What They Say:
When Haruka gets the chance to take the entrance exam for Saotome Academy for the Performing Arts, it seems as though she’s one step closer to her dream of composing songs for her favorite singer, Hayato. However, this is no gleeful high school musical experience, and Haruka’s hiding a dreadful secret that may silence her musical ambitions forever.
Even if she does get into Saotome, the competition will be more brutal than going on Japan’s Top Idol! That’s because, as a writer, Haruka could be paired with any one of six radically different male singers. Will it be upbeat Otoya, serious Masato, flirtatious Ren, split-personality Natsuki, optimistic Syo, or the unapproachable Tokiya, who’s rumored to be Hayato’s brother?
Just to make things more complicated and awkward, writers and singers are expressly NOT allowed to get romantically involved! Can one girl and six handsome young men learn to make beautiful music together in a strictly platonic sense? They can if the oddball staff of Saotome, most of whom are current and former idols themselves, have anything to say about it!
Contains episodes 1-13.
The audio presentation for this release brings us only the original Japanese language track in stereo using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. While I do want to see as many shows dubbed as possible, shows like this unfortunately hit too small of a market most of the time and are hard to sustain – especially as there are two additional seasons to it. The show does make out very well here with what it has since it’s a mostly dialogue driven piece punctuated by some strong musical performances in both the vocals and instrumentals which allows it to shine with the format used. There’s a real warmth and richness to the musical moments that you find yourself really appreciating the differences between a 2.3mbps audio track and a 192kbps track. Dialogue is generally well done here as it’s mostly just the cast standing around talking with some emotional moments where beyond that it’s just the principal who bounces around the stage with his dialogue. Everything comes across clean and clear and has a strong finished feeling to it that’s free of dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2011, the transfer for this thirteen episode 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 with nine on the first and four on the second. Animated by A-1 Pictures, it has a really striking look to it overall with what it offers with the detail of the characters and their designs and the fluidity of the animation in the big dance and song numbers. There’s a distinctive look to the character designs and their colors with the eyes, which can be disconcerting at first, but the whole thing is just striking from top to bottom and the transfer captures it beautifully. The content of the show is something that may not be to a lot of general fans liking, but A-1 Pictures put in a top notch effort here and the payoff is definitely strong with what we get as it’s a beautiful looking series.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case where the cover artwork uses the blues heavily that blends nicely into the cover itself. The logo kept along the top has a fun little design quality about it while using blues and whites while the text across makes it clear that it’s the first season and breaks down the disc and episode count. The bulk of the cover is given over to the characters whose expressions talk about who they are easily enough all while putting Haruka in the center. They’re all nicely designed here with some good detail and color definition that makes it stand out while hitting the kind of notes that will attract the target audience. The back cover uses mostly the same colors with a little pink and yellow drawn into it to give it a slightly busier feeling. There’s a cute tagline with it and we get the breakdown of what’s included and the extras along the top. The shots from the show round out both sides with a good look to them and we get a decent premise that dominates the center aspect of it while not giving away too much. The production credits cover both sides of the equation well and the technical grid lists all the details accurately and cleanly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for the release is one that definitely works decently and simply though it doesn’t include all of the characters, which will certainly bother someone. The design has a good plaid pattern for the background with light pinks, blues and whites there while the foreground has a pairing of two of the boys, each disc using different pairings. They look good and use the same kind of designs as the front cover but with different artwork that lets it look really nicely detailed and with some good pop to it. The navigation along the right uses the pink and yellows from the back cover which breaks down the selections by number and title. Everything is quick and easy to load and the pop-up works seamlessly during playback.
The extras for this release are a bit meager but they’re the minimum that I always hope for with the clean opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the game series and the manga of the same name, Uta no Prince-sama is a sprawling property that does very well in Japan with its target audience. The show, as of this writing, has had two seasons and a third is in the offing and Sentai Filmworks has picked up the first two. The genre is one that is pretty much identical to the one with one guy and lots of girls, though there’s less overt male-fantasy fanservice here. It also helps that the series is animated by one of my favorite studios out there now, A-1 Pictures, and looks to do the whole reverse harem angle to good effect here.
We’re introduced to Haruka, a young woman that’s attending Saotome Academy where it’s all about the performing arts. It’s an awkward start once things get rolling for Haruka as she’s late due to helping a child, and that has the security side of the academy calling her out as not being good material here. But the male students that are there smooth things over for her and in turn wow her a bit, leaving her almost a little starstruck in a way with how handsome they are and how helpful they are. It’s just enough help to get her in to take the exam to see if she’s truly the right caliber for this particular academy.
