What They Say:
When Hotaru Tachibana storms into a host club to avenge the honor of a wronged female student, the last thing Hotaru expects is to duel the club’s most popular host with airsoft guns instead of fists.
When Masamune Matsuoka’s experience wins out over Tachibana’s brawn, he realizes that he can use his victory (and the large bill for damaging the club) to make Tachibana join his struggling Survival Gaming team. However, what ladies’ man Masamune totally misses is that his unwilling new guy… isn’t a guy at all! Under the boy’s clothing and strong need to defend justice, Tachibana is all-girl, but, for a number of complicated reasons, she absolutely CAN’T expose that fact to Masamune or his teammate, the erotic manga artist Toru Yukimura.
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with a new English language dub, both of which are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series is one that works the soundstage well for the action segments as there’s some nice directionality at times and placement works with the impact of BBs and the reactions to it all. Dialogue is mostly center channel based but there’s some good material movement there as well when needed. It’s not a hugely immersive mix with what it has to work with but the encoding conveys it well and there’s a solid clarity and sharpness to it that makes it appeal. Dialogue is clean and clear on both language tracks and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2015, 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 are spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second. Animated by Brain’s Base, the series is one that has some quality moments to it but is a bit above average overall, just not by much. The show works a softer tone overall for the colors, going more earthy than anything else, but there’s some great detail to the character designs and the settings look quite good as the matches get underway, especially the blending. Color quality is solid throughout with no problems to be had and the lack of line noise or breakup in backgrounds is definitely an obvious plus. It’s a good looking transfer that brings the material out in a clean and clear way, which is what we hope for.
The packaging for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the two discs inside against the interior walls. The front cover uses a really good key visual piece of the core trio in their suited up mode looking all serious and heavily shadowed, something you don’t see being done often. The may remove some detail and event faces to some degree, but it makes it a bit more distinctive. I also appreciate that the logo isn’t huge across it, something that the online marketing when it first aired did and proved to be overwhelming and distracting. The back cover has a nice shot of Midori along the right and we get a grouping of decent if small shots through the middle of the show that are a bit darker than I’d expect. The premise is well covered even with the awkward target visual behind it, and the episode and disc count along with the extras are clearly listed as well. The remainder is brought about with the usual production credits and technical grid that breaks down the release in a clean and clear fashion. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menus for this release isn’t quite as themed out as I thought it might be but it works well enough overall and is fully functional, which is the most important part. The two discs use different character pieces that focuses on both main teams that exist here and they’re really nicely detailed and colored works that stand out, especially with the softer colors and the mint green that you don’t see often. The navigation along the left works a curious mix of blues and greens with white through it that has a lot of pop and is more vibrant than you’d expect but it’s eye-catching and easy to use as both a pop-up menu and as the main navigation piece on load-up.
The extras for this release are fairly standard as we get the clean opening and closing sequences as well as some of the Japanese preview material.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by NAOE, Aoharu x Machinegun originally aired in the summer of 2015 from studio Brain’s Base. With a solid production team behind it as well as a creator that has a number of fans, it’s an easy draw. The original work began in 2013 in Monthly GFantasy and has nine volumes to its name so far and had six when it originally aired. So there’s not a lot of material overall to adapt, but more than enough for a single cour series like this. The show didn’t get a lot of attention prior to release as there wasn’t a lot in the way of promos or reveals and the simulcast itself didn’t garner a lot of mainstream attention, though it cultivated a solid following. Survival game based shows are still a rare breed overall though.
The series revolves around Hotaru Tachibana, a young man that’s actually a young woman, that’s the student council president of the high school she’s in. With it being co-ed school, she does her best to act and fit in like a boy, but that often leads to overacting in a classic kind of shounen way that’s amusing. The reason for acting like a boy though? That’s because her parents moved out of country and she’s had to live on her own for awhile and doing so as a girl is just far too dangerous. But danger seems to have found her anyway as when she goes to her dorm apartment after the start of school, there’s a guy named Matsuoka there that lives next door and is all excited to have him living next door. Matsuoka’s a bit crude and inappropriate in public spaces, but there’s this moment where Hotaru acts that makes it clear that she has some real talent for what he’s into. That being survival games, though she’s not aware of it when a gun falls out Matsuoka’s jacket.
