What They Say:
When she hears a strange song from a crystal radio, Asuna tunes into more than just a magical stream of music. Soon, she is transported to a mysterious world where mythical beasts roam and brave warriors fight for their lives. Agartha is a land of breathtaking beauty and unimaginable danger – a place where, it is believed, even the dead can be brought back to life. But at what cost?
The audio presentation for this release brings in the original Japanese language in 5.1 as well as the new English language track, both of which use the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The film is one that is filled with lots of soft and lilting music cues and those come across beautifully throughout, including some great swells to the rear channels along the way. The action that takes place is generally confined to the forward soundstage with only a few token things thrown to the rears, but they along with the dialogue is well handled with some solid placement and some key areas of depth as well that helps to make for an engaging mix. The feature is one that, like other Shinkai works, strives for a mood and most of that comes through in the music rather than the action and dialogue. And it certainly achieves it here. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally in theaters in 2011, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Like other Shinkai films, visual presentation is a huge, huge part of evoking the mood and the animation her efrom CoMix Wave Films really drives it home. There’s a great sense of beauty and majesty to much of it, especially in the way that backgrounds and the skies are portrayed. Small details shine through beautifully without being distracting and colors are just wonderfully solid and clean. There’s som eminor noise/grain feeling to parts of it that’s a bit more noticeable in some areas but it’s meager overall. The film has such a lush sense of color, bringing life out in it in a way that real life never seems capable of, that you can’t help but to get sucked into the visuals more than anything else sometimes. And the transfer captures it wonderfully.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard Blu-ray case that works well with the artwork used for it. The main image has the three main characters in the world of Agartha with its beautiful backgrounds as they all pose in a way that is rather reflective of their characters. It has a softer feeling to it that works well since it’s designed to evoke that kind of feeling. The logo is kept simple but stands out well while still bringing in a bit of the Japanese side of it. The back cover goes for a half and half split where the top half features some shots from the show and a good background image which brings in all the film festival accolades it’s gotten. The summary through the middle brings out the premise in a clear and engaging way and it breaks down all the special features with a horrendous small white print on an orange background for some unknown reason. The rest is straightforward as we get the production credits and a solid and accurate technical grid. No show related inserts rae included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is simple but effective as it uses a zoom in version of the front cover, giving us the three characters dominating it, with the clean logo along the upper left. The characters are decent but the background just come across so much richer here that it’s almost surprising when you see the detail and strokes of it all. The bottom has a white bar with a blue hue for a navigation strip, which doesn’t feel all that in theme, but it’s quick to utilize and works decently as a pop-up menu during regular playback. The disc defaulted to the English language track with sign/song subtitles but it can be changed on the fly.
Not surprisingly, there’s a good selection of extras included her. We get some of the welcome standards in the original teases and the promotional video which got people excited early on. There’s also a “Works of Makoto Shinkai” piece that runs about ten minutes and shows the evolution of his works from the start that’s done quite well. The big, big extra here is the hour long interview session with Shinkai and the cast as they go into all sorts of aspects about the feature, but it’s hugely frustrating as it’s just one long chapter rather than broken up into easily accessible parts. We also get a five screen Q&A with Shinkai that’s an original for this disc which has some interesting comments from the man, especially how he has no real favorite part. There’s also the more traditional making of extra, clocking in at a solid forty-five minutes, that does the Q&A, work retrospective and plenty of how they created, filmed and voiced the feature.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With Makoto Shinkai having cemented himself well in the last decade with the various features he’s brought out, it’s no surprise that he continues to spread his wings in different if sometimes small ways. Children Who Chase Lost Voices is his latest work to arrive overseas and it’s one that, amusingly enough in some of the promo material, bills it as a more family friendly film. Which I can completely see, at least outside of North America, since there so many dangers, violence and blood shown here that I can easily imagine it getting a higher rating and audience targeting if it was attempted to really be shown here wide. That said, what we get is a film that’s all ages in its own way and brings out a more compelling, engaging and far less cloying work than what we usually gets in American animation. Viewing this as a family event, it definitely went over well but there are many areas where I can see other parents cringing or just outright turning it off. And that’s a loss for them.
