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Medaka Box Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

medaka-box-coverAn overenthusiastic girl and a suggestion box. What could go wrong?

What They Say:
When newly-elected Student Council President Medaka Kurokami started a suggestion box where people could suggest problems that needed to be solved, she wasn’t expecting to have to do more than give advice and maybe rescue lost puppies. Instead, what she and her best friend Zenkichi discover are the first hints of an unbelievable secret! A secret that their school, Hakoniwa Academy, their fellow students, and Medaka herself, are somehow at the very center of!

As what seemed like an innocent pastime turns into something far more dangerous, Medaka and her recruits to the Student Council are caught in a growing maelstrom! Now they’ll have to discover new depths to both themselves and their own unexpected abilities, before things go completely out of control! Or is it already too late? Get ready for a battle royale unlike anything you’ve ever seen before as the simple power of suggestion unlocks the secrets of MEDAKA BOX!

The Review:
Audio:
One of the immediately standout parts of Medaka Box is the OST, courtesy of Tatsuya Katou. In a show filled to the brim with wacky characters and unbelievable feats, Katou brings a bubbly and hyperactive set of tracks to the table. Strings excitedly drive the action forward, while keys provide ever-changing melodies that keep songs from becoming too repetitive. Whether the show is in slice-of-life mode or action mode, his work manages to elevate the material and even proves to be moderately catchy, too.

This collection comes with both Japanese and English audio tracks, both of which are serviceable but with notable performances. On the Japanese side of things, Romi Park pulls off a convincingly immature yet evil role in the first season’s final villain, Myouri Unzen, while Megumi Ogata and Nana Mizuki pull off some amazing work in the second season’s teaser of a finale. In the English dub, special notice should be given to Hilary Haag’s Hansode Shiranui, who she plays with endearing levels of excitement and fun, as well as Maggie Flecknoe’s Mogana Kikaijima, a complex character with possibly the most varied emotional states to portray, all done wonderfully. Both audio tracks are good enough that it ultimately comes down to preference when deciding which to watch.

Video:
Medaka Box doesn’t look or move particularly impressively. Even in the very first episode, animation is quite limited, with key moments of action being portrayed through stylized, sketchy stills instead of dynamic cuts. As the show spends the majority of its run as an action piece, this is unfortunate and prevents some of the scenes that should be impactful from coming together fully. Outside of that, though, it has a sense of pop art, comic book style that it uses sparingly but effectively. The many, many flashback scenes are often accompanied by this design sensibility, with striking bright colors filling the frame. This more abstract visual style works very well to convey the fuzziness and glamorization of memories themselves, so it is also a shame that Medaka Box moves away from even this as it goes on. On a more positive note, this BD presents these visuals cleanly and without issue.

Packaging:
Simple and to the point, this complete collection packages all 24 episodes as well as a handful of extras on three discs. Each disc features art of Medaka herself, though the second one sadly reuses the art used on the box’s cover. Said cover is also simple and perhaps a bit gaudy, but in the end there isn’t anything to seriously complain about here, especially as the box nicely keeps the three discs snug inside.

Menu:
Matching the minimalism of the packaging, the menus on each disc consist of simply a list of episodes on the left hand side and a piece of art to the right. You can select your language preference at the bottom of said list. The menu loops the first opening song on the first two discs and the second on the third, which can be grating if you let it sit there for a while, but shouldn’t really be an issue since you won’t be doing much in the menu anyhow. The third disc also includes all of the special features in their own selected menu.

Extras:
Speaking of extras, this BD comes with all of the expected ones – clean openings and endings, as well as a wide variety of teasers ranging from the original Jump Festa promo to short ad spots for the home video release in Japan. Unfortunately, the third opening used only in the final episode is not included here, but I suspect it simply doesn’t have a clean version in the first place.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Medaka Box is a manga adaptation with a handful of hefty names preceding it. The original manga ran in Weekly Shounen Jump and ran for twenty-two solid volumes, managing to overcome a lack of popularity in the dreaded reader polls by appealing to an older audience and selling compiled books. It was also penned by Nisio Isin of Bakemonogatari and Kataganatari fame, among other things. This anime adaptation was even animated by the once-lustrous Gainax, directed by a Shouji Saeki, who has had a hand in projects such as FLCL and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. That is quite the pedigree, but does Medaka Box deliver on the perceived potential?

The answer ismedaka-box-episode-1 largely “no,” though the reasoning is a bit more complex than that. Let’s start with the premise – titular character Medaka Kurokami is an incoming student at Sandbox Academy, and despite being a freshman, has already claimed her place as the student council president. Alongside her is childhood friend and protagonist Zenkichi Hitoyoshi; together, they establish a suggestion box with the goal of helping every single student who comes to them with a problem. This is largely how Medaka Box uses its first eight or so episodes. In that time, Medaka Box works essentially as a slice of life show about a handful of clubs and their tame problems, while the core cast slowly grows and we learn more about them.

It is also during this time that we are introduced to the main thematic conceit behind Medaka Box – as Zenkichi puts it many times, Medaka’s “pretentious appeal to the innate goodness of people.” Nisio Isin’s work takes many forms and genres, but they tend to share the same basic idea that people put up learned fronts to protect themselves, which prevents them from being able to connect on an honest level. Medaka herself takes this to a beyond-human level; her entire life is dedicated to the idea that every single person she hasn’t made friends with yet is simply a person she hasn’t learned enough about yet. “You weren’t born this way,” she tells many delinquents, “something must have happened to you.” It’s of course a nice thought, but in practice is only possible for a larger-than-life “person” like Medaka; when filtered through Zenkichi’s perspective, her antics are idealistic at best and dangerous at worst. In a very Nisio Isin-style move, Medaka’s nature is simply the Shounen Jump motto of “friendship, effort, victory” taken to its logical extreme (a fact almost directly said by a few characters in the show, even).

medaka-box-episode-10However, the problem is that the actual material here isn’t actually very engaging. Ironically, Medaka Box is seemingly shackled to its existence as a Shounen Jump property. The first disc or so worth of episodes manages to be bland and unengaging despite the real potential. There are quite a few reasons for this; most of the tasks the student council handles boil down to someone needing to be beat up a bit, or the problems are as inane as finding a lost dog. There are a few genuinely charming stories, like one involving a love letter, or others that at least try to reach the heights promised by the premise, like a school-wide underwater sports festival. Honestly speaking, though, none of them actually fully achieve that potential, leaving the show feeling a bit half-complete.

