What They Say:
During Kazuya Maeda’s first year of high school he felt like a nobody, just another forgotten face shuffling through the crowded hallways. Even his best friend from childhood, Nimi, seemed somehow more difficult to approach, since she had matured a little quicker in the unsettling way that girls have a habit of doing.
This year, however, things will be different for Kazuya, and part of that change may just be because of the big new chick magnet hanging in front of him: the used digital SLR he just received from his dad! But will just having a camera be enough to make talking to girls a snap? Well, if he stays focused and proves to be good enough at making them look good, it might just be! And since it’s digital, there are no negatives or having to wait for things to develop!
Contains episodes 1-13.
The audio presentation for this release brings us just the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. Just like the DVD release, this series is pretty much a dialogue driven piece so there’s not a lot in the way of really a strong sound design, leaving a lot of it to be about the music and some of the sound effects. What we do get is something that certainly comes across better the better your equipment is since it’s not going to be so compressed, particularly when it comes to the incidental music and the opening and closing sequences. The dialogue side is handled well as it’s mostly through the center channel with a couple of decent moments here and there, but mostly it’s a decent if standard and kind of expected mix for a work like this. The music, both in the show and the opening and closing sequences, comes across with a bit more warmth and overall feeling to it but even there it’s still kind of standard in a way. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 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 thirteen episodes here are spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second. Animated by Madhouse, the show has a very good design to it overall with some good color layout, plenty of detail throughout all of it and some very fluid animation in the key scenes. I had liked how the show looked on DVD previously but the HD presentation bumps up the color level nicely where things look a good bit richer and more appealing, a bit more solid in general and overall something that just pops off the screen more. There’s some very appealing scenes and they hold up well when they get really fluid. Some of the three dimensional camera scenes are a little awkward, but it’s working off of its game origins here so it’s not a surprise. It may not be the most stand out show out there, but it does what it can to stand out a bit while working with familiar designs.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case with both discs held against the interior walls. The front cover goes with the expected design that uses what we had for the DVD cover as we get a lot of blue and white photos along the background while four full color ones are laid over it along with the logo, which has a fair bit of sparkle and pink to it. The main idea here is to play off the photography aspect as well as the cute girl aspect, which it does pretty well so you know what you’re getting into. The back cover works more of the photos here across it with full color pieces all over as well as a cute tagline amid the camera lens that’s here too. It definitely works far more fanservice here with the shots used in order to entice you. The premise is covered well and it breaks down the episode and disc count clearly, which is always a plus. The bottom fills things out normally with the production credits and the technical grid and information which is accurate and easy to read. No show related inserts are included.
The menu design for this release is pretty nice and it definitely has a nice pop of color and it uses the materials it has well. The layout uses the filtered film negative style along the backgrounds where it’s done with pinks and blues to good effect. The left side uses the lens as navigation point which has the episodes by number and title as well as submenus for special features where appropriate. Since it’s a monolingual release, there’s no submenu for languages, though you can turn subtitles off on the fly. The right side provides the character artwork, which changes from volume to volume. The first one works nicely as it takes the four main photos from the front cover and brings them all much closer together in a way that works very well while the second one goes for just two of the girls in their gym uniforms with something far more fanservice oriented. Both menus look great with a lot of pop as they set the tone and work easily both as main menus and as pop-up menus during playback.
The only extras included in this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the dating sim game of the same name, Photo Kano is a thirteen episode series animated by Madhouse. A number of short manga spinoffs have been done for this property as well, which isn’t a surprise since it’s fairly easily done and open ended and open to plenty of interpretation. While I’ve heard some folks really hate this show because of its camera/photography issues, there’s nothing along those lines that will bother your average fan who has no strong knowledge beyond point and click. The show really doesn’t play to the camera itself in a way but the visual of it all and more so just in the hands of the photographer. What we’re really getting here though is a series of love stories, connections and interactions that will either delight or annoy. Sometimes both, depending on the characters involved.
The series revolves around Kazuya Maeda, a second year high school student who fits the definition of your bland, standard male lead character. With the new school year starting and his being given a camera by his father who has bought a new one himself, Maeda is hoping for things to change a bit in his life since there’s not a lot going on. If you remove the camera from the character, there’s nothing else about him that we learn here as there’s no hobbies or interests or parents for the most part, though we get a sister that has some involvement. For better or worse, this is done to make it so that the male viewers can get into the show easier by inserting themselves into the lead character. I suppose it works since most shows do it, but it really gets annoying when you want to see the cast really forge better connections.
