What They Say:
You may have thought the saga of the mysterious masked warrior Hakuoro was over, but the fight for justice and honor never ends. Even in a world filled with sorcery and epic battles, there’s always time for a few adventures on the side!
Journey back to the world of Utawarerumono and discover three amazing new stories: Can the priestess Urutori find a way to solve the problem of an abandoned infant, or will she end up raising the child herself? Can healer Eluluu resolve a situation that involves youth potions, some unusually well-intentioned kidnappers, and a very unorthodox romance? And finally, learn just how much trouble a couple of girls can get into on a simple afternoon fishing trip. (Because when it involves magic fish, and two of the girls are Touka and Aruruu, the answer is… plenty!)
The tales may be a little shorter, but the fantasy is every bit as fantastic as all the characters you love return in the OVA collection of Utawarerumono!
The audio presentation for this release is definitely welcome as we get the original Japanese language track and a new English language dub, both of which are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec for the stereo mix. Bringing back the main cast from the TV series is a big plus for fans and it pays off for them in getting to reconnect with the characters here. The OVAs are a little different than the TV series as it’s mostly dialogue driven without a lot in the way of action but there are a couple of decent bits here and there. For the most part, it’s straightforward dialogue pieces that connect well with what they do as it’s mostly center channel based with some decent directionality as needed from time to time. The layout of the mix may not stand out in a big way but it gets the job done well for what it needs to do. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released in 2009 and 2010, the transfer for this three part OVA series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Coming from Aquaplus, the show retains largely the same look as the TV series but things come across a bit softer here than I would have expected. With so many shows being even cleaner and brighter these days, even dark shows, the softness and color palette feels surprising. This leads to some areas with the backgrounds not looking as solid and distinct as they should – especially the closer you get on a big screen – but from a normal viewing distance things look well enough. Detail’s not terribly strong in backgrounds either but some of the character designs handle it well. The transfer is free of problems such as cross coloration and line noise and there aren’t any blocking moments, but the softness just stood out for me.
The packaging design for this release is a really nice nod back to how ADV Films originally brought out the TV series as the background and logo uses the multi colored foil, giving it some additional pop that stands out. The front cover is all done with character artwork of the various main female characters of the series, resulting in mostly headshots and a little cleavage, and as busy as it is, it sets things well for what the focus of the OVAs are all about. The back cover uses the foil in a similar manner though it feels like it stands out even more here. We get a large block of black along the top with the premise covered well in white text, easily readable, with some nice character artwork to the right of it. The middle runs with a range of good sized shots from the show to highlight the characters while the bottom has the breakdown of extras, production credits, and technical grid, all of which is laid out cleanly and accurately. No show related inserts are included with this release nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is definitely nice as it pairs the static image with some good music from the show. The main image brings us our two primary characters with Aruruu and Eluluu together done in an illustration style with a soft look and lots of white in the background. It may not pop but it has a very warm and inviting feeling about it. The navigation is done as slightly ornate blocks along the bottom with episodes listed by number and title as well as submenus for languages and special features. It look good and sets the tone well both as a main menu and when used during playback as a pop-up menu.
This release brings us the always welcome norm of the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences but also a little bit more. That comes in the form of the three picture dramas, which adds almost two more full length episodes to it in a way. The first two run about fourteen minutes each while the third one runs just under twenty. Picture dramas are hit or miss but I love that they went the distance here and were able to provide a dubbed version of the first two of them. The third episode couldn’t be done dubbed due to problems with the source material, likely there being no “clean” version of it to work with.
After the end of the twenty-six episode TV series that was based on the game back in 2006, fans of Utawarerumono were definitely hoping for more. We didn’t truly get more until the new TV series this past fall, but there was this three episode OVA series that came out in 2009 and 2010. Its arrival was awkward as hell because the TV series had changed rights in the US from ADV Films to Funimation and Funimation had no interest in following up with more of the show, hence these three episodes languishing until this year with this release from Sentai Filmworks. The TV series is one that I really loved and I even bought the import Blu-ray at the time it came out because the show really worked for me. So finally getting to see these OVAs is definitely a welcome experience.
The three episodes are definitely fun, but they come with a caveat. I really, really, recommend watching the TV series again beforehand if you don’t remember much of the cast. These episodes are essentially side stories amid events going on and while there are no true big and dramatic events, it really rests on how much of a connection you have with the characters involved. Particularly since it really doesn’t involve Hakuoro all that much outside of some mildly exasperated moments for him. The focus on others makes for good character stories as standalone pieces but it also means this is in no way a good first introduction to this world because you’ll watch and wonder what all the fuss is about. Without the greater immediacy of the TV material itself, this does feel somewhat bland.
The opening episode has Urutori as its focus as she’s taking care of an abandoned baby. It’s cute to see how wrapped up in this she gets and how others come to help as well, all while Urutori remains as the primary caregiver for the child. There’s plenty of silly moments to it as it goes along, and a little time in the hot spring with several of the ladies to remind us that yes, we can see nipples in this OVA. Naturally, the discovery of whose baby it is sets the problems into motion since it means they’re going to be claimed and Urutori is feeling very possessive after her time spent with the child, resulting in the tension of the climax. It’s nicely done and the focus on Urutori is welcome since it felt like she got the short end of the stick sometimes in the TV show as the cast expanded more and more.
The second episode has some fun comedy with Elululu as she ends up being a couple of goofs named Nopon and Gomuta for their mistress Kamuchataru. She didn’t actually ask them to do it but they grabbed her so that Eluluu could make some special “love” medicine to help her with her troubles. It’s nice in seeing Nopon and Gomuta really going through all of this for her to help make her happy and that’s infectious as Eluluu feels the same way. Things get more complicated as it progresses once it’s discovered what happened to Eluluu and you can see the comedy of events that will unfold with it, especially in how the medicine is made and the actual results of it which just had me laughing at the absurdity and silliness of it all. It’s not high art but it’s a fun Eluluu episode with some real heart in it.
Similarly with the third and final episode that focuses on Youka as she’s looking to capture the spirit of the river with the fish that it’s in. This is part of a larger series of stories being told around the lands but the main focus is on Touka and her loner type personality as she deals with all of this. It takes an amusing turn when she ends up coming across Aruruu on the way back with the fish and ends up taking care of her in a pretty parental kind of way, all while Oboro and Dori watch from afar as they went to retrieve them because of the tales of the other monster that’s lurking out there these days. The charm is in watching Touka and Aruruu of course, but I loved seeing the way the others watched, laughed, and had moments of tension in seeing how the other pair were trying to get back and survive since it’s not how Touka normally operates.
Utawarerumono, which I still affectionately call Underwater Ray Romano, is a show that I really enjoy. It took a bit to get into this OVA series simply because it has been almost ten years since I last saw the show and my memory is fuzzy on far too much of it with all that I’ve seen since. What these episodes did, however, is remind me of my enjoyment of the show more and as I got into the episodes it all clicked a lot better and provided for some good fun character material. This is a release that’s really aimed more at the fans who bought the previous series and want a little more time with that cast as it’s not a standalone release. It’s pretty well put together overall and I love that they went the distance on both the dub itself and dubbing some of the extras, something that doesn’t always happen. A very welcome bit of closure for those who have wanted these for so long.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Picture Dramas, 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: March 29th, 2016
Running Time: 85 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.