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Utawarerumono OVA Complete Collection DVD Review

12 min read

Utawarerumono OVA DVD CoverThe charm of another world never ends …

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 UTAWARERUMONO – THE OVA COLLECTION!

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is so inspiringly magnificent considering that it is only available in English or Japanese subtitled Dolby Stereo 2.0 encoded at 224 kbps. However, what makes this soundscape so appropriate to this feudal landscape is the absence of any unnecessary sounds. All that we would hear in this era is delivered – delicate background sounds of birds chirping, men working, children laughing and playing, or people chatting in the marketplace. We are not accosted by any blaring hard rock music that modern anime seems to think we need to set the atmosphere, and when it is needed to accentuate a scene, period appropriate instruments such as ichigenkin or the hotchiku are used in combination with a modern orchestra within simplistic melodies or rousing accompaniments to signal or escort the characters with the episodes. Sometimes simplicity is the best and this is one of those times.

But of course, none if this would be as effective if not for the themes of the series. Each one either sets the mood of the episodes or closes it with a melody which solidifies the effectiveness of what we just saw. The opening for these OVAs is Adamant Faith sung by Suara and its gentle, lilting chant is almost like a traditional folk song, sung by Eluluu to Hakuoro whereby she is embracing her love for him, stating that she will always be by his side, no matter what fate may hold in store for them. As opposed to this lovely piece, the closing J-pop ballad sung by Rena Uehara called Yume no Tsuzuki is still from Eluluu’s point of view. However, this free spirited, light hearted tune broadens her uncertain feelings from the first series and expands on them, in which she now declares that she looks forward to the future, uplifted by the winds of change. I cannot think of any more elegant songs which could surround this and so brilliantly combine with these original video animations to expand the world of Utawarerumono which such sonic vigor.

This single disk compilation of the three OVAs are encoded in standard MPEG-1/2 DVD media video format and 720×480 anamorphic resolution. The 16:9 aspect ratio playback is extremely welcoming for the panoramic views of  these side stories and the simplicity of the art work with their selectively subdued hues wonderfully blends into the sheer bliss which these tales provide. Although those knowledgeable about the environment from the prior series will immediately recognize the surroundings, even viewers who do not know anything about the background will feel comforted by this strange, and yet familiar feudal Japanese society. Everything harkens back to the relaxed settings of a samurai drama with expansive, pristine natural surroundings, sakura blossoms floating in the breeze amid a vast city bustling with merchants and people going about a normal day.

The enormous complex which Hakuoro and his loose family occupy is based on the traditional shogun castle, with impressive wooden framed structures topped by clay tiled roofs, their stony exterior blends in with the extensive tamped earth parade grounds surrounding them. And yet we still see some elements influenced by fantasy with the area populated by varying magical races descended from the original humans, but now carrying traits of the animal clans. To see a beautiful woman with a long flowing mane of blonde hair but also have a set of working wings sprouting from her back may at first be disturbing, but the interactions are just as ordinary as other people, and just as entertaining. While we may see signs of science fiction sprinkled about the narrative, viewers will also witness heavy influences of the Ainu, one of the indigenous peoples of Japan. All you need to do is look at the costumes, the simple dusky ivory short robes dyed with primary colors which everyone wears are influenced from that tribe as are the thatched houses that dot the city. It is this primitive setting which makes the series feel a warm kotatsu and yet the sci-fi influences also add a modern touch to an already endearing show.

I have no rational idea why Sentai Filmworks used a wraparound prismatic foil to enhance the disk case of this collection. While at the time the marketing department might have thought this would be a fantastic way to give more emphasis to the title and other text on the box, at the same time it also takes away from what should be the main attraction for the cover: Hakuoro’s harem. The delightful portrait of Aruruu and Eluluu smiling to greet us from the foreground while the rest of the girls wait patiently in the background is charming, but then we come back to that foil. The reflective property is only effective when you see the areas with some source of light to shine off of it; any other angle and the whole expensive process is spoiled and you are left with a dull gun metal gray with streaks across the surface. Even when it does work properly, it detracts from the delight of this beautiful illustration, and of course, it does get annoying after looking at it for a while. Which is more important: promotion of the series’ cast or unnecessary decoration to show off … nothing? I am just glad they decided not to decorate Eluluu’s wonderful silk screened display on the disk too.

