What They Say:
Not every soldier wants to fight. Not every weapon wants to be used. But when an unexpected force attacks their city, the hopes and dreams of students Shuji and Chise are shattered by the fires of war. Surviving the bombing after a mysterious defender decimates the attackers, Shuji discovers Chise in the ruins – but she is no longer the girl he has always known.
Changed and twisted by military experiments, Chise has been altered into something no longer completely human. Even worse, though they both fight to deny it, the things that made her the person she was are slowly beginning to fade away. Can a human soul exist inside a device that was created to kill? And can any heart continue to feel love for something that is only a shell of the person it once was?
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track and the previously created English language track, both of which are in stereo and encoded at 224kbps. The show is one that works a simple design with the forward soundstage where it’s largely a full sounding piece that doesn’t do a lot with directionality. It’s not a bad sounding mix but since it’s largely focused on dialogue and quiet scenes with a few punctuated action sequences to give it a little more to deal with. But mostly the dialogue comes across as center channel oriented for both mixes, though they’re both problem free with a clean feeling and no dropouts or distortions during regular playback. The opening and closing sequences have a bit of a warmer and richer feeling, but even there it feels just a bit more muted than I expected it to be.
Originally airing in 2002, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and in a non-anamorphic widescreen format. The show is one that doesn’t have the materials for anything better unfortunately due to the time it was made and that really does hold the series back in a big way. The show runs thirteen episodes and is spread across three discs in a four/four/five format. Animated by Gonzo, the show has a very muted color palette to it which certainly gives it a certain tone and atmosphere that works, but reduces the detail overall. The colors are largely solid with only a bit of background noise and the high motion sequences come across well, but with it being a non-anamorphic transfer, there’s not a lot of great detail to be had and the series is one that just doesn’t stand out well.
The packaging for this release is done up in a standard sized DVD keepcase that holds two discs on a hinge and the third against the interior wall. The front cover gives us a pretty familiar and solid image of Chise in her weaponized form but with her school uniform on as there’s plenty of smoke and flickering flames around her. With a dark edged border around it, it has the right tone to it where it’s a solid mix dangerous and innocence that makes it a captivating cover. The logo along the bottom is pretty solid as well as it has some nice touches and flash to it so that it stands out rather than just being a font. he back cover works with the same kind of color tone overall with a smoky white and the similar border, but it also brings in a great image of Shuji and Chise holding each other in a strong embrace. The premise is well covered and we get some decent images from the show, though there’s only so much you can tell from it. The production information rounds out the bottom along with the clean and accurate technical information. No show related inserts are included nor is here a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release continues the packaging design in a solid way to give it some continuity as we get static images for all three of the discs that’s framed by the same border that we have from the cover. The overall look goes for the smoky white here as well where the right side breaks down the episodes by number and title, which is in a bigger font and design since there’s just four episodes per disc, while the left side has some really nice character artwork. The first disc has the best of the images with Chise being embraced by Shuji, though both are in their uniforms and Chise has the weaponry coming out of her back. The disc is easy to navigate through the menus as there’s little here outside of language selection submenu and trailers with the first disc.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the seven volume manga by Shin Takahashi, which has been released by Viz Media in North America, She, The Ultimate Weapon is a thirteen episode series animated by Gonzo. The series was an interesting one in its release history as the Japanese release had subtitles on it for English speaking fans and Viz Media previously picked it up for release, though obviously the license has long lapsed on it. I’d seen it through both of those incarnations, though I never read the manga itself. With both of those viewings done as incremental pieces over months of time, this was my first experience in just watching it in marathon session. And it does work out much better this way overall, though the property has its weaknesses that still frustrate me so.
The series takes place in a largely present day kind of world and puts us in the Hokkaido area in a little town that’s like most other towns. Focusing on the high school age set, we get introduced to a decent set of characters overall, familiar as most are, but it centers on the leads of Shuji and Chise. Shuji is your mostly quiet type with a look that says he’s smart and has a certain athletic side to him but plays things a bit close to the chest overall. Chise is like the polar opposite of him in that she’s practically tiny next to him, clumsy, shy and rambles on at times while also not being all that great at school outside of history class. The two are in the throes of becoming a couple at the moment, as she’s finally asked him about it and he’s acceding to it, partially just out of the fact that it’s something that most high school kids do and he wants the experience. He’s not exactly keen about some of the aspects of it, but he cares about her and wants her happy, but he also has a slightly rougher side to him that keeps her at a bit of a distance at times.
