Reviving an ancient god is not going to lead to good things.
What They Say:
Across the ocean on the tiny island kingdom of Barou the ancient god Neo Ranga awakens from his slumber. He is mysteriously drawn to Tokyo, and the three beautiful sisters – Minami, Ushio, and Yuuhi – who are unwittingly linked to the monster. But instead of rolling out the red carpet, the military rolls out the weaponry, and things start to get nasty. The plot thickens: Why is Neo Ranga driven to Tokyo? Is he a messenger with a warning for humankind, or just a big boy out for a good time? And what’s behind Ranga’s mysterious eyes?
Neo Ranga retains the audio tracks as seen on the single disc release with the English and Japanese tracks in stereo encoded at 224kbps. Both tracks feature a good mix considering the age and that it’s mostly dialogue as it’s well placed when required and has a good feel overall. There’s some nice impact to the bigger scenes with the action and with Ranga moving about but in the end it is a stereo mix from quite a few years ago. The music makes out well, especially the opening song once the show gets to it, but it is representative of the time it was made and that it is a fairly relaxed show in a lot of ways. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing throughout 1998, Neo Ranga is a forty-eight episode TV series presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The show is spread across five discs with its episodes, but it’s a bit deceptive as each episode runs for an average of just under fifteen minutes. Each volume has ten episodes, which is roughly a little more than five standard length episodes, with the last volume having just eight. The show has a decent look about it as it appears to be the same discs as the single volumes ran. The traditional animation holds up fairly well but the show was designed with a very rough look, very earthy in nature with the look of the city and its concrete and buildings. There are flashes of color to be had here and there, but even Ranga himself is very dark and earthy in its tones. Cross coloration crops into a lot of scenes, particularly on the second disc, and there’s a bit of line noise throughout, but they’re representative of what many shows from this period look like on DVD. It’s not a standout show visually but it has a lot of detail and a very warm feeling to it that gives it a much different life than a clean and crisp show where that wouldn’t feel appropriate here.
Neo Ranga gets a fairly decent package, though it’s a far cry from the singles and thinpak set we saw before, as it’s an oversized keepcase with hinges inside to hold all five discs of the series. The front cover has a really good image of Ushio up close with a near full length body shot of her as she wields the large sword while looking very serious. Next to her is a close-up of Ranga’s eye that’s heavily shadowed while across both in the background we get the swirls from the design of the show. The front cover shows the changes since the original single run which had the characters done in black bodysuits with the swirls as we get Ushio without clothes here but all inked up which adds to the beauty of it all. The back cover is all black and uses the red swirls here as well to tie things together. The upper left has some small useless shots from the show while the center has a decent brief summary of the basics of the shows premise. The character artwork, also originally from a single volume cover, has Yuuhi from behind with the ink all over her as she’s naked and looking very serious as well. The production credits and technical information is all along the bottom in the swirls which is a bit awkward but it works well enough outside of not being able to find the runtime quickly and easily. It’s a decent release overall though I miss having all three of the girls in some form together as I always thought it was a pretty powerful image. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reverse side cover.
The menus for this release are really quite attractive as each one features a piece of artwork of the sisters as we see them from the cover, and previous covers as well. The black nature of the background with its grays mixed in with the red curved stripes is striking as is the character artwork of the sisters with the symbols painted on them. The episode selection runs down the left side, which looks busy with ten of them on each disc in general, but they don’t list the episode titles so it’s not too awful busy. The layout is easy to navigate and it gives it all a very foreboding feeling when you queue up the disc to watch. Language selection is a breeze and all but one of the discs defaulted to our players’ language presets of Japanese with English subtitles.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
It’s been far too many years since Neo Ranga originally aired and a bit less since the first volume arrived from ADV Films. As a part of the Anime Complex program in Japan, Neo Ranga ran for forty-eight episodes in the half-length form of just under fifteen minutes per episode. Because of this format, and being part of an anthology program, the show has a very different sense of pacing. It also had Sho Aikawa behind it and its original story, which meant it was going to be fairly unpredicatble.