The academy is certainly a prestigious one with a great location, lots of interesting design elements and one that stands out so strongly with the animation and the character designs that it almost feels too rich in its design. But it has some amusing color to it as well because it is a performing arts school, which we see at the entrance ceremony, with the headmaster leaping in from above with a wild mask on his face and a whole lot of scenery eating. It’s comically over the top in all regards here when it comes to him and the staff in their introductions, but it also fits in a way to how you’d normally see things like this done on, say, a Disney Channel TV show involving kids this age. And strangely enough, that’s not a half bad analogy to make to this as you can see this being adapted into a live action US TV form very easily.
Like most first episodes involving special academy’s like this, it’s all about the introduction to the setting and the base characters. Haruka has her best friend in Tomo, a very outgoing but not overly so young woman who helps to nudge her into being more open herself. There’s a variety of young men that she comes across, such as the two that she met on the day of the entrance exams, as well as others that populate the school in different positions of social status and influence. A couple of them are sons of powerful men in the corporate world and then there are others that are more common in a sense, but plenty in between as well. Tomo knows who everyone is of course, being that kind of busybody, but what she says is true in that there are many “princes” to be had in this academy that can keep them busy.
Some emotional context is drawn into the show as well with Haruka since as the lead she has to be the one to connect us to everything because of her being an average person in a sense. There’s a defining moment in her recent past that helps as we see the influence of music, and one performer in particular with the popular HAYATO, has had in her life which is why she’s applied here for her schooling. Though it’s a bit much in its own way, it is the way someone that age can see things when it comes to how others influence them, powerfully so at times, and it’s wonderfully animated as the music sings to her in a way so many people can never actually feel. It’s a very good moment for really cementing why she wanted to be here and just how much she can be moved by performance and one performer in particular.
Like any good harem-style series, albeit one that doesn’t involve a lot of aggressive pursuit in the traditional male lead dominated series, we get a show where after the setup is done we see how each of the guys interact with Haruka individually and the kinds of connections that start to form with her. Haruka is one that hasn’t had an easy life for a number of reasons and is doing her best to pursue her dreams, but she lacks the kind of stronger background in the fundamentals that the others do. But she has that gift that allows her to succeed and grow as time goes on and as she learns more by working with the guys, at least those that want to get close to her at first. And then those that learn that she does have that something special which draws them towards her as something of a muse, albeit a muse that they grow to love in similar but different ways. Since it’s a female centric series, it’s pretty much always kept very respectful towards her and without the usual kind of leering or dirty thoughts from the guys. There’s an intensity at times with some of the characters, such as the well to do Jinguji, but even that isn’t quite the same as you’d get in reverse.
Not being the target audience for this kind of series, it was one that I rather enjoyed for the most part during the original simulcast when I watched it because it does have a kind of innocence about it that’s fun. The relationships that exist and get explored aren’t deep and the overall academy aspect is whisper thin, especially since there’s graduation material in this season that pushes things through quickly. But what it does do is something that’s just kind of addictive to watch as you want to see how Haruka and her muse-like ability can help to unlock the troubles and style of each of the guys in small ways and draw them together as a group into STARISH, which will help to propel them to fame. Which is even more interesting since she has no interest in actually being on stage herself, rather just doing the composing and writing of all the songs. It’s a good dynamic and one that’s supportive of how she wants to help them, because helping them propels her own dream and career should it get to that point. Haruka is nicely developed and stands on her own to be sure, more so than most of the other guys – but that’s what the second season is for.
Uta no Prince-sama is a show that is definitely fun with what it does and it enjoys being the kind of series it is while doing it with great style and some beautiful animation and designs. The concept is simple and it’s kept very light so that the focus is on the characters themselves, with Haruka as the focus and dealing with some members of the group more than others. The result is a show that does come together well overall and it provides a variety of young men for the fans to pick and choose from as their personal favorites. Haruka isn’t quite the blank slate some series might make her be, so they did some good stuff with her while giving her enough room to grow. The big draw here is the combination of the young men, the music and the design of it all and this series hits all the right marks, which is why it’s easy to see that the show is gearing up for a third season in Japan. It’s full of tropes, but it executes them well and has a large enough fanbase to support it in Japan with all the games. And I’m definitely glad that these kinds of series continue to make their way over here for fans, and that Sentai Filmworks not only took a chance on it but gave it the high definition release that it deserves for both its visual and audio aspects.
Japanese 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: January 7th, 2014
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
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.