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AKB0048 Complete Season One Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

When entertainment is banned across multiple star systems, it’s up to the AKB0048 group to bring it to them no matter the danger.

What They Say:
The year is 0048, and in the wake of the great wars, all forms of entertainment have been banned by the dystopian and iron-gloved rule of the anti-music DES. To combat this threat to intergalactic harmony, a group of bold young women have resurrected the legendary J-Pop band AKB48 and formed an all new Band of Sisters: AKB0048!

But these rocking rebels aren’t simply singers! Trained in combat as well as choreography, these striking strike team members are equally at home in concert halls and in the trenches. Under the leadership of the mysterious Sensei Sensei, they’re ready to lay down their lives in order to make the universe a safe place for getting your groove on! And as a fresh new team of singer-soldiers join the cause and enter basic training, the batons and battle gear are about to be passed to a new generation of daring divas!

Contains episodes 1-13

The Review:
The audio presentation for this series is pretty solid as we get the original Japanese language as well as the new English language dub, both of which are done using the lossless DTS-HD MA codec in stereo. The show handles a lot of different things well as there’s a good deal if dialogue, plenty of action and a whole lot of singing. We don’t usually get that combination anymore but the mix handles it all quite well across the forward soundstage. The dialogue portion is the more average of the bunch as it has a lot of characters on screen but there usually isn’t much need for depth or placement with the way it’s all handled. Action material provides a bit more balance to things as there’s a good deal going on with weapons, ships and explosions that uses the soundstage well. The music naturally has the fullest and warmest aspects of the mix as a whole as the songs come across strong and up front, making for some very engaging sequences when paired with the visuals. The combination of all three makes for one of the better stereo mixes around and both language tracks handle it very well overall with nothing that comes across as an issue. Dialogue is clean and clear and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2012, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episodes for this season are spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second. The series has some of the strongest TV animation of the last couple of years with studio Satelight behind it, which works the digital side of the animation very well in addition to some very, very vivid color design and a whole lot of detail. While I had been kind of iffy when watching parts of this in simulcast form, the visuals here just completely wowed me as I went further into this. It’s got a lot of dark and murky areas to it that are part of the story, but they manage to avoid becoming problems and you can still see a lot of detail in all of it. The vibrancy of the animation really is striking at times and the big song and dance numbers are very impressive to watch unfold.

The packaging for this release is bright, colorful and focuses largely on the core girls here as we get them laid out across the front of the standard sized Blu-ray case. The character artwork looks quite good with a fair bit of detail and a certain softness to the colors that are used that it has a great brightness and a lot of appeal, especially with all the smiles across it. the background balances it all quite well with an expansive star filled landscape that has a lot of appeal. Add in the simple but nicely done series logo along the top and a look at the episode and disc count along the bottom and it’s a solid piece. The back cover is very text heavy though as it runs through the premise of the series. There’s a good array of shots from the show spread across the middle section which are colorful and engaging and we get a good breakdown of the discs extras. Production information and a solid techincal grid fleshes out the remainder of the cover as it brings all its details out in an easy to read format. No show rleated inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for this release is straightforward as we get a static image for the main menu, such as the first disc which has an array of characters from the show in a darkened and poorly lit environment that lets their designs shine better. The artwork is good with plenty of detail to it and the logo brings in what we’ve seen from the cover as well. The navigation strip is along the right and takes up most of the space top to bottom as it brings out the episodes by number and title with a mix of blue, silver and red that works nicely to tie in to the series logo. The menu doubles as the pop-up menu and highlights which episode you’re on, which is something that I always like. Submenus load quickly and language navigation is a breeze.

The extras for this release are fairly simple and straightforward as we get some of the original Japanese promotional videos as well as the clean opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
AKB0048 is the kind of series that, for many, is easy to write off at first glance. A show about a multitude ot girls that sing and perform based off of the real world group AKB48 itself, but thrust into a science fiction setting. My initial impressions when it was announced left me completely uninterested in it and when I tried to start watching the second season when it was simulcast, it just reinforced my disinterest in it. While the show has these elements to it, it also has things that makes it very much worth taking a look even if you’re not interested in those elements as it’s animated by Satelight in a highly polished way and they brought in Shoji Kawamori to write and direct it. Kawamori goes back a long way and he brings such skill and execution to this that despite everything that I had felt in my initial experience with the show, I found myself quite engaged with AKB0048.