Just like any other from one of Sentai Filmworks properties, the menus are the least imaginative part for the collection; however in this set, they did manage to make it visually more tolerable with a change in the basic design and music settings. We are once again enamored by the beautiful portraits of the various girls from the Harem for each submenu, but they did not leave it with just a plain picture – instead the background is a dusty ivory which enhances the illustration by contrasting it against that duller backdrop. And while menus themselves are still composed of static elements, the incorporation of a Japanese style black and red crosshatch pattern helps to make it not look as boring as other examples. But, as usual, the most discomforting flaw in this area is the repetition of the first minute of Adamant Faith echoing in the background for the primary menu and Yume no Tsuzuki in the secondary ones; though this may have been done to get the watcher ready for the show with their soothing melodies, the tunes quickly get tiresome once it restarts at the end of the cycle. And although the music does not start immediately, giving the consumer about a twenty second delay to make their choice, Sentai still should have given us an option to turn off the music. They might anticipated the viewer would not spend that much time in these area by driving us away with this endless, if however charming cacophony.

The Extras/Special Features section for this collection is a surprising bonus which Sentai Filmworks has given us on top of the amazing selection of OVAs for the series. Although we are still supplied with the standard trailers for other properties from the company plus clean opening and closing animations for the show, the best treasure is the addition they call Picture Dramas.

Anyone familiar with the original source material for the Utawarerumono anime will know that the show is based on a tactical visual novel, and as such, is composed of a series of static pictures and heavily relies upon the seiryus’ narration and text to move the plot forward, with a few turn based battles. The three pieces within the Picture Dramas section are called Childhood Friends 1 and 2 plus Sickness of a Stout Man which are all reminiscent of the aforementioned method of storytelling. Those viewers used to watching an animated show or reading a manga to get their fix may find these stories a bit discouraging since the tales rely on the same visual/verbal narration technique to relate the story, and thus, it can become very tedious to interpret the actions of these slide shows; the worst part of this process occurs during fight scenes which rely on solely audio effects – to hear a series of sword clashes without the related frenetic movement is very disconcerting since you can’t match the sounds with any pictures. You hear the conflict first, see a single picture, more clinks and so on … in other words, a tenth of the usual visual information versus the normal audio data. Then the watcher gets the end result: a singular portrait of the combatants exhausted without really knowing how or what happened. While this may be unsatisfying to those uninitiated to the visual novel, if you stick with the stories concerning how Urutori and Karula’s relationship unfolded and the awkward time Camus has trying nurse a sick Hakuoro while everyone else is gone, it will turn into another pleasant memory for this collection.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This collection of original animation videos are based on side stores from the visual novel which were not covered in the Utawarerumono broadcast.

The Watchtower Lullaby

In the aftermath of a battle, an abandoned baby is found by which Urutori takes it upon herself to take care it as her own. While the rest of the staff try to find her guardians, the child now called Fu-chan is doted upon by all of the girls in the family, except for Karula. Her harsh remark to her blonde companion is not to get too attached to the babe, for it will make it all the harder to separate once they find the rightful parents. As the days pass, the Onkamiyamukai and child grow ever closer, almost as if they truly are mother and daughter. However as time passes, they eventually find that the girl is the child of parents from conflicting tribes who do not want the baby, but with the influence of Hakuoro, they are eventually convinced to take Fu-chan back, much to Urutori sadness. But before the day of the exchange, the winged beauty secrets away with the girl, not wanting to give her up to parents who did not want her. In a desperate chase, the palace troops chase after the fugitive, but how can they rip this pair apart after such emotional bonding?

