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Sakura Wars: The Movie Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

Sakura Wars The Movie
Sakura Wars The Movie
What do you do after several OVAs, a TV series, musicals, countless CDs and other merchandise based on the games have been released? You get yourself a theatrical movie.

What They Say:
When something wicked stages chaos, the Imperial Assault Force sends the divas of the Flower Division to drive steel through evil’s spotlight! Sweet Sakura, glamorous Sumire, adorable Iris, tactical Leni, mechanic Kohran, Kana the martial arts master, exotic Orohime, and stoic leader Maria are always ready for action! Just as a fresh face joins the ensemble, other members begin to vanish one after another. When a deviant virtuoso unleashes demons to terrorize Tokyo, it’s up to the maidens of metal to pull their act together and drop the curtain on evil!

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation here is definitely solid as we get the original Japanese language track which had a 5.1 mix for its theatrical run and the previously created English mix, which was also done in 5.1. Both of them are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec and the whole bump up here takes an already strong mix that we had experienced on DVD before and raises it to a whole other level. The film works a pretty good range of material as you’d expect with the song and dance numbers kicking it off really well, some solid dialogue pieces throughout that vary from quiet to intense and of course all the action. Combining it all with the very well done and well placed action effects and a strong soundtrack that enhances the overall mood, there’s a whole lot to like here as you really do get a theatrical level production and it shows.

Video:
Originally in theaters in 2002, the transfer for this feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Having had a really good looking DVD presentation before, there’s definitely a great upgrade here in what we get. The source materials are in great shape as we get some striking colors and very fluid animation that has a solid feel throughout. The level of detail here is quite good and the early 3DCG modeling looks great considering how many advances have been made since then. There’s a good deal of action throughout, though certainly not constant, but the end result is a feature that easily draws you in and keeps you engaged because of its visual design that the transfer captures well. With no problems with line noise or cross coloration, it’s just the occasional bit background noise that creeps in and little else of note.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release brings us the show in a standard sized Blu-ray case with an O-card slipcover that replicates what’s on the case itself. The front cover has a really good ornate kind of feeling about it that because of the gold and black is very reminiscent of the recent Gatsby movie promotion and artwork. The logo through the middle works well to provide two different pieces of artwork as we get a good look on the mechanical side of it as well as the various cast members which has a great level of detail. The colors pop well without being too much and they all stand out for different reasons. The back cover uses more of the gold and black line work to create a great image where we get the premise of the film and a breakdown of the extras. Some additional character artwork is here as are a few small shots from the show that add a little but not much because of their size. The remainder is given over to the technical grid that covers both formats well in a clean and easy to read format. There aren’t any show related inserts included but we do get artwork on the reverse side with a full length shot of Sakura done illustration style in her traditional garb that looks great, though it’s not a really reversible piece of work.

Menu:
The menus for this release are simple but ties in well enough with some of the themes of the show so as to work. The bulk of it is just a series of action clips from the film, which works out well since they’re all pretty good quality clips with some strong animation. Those play through and gives it a good sense of motion while it unfolds. The menu navigation along the bottom has a performance hall kind of feel to it with the salmon-ish background and a deep mustard yellow border that lets it stand out right. The navigation is simple and they use the same layout for the pop-up menu, though it’s a separate menu that doesn’t include the extras which I always find frustrating. Submenus load quickly and everything is nicely done with just a small touch of style that’s appropriate to the show.

Extras:
The extras for this release are definitely welcome since there are some brand new things that we get here that we didn’t have on the previous edition. The familiar pieces are here with the original Japanese trailer, a few of the commercials and the original promotional videos that were crafted to market the show. The big extra is the new one though as we get a twenty-two minute interview session with the original creators. And not just any session like we had with the fluff stuff done during its release, it’s stuff that was done back in 2012 with a proper look back at what they did, created and worked on. Revisiting it after that time definitely made it a lot more interesting.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sakura Wars has long been a difficult show for me to get into, especially since the games weren’t available during the heyday of releases, and I always felt like I was someone that could meet and greet the property, but we could never truly be friends. A lot of it is simply because of the level of integration among the various properties continues to be strong and with the games being a missing component, fans who watch just the anime often find themselves missing out on a lot of various aspects that make things flow more smoothly. For example, Lieutenant Oogami is missing from a lot of this movie, having been said to be in Paris. That’s a completely separate storyline entirely from the movie, one that hasn’t been touched upon yet.

FUNimation’s acquisition of the movie is something of a surprise since they have had a couple of the OVAs from quite awhile ago when they first started to get away from being all about Dragon Ball Z, but they’ve largely been out of print, out of mind and possibly not even licensed anymore. There just isn’t a fan base for Sakura Wars anymore that there was a decade ago when Geneon Entertainment released this title. Still, even though it’s faltered and I have hopes that all the previous releases can be rescued, the movie is definitely one of the better properties to start off to at least reignite the fans interest in the property since it’s the one that makes out the best from a high definition transfer, both in visuals and audio.

