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Hal Blu-ray Anime Review

6 min read

Hal DVD-BDHal captures grief and life on almost every level…The operative word being almost.

What They Say:
Kurumi’s heart was broken by the sudden death of her boyfriend in a tragic airplane accident. Forced to carry on without her beloved Hal, she fell into a reclusive and joyless existence. Kurumi had given up on the world, but a brilliant scientist devised a plan to win her back. By melding futuristic technology with the binary equivalent of human emotion, they created an ultra-lifelike robotic surrogate to take Hal’s place – and lure Kurumi from her shroud of solitude. Resistant at first, this shattered beauty slowly yielded to her feelings of longing – and took comfort in the company of a robot. Though their unique bond grew stronger with each passing day, Kurumi and Hal would soon discover that nothing about their artificial love story was quite as it seemed.

The Review:
The audio is rather quiet, as I hear is typical on Funimation releases. The sound effects sometimes overwhelm the voices as well and the dub can be a little hard to understand at times as a result. It also can get to the point where the sound effects are too loud for the volume where the voices are perfect.

The video looks quite nice on the release. The artwork seems to use…I’m bad with describing these things, but I think softer colors? It’s very Io Sakisaka (the mangaka for Strobe Edge and Blue Spring Ride), who did the character designs for the movie. In any case, it comes through very nicely on the release and I can hardly see an imperfection while watching.

Funimation’s package for Hal is actually pretty nice. It comes in a very pretty slip case featuring the same art as the insert already on the blu-ray/DVD case. But there are four other inserts for the disc that you can replace it with, which I find to be a really cool addition. I’ve only seen this with Hal and the Time of Eve OAV from Japan, but I appreciate both. The alternative covers, I’m reading, are only available on the LE though.

The menu features running animation from the movie playing in the background. The menu itself overlays over the left side of the animation and has a robotic feel to it. Whenever you move from one selection to another, it makes a really annoying sound though. It looks really nice!

The voice actor commentary is very well led by director Mike McFarland, featuring Chris Burnett, Bryn Aprill, and Bill Flynn. It reveals quite a few interesting tidbits about the production of the dub, but it’ll only interest those interested in the dub at all. It is very interesting, though.

There are also a few really cool Japanese extras. Both of them are makings of and definitely worth the watch for anyone who’s a fan of animation.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Hal could have easily been one of the greatest films I’ve seen this year. Straight on, it tackled something as tough as the grief of a loved one with pinpoint accuracy. The one other thing I can think of that did it this well was Inio Asano’s Solanin and, well, Solanin did it better.

In the last about ten minutes of the film, there’s a turn. The turn ruins what it’s been building up. It’s like Izumi Kizara felt like there needed to be an extra moment of realization in the film when there almost certainly did not need to be. Through 40 minutes, it was slowly, slowly building Kurumi as a character that was getting over the loss of her boyfriend, someone who was closer than a boyfriend.

In the first few minutes of the film, Kurumi speaks almost no lines, but the first two lines almost had me sold on Bryn Apprill as brilliant. With a quivering lip and trembling voice, she barely audibly speaks a few words to robot Hal. Those words are exactly those of not only someone not over grief yet, but of someone who hasn’t spoken in too long or not frequently enough.

It’s the middle part of the film that had me less convinced of Apprill’s performance, only to be satisfied with it by film’s end. She seemed to have settled into the role of blurring a line between human and robot. Slowly, she transitioned to full of emotion to much less emotive.

The big problem with the film is that Hal is parading as a robot, even though he’s not—a coping mechanism for himself as he can’t live with the loss of his girlfriend. This needed to be a film about a human Kurumi getting over grief OR a human Hal getting over grief. It need not be both and the film suffered for it. Instead of a big reveal, it felt like hand holding. Not just the creator’s to the audience, but of the characters’ to Hal. This is hardly a way to get over grief. The characters choose instead to enable Hal and his delusions, and this doesn’t do it as well as Shutter Island.

While watching the film, I feared, instead, that Kurumi would fall into the same routine with this robot Hal, resulting in the same kind of enabling and an equally dissatisfying ending, but alas. I may have actually preferred this ending to what actually transpired.

In its final moments, we see what the robot Kurumi wrote on the rubix cube: “May Hal remember what it’s like to live.” This is by far the best moment in the final ten minutes of the film. It shows that the robot has grown to love Hal in her own way and wanted to help him get over his own loss.

Despite my misgivings with the content itself, I can’t help but praise Chris Burnett’s acting. He’s a veteran who’s been here and there in Funimation dubs for quite a while, but I know him best from Bamboo Blade as Yuji and Romeo x Juliet as Romeo, both were standout roles in a group of good actors. He was the only standout in Hal and I’d struggle recommending the dub as a result. He easily transitions from the robotic Hal, asking why you would have to pay for something if it has a price tag of zero yen, to the emotive robot Hal to the real live Hal that bleeds and cries. The flashbacks, featuring him as a definitive human, have much more emotion and power behind the lines. It feels textbook when he’s acting as a robot and the movie is better for it.

In Summary:
I have misgivings about enabling someone as deeply encroached in their own growth as either Kurumi or Hal and, with the one other roadblock, are my two big problems with the film. I could watch the first 40 or 50 minutes of this film and imagine my own ending over and over again, but I will always remember how much the last ten ruined it. I wish so much that this was better.

English 5.1, Japanese 5.1, English subtitles, actor commentary, making of: production process, making of: animatics & scratch tracks, original trailer, textless closing song, U.S. trailer, trailers

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

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: September 2, 2014
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 60 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16:9

Review Equipment:
PS3, LG 47LB5800 47” 1080p LED TV, LG NB3530A Sound Bar

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