What They Say:
In Japan, the term hikikomori is used to describe people who’ve become so socially withdrawn that they refuse to leave their homes for weeks and even months at a time. For Sasami Tsukuyomi, a shut-in attempting to pass her first year of high school, it’s more than just a word. Fortunately, she lives with her older brother Kamiomi, who just happens to be a teacher at the exact school Sasami is supposed to attend.
With the help of her “Brother Surveillance Tool,” Sasami is able to view the outside world via her computer, theoretically allowing her to readjust to interacting with people once more. In reality, it reveals her brother’s interactions with the three very odd Yagami sisters, whose looks and motives are deceiving, and have various types of interest in Kamiomi. That’s when things start to get really weird…
Magical powers? Everything turning into chocolate? Has life via the web warped Sasami’s brain, or is it the universe that’s going crazy? It looks like Sasami will have to take off her pajamas and go out into the real world to set things straight!
Contains episodes 1-12.
The audio presentation for this series is done with only its original Japanese language track in stereo encoded at 224kbps. The series is one that does largely work with the dialogue as its main approach, but it has some big action moments as well that play out better than one might expect from a series like this. The stereo mix is one that has a mostly full feeling to it as the dialogue comes across well but without much in the way of placement of directionality since it’s not needed based on the design of it all. There are moments where it does hit but those are few and far between, though they’re handled well. The action component definitely works better in a lot of ways as it has a very full feeling and ramps things up nicely, giving that material a lot more impact. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in the winter 2013 season, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The twelve episodes that makes up the series are spread across three discs with four episodes each and no extras, so there’s plenty of space to work with. Animated by Shaft, there’s certainly a distinctive look here that comes across well, though it cries out for high def quality many times, and it holds up well with a reasonably high bit rate throughout and lots of clean and solid colors where there’s little noise and little to find fault with. The presentation brings the colors through well, the detail definitely works the best that it can in standard definition and overall it covers the bases well in a way that will please the fans that like the show.
The packaging for this release definitely gives you a good feel for the style of it as we get a single sized black keepcase that holds all three discs. The front cover goes with the light pastel checkerboard background that gives it all a soft feeling while the character artwork on top of it brings us the four main girls in similar colors, just with a bit more pop to it. They’re all cute and there’s plenty of detail but it doesn’t stand out in a big way amid a sea of covers with a lot more vibrancy. The back cover works with some good blues and purples to give it a little more weight while providing some of the design elements that appear in the menu as well with the PC stylings. The premise is well covered – and useful to read – and we get a few decent shots from the show as well as a nice image of Sasami. The technical grid rounds out the bottom with some basic production information as well in a clear and easy to read format. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design is pretty colorful and nicely laid out as we get a 50/50 split for it where the left side changes up the character illustrations for each disc while the right has the navigation breakdown. This is done with a series of blocks that plays up the whole new Windows design for their Surface systems and it does it with some good colors, heavily focused on purple. The breakdown provides for just the episodes by number and title as there isn’t much else on the discs besides some credits and a trailer. The menus are quick and easy to navigate but also very, very minimal in design which helps.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series that began in 2009 by Akira with illustrations by Hidari, [email protected] is a twelve episode series that’s animated by Shaft. The light novel series is still going on with eleven volumes in print so far, which is pretty good and you can see the appeal of it in that form, and why a studio like Shaft with Akiyuki Shinbo interested in animating it. I hadn’t seen the series when it was simulcast, but I’m always interesting in seeing what this production team works on because if anything, it’s visually interesting. And the series is certainly that, though it’s not quite as striking as some of the others. But part of that is because it goes for a bit of an earthier and more illustrated feeling in a way with its color design that stops it from having a lot of pop and vibrancy for most of it.
The show revolves around just a few characters and keeps it simple in that regard. Our lead is a first year high school student named Sasami who lives in the big city and is taken care of by her older brother Kamiomi, who is also a teacher at the school, which makes things convenient. Sasami is a bit of an introvert, more interested in just being at home and online where she does a variety of things, while Kamiomi is one that comes across as doing whatever he can for her, being the protector, servant and caretaker for her while also having a huge dose of creepy love for her that gets disturbing. It’s all part of the larger gag though as it turns out that the brother and sister are part of a family that has for generations been involved in containing the power of God within its members so that it doesn’t go out of control. Sasami was the latest, but she managed to break free from it in order to experience the world.
