the two worlds apart, but once they come together their dreams take on a life of their own, and seeing them bring their dreams to fruition is rewarding in its own right. Either side of that, Takeru’s adventures in Eden – first before his trip to Earth, as he finds Ao’s photographs; and then after, as he fights the Eden Council’s intransigence to make them see the sense in what he’s trying to do, are both engrossing passages of story. The early part of the series at first seems dragged out a little too much by the inclusion of tube-racing scenes (which bear more than a passing resemblance to Star Wars‘ pod races – and that’s twice I’ve made that comparison in two titles watched), but the races also serve to establish some of the friendships that Takeru will have to call upon later. The storyline isn’t anything complex, more a simple case of the battle of youthful eagerness versus the conservative viewpoints of the past, but it plays out in a very entertaining and enjoyable way.
Enjoyable enough that it quickly became one of my favourite recent shows. The variety of characters on offer, and the space-based settings, brought comparisons with Planetes to mind – a show that’s up near the top of my must-have list, and Freedom now isn’t too far behind it. Perhaps a little heavy on the youthful naivety to be a true classic, it’s nevertheless a very good OVA series, and an easy recommendation.
Japanese Language 5.1; English Language 5.1; English Subtitles; Introduction Trailer; Freedom Digests; Talking About Freedom, Sessions 1 & 2; Another Vehicle Race; Nissin Cup Noodle TV Commercial Digests; Fly Me To The Moon 1 & 2; Freedom in the USA 1 & 2; Freedom: The Hope; Next Episode Trailers; Messages from the Characters; Opening and Closing credits
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A+
Readers Rating: [ratings]
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: October 10th, 2011
Running Time: 210 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37″ widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.