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SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next Blu-ray Anime Review

11 min read

SOS Tokyo Metro ExplorersWhen four kids set out to explore the underground in search of a treasure, what they find isn’t what they hoped for or expected!

What They Say
Summer, 2006. A 5th grader Ryuhei discovers a notebook entitled “Tokyo Exploring Records.” It was a journal kept by his father, Shohei, when he was around Ryuhei’s age. Ryuhei forms his own exploration party with his friends Shun and Yoshio. One summer day, the party and Ryuhei’s younger brother Sasuke who happens to tag along, heads to the dungeon looking for a treasure indicated on the father’s map. Soon they encounter some weird but good-natured grown-ups who live underground. The kids are welcomed by the underground residents; but then the dungeon turns into a combat zone involving an old, self-claimed Japanese soldier… Would the kids be able to discover the real treasure hidden underground?

The Review:
This feature film has two main language tracks to it as well as a secondary track. The primary track is very good sounding Dolby TrueHD mix which brings the film to life quite well. A good chunk of the film is set underground with quiet explorations so it isn’t exactly a gangbuster affair throughout, but the opening sequences are good as it takes us through the train stations and the action sequences later on with the tank and the fight really take it up a few notches. The other main track for those that don’t have TrueHD capable systems or 5.1 systems is a solid if weaker sounding uncompressed PCM mix done at 1.5 mbps constant. A third audio stream is included with the commentary track which is done with the uncompressed PCM at 1.5 as well. In listening to all three mixes, we didn’t have any problems during regular playback, though obviously of the two main mixes we favor the TrueHD one.

Originally in theaters in mid 2007, this Blu-ray release is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4. This release is identical to the Japanese release as it’s the same thing outside of the packaging that the US release is getting. With it being such a fresh production and one with a good budget and plenty of lush CGI to it, the feature comes across quite strongly here in its visuals. With bitrates averaging in the thirties (and the PS3’s bitrate computations showing some nudges into the 41 range), this is essentially a very beautiful looking film. It’s not flawless though and those flaws are within the source material itself due to the CGI. The only noticeable problem during playback is that there’s some line noise during various pans and zooms that occur within some of the CG pieces. This is something that’s lessened depending on displays and settings, but it’s the best my display can do. Beyond this though, there’s nothing to really fault here as colors are wonderfully solid and rich and everything has a great feel and sense of depth to it where appropriate.

SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers is the first high definition release from Bandai Visual USA to utilize a “proper” keepcase. The front cover is a blue framed piece that has the artwork that has been used to promote the feature for a bit in which it combines all the main characters while making sure we know what city it takes place in and that it’s dealing with the underground as well. It’s not a heavily detailed piece in a way but it manages to convey a lot when you really sit down and look at it. I also really liked the cityscape background with its sunset and clouds as it gives it some warmth and color. The blue framing feels like overkill however with the Blu-ray case itself. The back cover uses the blue background as well but it doesn’t feel bad is there’s a lot of text talking about the show and several small shots from it to showcase the animation. The discs features are clearly listed and are followed by the production credits. Bandai Visual USA’s technical grid is pretty condensed but it packs a ton of very useful information that lets you know that just about everything on here is high definition. The cover for this isn’t reversible but they have included a twelve page full color booklet. This is a really great booklet as it talks about the films premier and a bit about the staff that worked on it, showcases the original manga a bit and then delves into some neat trivia facts about various scenes and in-jokes. To cap it off, there’s a good if short roundtable session with the lead creative staff (with pictures) as they talk about what went into the production. The back of the booklet provides top level credits (as they are untranslated within the movie itself) as well as the cast of characters.

The top level menu design for the feature is decent if simple as it has the front cover artwork split in half. The left side features the close-up of the four kids while the right sides uses the larger background piece of the old man and the girl with the cityscape of Tokyo behind them. The bottom portion of the screen contains what’s essentially the pop-up menu in design and form, which has the basic features that you’d expect from most releases. Submenu navigation, both here and in pop-up form during playback, is very quick and easy to access and utilize. Getting about into the features and setup during playback is a breeze and the navigation is pretty intuitive without any issues. Due to this being a dual-region release, when you start up the disc it will prompt you to select your language of choice so that you get the appropriate warnings and menu language options.

There are a few good extras included in here that certainly add to the overall completeness of the package. First, there’s a good trailer for the film which is done in HD and Dolby TrueHD sound and is thankfully subtitled. A ten minute creator interview piece with Otomo is included as well which is windowboxed and upconverted to 1080p that goes over some of the basics about the production and how it was adapted from the manga. The source material isn’t really in great shape for it as it doesn’t look HD, but it’s encoded high in AVC and given a PCM stereo track. The making of feature is encoded in the same way which makes it easy to flip to so that your display doesn’t have to do any switching to a new resolution. This seventeen minute piece is somewhat standard in what it presents as the creative staff showcase what went into the show and their thoughts on it, but it’s interesting to see the progression of certain things like the CGI over the years take form here. It’s also interesting in that it has a very international flavor to it as parts of it are narrated in English with Japanese subtitles. The best extra on this release in my mind though is the feature length commentary track which has the three main directors talking about the production. It’s a bit light at times but they point out in many scenes what’s traditional, what isn’t, how well it blended and how it all came together. There’s a lot of the usual crediting moments going on by the trio, but by and large this is a really fun piece to listen to.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on a short original manga story by Katsuhiro Otomo, SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next is one of the most confounding names I’ve yet to have to rattle off when it comes to anime. The feature film, largely done by the main creative staff behind the anime adaptation of Otomo’s Steamboy, look to have wanted to work on something a bit simpler in story while expanding and utilizing what they learned on that feature. Drawing in the same director and scriptwriter, they expanded on Otomo’s story and added a bit more of that cynicism he was more famous for in his early years to present a tale about four boys exploring the underground world of Tokyo in search of treasure.