Unfortunately, she ended up shifting the power to her brother and his attempts at pleasing her end up causing Alterations to the world, which can get dicey at times and cause significant problems. An early and big Alteration we see has a focus on chocolates that starts turning the entire world into chocolate. What helps is that while Sasami does her best to help ease these kinds of pressures, there’s a trio sisters, the Yagami sisters, who have taken on the role of protectors as well and do what they can to ease the issues. Each of them has their own quirks, including all looking like highschool girls even though they range from nine to thirty-one, where one is secretly a god herself, another is a cyborg while the youngest is the next vessel in line after Sasami. They provide the friends in Sasami’s life, a connection and bond, but also a lot of knowledge of the world that she’s largely ignored. And they provide for some additional fanservice, fun and silliness.
The series plays with some familiar material here, in Shaft style, as we see some of how the Alterations work and the trouble it causes while giving us some of the basics of the characters personalities. Lots of references early on and some amusing parodies, including a couple seconds of a Haruhi gag that pretty much tells you that the entire series is up for grabs with what can happen and its true meaning. The time spent acclimating us to the characters is decent, but it takes a bit because they are so diverse and they have secrets that do take some time to come out. But there’s also the problem that they are, in a way, so focused on Sasami and the various gags and preventing her though Kamiomi from destroying the world that it’s all very reactive. I never really felt like I got to know the characters, and as the secrets come out, it kind of destroys who we thought they were anyway so it wasn’t worth getting too invested in anyway.
While we get some familiar material early on in the usual Shaft manner, it takes a different turn along the halfway mark when Sasami’s dead mother arrives, having stepped through from the Other Side after making a deal, which in turn threatens all existence since there’s a big play at hand to gain the power that Sasami has and use it for the Underworld’s gain. While that’s all well and good, a lot of it is focused on the relationship between Sasami and her mother, which is convoluted since she’s hiding so much of herself and you can’t be sure if it’s really her considering the circumstances. This goes surprisingly big and personal as we get a neat time travel sequence that explores young Sasami and how her situation was as a child and why her mother treated her as she did, but it also manages to humanize her mother as well, which is a conflicting emotion because there’s such innate distrust towards her based on events.
That all gets dealt with and put away before the final three episodes where it feels like the show turns on a dime as Sasami goes into her second year and has to deal with the student council president, a young woman named Jou. She’s intent on getting closer to Sasami in order to deal with her as she has her own Dark Past that will be explored, but it gets tweaked in an odd way with a heavy use of one of the Yagami sisters. The whole final act feels like it should have been the start of its own season and rolled from there, but coming after the events of the previous arc, which felt like it should have ended the season with how big it went, there’s just this weird disconnect that I kept feeling with the show. One that had been there since early on as it didn’t quite click with me and it just built more and more on that as it progressed. You can feel this way with a number of Shaft shows, but this one just left me cool from the start and just proceeded to get colder the more it went on, especially as it felt like it was just telling itself its own story and not really being accessible and engaging to an audience.
I really do feel like that when it comes to shows that Shaft gets involved with that go with this creative visual approach, it’s a fifty/fifty thing as to whether I’ll enjoy it. The ones I do, I tend to be all in and just adore with what it does. The other half tends to leave me cold. With this series, awkward name and all, it starts off cool with its approach, color design and accessibility and just gets more difficult to work with from there. It has some interesting ideas, but it feels like we’ve seen parts of this recently and in more engaging ways, both in characters and script as well as visuals. There’s some neat stuff to be had throughout, but it doesn’t rise to make a solid or engaging whole work. Those more familiar with the source material may get more out of it, and I’m all for making shows aimed at a core and niche audience, but for me it just didn’t do much of anything and didn’t have some of the usual trademark style aspects that would help elevate a weak project.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: July 8th, 2014
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic 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.