The shift to using star magic takes center stage and the strain is starting to show with Sakura..
What They Say:
The Power of One’s Own Star! Without the power to use the Clow Cards, Sakura must discover a new method of using her magic and her new staff. But will she be able to do this while being attacked by Eli’s traps: a possessed piano, a giant Teddy Bear and her own friend, Li Shaoran?! How much can a 11-year old handle?
The audio presentation for this release is straightforward as we get the original Japanese language in stereo but nicely encoded at 384kbps. The series isn’t one with a huge or dynamic range to it considering its origins but it handles the forward soundstage well here with dialogue placed appropriately where needed while the action scenes have a good full flow to them with some minor directionality in a few places. The swirling of music tends to be one of the stronger points for it and that’s something that gives the show a little extra push, especially with the opening and closing sequences. While not a standout mix, it does the job well and we didn’t detect any distortion or dropouts throughout the episodes and overall had no issues with this track. Solid stuff all the way around.
Originally airing from 1998 to 2000, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The series has a strong look to it in general with Madhouse animating it and using the appealing CLAMP character designs along with some very good colors. Traditionally animated for the most part, it has bright colors, smooth animation during the busy scenes and a good sense of detail about it. The release isn’t problem free though, owing to the time of its original release, and we have some cross coloration showing up throughout in small ways here and there and some line noise that creeps in as well. Some of the backgrounds aren’t as solid as they should be either, but the show generally does hold up pretty well considering when it was released and the difference in encoding now and source materials.
The packaging for this release continues to be a highlight after all these years as we get a single sized white keepcase to hold the disc. The front cover is bright piece but with some good soft whites and pinks for the background. Sakura’s design for this volume is quite good as we get the layer of pinks and whites where she’s holding her new wand, but there’s such a softness to her expression and warmth that it’s very engaging to look at. The logo along the top is straightforward and easy to read and we get a volume name along the bottom where it also breaks down the format of the release. The back cover has some good soft background images of various scenes from the volume, a few shots from the show and a decent if brief premise to the series. The episodes are brown down by name and number and the production credits dominate. The technical side is mild and simple but it brings out the basics needed for this DVD release. The package also comes with an insert where on one side it provides a shot of Sakura and the “villains” of this arc along with a breakdown of the episodes by name, number and the chapters within each one.
Much like the show and the packaging, it’s cute, colorful and bright as we get a still image from the episode related to this volume without any music or sound effects. The menus are pretty simple, with only a few options on the main menu and most of the others in the extras menu, which is where they curiously placed the “Subtitles Off” selection. Access times are very fast and things look pretty good all around here.
The only extra included in this volume is a brief eight page line art gallery
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Following from the events of the last episode on the previous disc, where the third season really kicked off, things in Sakura’s hometown aren’t going so well. The rain continues to pour continually over just this town, much to the bafflement of everyone. Sakura knows that it’s a problem that she’s supposed to handle, but as we see in the flashbacks, she’s unable to utilize her wand and to activate her Clow cards. And so, the rain falls and falls hard.
Kero and Yue confer a few times as they begin to suspect what may be causing the problem, but both of them are unsure of its real possibility, since it’s one of those “it can’t be” kind of situations. What really starts to get things interesting is that Toya starts to really sense what’s going on with everyone, expect probably Tsukishiro, and starts slowly opening up about it. His heightened senses of supernatural activity and the like has been going off for ages, so it’s little surprise he really wants to get something off of his chest.
The big focus here for things early on is Sakura and her inability to activate her cards, which means she’s unable to deal with the problems that are coming up. Through some self exploration and a general feeling of the paranormal around her, she learns that she’s now a medium between the two extremes of the Clow with it’s sun and moon pulls. Utilizing the Stars as the center, she’s able to substitute that into her release spell, but not without some serious issues around it.
Her use of the stars to use magic to deal with problems has some side affects. The first is that she’s now using her own inner magic ability as opposed to relying on the magic infused into the Clow Cards by Clow Reed. With this new usage, she’s drawing more and more power from herself, causing her to conk out a bit quicker than usual. The other side affect is that she can’t properly use the existing Sun and Moon phase Clow Cards. To help her, she uses them as a base pattern and, one at a time as needed, she’s beginning to convert them to Star Cards that she can use to fight what’s causing the problem.
So with new power comes new issues, but it also appears that it means somewhat of the same villains. While there’s someone, or something, out there that’s testing Sakura and her new powers, they’re doing it in ways that are similar to the opening episodes of the series, which makes for some dull moments. I mean, come on, we’ve see things like the possessed piano already. But barring this aspect of it, things are definitely getting interesting and moving into a new phase.
One thing I find myself really liking is the new opening sequence, which is done by Yoko Kanno with Maaya Sakamoto singing. The animation style at times is very different from what’s in the series, giving a very stylized look, such as the staircase piece with Sakura at the top. While the first seasons opening song is definitely my all time favorite, there’s just something different enough about this one that it really hooked me.
Season three is off to an interesting start, though I hope we can avoid repeating a lot of the first season’s build-up and monster of the week stuff. More things, such as learning why Shaoran feels how he does about Tsukishiro are what I want to see. Heck, anything that causes the poor boy to go fully red is worth seeing! Most of what we get here is the expected material though, with the scenes showing us Sakura doing her best to learn how to manage the cards now that she’s their master, understanding what’s involved and slowly but surely converting them from Clow Cards to Sakura Cards. The introduction of some of the new characters is done decently, from the calm and quiet Eriol that slides into events easily to the more outgoing young woman/man/genderless being that has decided that Toya will be her plaything. There’s some good fun had here throughout and some solid plot point progressions as well.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Art Gallery
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Pioneer
Release Date: January 7th, 2003
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
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.