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Rail Wars Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

Rail Wars Blu-ray Front CoverTrains and fanservice, who could ask for more?

What They Say:
All train fanatic Naoto Takayama has ever dreamed of is becoming an engineer, but when he finally makes the grade and scores a trainee position with the JNR, his ambitions are totally derailed.

Now, instead of the big front cab of his dreams, Naoto’s stuck in the security division working with a squad of gorgeous girls and escorting pretty idol singers. Oh, what a nightmare!

Okay, so there are the occasional bomb threats, thieves, and members of the rogue railway privatization group RJ to deal with, but that’s what trigger-happy harpy Aoi and Sho, the squad’s only other male member, are for. And if Naoto’s one-track mind could just see the light at the end of the tunnel, he might realize that he’s already on an express train to paradise with multiple lovely cabooses. Will getting railroaded take on a whole new meaning? Find out as everyone gets off on the wrong side of the tracks in Rail Wars!

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track only in stereo using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. A series like this definitely takes its audio design seriously as there’s even talk of it in the show about recording the trains and more. That kind of capture of accurate sounds is important in a lot of anime series and it works out well here as there’s a definite life to the trains, the stations, and just the sounds of the places. All of this helps to make the show more engaging if you’re actually willing to engage in that aspect of it. The character side of it is a bit more straightforward with what it does as there’s a fair bit of general conversational elements and some of the usual action elements to it. It’s all solidly produced in this area though it won’t exactly stand out in the same way that the material with the trains themselves do. Having enjoyed car based series that takes things seriously, it was welcome to have more of that here.

Video:
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are kept to a single disc here since it’s a monolingual release and that helps to save some space. Animated by Passione, the show has a very good look about it as it works some really great detail in the character designs, especially for the more fanservice oriented aspects of it, as well as paying good attention to detail with trains and settings. This gives the transfer a lot to work with and the end result is pretty solid all around. The color design is solid, the CG for the trains where used works well, and I really liked the character designs and color work used on them. Though it may not be the richest looking transfer out there it’s one that definitely is appealing.

Packaging:
The packaging design for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the single disc inside. The front cover works with the familiar artwork of the four main characters set against a background of train tracks heading into the clouds, which has a nice dreamy aspect to that which balances out the pop of color and vibrancy that is the character artwork. It may not be as strong as it could be but I like the character designs a lot and it’s making it clear it’s not another school based show, which definitely helps a good deal. The back cover works a good blue, orange and white design to it with part of the layout using the route layout to provide a nice thematic touch. The summary is at a terrible angle but it gets the job done and allows for some silly fanservice to make it clear that yes, this is that kind of show. The shots from the show are a bit cleaner in a sense and we get a solid breakdown of the production credits and a clean and accurate technical grid. No show related inserts re included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design plays up the fanservice even more than the cover but I find it hard to complain because it does set part of the mood of the series. The static screen has the three main girls in swimsuits cavorting on the beach together with some good blue in the background to give it some additional pop, provided you can look away from the character artwork. The navigation is kept to the right with a clean vertical design that has some nice thematic touches when used as a pop-up menu as well. It’s a straightforward menu with just episode selection and extras available so it’s quick and easy to get around and problem free.

Extras:
The only extras included in this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. I really had hoped for some good behind the scenes train action!

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series Rail Wars! Japanese National Railways Security Force by Takumi Toyoda and Vania 600, Rail Wars is a twelve episode anime series that arrived in 2014. The original novel series is up to eleven since beginning in 2012 and the anime adaptation came from studio Passione in the summer of 2014. The property is one that certainly feels like it works towards a niche but is also capable of some decent crossover. Though apparently not enough to support a game as 5pb was going to put one out previously and that ended up canceled. Having grown up with lots of model trains and attending numerous shows and other events with real trains, there’s a natural appeal with it here for me – though I know that Japanese train fans take it far, far, more seriously.

Rail Wars Complete Image 1The premise for the series is essentially real world based for the most part as we follow Naoto Takayama as he goes to work for the National Rail Service. Unlike the real world, the rail line was never privatized here so it’s a big government operation and that has a lot of appeal for job security as we’re told early on. But that isn’t where the focus turns with the cast that we get to know as it’s about their passion for the rail itself and what the job entails in protecting their customers. Naoto is your big fan of trains from a young age with all the hope they inspire but he avoids being the obnoxious otaku type, something that makes him a lot more interesting to watch because it’s a passion he wants to share, but not push. Naota’s desire is to actually drive the trains and be a part of that, but as we see as he goes through the on the job training course prep and all associated with it, he has to go through other things first – including working as rail security.