It’s not too surprising, then, that the show decides to take a drastic left turn eight or nine episodes in (depending on how you interpret it) and turns into a full-blown battle show, complete with transformations, super powers, and irresponsible destruction. There is hilariously almost no attempt to smooth the tone or nature of the story toward this direction; once the Disciplinary Committee and their group of reckless weapon-wielding students is introduced, Medaka Box as a whole chugs straight in that direction and never looks back. This was presumably an attempt to save the manga from desperate unpopularity back when it was running in the magazine, but the writing has a decent sense of humor about the whole thing, making it a bit easier to swallow than, say, Katekyo Hitman Reborn!’s similar transformation from comedy to action.

medaka-box-abormal-episode-7The second half of this collection, consisting of the second season Medaka Box Abnormal, bumps the show’s newfound genre into overdrive. It hits the ground running, introducing a whole new set of super powered villains and a school-wide conspiracy called the “Flask Plan” to create superhumans, or “abnormals,” from scratch. Medaka herself is an abnormal of course, and the student council takes it upon themselves to put a stop the it all. This proceeds in the most rote shounen battle story setup one can imagine outside of a tournament – the climb up the tower of enemies! In this case they go down instead of up, but the idea is the same. A new enemy appears on each level in a story ripped straight from the pages of Saint Seiya, and each of our heroes gets the chance to fight and show off until they reach the bottom and finally face off against the most powerful “abnormal.”

A battle shounen rides heavily on two things – the strength of its characters’ personalities, and the cleverness or general fun of the fights – and just like in its first genre attempt, Medaka Box has trouble finding its footing in either category. The ensemble of villains are all one-note enemies, with motivations such as “wants to kill everyone,” “wants to be abnormal,” and “wants to learn things.” Their powers are also simple genre ideas, but with a dash of absurdity that makes them distinctively “Medaka Box,” leaving the impression that Nisio Isin has ideas for this kind of story but hasn’t fully found his comfort zone yet. All of this comes together in the fights themselves, small spectacles of varying but steadily increasing success. Each character is matched fairly obviously to their direct counterpart; careful planning versus complete instinct, violence versus (relative) pacifism, and so on. The theme of Medaka and company meeting miscreants and “reforming” them into friends continues here, simultaneously mocking and celebrating the time-treasured tradition of villains like Vegeta becoming important allies. The execution of this idea is easily the most amusing and poignant part of Medaka Box, though. Despite how flat the characters are, the writing isn’t afraid to embrace their campiness, and once you’ve just grown to like a character they are all but guaranteed to have switched sides in some of the most hilariously fast heel-turning ever. It is a surprisingly satisfying reward, and you can easily understand why Medaka herself enjoys it.

All-out brawls slowly medaka-box-abormal-episode-4give way to more nuanced strategies and plans, and while I can’t really say Medaka Box has fully hit its stride by the end of its second season, it does hold promise that there is even better to come from future stories, and the frequently foreshadowed powerful enemy finally appears.

Of course, this is basically where the anime ends, leaving us feeling cold. Just as the story seems to have found itself, the anime is over with no more left to say. That is, with the exception of the final episode, which is either a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it – a special anime-only story penned by Nisio Isin himself, acting as a sequel to a short spinoff manga about the villain who the anime only barely introduces and involving another important character the anime never even acknowledges outside of the incredibly misleading second opening animation sequence. If that sounds ridiculous and convoluted, that’s because it very much is, and for anime-only fans I can only imagine this episode comes off as practically being from an entirely different show. It even spoils some of the powers and important plot points not revealed until well into the third, unanimated arc of the manga. However, the episode itself is also such a ridiculously better written and entertaining affair than the entire show before it that it probably works as a better advertisement for the manga than the show itself. The snarky, indulgent writing Nisio Isin is known for comes out in full force from the very beginning, involving comedy that actually hits the mark and abilities that showcase the kind of creativity that Medaka Box is truly capable of. Even the direction and visuals here are a huge step up – spinning “screw” camerawork, colorful backgrounds, and sharp contrasting cuts betray the wasted potential of Medaka Box’s anime as a whole.

medaka-box-abnormal-episode-12

In Summary:
Medaka Box is in many ways an incomplete love letter to Shounen Jump values and traditions, demonstrating an endearment toward the “genre” while sowing seeds of a more nuanced and complex take on it as well. Its production values are lacking from top to bottom, and its writing spends most of the show’s runtime trying to find its footing, but there is a definite sense of fun to be found here if you’re already a fan of the kind of stories it attempts to riff on. For everyone else, it is hard to recommend what feels like a half-complete idea, but this anime still serves as a decent introduction to the franchise as a whole.

Features:
English DTS-D Master Audio 2.0, Japanese DTS_D Master Audio 2.0, Jump Festa Promo, Teasers, Home Video Spots, Clean Opening and Closing Animations

Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B-
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: C
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: June 7th, 2016
MSRP: $99.98
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Philips Magnavox 39MF412B ‑ 39″ LCD TV, Xbox One

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