What really sets Hotaru off though is that at school he learns that his friend Kanae got taken advantage of by a host nearby and it reminds him of Matsuoka. So when Hotaru gets all full of justice, she heads to fix this since Kanae’s short on money because of it – though Kanae seems to have liked what she got out of the transaction. Naturally, Matsuoka’s the host in question and that just has her doubling down on dealing with him. This is where the gimmick of the series comes into play though as Matsuoka reveals that he’s big into survival games and wants to settle it with Hotaru there rather than with fists. Considering his pretty face as a host, that certainly makes sense. But Matsuoka also raises the stakes by saying that if he wins, Hotaru will be his, which means new blood for a survival game team that he’s putting together.
Having the fight in the host club is amusing, but we also see that everyone is pretty much ready for such an event as they all have protective glasses. When we get some of Matsuoka’s internal dialogue, we get a good read on him that he’s enjoying this even though Hotaru is basically following the spray and pray technique at first. But when Hotaru pushes his natural athletic talents, it becomes clear that she really does have some skill and that it really needs to be honed. And Matsuoka is just the man to do it. There’s some decent resolution to the Kanae story here overall and some rather cute material to it with how Matsuoka plays it, but both aspects reveal a bit more of what type of person he is, and in turn we get a decent bit with Hotaru as well. She just never expected to be roped into joining a survival game team.
After that first episode, which I watched as a simulcast, I pretty much wrote off the series and kind of dreaded it coming out on home video. At the same time I was curious to see if it was more than it presented in that first fairly chaotic and packed episode that was trying to establish a lot without taking the time to really make it meaningful. There are plenty of basics that you could see coming into play here, especially with Hotaru hiding that she’s a she, but the show curiously avoids that for the most part. She’s keeping it a secret since Matsuoka doesn’t want any girls on the team for reasons that are eventually revealed and just speak of misplaced masculinity, but with it being easier than one might guess to keep the secret she ends up focused more on just enjoying the game that she realizes she has a talent for and is increasingly drawn to it. Avoiding that gimmick really does help the show overall in avoiding some of the usual pitfalls.
Most of the focus really comes down to two things as it gets itself fully underway. The first is that we get Hotaru’s training side, where she finally gets her own gun, learns more of the rules, and struggles with being a part of a team. Initially, Matsuoka brought her on just to get a needed third for a match but he also sees something in Hotaru and wants to try and cultivate it if he can. But that’s secondary and you can see that it sticks to that layer for a good chunk of the show. Hotaru’s enjoyment of the game grows nicely and I definitely liked seeing her enthusiasm even if it was frustrating watching her not trying to figure out the rules up front and to do what’s needed. This was most evident during one of the early matches where it seemed like her opening move was just to rush right in to fight rather than applying any form of strategy. While Hotaru may not convert people into wanting to play, she does make it enjoyable to watch.
The other main track is the rivalry that Matsuoka has with Midori from the Hoshishiro team. They’ve got a history that’s problematic going back to the woman that used to be on Matsuoka’s team with Yukimura. Midori has a pretty disciplined team that’s damn effective but he’s also got that kind of really strict and intense side that makes the whole thing not fun from an in-game perspective. He’s highly skilled and the way things play out shows why he’s leading a winning team, but the longstanding conflict between him and Matsuoka just doesn’t gel well for me and simply felt like a distraction more than anything else. He’s not a compelling opponent and more often than not seemed like someone who was more helpful in a number of ways for Matsuoka, especially in nudging Hotaru in the right direction more than one with what needs doing.
In the end, Aoharu x Machinegun wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, and I’ll admit that’s damning it with faint praise. It’s a solidly put together series that achieves what it wants to do and it has some good survival game sequences and it avoids some of the usual pitfalls that it introduces as the base concepts. It’s well animated and has some great detail in addition to appealing character designs that will delight certain fanbases. I also love that Sentai picked this title to dub because of the numbers they were seeing elsewhere, which means this show did better than a lot of people expected as a popular under the radar work and that makes it worth checking out a bit more. Fans of the series and the genre will find a lot to like here as Sentai put out a quality release that’s problem free. It’s something worth taking a peek at to be sure, though you may want to give it a few episodes as that first one is rough.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 language, English Subtitles, Japanese Preview, Clean Opening and Closing Animations
Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: November 15th, 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.