When he ends up at school, walking with his childhood friend Haruka Niimi, the interest in the camera starts sparking things more since she wants him to take pictures of her. And his time at school introduces him to the Photography Club as they scout him, seeing that he’s seemingly able to talk to lots of cute girls. There’s two competing clubs of similar nature, but one deals with pictures of people while the other does pictures of landscapes. Well, let’s be fair, the club that Maeda is drawn into focuses on pictures of cute girls. And they basically stalk them throughout the halls from depths and heights in order to get all sorts of pictures of them that will bring their beauty out all the more. They’re obviously some social misfits in their own way, and while there’s a creepy factor, we don’t get to look below the surface here because the characters are never explored. They’re certainly superficial overall.
The main thrust of the first five or so episodes is that once drawn into the club, he ends up staying because he learns that Niimi has been designated as their school beauty that they’re going to stalk. So he intends to protect her from them by making sure they don’t get lurid pictures of her while he gets them for their club show. This works out about as well as you’d expect, and you do see that Maeda ends up coming up with some beautiful shots of her, but we also get introduced to a number of other girls. A high school boy can’t have just one fixation. To be fair, across the first five episodes, they’re introduced as other people that he knows, photographs and spends some basic time with in order to get an idea of who they are. They all have their quirks, interests and archetypes so you pretty much see every base covered here to some degree.
The opening five episodes are fairly fun as we see all of this unfold and then as it focuses more on Niimi making it clear that she’s interested in Maeda and they get closer and closer together. I love simple romance stories like this because they are just that, simple, heartwarming in a light way and enjoyable because it’s largely a positive thing in a sea of negative material out there. And you can see what Maeda and Niimi get along so well as their childhood together is explored a bit and we get more of what allows them to function well together in the present. Neither may have a lot of depth (cue the jokes usually made about what high school kid has a lot of depth, which I hate) but there’s a simplicity about it that makes it fun to watch them realize what their real feelings are and to actually act on them rather than leaving it as a will they or won’t they situation.
What the show did after that surprised me though, as it basically turned each episode from there on out into a standalone episode. It goes back to some of the events in the first five and then works a new reality from a particular event so that instead of Niimi, he ends up helping someone else, tormenting someone else and falling in love with someone else. This puts it a bit more in the Amagami SS territory, which I like because I want to see how each of these girls interacts with him when their feelings progress into something more meaningful and intimate. Each of them has something to offer and in a way there’s more depth to them than to Maeda since they have actual interests and goals, whereas his goal via the game and translated into this is to take the series of perfect pictures and end with a slew of them for the club presentation. By giving each of them their own time, it works rather well, though it is of course kept basic due to the run time.
I do dislike that the last episode ends up going with the whole sister thing on some level and toying with the viewers by revealing along the way there that they aren’t actually blood related. It’s a cheap bit in far too many shows, especially when they introduce that late into it so that the viewers don’t realize it, and it doesn’t work here. Even worse is that it’s the last episode and even though it goes only so far, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It’d be nice if we could have a series where siblings just love each other in a familial way, related or not, and avoid the whole big crush or deep love aspect. Please?
Photo Kano has a lot of the photography side to it, but mostly it focuses on Maeda taking the pictures and giving us, the viewer, lots of good fanservice oriented shots of the girls. It’s not a bad way to make your fanservice overt, though some of it is definitely on the creepy side because of the club. And admittedly, I would have preferred the series if each of the guys got explored as the misfits that they are and allowed them to grow and change and find something with the girls in their school instead. But the animation works well for the whole photography side since we get a variety of clubs and lives that the girls lead and while there are the expected swimsuit bits here and there, it is fairly restrained overall even when it goes to the snapshot stills, which surprised me. It’s kind of damning it with faint praise in a way, but it could have been a lot worse in a way with how the photography and visuals of it all played out. But I like that it went with something a little tamer.
It’s been a couple of years since I saw the DVD release of Photo Kano and I’ll admit that I enjoyed revisiting it. The show is one that is a pretty straightforward series with what it wants to do in providing a look at young love and to do it across multiple relationships with a single male protagonist. It’s not the most in-depth show out there to be sure but it does things fairly well overall. It was definitely worth revisiting it for the Blu-ray aspect as I think it does a solid job of upping the quality of the show a bit more as it just looks a bit richer and more engaging visually. For fans of this genre, we don’t get a lot of completed romances so there’s a lot to like there. But I would have preferred a little more of an engaging lead character and a bit more to work with when it comes to the relationships themselves since they’re mostly given an episode each. I liked it for what it was, but it’s not a game changing show by any stretch. Fans of stories that involve actually saying I love you and expressing emotions will enjoy it though.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: February 23rd, 2016
Running Time: 325 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.