The film is pretty short with a running time of only forty minutes, but it works in its favor as it isn’t a deep or complex story that it’s trying to present. Rather, it’s something that wants to be simple and to bring in some of what makes kids are really like. The film deals with the introduction of three fifth grade boys who meet up online after one of them, Ryuhei, tries to get members for his exploration group. He’s discovered a map in his fathers childhood memories box that talks about an underground treasure in the city that’s left over from World War II. Meeting up with those who agree online, they’re joined by his younger brother who sneaked along. Before you know it, the group of four make their way down into the sewers and begin to move through the different tunnels that take them back in time.

The four kids are all simple archetypes, but not unexpected considering their ages. Ryuhei is your basic non-threatening lead character that doesn’t have much to distinguish himself with. His younger brother, Sasuke, is the overeager type and is keenly interested in finding the Kazilla creature that’s being talked about in the news in this journey. The kids that they meet up fall into standard categories as well, with Shun being the glasses type with gadget goodness and Yoshio being the chubby kid who is a bit set in his ways, such as constantly closing doors and the like behind him since his father is always after him because of that. The only really amusing character that gets thrown into the mix with regards to the kids is Momoyo, a fellow online chatter who they think is a guy. She’s got a great Multi-Tool that saves the day repeatedly and her slightly snobby approach is fun in contrast with the “boys club” mentality the rest have.

With a short running time, it doesn’t take long for the kids to start uncovering what they’re looking for down there. What they’re looking for is treasure, but they instead run into an old World War II Soldier that’s been hiding down there for decades protecting his treasure. He’s not the only one down there though as there are activists who are planning for their day in the sun and others who have just removed themselves from modern society. There’s even a great nod to a well known older bank heist that is worth several amusing moments along the way. The group of kids get split up a bit along the way and Momoyo is always watching from the background, all of which leads to the show getting out of control as the old soldier is somewhat off his rocker and events flow from there.

The storyline is fairly simple but it does have some nice things in it that ties it all together in a way that really humanizes it more. The scriptwriter, Sadayuki Murai, puts in a few nice nods with people like Ryuhei’s father that gives it a bit more completeness while still painting it as a possible larger story in the background. What really shines here though is the progression that the character CGI modeling has made over the years. In looking back at some of the early CGI inclusions in the late 90’s to even something far more recent like Freedom, there’s a seriously impressive progression going on. While I don’t see it becoming the norm anytime soon for either movies or TV shows, the modeling is getting much better and the blending is increasing at the same pace. Sometimes it’s not the best though as there’s a certain stiffness or too much fluidity, but they talk about it in the commentary track a lot, especially in how some scenes are easier done traditionally in terms of time or certain elements are done traditionally. One scene has Momoyo standing up in the tank so her hair is blowing in the wind, and only her hair was done traditionally. In another few years, I can imagine this process being far more attractive to producers as a way of creating shows.

In Summary:
While it has a very unwieldy title, SOS! Toyko Metro Explorers is a simple and charming little show that has boys acting like boys and doing what they do best, getting into trouble and exploring. There isn’t a lot of depth here but there are some good moments that ties it to a larger story. With its origins as a short story, it’s not going to have the kind of meat to it that other films may have. It’s somewhat easy to view this as a showcase of what the creative team can do with their animation and CGI tools, but they did it to a good charming story that can be generally universally appealing. Supposedly it caused a bit of a sensation in Japan when it came out but I don’t see it happening here.

This release is very noteworthy for one reason though and that’s that it has been released on home video within weeks of the Japanese release. This is a trend that I want to see continue, particularly with Bandai Visual USA, as it gives us a very shortened window. The price may make it difficult for casual people to get into, but for those who are jonesing for some serious high definition anime, every little nugget will draw you in, just like the old DVD days. This release isn’t for everyone, but it continues to show the changes and growth that Bandai Visual / USA are going through in order to bring their shows over. With more extras than before, a shorter release window and a lower price in comparison to their first Blu-ray releases, it’s generally positives all around.

Japanese 5.1 Dolby TrueHD Language, Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, Commentary Track, Behind the Scenes, Creator Interviews, Theatrical Trailer

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

Released By: Bandai Visual USA
Release Date: December 11th, 2007
MSRP: $64.99
Running Time: 40 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.781: 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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