Prescription for a Secret Love

As morning breaks, Eluluu spots a brief flash of light in one of the nearby storehouses and goes to investigate. Hidden within, she sees a strange man named Nopon and his simian friend Gomuta who immediately pounce on her, kidnapping the girl via a transport circle. As they arrive at their destination, the incompetent duo are severely punished by their mistress Kamuchatari who told them to only ask for Eluluu’s help, not to abduct her. In a fit of embarrassment, she explains to the Lady that she wishes for help to concoct a special family medicine so that she may gain the favor of a man at the palace; however, after telling her tale, the innkeeper is too ashamed to carry out the plan and tells her helpers to take the young woman back. But what they do not realize is that Lady Eluluu is so enraptured by the story that she is determined to help, no matter how much trouble it will cause by her disappearance.

After a few hours of mixing, the herbalist soon sees that she needs more ingredients and sends the comical pair back home to get what she needs from her own stores. After they rummage through her room and exit, they are quickly noticed by some of the girls and Aruruu, who instantly forms a connection with the grinning Gomuta. Although they try to lose their pursuit, the pair leaves without noticing that they have an extra passenger. As it is now too late to return her sister, Eluluu continues her work, with everyone’s help, much to Kamuchatari surprise. But, it is now that the staff wonders what happens to the siblings, and send Kurou to find them. With the clue of the criminals having a Kimamau, he now begins to wonder if this rare animal belongs to someone he knew long ago. Knowing where his former charge now lives, the proud solider sets out to retrieve the missing sisters, not knowing that it will not be as easy as it sounds.

Sound of a Sword Guard in the Mountains

It is a rare bright morning when Hakuoro finds himself allowed to do as he pleases, and that is to spend it fishing at a stream deep in the forest. Of course being the lord of the palace, he cannot leave alone and so finds himself accompanied by bodyguard Touka and his happy companion Aruruu with her pet Mukkuru. As they lazily waste the day away, the masked man relates to his friends about a strange rumor he heard that this area is protected by a river guardian. But just as he finishes his story, is not long when they are found by Benawi who begins to chastise his master for sneaking out without finishing his work … again. Not wanting to disturb the young girl and her white tiger as they sleep, Hakuoro charges his protector with a task: he want to see the elusive spirit that dwells in this water.

Touka is so stunned to hear that her commander has given such a lowly person this important mission, she stutters that she will not return to the castle without securing the creature. With a slight chuckle, Hakuoro is dragged back while his overwhelmed friend shivers in panic since she has no idea of how to carry out this seemingly impossible task. As she sits back on the bank, fishing line in hand, a cold sweat breaks as Touka starts her job, not knowing how or if she will succeed without anyone’s help.

In Summary:

It has been almost a decade since the broadcast of the original Utawarerumono series, so unless you have a very good memory, most of the events which lead into this collection will not be fresh; add to the problem that the first OVA was not released until three years afterwards, and some people may be a little hesitant to watch this collection. Luckily, these side stories do not rely on the original plot, so anyone will be able to enjoy this charming set. The premise of these wonderful episodes is just a glimpse in the life of Hakuoro’s extended family. This disparate group of individuals may seem like a motley crew, but it is their differences and the ability of the others to be able to make for those missing attributes which allows us to relish their interactions so immensely. Nothing is taken seriously in this collection, even when something as strong as separation between Urutori and child is introduced, it is her close relationship with Karula which allows her to survive and endure the pain.

On the surface this series may seem to revolve around Hakuoro and his harem, their relationships go much deeper than caring for each other. We know that any of them will go to any lengths to find the others and in turn, it is not dependent as to be rewarded or ordered by their lord. Although they may not be related by blood, it is the hardships which can only be forged during battle which have made them into something more than a family. Utawarerumono OVA Complete Collection is worth re-watching the original in order to understand those bonds, but even if you don’t, this set will give you something which will still warm your heart.

Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Picture Dramas, Clean Opening & Closing Animation, Sentai Trailers

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

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date:  March 29th, 2016
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i mpeg-1/2 video codec
Aspect Ratio: 16:9

Review Equipment:
Sharp LC-42LB261U 42” LED HDTV and Sony BDPS3200 Blu-ray player

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