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Grave Of The Fireflies Anime DVD Review

7 min read

Tragedy from the start, the lives of two young children in the final weeks of the war unfolds.

What They Say:
As the Empire of the Sun crumbles upon itself and a rain of firebombs falls upon Japan, the final death march of a nation is echoed in millions of smaller tragedies. This is the story of Seita and his younger sister Setsuko, two children born at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and now cast adrift in a world that lacks not the care to shelter them, but simply the resources.

Forced to fend for themselves in the aftermath of fires that swept entire cities from the face of the earth, their doomed struggle is both a tribute to the human spirit and the stuff of nightmares.

This edition has been digitally remastered and restored.

The Review:
The Sentai Filmworks presentation of Grave of the Fireflies retains the two original stereo tracks that we had on previous editions, both of which are encoded at 224kbps. With the connection we have with this film, it really can only be listened to in Japanese and that track is pretty good considering the way the material is itself. The audio for this track is a pretty decent stereo mix that has a few moments of good directionality, but the bulk of this film is dialogue or music, so it’s not a major problem. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout with no noticeable distortions or dropouts.

Originally released in 1988, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The transfer for this release looks to be similar to the remastered edition that ADV Films released a few years back without much in the way of noticeable differences. As we found then, it used the newer master provided by Japan back then, and the look of the print here is just nothing short of stunning. Having gone from a VHS copy to laserdisc and then to the initial region 1 release and then to the region 2 release, I think this is one of those pinnacle moments where I can’t imagine it looking any better for home video without a full on high definition remaster. Colors are just good looking throughout, particularly areas such as the skies and the opening segment in the field of fireflies with the oranges and reds.

Released in a standard single sized keepcase, Grave of the Fireflies has a pretty earthy and moody tone to it as it provides it with a strip of black along the top with the various ratings the film has received while the bottom has another strip for the logo and more. The middle piece is what really sets it though as it shows the two leads together with the decrepit umbrella as they walk through the fireflies with the sprawl of destruction behind them. It’s dark, not murky, and says a lot with so little when you get down to. The back cover employs the same black strip along the top for more accolades while the rest of the cover is fairly traditional with a black background as well. The show is well summarized here with some good nods towards those involved and we get some decent character artwork as well as some expected shots from the show. Production credits are clean and clear and the technical grid lays things out in a straightforward fashion. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for this release is kept pretty simple where it uses the great image of Setsuko in her only outfit as she stands amid the fireflies as they float about her. With the dark background and the bright lights of the fireflies combined with the somber atmosphere overall, it sets things just right for the mood and gets you into the mindset quickly. The navigation along the bottom is straightforward though there’s reason to dispute the special features tag and really just need to bring those items to the top level instead, but that’s being nitpicky. The menu works well, loads quickly and defaults to English with sign/song subtitles instead of reading our players’ language presets.

Shockingly, there are none, which is depressing considering how many extras there were in the previous ADV Films release.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Back in 2009 when ADV Films announced they had taken over the film from Central Park Media for release, I was really wary of watching it again as it felt like it was just yesterday that I saw it. Now it’s 2012 and Sentai Filmworks has brought the film out now and while I had a seven year gap the first time around, it’s just three years this time and it’s just as familiar. As I had said in that review, it seems like every few years a new release somewhere comes up with this film, and then there’s always a theatrical showing that I force myself to go see, as it must be seen on a big screen. This is a film that, whether you like it or not, I think must be seen at least once. The simple ideas and concepts it presents are so pure and universal that they can and often do affect everyone who sees it.

Grave of the Fireflies is a movie… no, a film, which you cannot watch often. This is something that you keep on your shelf, and you know that it’s there. Once every few years, you get the courage and the strength to watch it again. And no matter how many times you’ve seen it, it has the same effect on you. It tears you down and makes you weep. Not the button pushing feel of Titanic, but the honest to goodness humanity within you feels for this film.

The beginning of it starts with the ending, and it in no way helps. Its a few weeks before the Americans land in Japan. In one of the rail stations, young Seita leans against a column dying. Hours later, a janitor comes across him, sighs about it, and tosses an empty can of fruit drops into a field, causing fireflies to flutter about.

From there, we see the journey of Seita and his younger sister Setsuko from several weeks (2 months?) before through the eyes of the now deceased Seita. We watch as he relives the last weeks of his life throughout the film, the decisions he made, the small amounts of happiness he manages for his sister, and more.

When I first sat my mother down to watch this, she wasn’t sure what to expect. She was a big Lum fun, loves Orange Road, and thinks Robotech was a great show for what it was. She watched Grave of the Fireflies quietly in its entirety. She cried at the end, quite unlike I’ve heard with anything else. For weeks afterward, she would say, “Why did he do this, or that” to me, and we’d talk about it.

For me, this movie will likely never become easier to watch, but will always serve as a reminder of just how precious life is. It is one of a handful of movies that have affected me down to my core and will be with me for years and years to come. It’s been nearly seven years since my mother has seen this movie, but with her just seeing the cover for it while visiting, the imagery from the film sprang to her mind and almost had her in tears from the memories. This is a powerful piece of work that can really affect people. It is the one movie I recommend to everyone as a must without any reservation.

In Summary:
Grave of the Fireflies is a film that no matter how many times I see it, it ends up leaving me somewhat speechless. It’s a work that you have to experience and absorb, and there are things you can talk about within a group with it, but most people just want to process what they’ve seen and accept it, leave it at that. It’s a film where you find yourself feeling awkward for saying that you like it, because it’s not subject matter you want to like. It’s not a film that I find myself able to convey easily in words, rather it’s one that needs something more visual in order to get across the intense feelings about it. Taking it again now, at a time when my children are older, it still has an even stronger connection for me because I wonder what they would be like in this situation. This is a film where your views on it are likely the same once you reach a certain age, but your interpretations of parts of it do change because of your life experiences that shape and color everything. Seeing it every few years is a hard thing to do, but I really feel it’s worthwhile as we change who we are over the years as well. And revisiting a film like this will open it up to newer and more nuance introspections.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

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

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: March 6th, 2012
MSRP: $19.98
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

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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