The movie shifts forwards two years after the OVA 2 series. The Paris branch is moving along with the help of Oogami, the Flower Troop has become a very tight family unit and performs beautifully both in the field and in the theater and Tokyo, as well as Japan, has prospered heavily these past couple of years as the capital sends out its advances and changes to the rest of the nation. A time of true prosperity has come and people are riding high on it, especially since it has been some time since the Kouma were last scene.

That’s usually a good sign that things are going to be shaken up a bit. Enter Lachette Altair, the former captain of the Stars Division who is now going to be leading up the creation of a New York Defense Troop. She’s returned to Tokyo and to Commander Yoneda to learn from the best so she can apply it to their new group. Rather than watch from afar, she wants to be hands on and get right into the thick of things, having brought her own Eisenkleid even. Lachette’s arrival is a mixed event; though some people are always happy to have someone new such as Sakura, others find her to be an intrusion and a disruption to the balance and harmony that the team has spent so long working towards.

Lachette’s arrival in Japan is mirrored by that of the American firm Douglas-Stewart, a company that is trying to get into the competition by offering their own brand of Koubu, but unmanned. Led by Brent Furlong, he brings on board people to do the hard sell for him and to smooth over relations so that his equipment will be bought in bulk to handle the defense as opposed to “fragile women” of the Flower Troop. There’s definitely elements of the proper place of women in the film, something that’s always been an issue in Japan. With an American coming in and saying it though, especially to people like Yoneda and his bosses, it doesn’t sit well.

The performance of his machines, called Japhkiel, these look like drab blocky versions of the Koubu but with expansive wings on their backs. When a Kouma attack does occur, one of the gets into the mix, completely catching the Flower Troop offguard – which is already an issue since they were surprised to find Lachette and her Eisenkleid there to help. The public performance of the Japhkiel pushes the demand for them up several notches and heightens concerns among the Flower Troop. Their fears aren’t unfounded though as they’re practically disbanded and redistributed to other areas after the rows upon rows of Japhkiels that are available are shown.

Of course, there’s a secret to the Japhkiels that will cause problems, that gets investigated by members of the troop and leads to various battles and other engagements. The storyline is a tried and true one, one that works out well here since it parallels other issues of the time, particularly of women in service. There’s no mistake that the plot here is straightforward and you can find a lot of it telegraphed pretty early. What makes it work though is the great cast and the way they’re able to really build you up and get you very involved in what’s going on.

Unlike some of the other Sakura Wars properties, I felt more connected to this show than I usually do, as the opening song and dance number truly captivated me even after all these years. This piece plays out beautifully with the dancing and lyrics as it moves from member to member and then to a full chorus. It’s lavishly animated and you can tell they put a lot of money into it, especially since it comes across as reminiscent of films like Beauty & the Beast in their ballroom dancing scene. A second song number from a different performance is done later in the show and that comes across strong as well, more so in certain respects since it’s more personal to the cast at that time than the opening “love” song.

Another aspect that got me more into this particular iteration of the franchise more so than others is that previous pieces have generally been very skimpy on using the Kouma, presumably since they’re key for the games and have to be metered out carefully. With this movie, they’re center stage and that means we get big budget action sequences between the Koubu and them. The Koubu for this event are done up in CG, which isn’t terribly unexpected. But it’s also done in the cel shaded style, a style that seemingly manages to not “fit” inside the established traditional looking world, but also manage to work perfectly. The Koubu are something that isn’t part of the normal world, with their ties to the spiritual, so having them stand out more as they do here comes across right. But even more so is the fact that these shows are dealing with the heritage in the games, a heritage that gets more and more vibrant every year. While I’d likely complain about the lack of need for CG mechs in any other show, I find that these variations fit perfectly here and help them stand out strongly in a sizeable cast.

In Summary:
While Sakura Wars: The Movie has some connective issues that can be difficult to get into to some degree depending on familiarity with the property, the film itself is a strong piece of work when it comes to what it does. This isn’t a side story with no meaning but a film that takes place after other events of other properties and forges its own path. Even though it’s been over a decade since it first came out, it’s like a number of other theatrical films in that it really does hold up very well with its detail, designs and animation. It’s also one of the reasons that it’s a prime candidate for getting this high definition transfer as there’s a lot to eke out of it compared to the DVD release, which was already quite good. The end result here is that we get a great looking release with a new transfer and some new extras as well that makes it an easy upgrade for any fan and a decent first exposure for new fans.

Features:
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Interviews, Japanese Trailers & Commercials, Promotional Videos

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

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: October 22nd, 2013
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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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