What They Say:
Phantasy Star Online 2 is the most popular game on the web, and almost everyone at Seiga Academy is deeply immersed in it. When the school administration begins to worry that the game is causing more harm than good, student council president Rina Izumi sets out to prove PSO2’s virtual positives. To confirm her opinion, she recruits Itsuki Tachibana, one of the few students who isn’t already hooked, and instructs him to learn how to play so she can study the effects. What at first seems like a brilliant and simple plan instead lifts the lid off a Pandora’s Box filled with unexpected complications. As Itsuki’s life undergoes a rapid transformation, it soon becomes clear that PSO2 may be much more than merely a game! In fact, a whole new world waits on the other side of the net!
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track only which is in stereo and encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The show is one that works a good balance of action and dialogue pieces as the in-game elements allow it to play to a number of different angles. That said, it does fit into the box of a fairly standard stereo design so there’s not a lot in the way of big directionality or impact but it’s serviced well for the most part in making it connect well with the animation. The dialogue side is a bit more straightforward but has some good expressive moments along the way while also handling the lower pieces and the in-game communications aspect with its mild variety. It’s a solid mix all around but one that doesn’t elevate the show itself. It’s problem free, though, which is what you want as there are no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2016, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second which is also where the extras are. Animated by Telecom Animation Film, the show has a pretty good look to it overall though it tends toward lighter on the details side of things with character animation and some backgrounds. The color palette used is definitely good as there’s a warmth to the school and real world scenes while the in-game scenes have a more futuristic and colder look about them that helps to separate the two worlds. The show is going to be hit or miss depending on how closely aligned you are to the games and their view but for me it looks pretty decent, a kind of middle of the road production that you’d expect.
The packaging for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the two discs against the interior walls. The front cover artwork uses the main key visual for the series that throws us the main cast in their in-game mode where they’re all moving to the left, a direction you tend to not see too often, with a good star filled background to it that gives it some additional life. It’s busy as hell but the colors work well for it and it has the right level of seriousness to it that you’d expect in tying into the game franchise itself. The back cover gives us a simple summary of the premise with some SORO artwork to the right of it while the extras are brought out in clean and easy to read fashion. Add in a few shots from the show along the way and a good breakdown of the production credits along with the technical grid and it’s well put together. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
THe menu design for this release is kept simple but effective as we get for the lighter color approach with some cool blues and whites with the navigation along the right that breaks it all down by episode number and title. This is lined up alongside the static visuals for the two discs where we get some of the Japanese cover artwork character material, just with some new background designs to it from the high end clip art collection. It’s a decent looking piece that shows off the designs well and I’m glad to get a touch of the Japanese art here instead of just reusing the main key visual from the front cover. The navigation itself is simple as there’s no language selection and the second disc makes it easy to access the extras and trailers. Everything is smooth and functional, making for a decent user experience.
The extras for this release are a bit curious as we get the standards here with the clean opening and closing sequences as well as a bit more. It’s listed as the Japanese Commentary, both on the packaging and on-disc, but it feels more like it’s the episode thirteen mashup that was originally solicited and listed on some retail sites. It clocks in at 34 minutes and basically just runs through clips from the show and character pieces that… I dunno, don’t add anything and is pretty boring? It’s not a traditional “commentary” to be sure if that’s what it’s actually supposed to be called.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the 2012 game of the same name, Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation is a twelve episode anime series that arrived in the winter 2016 season. Animated by Telecom Animation Film, the show was directed by Keiichiro Kawaguchi, who did a lot of work on Hayate the Combat Butler as director as well as shows like Sket Dance and Jinsei. He won me over with his work on Please Tell Me! Galko-chan, but this is not that kind of series. This is a show that wants to be serious for the most part in dealing with the game side of it, something that I haven’t touched in far too many years. My only experience with the franchise was the Dreamcast game when we had our first taste of online console gaming, which back then felt pretty damn alien.
The premise for this is simple in that we’re introduced to Itsuki Tachibana, a student brought into the student council by president Rina Izumi as part of a larger plan that the campus has to deal with. The school administration side is becoming concerned by the way the student body is becoming so immersed in playing the PSO2 game. It’s something that we’ve seen over the years in all sorts of ways, going back to my younger days when Dungeons & Dragons were going to corrupt us all. In order to figure out what’s going on, Rina has set Itsuki to playing the game and showing that studies can be maintained and that the social aspect of the game itself is an important bonding element for students and that there’s a lot to learn. Suffice to say, Itsuki has a lot of hard work to do in documenting everything that he deals with in the game while keeping those grades up, but it’s amusing to see toward the end that his grades do slip because as he gets the hang of it and really starts to enjoy it he ends up focusing more on it. Kind of a dangerous thing for the show to play with!
The show balances things fairly well between the two sides it wants to play. The real world school side dominates a good portion of it and that keeps it from feeling like it’s trying to live in the game world like a number of shows have been doing the last several years. There’s a decent cast of characters that it operates with in the student council and some of the supporting players, but it really is mostly about the core two plus the transfer student that comes in, Aika. She’s the bridging character from the game world as you know it has to traverse both sides and she gets the unenviable role of the quiet and serious type that nobody can connect with except that she kind of quietly gloms onto Itsuki. The game side for her is kept until later so most of what we get within the gaming aspect itself is time spent on simple quests and missions and just learning the feel of it. Sadly, the whole game side simply does not connect at all. It’s designed in a way that while we get a bit of lip service as to the setup and design of it, the show assumes that you’re intimately familiar with it. It’s not that it’s not friendly to casual viewers but rather that it’s just utterly superficial if you’re not into the game.
And when the show shifts into the more serious side toward the end with the threat from within the game and how it impacts the real world, it just rings hollow. There are some neat ideas to explore with it and all but the show hasn’t earned it nor does it really want to explore it. So much so that I just felt like it should have focused on keeping that out of it entirely and played it straight with kids that are just totally into the game and working through the various ramifications and configurations of how that would play out. I liked the school side of it, shallow as the characters are since they live in dorms and have no lives outside of school, because it had some fun elements to it and the characters are likable enough. The game side just dragged everything down because it, in its own way combined with my lack of interest in the game itself, felt tacked on.
I get what Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation is trying to do and it’s the kind of thing that I hope it works well for fans of the game. It has some interesting ideas it can work with but is interested in other things that I just don’t think worked well. It’s decently animated for the most part but you can tell it’s not a top tier production. There are a lot of things to explore in bringing games to the anime world and we’ve seen a range of styles and attempts and I think this one just missed a better angle and opportunity to work with. Sentai’s release is solid enough as expected, though I’m still somewhat surprised that it didn’t warrant a dub as it’s the kind of show that you’d think would have a bit more crossover appeal into the gaming market itself. Fans of the show will like the end result here and having a copy they can own instead of being tied to streaming.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Commentary, Clean Opening Animation and Clean Closing Animation.
Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: March 7th, 2017
Running Time: 300 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.