Taking place in what appears to be the 22nd century but as a time period known as 0048, we’re introduced to a setting where humanity has spread out to many worlds and has treated them all quite differently. We see some really beautiful and strong worlds filled with light, happy citizens and a wealth of things in front of them. Others are basically strip mining their planets for materials which turns them into dark, gloomy and dispirited places to be. What makes matters worse is that a variety of worlds have created Entertainment Bans which keeps anything related to the arts verboten and that just wears the populace down even more. One organization, known as DES, is basically an enforcement side of this that does their best to make sure people are focused solely on their jobs and responsibilities rather than frivolity. Naturally, some young people find ways to get exposed to entertainment and watch it in secret, but that introduces its own host of problems.

What a lot of these kids latch onto is a very particular type of entertainment as there’s a group known as AKB0048, which takes its inspiration from the original (and real world) group AKB48. The show has them appearing on various worlds performing, where there aren’t any bans, but also on worlds where they are. It’s those worlds where they pull off guerilla concerts to inspire hearts and minds. The series kicks off by showing us that kind of concert on a mining world named Lancastar and it inspires four girls – Chieri, Yuka, Nagisa and Orine, to want to be members themselves someday. AKB0048 is a tightly run organization and they have lots of recruiting years, which the girls end up leaving home to take advantage of – against their parents wishes – as part of the 77th generation of candidates to become a part of it. The show is their journey as they leave home, experience the trials and tribulations of becoming candidates and potential successors so they can bring entertainment and joy to the world.

What’s interesting about AKB0048 is that the members are generational themselves in that they all take over a particular title, or rather a name, when the time comes and they try to live up to the traits and style of that particular original performer. That keeps a certain kind of continuity but also brings its own issues as some members try to breed to be like a particular performer while others aspire to be one but are more suited for others and that leaves them confused about what to be. The way the girls deal with this interesting as is the generational aspect as we see one group that has only two members that have lasted this long and are stuck on progressing while others, like this newest generation, has the potential to bring about so many new members as they’re all strangely connected. The AKB0048 organization itself has its own expansive background that’s touched on as well, with a mystery about the Center Nova position that has been kept clear for years as well as the central AI that seems to be writing songs for the first time in quite some time for these new candidates.

With the large cast and sometimes multiple names, it can be relatively easy to not connect with a lot of the characters since they’re pretty much secondary at best. The primary cast is pretty accessible though, but they have little in the way of real personalities or stories of depth since they’re young kids with no experience in the world for the most part. But as their stories and arcs progress, I did find myself drawn into them rather well and enjoyed the way that while it kept largely on Nagisa with a strong portion towards Chieri. Their stories certainly aren’t original, nor the path of their lives, but seeing them go through the experience of trying to join up, passing the various auditions they have to deal with and the larger exposure to the world, the DES and how governments operate as well as other planets, the bigger picture is given plenty of due while still being very human and sliding in its own intriguing mysteries as well.

While the character side of it does draw you in, it’s aided in a very good way by the visual presentation and execution here. AKB0048 has such a polish to it, from the storytelling in general with its pacing and a solid series of unfolding revelations, to the beautiful action scenes themselves. And though I’m not a fan of the large groups like this with music, or the way the CG for it has them all in such perfect lockstep, it’s done so well here that it’s far more engaging that I thought it would be. The character designs are highly appealing with lots of appropriate detail, some great looking backgrounds that makes for worlds that feel lived in and some really fun space sequences with the ships, various mecha and more. And much to my surprise, the concert sets themselves really go big in a beautiful and fun way that it has such a life to it as to make it even bigger than it would be otherwise.

In Summary:
I didn’t go into AKB0048 expecting to hate it, but my previous touches of experience with it were less than engaging. Taking this season in as a whole, I found myself very impressed with the work overall as it takes so many familiar concepts, ones that Kawamori has obviously worked on before, and just takes it to the next level. It plays to the tropes well with the concerts, the lessons, the gravure shoots and more, and it does it with a great deal of skill and professionalism. But it also has a really strong sense of love about it as there’s a good deal of heart that shines through. Everything about this show is just top notch and while it doesn’t make me a huge convert, I came away hugely impressed by it and very appreciative of what went into it. Sentai Filmworks has given this a strong looking and sounding release that’s beautiful and engaging to watch and should please any fan of it and will likely creative quite a few new ones as well. Everything here has me quite anticipating the second season and hoping that there’s more somehow.

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

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

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 3rd, 2013
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3 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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