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AKB0048 – Next Stage Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

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AKB0048 Next Stage DVDDancing their hearts out for galactic peace.

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 in AKB0048: NEXT STAGE!

The Review:
There are two audio tracks for this release: English 2.0 and Japanese 2.0. For this viewing I listened to the English 2.0 track and it was very good. The dialogue came through clearly, as did the music and the sound effects. From what I could tell, the majority of the audio came through on the center track with some minor directionality for the sound effects. English subtitles are also provided.

This is a gorgeous show with bright, distinct colors and no fading or other issues. My only issue with the presentation is a stylistic one in that I don’t particularly like it when shows mix 2D and 3D animation. I always find that the 2D looks superior to the 3D in terms of depth and quality and it is distracting.

The series comes packaged in a standard Amaray case. The thirteen episodes are spread across three discs which are housed on a center inset and the back case, respectively. The front cover features Nagisa and Chieri in their Idol uniforms, throwing a salute to the viewer. Their Kiraras hover over their shoulders, shining brightly. The spine is mostly dark with the show’s title taking up the top half. Underneath that are Sonata, Kanata, Suzuko, Makoto, and Yuuka. The back cover features the show’s summary, screen shots from various episodes, the listing of special features, cast and crew credits, and DVD specifications.

Like the package of the first series, it’s a good, functional design, although I do feel like the back cover is a bit cluttered.

The menu design for each disc is the same as on the earlier set: it is bisected with the show’s characters on the left side of the screen and the menu options on the right. The menu is a purplish-blue background with a white border on the left side, making it look like a futuristic tablet. A huge white arrow points to the current option being selected and the episode numbers and the lines separating the episode titles are a dark pink. The titles are presented in a clear white, as are the languages and special features options. The design remains the same for each disc with the exception of the picture on the left side, which matches the art on the disc. The show’s theme plays on a thirty second loop, which is nice, but it does get repetitive after a while.

It’s a solid design in terms of functionality and readability, but it’s also not terribly exciting.

Extras include the Japanese promo, clean op/ed animations, and Sentai trailers. It’s the standard collection that comes with most anime sets, which is fine, but really doesn’t contain anything worth mentioning.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
It’s amazing how quickly and easily I get sucked into AKB0048. I’m not a fan of shows like American Idol or The Voice, but I swear I practically wear my heart on my sleeve when I watch this anime. The singing, the characters, the interpersonal relationships, and the sincere yet over the top drama of the entire series completely won me over.

Next Stage continues where the first season left off: Nagisa, Chieri, Orine, Yuuka, Suzuko, Sonata, Makoto and the others are still working as understudies for the guerilla pop group AKB0048. Many planets in the galaxy suffer under bans that make any sort of entertainment illegal. AKB sneaks in, performs a concert—often while fighting the forces of the DES, and leaves, bringing a touch of joy and solace to a world that suffers from a lack of entertainment. The main singers in the group are called Successors, and they adopt the name and spirit of the original members. The girls that hope to become Successors are called Understudies, and the process by which one becomes a Successor depends on several different factors, including the whims of the mysterious Sensei Sensei: AKB’s leader and songwriter.

The other great mysteries to AKB lie in the Kiraras—the glowing jellyfish-like creatures that hover around the idols and respond to their artistic spirit. The greater an idol’s artistic spirit, the greater the Kiraras shine and soon it becomes apparent that idol’s tap into some powerful, universal force when singing and this power can cause great destruction if unchecked, which is just what the DES wants to exploit for its own military purposes.

This, of course, comes out later. The first half of the set concerns the reinstitution of General Elections and the Center Nova Position. The General Elections is a forum where fans can vote for their favorite Successors and Understudies to participate together on a single, and the Center Nova Position was the highest rank a Successor could hold on the dancing line, but was discontinued after Atsuko Maeda the 13th disappeared during a concert. Both of these twists increase the level of competition between the members as well as adds even more pressure to the girls to perform well. Yuko especially drives herself to the breaking point in order to achieve Center Nova.

The second half of the series deals with the DES’ increasing hostilities as well as Chieri’s relationship with her father, who is president of the powerful Zodiac Corporation. The Corporation is the main weapon supplier for the DES and he uses his power and position as president to advance his daughter’s standing as an idol in order to use it to uncover the power of the Kiraras. The story all comes to a head with a climactic battle to retake AKB’s home planet of Akibastar and Chieri and Nagisa’s attaining of their full potential.

All of this creates for an odd mix of American Idol-type competition with a coming-of-age story of a group of young girls all set against the backdrop of galactic warfare. The DES desires to control its people through the banning of entertainment, while AKB and its fans are the plucky rebels bringing light and hope to these dark worlds. It’s a completely ridiculous concept that the series plays with an absolute straight face even though you have young girls dressed in uniforms singing pop songs and flying through the air on small stages, dodging gunfire and slicing apart mecha with microphone lightsabers. I feel like none of this should work, but it does. The cynical portion of my brain never pipes up while I’m watching the show, and any time I laugh it’s out of sheer delight.

In Summary:
AKB0048 is one of those shows that I can’t quite figure out why it works. It’s silly, audacious, and incredibly sincere. I became completely wrapped up with the lives of these girls and I felt joy when they succeeded, and sadness when they failed. What the show began in the first half is continued here and I daresay that it’s actually better. The concepts are larger, the mysteries deeper, and the interpersonal relationships even stronger. If you enjoyed the first half then you’ll love the second. Highly recommended.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese promo, Clean opening animation, Clean closing animation

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

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: February 4th, 2014
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection

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