While this presents us with a rather standard high school romance series to start, it’s the setting that makes it intriguing with what it offers. While it’s a familiar world, it’s one where humanity is in the midst of a massive war, one that seems to be heavily focused on the destruction of Japan. With no TV, radio or internet available for people, there’s this sense of isolation in the world, though the city here that we see comes across as being untouched for the most part. The reasons for this war are unclear and the sides themselves are as well, and for me this proves to be quite frustrating as the lack of even some basic concepts around it feels like it’s treating it too superficially when it really needs it. We do get to hear about other parts of the world from time to time, such as that America is largely destroyed and many cities and millions upon millions of people are dead, and there are some soldiers that we come across that speak English and French.
With this as the context, the twist that we get to it is that Chise’s reason for wanting to engage in really being a girlfriend to Shuji is that she is the secret weapon that the Japanese are using to fend off the invaders. For reasons not made clear until the OVA series, her body has been rebuilt from the inside where she can generate an incredible array of weapons, can fly and can essentially annihilate entire cities. With her not feeling human in many ways because of it, she clings to Shuji to find that humanity as he struggles with the reality of what she is while trying to deny what’s going on in the world, and her place in it, at the same time. The relationship between the two is the crux of the series and it plays out beautifully across it because there’s real tension and drama at times, emotions and internal dialogue that helps to highlight what they’re going through and why it’s so utterly hard for them when what they need is to really be close right now. That said, there are times where the relationship has its ups and downs to the point where Shuji is on the outside of things since she’s off with the military. Shuji is often alone and he’s uncertain about so many things since a lot of the time it doesn’t seem like he really wants a relationship, but there’s just such a layer of complication to the world that understanding him is something that can’t be done unless you live he situation.
Shuji’s time is definitely fascinating to watch unfold through before we get to the final arc, as this is where we see through him how others are surviving this world. One friend is getting shot down by another girl that he truly loves (who secretly loves Shuji, of course) and that has the friend enlisting in the military to protect her even though she wants nothing to do with him. Her angst over the position that puts her in is a great exploration to have, and combining that with her being friends with Chise and encouraging her to go after Shuji would normally make for a silly if trite four way kind of relationship in any other series without a serious end. But here, it plays out tragically across the board, especially for Shuji as he has to deal with the loss of both of them – and in a pretty up front and brutal way with Akemi as her fate is shown clearly that ties back to the kinds of raw bombing history that Japan has.
Chise’s time is very different but no less rough as she serves in the military as their ultimate weapon, which is what’s caused this whole war to begin with. When she’s in full battle mode, she really loses her humanity, though she tries to connect with the soldiers that are assigned to her. But that’s hard because they know what kind of destruction she causes and that being close to her means that they’re in the radius where the same may happen to them. She does form a close bond with the lieutenant there, Tetsu, who is also the husband of one of her teachers back home. Tetsu provides a bit of the adult maturity to the series and watching him trying to do his duty while also protecting and caring for Chise is great, particularly in the final act where the war is in its last days and the losses are mounting. It’s wonderfully emotional and you just feel him throughout all of it, from the adrenalin to the fear and to the sadness of it all. With Chise as an observer of sorts for it, it helps to channel all that through her.
The show works a pretty good balance overall with the character material and the backdrop, which is critical to the way everything has to work because there’s a kind of urgency to it, and I absolutely adore shows like this that go the distance. The final act does it with no regrets, showing the final fights of humanity, exploring the idea that our drive is such that even when all is well and truly lost, that we will continue to fight. It’s hard, rough and raw, particularly as we see so many people dying along the way, but it has the right weight to it so that it all feels like it matters. Even if we don’t get to know the supporting cast too well, they add to the overall narrative to show just how badly things have fallen apart. It appeal to my end of the world niche that doesn’t get filled all that often and the show really does make it intense and emotional as it whittles away at the humanity of the characters themselves, giving you an ending that is truly final.
She, the Ultimate Weapon is a series that really leaves an impression on people for the most part in a way only a few series truly do. This edition of it brings us an end of the world story with love and war in the way that it seems like only anime and manga can, and while it has its flaws in not filling in enough of the why of it all, it executes it very well. The only downside to the show at this point is that it was animated at that in-between time when there aren’t better materials to work with to craft a proper high definition release. While I’m largely not a fan of remaking shows, this is a series that I would absolutely love to see remade today with some smart enhancements and a stronger approach to in-show design and animation. This series is one that’s definitely worth seeing and experiencing and at the moment, this is the best it can pretty much look in overseas editions.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 7th, 2015
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Non-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.