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Phi-Brain Season 1 Collection 1 Blu-ray Anime Review

9 min read

Phi-Brain Season 1 Collection 1
Phi-Brain Season 1 Collection 1
The love of puzzles could lead to a lot more than just prizes.

What They Say:
How do you solve the world’s most challenging puzzles? With the world’s best puzzle solver, of course. That would be Kaito Daimon, a completely average high school student except for one thing: he’s a demon at solving puzzles. Not only is he exceptionally good at solving them, he loves solving them. In fact, Kaito eats, sleeps, and breathes puzzles. When he suddenly finds himself caught in a lethal Philosopher’s Puzzle made by the sinister POG, he wouldn’t be worried, except that his childhood friend Nonoha is caught with him. And she… Well, let’s just say that Nonoha and puzzles don’t mix.

But if Kaito can get them out alive, he’ll be designated a Solver, someone who travels the world attempting to solve the latest deadly riddles left by the POG. There’s a new conundrum around every corner and each deception could lead to death. But once a riddle has been posed, you can count on Kaito to unravel the solution!

Contains episodes 1-13.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this series is pretty straightforward as we get the original Japanese language in stereo as well as a new English language dub in the same format, both of which are encoded with the lossless Dolby TrueHD codec. The show isn’t one that really goes big when it comes to the action or dialogue, but it has some good sequences with the background and ambient sounds with all the elaborate puzzles that hit. The mix is one that covers all the bases well and provides for a fairly engaging forward soundstage to things, but it’s also not a mix that really jumps out at you. It’s solid and serviceable without a lot of bells and whistles to it. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2011, the transfer for this thirteen episode collection of the TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two discs in a nine/four format. Animated by Sunrise, the series has a surprisingly simple approach to its designs, keeping them rather minimal in a lot of ways, but full of vibrant colors that are definitely appealing through the high definition presentation. There are details there, but most of it tends to come from the backgrounds that we get and some of the elaborate traps that are presented. The transfer captures the look of the series well with all that it has and while it may not be the hugely detailed piece you’d expect, it’s a strong looking transfer that brings the quality of the show through well.

The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case where the two discs are held against the interior walls. The front cover gives is a good shot of Kaito looking directly at you with one of his eyes in solver mode. There’s a darker nature to him with the shadowing and it works well with the black and blue maze that’s used as the background, both of which blends well with the blue of the case itself. The back cover uses a lot of black and blue as well, though with more solid blocks of blue that are a bit lighter. Add in some white and more varied character artwork of Nonoha and Kaito as well as a few shots from the show and it’s pretty appealing. The summary covers the basics rather well considering the overall scope here and the production credits list everything clearly. The technical grid lays out all those details cleanly and accurately, making it easy to know what the disc is setup like. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for this release mirrors the front cover pretty well and that works to its advantage. The left side has the navigation strip with the episode numbers and titles with blacks, blues and purples mixed in as well as white for the numbers themselves. The right side uses character artwork with the first volume showing off Kaito from the front cover. It’s a simple menu but the color design is striking and engaging and the whole thing is quick and easy to use. Submenus load quickly when there are any, mostly just the languages on both and the extras on the second disc. The layout is solid and quick to load and we didn’t have any problems getting around or with selections sticking.

The only extras included in this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
An original series from Sunrise, Phi-Brain launched in the fall of 2011 and had a twenty-five episode run. One that did well enough not only to warrant a follow-up series in 2012, but a new series is set for 2013 as well. The show revolves all around the puzzle concept, something that I enjoy from a distance simply because I’m so awful with puzzles myself. And that does keep me from completely getting behind this series, but there are plenty of things to enjoy even if you’re like me and not completely sold on the whole puzzle concept. There’s a sense of fun about it and also a larger than life feeling at times that’s appealing. What also helps for me is that it’s directed by Junichi Sato, someone that has directed quite a lot of my favorites over the years and that alone will keep me interested in checking it out.

The series revolves around a high school student named Kaito Daimon, a freshmen a the Root Gakuen school where it has a strong elevator program that goes from elementary right through college. Kaito’s a young man that has a kind of beat of a different drummer aspect to him because of his great skill at solving puzzles, something he truly enjoys doing. He had transferred here years ago after spending part of his childhood at the Crossfield school in England where he spent some time with a special kid named Rook who had some mysterious problems of his own. Kaito’s not exactly loved by the student population, but he’s not hated either. Sometimes he just does things that gets them caught up in events and there’s always those from the puzzle club that want to bring him into their circle so that he can help elevate the club.

Kaito’s main problem tends to be his childhood friend in Japan, Nonoha. She’s a spunky young woman that is quite familiar with his quirks and is obviously interested in him but is willing to take things only so far at this point. But she does spend time with him on some of his puzzle solving adventures, which almost has a bit of an Indiana Jones feeling at times because he’s brought in to help solve ancient puzzles that could lead to riches. The series kicks off with one of those, but we also see another one that has him going down a path where he ends up discovering an item that’s known as Orpheus, which he ends up entering into a pact with while not quite realizing the scope of it. This pact heightens his problem solving ability, almost unlocking his true potential, which makes him a master solver at this point. But that ability frustrates him because he also feels like it’s a cheat in some ways.

Entering into this pact sets off a chain of events where we start to learn about an organization known as POG, or Puzzle of God. This worldwide group that operates in relative secret is intent on unlocking certain secrets, but they need people known as Phi-Brains to actually accomplish it. There are a few branches within the organization, one of which is in the school, that’s devoted to cultivating the Phi’s and moving them on the right path, challenging them and nurturing them to become what they need. But those higher up and elsewhere in the organization are wanting to move things along – or eliminate certain candidates – and they orchestrate various puzzle challenges for them to solver. These people are known as Givers while people like Kaito become Solvers once they take on the challenge of the organization. And they’re some pretty elaborate and massive challenges. It also doesn’t help that, at least in secret for most of this set, Kaito doesn’t know that Rook has grown up to be a key member of the group.

While Kaito is definitely the lead here, and Nonoha gets drawn into plenty of the adventures and put into danger fairly often, there is a decent supporting cast that comes into it as well. The early one we get is Gammon, another Solver who helps to flesh out some of the perks of being one when it comes to money and status within the school, but he’s also very, very interested in Nonoha and does a lot of stuff to get noticed by her, which she never does. He’s the fiery redhead of the show and is brash and outgoing but has a good heart that’s fun to watch. The also bring in Cubik, a young boy whose skill is tied to math more than puzzles but has him being watched as well. He’s involved in a few of the adventures and his skills bring them some help as well. The amusing character of the group for me is Ana Gram, a cross dressing young man who is quite effeminate and just a light breeze. He’s just charming with his sense of art that he brings to things, but also the way early on Nonoha is confused and threatened by him, thinking he’s a she.

In Summary:
Phi-Brain spends most of its first half of the first season introducing the cast and the challenges that are ahead after Kaito enters into the Pact of Orpheus. There’s a decent cast that comes into it and some intriguing supporting characters, especially with the various Givers that are shown and the variety in which they provide the puzzles and tests. Some are malicious while others have more noble goals. The puzzles do get pretty elaborate here with what it wants to do with entire buildings dedicated to it, but it also keeps some things small end personal which makes it fun. For Kaito, we get to see the struggle he has in trying to solve things while not activating Orpheus. Though the first set here hasn’t sold me heavily on the show, it introduces some interesting ideas and has the potential to reach something even bigger depending on what the end goals of the POG organization is.

Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

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

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: March 26th, 2013
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 325 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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