Meeting those that he’ll work with once assigned to the K-4 group, we get a solid cast here for him to play off of. It’s not exactly an ensemble show in a way but it comes close to it. Aoi Sakurai is your action-oriented girl that feels like she should have been a police officer instead of this. Haruka Komi is the sweet girl in the group that has a deeper connection to Naoto than either realize and she’s ideal for the customer service side of things here. And we get Sho Iwaizumi, the other man of the group that’s the physical side of things and is definitely the muscle of the group while also being the most laid back. The team works under the guidance of Nana Iida, who sets Naoto as the acting team leader after she sees a bit of what he’s capable of. She’s totally training them in her own way and it works well as it’s a light touch with firm guidance.

Rail Wars Complete Image 4The show works a familiar enough pattern here where through the eyes of the team we get introduced to a wide range of trains, plenty of locales and situations where we understand how the system works, and some of the more mundane aspects of it. Aoi is interesting in catching criminals and goes to some bad lengths at times to do so considering what her job is. Haruka is pretty competent across the board but lacks the physical side so we get more of a restrained approach with her. Sho ends up feeling like he disappears for far too many episodes, but he has some solid sequences along the way and contributes to the group as a whole. Most of the dynamic really is through Naoto as the glue of it and since he’s so straightforward and plain about it in a way he comes across well. There’s an honest aspect of him that hits the right mood for me and the end result is that he becomes the kind of rare male lead that you can like without feeling bad about it.

The show does bring in a couple of storylines along the way that work well to give it a bigger feeling. One is when they discover a suspected criminal on the train and it leads to a chase that pairs Naoto with Aoi that runs a couple of episodes. This lets us get to know the two of them better while really skimming how the police and others work in this kind of situation. This is almost like the two of them ending up on a remote trip on their own as they lose sight of the guy for a while and have to spend the night together before things turn serious with the suspect again. There’s a bigger play in this one in terms of the actions that happen with the criminal and it’s certainly interesting, but it lacks the kind of depth and resonance it needs to work. What it survives on is the charm of both Naoto and Aoi and getting them on their own for a while.

Another extended storyline has Naoto and Haruka working together where they’re showing a visiting prince the rail system as he has a real love of it. Naturally, there’s a kidnapping attempt in the mix and they have to keep him safe. It takes its own weird yet expected turn with the prince turning out to be a girl and some awkward time with Naoto protecting her and taking care of her while she was out of it. There are bigger implications in what the pair get into in protecting the prince and it can turn into quite the large events, which reinforces the way this group of four are pretty different from most other new training groups. The arc itself isn’t bad but it just has that additional aspect of trouble finding these guys more than any other group. It’s a given considering how storytelling works but it just pushes it all a bit more for a group that’s getting on the job training.

Rail Wars Complete Image 2

While there are plenty of standard elements in the show mixed with the train elements, the piece that takes it up a notch is the fanservice. We get lots of uniform fetish time here – and that includes the girls taking off their stockings from time to time for reasons and just them undressing, which is always a plus for uniform fans. A lot of nice detail is put into all of this and it just makes it clear that it really is a focus of the series. When you mix in plenty of scenes where Naoto gets to brush up inappropriately against the women and lots of bouncing along the way, Rail Wars serves up its fanservice about as expected. And it’s all good stuff because you get to like the characters as it progresses and with the semi-romantic triangle at play there’s a really good playfulness about it that just clicks well. There are some shows where fanservice simply does not work well but Rail Wars is one where it’s just the right addition to it. It doesn’t dominate it but it isn’t skimped upon either.

In Summary:
With a title like Rail Wars and the premise at hand, it’s easy to kind of treat the show as a joke and leave it at that. But the series is one that really works surprisingly well and has some good strengths to it. It keeps the cast small for the most part and works them well so you get into who they are and their connections as a team while working toward their own goals. The animation is solid throughout, the character designs are great, and the fanservice is spot on with what we don’t often get since it’s mostly uniform based. The presentation here is well handled and it should please most fans, though it’s one that I kind of do wish had gotten a dub as it could have been a bit more fun. Rail Wars wasn’t a show I went into with any real expectations but I came away from it having quite a good time overall.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

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

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 5th, 2016
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.


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