Taking place at the turn of the century, Neo Ranga has some lofty story goals in mind, which I don’t think it executes well at times or without a heavy hand, but it also tells the tale of a lot of characters in a unique situation. It also, because of the goals in mind, deals with the world at large in a way many stories don’t. How would the government and the other governments of the world react should a Godzilla sized creature appeared out of the water and settled in West Musashino and recognized three young women as Kings of the southeast island nation of Barou. And that this creature is actually a god of some sort that the trio can control. Such is the basis for Neo Ranga.
The three young women are of the Shimabara family, a family that has had quite a lot of trouble over the years. We learn eventually of their bloodline being important, but in the present day the sisters of Minami (24), Ushio (15) and Yuuhi (13) are dealing with a very basic life and near poverty. Their parents died years ago and they were left in the care of their older brother, Masaru, who eventually disappeared. The arrival of Ranga in their lives leads them to the island nation of Barou where they learn that Masaru was living there as a king, and his death has transferred the power to them where they now control this creature. It’s a chaotic situation in a lot of ways, emotionally for the girls, security wise for the nation and just in general for the residents of the area as there’s nothing but trouble going on.
The arrival of Ranga changes some perceptions about the world for people in how it all works. Over the course of the series, the trio have to deal with the growing influence of a once secret group called the Kyoshin Council that is pulling the strings from behind the scenes as they want to use Ranga in order to bring their own one true god to the forefront and see Ranga as the perfect foil for it as a lightning rod. Through politics and intrigue, the Council uses the youth of the nation, religion and the Security Pact with America to push forward their plans, though not without resistance. It’s the Security Pact which makes the most interesting angle for the series as it takes into account the relationship between the two nations and looks at in how it’s basically strangling and controlling Japan, causing it to lose its identity. The use of Ranga to break free from it is a beautiful piece of work as they use it to the full propaganda effect to achieve what they want and turn the tables on the sisters and those who favor Ranga’s presence.
Much of the series focuses on the issues the sisters face and some of the other regulars with how Ranga changes things in their lives. Each sister can control Ranga and they bring a different purpose and personality to him when they take over. Minami uses him the least and isn’t sure of the best approach while Ushio sees him as the way to bring justice to the world. Yuuhi is interesting as she sees him as a route to greater power and a tool of sorts to achieve it. There are a lot of family and personal issues that mix into it with their pasts being as difficult as they are and there are numerous people along the way that try and take advantage of all of them, though the sisters aren’t above looking out for their own gain as well. It’s a curious mix of stories that works well at times, though they’re paced differently because of the episode length, that builds to an unexpected crescendo when it starts to deal with the revival of other dead gods of the Kyoshin Council that appear.
Neo Ranga has a lot going for it for me when it comes to its visual design. While the transfer is definitely showing its age in materials, the actual look of it is very appealing. The traditional animation looks good here with a lot of detail and a kind of warm to it that you don’t get with the cleaner digital animation. The show has a very earthy look to it with a lot of grays and overcast scenes that builds a really good atmosphere for everything. Ranga’s design is really neat and I love all the runes and symbols used for him and on Barou itself. Where it lacks appeal is when we see the various Kyoshin dead gods that are brought back in as most of them look kind of goofy. While Ranga has a good serious design to it, the others lack that edge that makes him dangerous. The character designs are good, though there isn’t too much that really stands out, but it’s neat to see three sisters of such different ages used as the leads.
Revisiting Neo Ranga again after some time away from it, it’s once again a series that works much better when watched over a few days in comparison to the several months of the singles from back in the day. The story elements come together better and you can see the larger threads at play in the storyline without those gaps between volumes. It’s a story that I still think is disjointed in some ways, part of it owing to the short form storytelling, but I like the chances that it takes and that they went with some political issues of the real world that’s rarely tackled, never mind active involvement of world opinion and how others would react to such events happening. Instead of being passive observers that are never mentioned, they have a vested interest in what’s going on. In the end though, it’s the core sisters that make it worth watching to see how they handle such a strange situation that has a lot of reactions playing out as they might in reality, something that’s not often done. I still find myself liking the show a lot for what it attempted, even if it failed in some areas, because it took chances and left plenty of room open for what could have been a fascinating future-sequel. It may be years before I watch it again, but it’s a series that has left a definite impression on me and one that I really do like revisiting every few years.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: ADV Films
Release Date: December 2nd, 2008
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
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.