When the kides take control of a colony, it’s all fun and games until the bodies start getting ripped apart.
What They Say:
True Calendar, Year 71 – A new age where 70% of the human population lives in space thanks to the development of the “Dyson Sphere,” a city in space.
The world is divided into two main powers: The Dorssia Military Pact Federation, a power which grew out of a military alliance, and the Atlantic Rim United States (ARUS), which grew in power as it expanded its trade agreements. The minor nation of JIOR has declared neutrality between these two forces and maintained its peace through economic prosperity.
Within JIOR’s Sphere, Haruto Tokishima lived an ordinary life as a high school student in the division known as “Module 77” until the Dorssian military begins their sudden invasion. The whole world will be shaken when Haruto meets the mysterious humanoid weapon, Valvrave!
The audio presentation is pretty much what you want for a series like this as we get the original Japanese language track in its original uncompressed PCM format. The show is one that works a good balance of standard dialogue and big action scenes while also utilizing various placement aspects well since the light gravity situation means we get people floating around and moving across the screen. The forward soundstage has a good, strong and defined warm feeling to it as it plays out with the dialogue and how it tracks across it but it also has a really big and warm feeling with the opening and closing sequences. The action mix design is really quite good as the ships and mecha flit about and as it moves through a few different locales and styles across it. It’s reminiscent of old school anime in a way with what it does in this regard and the end result and working that here gives it a big, bold and really engaging mix that makes you sit up and notice a number of times. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in the spring of 2013, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episode run is spread across three discs with four episodes per disc. Animated by Sunrise, this is one of those series that really makes out well by the high bit rates that Aniplex uses to encode their stuff as there are so many extremely vibrant scenes with the mecha design, the fights in space and the weapons and lasers themselves that it’s just incredibly busy and really uses that bandwidth well. The non-combat scenes are treated just as well with a high bit rate and with good color design around the characters and engaging settings in many instances, the whole things has some good detail and layouts to it that allows the whole thing to stand out in a great way. This is a gorgeous looking transfer throughout.
The packaging for this release is one that has two Blu-ray cases inside a thin art box rather than a heavy chipboard one. The packaging artwork is certainly nice as we get L-elf on one side with the mecha behind him and a white background while the back side has Harut with the same design, but with his Valvrave. It’s solid full panel artwork which is obscured by a removable wraparound obi that has the series name and breakdown of its features and technical specs. Inside the box we get a really neat foldout poster that was illustrated by the original character designer and we also get a set of six postcards that highlights the Valvrave’s used in this first season at various times.
The Blu-ray cases are nicely done in a similar way as we get various character configurations and Valvrave configurations across the front and back pieces with the logo kept small to them. With no extraneous text, it’s all about the artwork here and that’s a big plus for both of them as it works between the two main sides that operate in this season. The covers are fully reversible as well with more character artwork and mecha artwork there as well, which also avoids any useless text that detracts from the appeal of the various designs. It’s definitely how you prefer the case artwork to be when the heavy lifting is on the box itself or the wraparound, which is the case with this set.
The menu design for this release is one that’s functional, but that’s about all that you can really say positive about it. The main menu screen layout is the same across all the discs with a diamond shape series of lines across it with a lot of dark star filled space used while other pieces utilize some small pieces of animation and artwork to populate it a bit. It’s not great just in that itself, but it’s overlaid with a huge amount of text as it breaks down the episode chapter selections, language options and on the first disc a long list of the extras that are on it. Everything on the main menus works well, and it does on the pop-up menu as well, but the pop-up menus drag up slowly and feels like they’re almost stuttering as they surface.
The extras for this release are pretty standard fare and are all on the first disc as we get the clean opening and closing sequences as well as some of the original trailers and commercials promoting the series before it aired.
While we’ve seen Sunrise expand what kinds of shows they’ve been doing for the last few years so that they’re not just a mecha anime company, which has worked out rather well for them, I do have to admit that I have a real love of when they do original mecha shows. Having grown up on being a bit of a Gundam fan and what was done there, I like seeing what they do when cut free from the things that they have to do within that framework, Valvrave the Liberator landed from the studio in the spring and fall of 2013 and while I didn’t get to see it during the simulcast, I’m beyond enthused at what I got while sitting down to soak up this season of the series and see what it’s all about. And it left me wondering why it wasn’t getting a heck of a lot more raves. Mecha, politics, space battles, romance, vampirism and mages? That’s a healthy checklist to work with.
The series takes place at some undetermined future date in the True Year 71, a time when the vast majority of mankind has left Earth for various locations in space with all sorts of colonies and settlements. Mankind in the stars is a good thing, though it again feels like it’s all a bit local sector stuff as opposed to really spread out amongst the stars. The makeup of the system is a familiar one we there are largely two sides that exist out there. The more capitalistic driven ARUS faction and the more classically Euro-russian styled Dorssia federation. Also in the mix is the JIOR, a kind of neutral designed group. While a lot of people have shifted to various planets and settlements, there’s also a Dyson sphere that exists, which is where we get the bulk of the makeup that exists. It’s an interesting future, one that’s delved into a little bit but nowhere near enough to really satiate those that want to know how the whole framework would exist. But presenting a Dyson sphere in system is certainly an interesting approach.
The focus is on the JIOR side of things here, which is basically Japan in space. While we have a large, functioning society there, the focus is on the section called Module 77, which has a decent city-like society within it of the JIOR popular, including, of course, a school. It’s fairly standard setup as we see a new group of transfer students coming to the Module from elsewhere, but this group is lead by a young man named L-elf, who is leading an attack on the Module for Dorssia as they know the secrets of the place. Those secrets involve the fact that the entire Module is really a military facility and that the only people that aren’t aware of it are the students, who are being analyzed and studied for their potential in flying these strange mecha named Valvrave. The only reason all of this comes out and is discovered is because of the Dorssia attack and what it represents, as there’s a panic to keep the mecha out of the hands of the Dorssia federation. Not that ARUS would be a whole lot better, but the main idea was to study the technology and master it while eventually providing for their own defense as these are truly Super Weapons that can cause massive destruction.