The story revolves around a young girl named Asuna whose personality has grown up more than her body has. Due to the death of her father several years ago, and the fact that her mother works nights as a nurse, she’s had to grow up a lot faster and tends to the house as a responsible adult. With decent grades, street smarts and a general bit of life experience that has hardened her a bit, she still has a sense of wonder about her as well. We’re introduced to how competent she is early on, but also how she’s looking to grow beyond it all someday with a secret retreat she has in the mountains. It’s here that she’s spirited away a little separate life, but part of it is also a self made radio she has using a crystal that she got from her father when she was younger. It picks up broadcasts but also sometimes manages to pick up other melodies that she can’t pinpoint.
Her life takes two drastic changes that moves her in surprising directions. The first is that she’s attacked by what’s believed to be a bear, but is actually something else. She’s saved by a slightly older young man named Shun who does battle with it on the trestle bridge before ending its life. She tends to his wound later on, but Shun hides the fact that he’s dying from something else. He sees something special in her which bears fruit as it goes on, but it’s not something he gets to see as he’s found dead the next day when the two were supposed to meet. That harsh reality hitting her once again is brutal and she has a very, very hard time believing it.
But it also leads to the second life changing event, which is meeting the new substitute teacher that’s taking over for her pregnant teacher. Mr. Morisaki was already in town searching for something else and is using that position to get closer to it, realizing that Asuna has a connection. Through Morisaki, she learns of stories from around the world that all have a common bond about the world of Agartha, a place deep below the earth where the old gods have relocated to over the centuries after they found their time of guiding mankind to be largely over. A few thousand people relocated with them some two thousand years ago as well, and he’s on the hunt to find how to get into Agartha as there are legends about how they can bring the dead back to life. With her having lost Shun and her father, there’s some natural appeal to her that she’s drawn to. For Morisaki, he lost his wife some years ago and is intent on bringing her back to life.
Not surprisingly, a way into that world is discovered when Shun’s younger brother Shin arrives topside to see what happened to him. Morisaki’s role is expanded and not in a positive way for him and Asuna gets drawn into it, leaving her and Morisaki together thrust into this new and mysterious world down below. With Shin leaving them to fend for themselves, at least for a good while, Asuna and Morisaki make for a most unusual pair. And a really welcome one at that. Having a damaged man in his late twenties and a teenage girl who both have significant loss in their lives and the chance to repair it, or at least the hope, exploring this now dying world below through the attrition of time is fascinating. It’s not the usual combination of characters and they both bring very different things to the table, making for some good dialogue between the two and more honesty at times than one might expect.
The exploration of Agartha isn’t one done leisurely since they’re trying to find the place that will guide them to bringing loved ones back (though Asuna isn’t sure why she’s really there), so we get some danger and there’s a linear approach to it. One that’s frustrating at times because the mysterious backgrounds really draw you in and you want to know a more expansive history of this place rather than the exceedingly minimal one we get. The various gods we get here, in the form of Quetz Coatl are certainly intriguing, and the Izoku that pursue them regularly are frightening in many ways. The journey the two are on is beautiful to watch, because of the characters themselves and how they act here, each with their own perspective on it, but also the way they impact others, such as Shin, Shun and some of the few humans that are left here. Their journey is the story, and it’s well done, but I wanted so, so much more about Agartha.
Children Who Case Lost Voices is a solid and impressive work overall from Makoto Shinkai and shows that he is expanding what he does as a storyteller, both visually and with his characters. I like the contrasting leads here, especially since the expected ones like Shun and Shin tend to be more secondary than anything else. The world brought to the screen both Topside and down below are rich in detail and imagination, drawing you to it in a big way. There’s a sense of being indifferent to it simply because you expect it from him, but you really need to give yourself over to these kinds of manipulations for telling the story as he does with the visuals. Everything is there for a reasons, especially with the backgrounds, and it builds the narrative. The story works throughout because of the characters and it offers so many tantalizing things that you really want a fully fleshed out and expansive novel in order to revel in the potential richness. What we get here with this film is a clear sign that Shinkai is growing as a director and writer and it reinforces my desire to see more of what he’s going to do.
Japanese DTS-HD 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Interviews, The Making of, Japanese Promo Video, Japanese Teasers, The Works of Makoto Shinkai
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date:November 13th, 2012
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.781: Widescreen
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.