What They Say:
In Aura: Koga Maryuin’s Last War, Ichiro Sato used to spend his life dreaming, pretending to be a great fantasy hero. Pretend heroics, however, aren’t much protection from bullies and social ridicule. Now determined to follow a different path and fit in, Ichiro thought he’d managed to give up his old fantasies. Until he encountered Ryouko Satou, who’s even more deeply immersed in her own imaginary world than Ichiro was – and is bullied just as cruelly for it. If he stands up for Ryouko, Ichiro could destroy the new life he’s trying to build.
But at the same time, the intensity of her fantasies and predicament reminds him all too vividly of the person he once was. In the end, it may just be that the only one who can really rescue this damsel in distress is the dream hero that Ichiro thought he had buried forever in Aura.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo and the new English language adaptation also in stereo. Encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless process, the show is one that doesn’t have a lot of big moments but still mostly makes out pretty well with its encoding through a warmer feeling to the instrumental music and some welcome moments as it swells towards the end. The film is very dialogue driven in general while adding in small bits of ambiance along the way and this is a process that it handles well. There’s no stretching going on with the material here to make it something more, but it serves the film properly in bringing across an engaging set of characters with what they have to deal with while not detracting from it.
Originally released in 2013, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Animated by AIC ASTA, the film has a pretty good look about it in general with solid looking designs and a clean approach to the backgrounds. There’s a solid amount of detail to be had without going overboard and some very fluid sequences, particularly at the end. It has the looking a film that you’d expect but also the feeling that you get from some high end OVA releases as well. The transfer captures the look without any problems are colors are solid and have the right level of pop to them while the backgrounds really do shine when you dig into some of the scenes and see just how much is there. The film really needed something a bit more to pop though and really stand out.
The packaging design for this release is what you’d expect from a standard movie release with a regular Blu-ray case to hold the single disc that it comes with. The front cover uses the familiar promotional artwork of the two leads atop the building set against a really nice sunset sky that’s gone just far enough to get to the evening shades. There’s some nice detail to it but I also love the way it obscures one of the characters as it ties into the feature itself. The logo is kept simple along the upper right, allowing the artwork to be what dominates. The back cover is fairly traditional as we get a chunk of summary material along the top half while the space below goes for a few shots from the film and a decent tagline that sets the idea of the premise just right. The remainder is given over to the usual production credits and technical grid that breaks things down cleanly and accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this feels a little weird in a way as it goes for a different piece of artwork from the cover and it goes for a deep blue shaded background with some gradients to it. The foreground is good as it works with the two leads along the right while the left uses the tumble of desks underneath the logo itself. There’s enough pieces that fit and work here, but it also just feels a little simple and plain. The navigation along the bottom adds a little sparkle to it while also having some nice separators to it while also using color well, and this provides for a nice contrast during playback when used as a pop-up menu. The menu as a whole works smoothly and without problem, which is what we want.
Based on the single light novel from Romeo Tanaka and Mebae that was released in 2008, Aura: Koga Maryuin’s Last War was released in the spring of 2013 as a feature film. A manga adaptation ran the year prior to it in preparation to build some anticipation and that culminated in four volumes illustrated by Koichiro Hoshino and it ended just as the film came out. Animated by AIC ASTA, it garnered attention with Seiji Kishi directing it and working off the screenplay adaptation by Makoto Uezu and Jun Kumagai. It has all the right pieces in general and it’s a solidly put together film, but it’s also one that will work depending on how you feel about what it’s core concept is. And that core concept isn’t quite realized at first.
The film plays within the all too familiar high school realm where we’re introduced to your average guy Ichiro Sato. Ichiro’s not someone that stands out a lot from what we know of him at first, and really, throughout the bulk of the film, as there’s not much to him other than he simply comes across as nice, somewhat considerate and essentially bland young man. He’s living his life, has a few minor friends, and is basically just plodding his way through school. Everything starts to change for him though when he returns to school late one evening to get something he’s forgotten and runs into a girl his age that’s dressed up in some pretty detailed cosplay style material. While we learn her name is Ryoko later, she introduces herself as the Researcher and reveals that she’s looking throughout the area, and the school in particular, for Dragon Gates that need to be dealt with before she can return to her own world. She does this noting that it’s surprising that Ichiro of the Phenomenal World can see her, but she takes it to mean something that he can.
The gimmick here is that nothing that Ryoko talks about, and she goes into some detail over the course of the film, is real. Ryoko’s actually got a complex of sorts that has been classified before, though I’ll be damned if I can remember the name of it, where there’s an almost pre-teen fantasy thing that goes on where they don’t accept growing up and kind of get stuck in this. She’s got a flavor of this and is using it as a defense mechanism against the bullying she gets from other students and has gotten for some time. It’s worse now that they’re first years in high school and that she commits to it so totally really does just make her even more of a target. This is not something that Ichiro really grabs onto at first as he’s not quite sure what it is she’s doing. You can almost believe – you are watching an anime film after all – that she’s telling the truth and everything might shift at some point. So you can be sympathetic to both her and to Ichiro as he kind of goes along with it.
Where it becomes a lot more interesting, however, is in seeing the way that others deal with them and as more truths come out. There are a few other students that dress up in less prominent ways that are subjected to bullying and we see some really strong physical measures taken by one student who dislikes the way these kids are just going for attention in how they want to be different. You can even see that kind of outburst as a jealousy in that the attention they feel belongs on them, the jock or the popular kids, is being siphoned away by these kids like Ryoko that aren’t playing by the rules of life and the school. It’s a mixture of different things including resentment. While what they do certainly isn’t cool, you can understand it on some level in a dispassionate sense and that just makes it all the sadder. The truly difficult part here, however, is that Ichiro does his best to kind of play along with Ryoko for most of this once he understands what she’s going through since she’s warmed up to him in a way that others haven’t with her. But when someone gets close to Ryoko like that, others will take them down as well and we see that with a group of girls that learn a dark secret from Ichiro’s past. This is a particularly brutal set of small reveals as we see his own past and pain and how it plays into the difficult and unwelcome choices he has to make in the presents. Though it plays out in a way that’s essentially an after school special, it’s the kind of reinforcement you want after pushing the characters into difficult positions like this.
As I do with most works that are completely new to me when I watch them, I avoid reading any more about them than I need to prior to release. It’s not exactly easy, but with as many releases as there are it all tends to blur after awhile. The advantage is that when I put in a release like this, looking at just the cover artwork, and get something completely different by not reading the premise or anything else about it, it can be jarring and even more interesting. The cover artwork for this is like a tease, yet it’s wholly appropriate even if something of a trick. What you get with a film like Aura is not what you’d expect and I found myself far more invested and interested in it because at first I was waiting for it to turn into this epic war and then found myself instead becoming invested in this very human, very emotional, story that was unfolding before me. It’s certainly not flawless and there are areas of execution that could work better, but it’s playing to very Japanese sensibilities so I tend to draw back just a bit because of that. This is an intriguing work overall that might have a minor cult status in the long run and is something that should be seen.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: December 8th, 2015
Running Time: 90 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.