So, naturally, they fall into the hands of high school students.
It’s actually rather interesting to watch unfold, and I kind of hate to make light of it in a way because the series plays it straight and serious and it does work in show. It just sounds a little silly when talking about it. Second year high school student Haruto ends up seeing the destruction being caused by the Dorssia attack on the Module and literally ends up in front of one of the Valvrave machines. With his childhood friend Shoko seemingly dying nearby when she went to try and help someone, he turns his focus to avenging her and using that mecha to do it. But the Valvrave – and this one in particular – is a really unique device. To fly it, he has to “resign his humanity” before it will accept him as its sole pilot. And this sets into motion a chain of events that unlocks what he really is, which is not entirely human. He, and the others that are similar to him that are revealed as the show goes on, get called Kamitsuki. There’s a neat play between calling them gods or vampires because we see how Haruto comes across as immortal at times, surviving serious gunshot wounds, and the fact that he goes wildly out of control at others. He’s able to bite someone and leap into their body, which he does unknowingly at first and ends up in L-elf’s body during the attack. That almost turns comical as he uses the situation to his advantage to throw the Dorssia attack off significantly.
But the twist that I love comes in the form of what L-elf realizes when all of this happens later on. He may be a key player in the attack force that Dorssia has assembled, but he has his own plans to overthrow Dorssia for things they did, things we get teased about in a couple of very brief flashbacks. But this twist works beautifully, even if L-elf is far too gifted in foresight as he alters his plans to use Haruto and his Valvrave to achieve his larger goals. Advancing his timeline by five years because of it, the idea is one that goes all Lord of the Flies in a way as we see how through some smart manipulation and just the nature of events itself, the kids of Module 77 – the only ones left after the evacuation during the attack – opt to declare independence and form their own country. And with a hugely powerful weapon like the Valvrave, and with L-elf known there’s another five more out there in the Module to take advantage of, it’s easy to see why he’s focused on changing the nature of relations between the powers.
This first season of the show is all about introductions of the cast across several sides, but also with a large number of school kids that get caught up in this, the small faction that realizes they’re something more than human as they get involved with the Valvraves, and the handful of adults that interact with them. There are some really neat reveals about the Module that made me grin as it helps to explain away certain things, but there’s also areas where the show just goes surprisingly big and unexpected with the use of magic. It’s there as a layer from nearly the start, but you write it off as just science fiction shenanigans at first. But I also just really love the use of this colony by L-elf to establish his own plans and to see someone so confident and moving ahead to do what’s needed. There’s the obvious clash with Haruto of course, but Haruto is a welcome change as well. He accepts that he’s resigned his humanity to defend everyone and we see that while there are minor struggles in what he has to do, he will kill people to protect his Module. And I mean, a lot of people in the act of war that unfolds over it.
Relationships are naturally a factor as well across it, as we see how there’s something just under the surface for Haruto and Shoko, though Shoko has her own secrets. Some of the guys get all intense when a first year is killed in a battle and that gets them to start taking all of this seriously on a number of levels. And we get a lot of good time with Rukino, quite possibly my favorite character of the series. She’s a pop idol who isn’t exactly working at the moment and we see how she gets caught up in the Valvrave mess as well, which ties in with her own interest in Haruto and her jealousies over what he has with Shoko. She turns into a complex character of sorts along the way as she really takes to the Valvrave she takes control of, playful at first and then growing really competent, but it’s the personal side that stands out. She has a sequence with Haruto that has him out of control because of his abilities, almost a bloodlust, and she lets him take advantage of her in a carnal way to sate him. It’s a surprising sex scene in anime in general as those just generally aren’t there. But Rukino also fascinates even more as we see a glimpse of her 200 years in the future, which raises a whole host of other questions that I really want answered.
Visually, I’m just delighted by this show. While there are a number of Sunrise shows that have a similar look, Valvrave really goes all out in terms of the CG and vibrancy aspect of it while not looking like a super glossy and slick thing that doesn’t blend well with everything else. It blends well and has a really striking look for the space based sequences or anything involving the Valvraves themselves. But I also really liked the character designs as we have a kind of innocence about them at first, which is stripped away as more and more of the reality of their choices start to bear fruit. The look of the show has a kind of strong line aspect to the characters and a largely real world setting within the Module and elsewhere, but it’s not overly detailed. This keeps the focus more on the characters and to the detail given to the Valvraves. Overall, it’s a very properly shiny experience from that to finish when it comes to the look of the series and I really found myself ready by the end for another run through it in order to take the time to just slow down and look at the details of it all.
I had little idea what to expect going into Valvrave as I hadn’t seen much myself beyond the original promos for the series before it aired. That really wasn’t enough to go on in regards to how the show plays out nor how the show looks. Both of those aspects won me over here from nearly the start of the first episode.e It plays with some familiar concepts to be sure, especially for longtime Sunrise fans, but as it progresses and reveals itself, it’s doing some neat things that left me very frustrated by the end of this set because there’s so many questions that I want answered. I like pretty much all of the characters, I’m thrilled by the action aspects in space and the more personal encounters, and I’m hopeful for some neat twists and turns to come from the politics of it all as well. Valvrave the Liberator is a series that the more I think about it, the more I write about it, the more I fall for it. It’s definitely a treat that I’m looking forward to revisiting already.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Clean Openings, Clean Closings, Trailers, TV Spots
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: C-
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: September 18th, 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.