What They Say:
The road trip to war has already been brutal for the 77th generation of understudies to AKB0048, the combination singing group and combat squad seeking to bring peace and entertainment back to the universe. However, the competition between the individual candidates, as well as the remaining 75th and 76th generation understudies, is about to get even rougher.
With the opportunity to become a successor to one of the original members of the legendary singing squad hanging in the balance, the fights on stage and on the battlefield will become even more cutthroat, and things are only going to get nastier when it turns out that someone has been feeding critical information to the opposing DES forces.
Will the revelation of the source of the Kiraras prove to be a deadly misstep in the intricate choreography that’s allowed the team to keep dancing out of danger? Will public opinion prove to be more important than actual skill and valor as the squad undergoes a series of grueling trials by fan? The harmony and harmonization that’s held this band of sisters together will be pushed to the breaking point!
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 two main girls here as we get Chieri and Nagisa together with a lot of light and flair around them that positively makes them glow 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 feel 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 a look at the cityscape at night with so many lights playing out below but also in the clouds above. 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 technical grid fleshes out the remainder of the cover as it brings all its details out in an easy to read format. No show related 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.
The first season of AKB0048 was something that I was really surprised that I got into. After having a less than thrilling first experience with it as a simulcast, so much so that I ignored the show, I had somewhat lowered expectations going into the full season. But the show won me over as it progressed and unveiled a curious if hard to believe setup with the different worlds where some banned entertainment outright and others thrived on it. The battle between the two came down to the guerrilla style concerts put on by AKB0048 in various places that would bring sparkly entertainment to those that craved it in order to exact some sort of change. It’s all very primal and it definitely fits in with a certain mold of anime for me since my initial true exposure was with Macross, where the importance of music was paramount when you got down to it.
With this season, it’s a bit of a chaotic work as there’s so much going on, but part of that is a given considering that there are so many characters in play with it. The season opens on an interesting note for the first two episodes as we get the results of Chieri and others having been taken by the DES and put on a public trial for war crimes, which goes against all the laws on the books but makes for a strong show of force. It’s an easy setup that pits the girls in a bad place and provides for shock among the others that are watching what’s going on. But it also provides for a very large stage for events to play out on if Tsubasa can manipulate the situation well enough with some sabotage and an outright attack that can make many see the power of performance. It’s all rather predictable, but it actually opens up one of the more interesting aspects of the season when it comes down to Chieri.
As one of the primary characters of the series that we connect with from the start, it’s easy to see the world through her eyes and the situations she’s faced. With the trial, she gets to put a lot of it out there, but it comes back to her in a surprising way. Her father is running a number of things in the background himself when it comes to Dualium and the Kirara themselves, and a lot of that rides on getting a Center Nova out there that can breach what turns out to be a path to another dimension of some sort. While he was against his daughter participating in AKB to begin with, he’s realizing that it can be used to his advantage since she really does seem to have some talent. Unfortunately for Chieri, this means that her father throws the weight of his company behind her, which in her mind means that what she achieves isn’t on her own. And that’s hugely important to her to be sure and even gets her to the point where she’s ready to leave rather than have her father manipulate her standing in the group.
What defines the early part of this season that plays into Chieri’s story is that after the events of the trial, the AKB is opened up to general elections and that means a whole lot of competition. With her not sure of even continuing on because of how her father is promoting her against her will and knowledge, she’s pretty withdrawn during all the lead-up to it and the kinds of events that go on. The candidates for successor have to go through a number of different things to promote themselves and gain fans who will vote for them, and it’s kind of fun but kept in a simple and almost abstract way for part of it. Chieri’s an important enough cog in it all, but it also plays into the rest of the girls to a good degree as it progresses and we see them competing, not against each other but in general, and the way it plays out. It shows a good change to the dynamic that Tsubasa had kept from happening for so long after losing people as the Center Nova that it has a good bit of fun to it.
The show works these threads pretty well but it also goes nicely big in the last arc, while still making sure the series is completely open-ended, as we get a situation where the DES is making such advances through a little bit of bribery that they’re able to make an attack directly on Akibastar. That throws the group into true on the run status which leads to some deus ex machina revelations about what the Dualiam and Kirara are all about and the real meaning of things that it expands the scope of the show, even if it doesn’t do all that much for me. What it really does is to force the girls directly into action as some of them are taking on their new roles as their names change while making inroads into reclaiming their homeworld and making an impact on the galaxy at large. It’s pretty solid stuff, though it suffers just a bit from the way there are so many girls and so many of them end up underserved outside of Nagisa and Chieri. But they carry the show well enough.
AKB0048 takes the events of the first season and brings certain aspects of them to a conclusion here, while still having a much larger picture to work with. Introducing us to this world through the eyes of new candidates that found their way to guerilla concerts made for a good first season and this one takes them on a larger journey, one where there’s a greater understanding as to what succession means and the way they’ll change from it. They also start to learn more about the other worlds, how the bans work and don’t work and some decent history that helps to shape perceptions of how the two main sides have orchestrated things all these years. As a concept, I definitely like the show because it goes to some classic anime tropes and executes it with an impressive polish that really drew me into it. It’s technically one of the best looking TV series out there and the presentation here is top notch. The cast is a bit harder to get into, but they live their dreams passionately on their sleeves and it’s easy to watch and connect with that as it unfolds. I was really surprised that this series worked for me in a lot of ways but it does it so well and focuses on the simplicity of being an idol in this kind of situation that hits the right notes. It’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s the first show that uses the 3DCG modeling in a way that I found worked very much in its favor rather than being a huge distraction.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Promo, 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: February 4th, 2014
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
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.