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Grave Of The Fireflies Blu-ray Anime Review

8 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 audio presentation for this release is pretty good and definitely welcome overall to get the larger experience. The two main language tracks here are the English and Japanese stereo presentations which get a lossless DTS-HD MA presentation that helps eke out just that much more nuance and warmth to it all. It’s certainly a mix from its time and without the refinement of films today, but there’s something a bit more raw about it that this mix pulls out. The forward soundstage is generally well utilized in the key scenes while dialogue has good placement and depth throughout as appropriate, always feeling natural. With Sentai Filmworks having created a new dub mix for this film this year, they also smartly include the original done here by Central Park Media, which as is noted in the menu is not up to the standards of today and is included for historical reasons. It’s certainly an interesting track and pulling out the differences in performances on the fly is a thoroughly engaging experience worth checking out.

Originally released in 1988, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. With a recent remastered DVD edition in mind, this high definition presentation really does give us the best that it can be until 4k systems are out there. The film always had a great bit of detail to it in its backgrounds and designs and the transfer here captures it really well while still showing some of the problems with it. There’s some edge cross coloration in a few scenes that’s just part of the source material but it’s not all that distinguishable in general. A little line noise creeps into a few areas, but mostly the feature has a very good film like presentation with lots of detail and the right amount of grain. Colors aren’t richer per se here as it’s a fairly drab and earthy looking work, but the visual presentation here is just all the more engaging in this form.

Released in a standard sized Blu-ray case, 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 isn’t like most Sentai releases in a way since it’s just the single movie, so the navigation along the bottom has the basics with no episode selection, giving it a less busy feel than usual. That section has a charred parchment feel to it that’s whole appropriate, especially against the larger scene here of Seita walking through the rain with his newly purchased goods in the small town. It’s a simple still screen shot but it’s effective, even with no music in setting the tone. Submenus load quickly and navigation is a breeze. The show defaults to the English DTS-HD MA track.

While the DVD release earlier this year had no extras, this one brings a few things in that are welcome but still falls short of the extras available on earlier editions. Here, we get the storyboard version of the film as well as two deleted scenes in storyboard form with recorded dialogue and subtitles included. I love these little bits that change the feel of the film in just a tiny way. We also get the original Japanese theatrical trailer.

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 twice 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. But twice in one year? That’s just cruel. 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, Storyboards, Deleted Scenes Storyboards, Japanese Trailer

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

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: November 20th, 2012
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 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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