What They Say
Kyota and his pals Shingo and Junichi dream of becoming pop idols. At a New Year’s show they get their lucky break when a Cosmopop agent discovers the trio and offers to manage their debut. Then things take a turn for the weird when Kyota begins having visions of magical girls battling one another in the air – only he’s not dreaming! For centuries, five supernatural factions have waged war for supremacy over mankind with legend prophesizing that one day the Aquarian Age will begin and one group will reign supreme. Now Kyota’s dreams must take a backseat to his destiny as he may hold the power to turn the tides of war in favor of whichever faction can control him.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese track in stereo encoded at 224kbps while the English mix gets bumped to 5.1 at 448kbps. The series has a very good stereo mix to it with plenty of directionality across the forward soundstage both in dialogue and sound effects, particularly during the battle sequences. We checked out parts of the show in the English 5.1 mix and that came across very solid as well with a bit more volume to it and a slightly greater clarity to the directionality. The music for the show is from one of my favorites and I think it plays out beautifully here even if a touch louder than I think it should be. Overall, we had no troubles with either track during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2002, Aquarian Age is presented here in its original 1.85:1 widescreen letterbox format. The series was not released with anamorphic materials in Japan and this release matches that as the materials are likely simply not available. This release contains the same discs as released in 2004 in one package so there aren’t any changes to be had here in this edition. The transfer looks very good overall and is quite pleasing on the eyes as it holds up well considering it’s from 2002 and is non-anamorphic. Cross coloration is simply not visible here and there’s very little in terms of aliasing, which is partially helped since while the show is fully animated, there are more stills used here than normal I think. The only thing that catches my eye worth noting is that some of the solid colors don’t maintain a solid feel throughout. They’re not getting blocky, but you can see some of the movement in them, such as various dark colors and characters hair at times.
Aquarian Age is done up in a single sized keepcase with a hinge inside to hold all three discs. The cover artwork for the release is pretty familiar with a couple of the key characters together with the sword right in the foreground that ensures that we see it as a show with some potential for action to it instead of just a pretty woman. Similar to the original covers, it has a soft feel to it with the color palette used for the artwork but it works well with the designs. What’s surprising is that the Complete Collection part of the collection is relatively small text along the top that you don’t even notice much. On the plus side, most of the cover is given over to unobstructed artwork. The back cover uses the same kind of background approach with a pair of character pieces along the top with serious looks to their faces. This carries overa well to the summary below it as you want to know what’s got their undies in a bunch which is laid out pretty nicely here. A few shots from the show are included as well which adds nicely to the cover as it features a variety of characters and situations. Toss in the special features, a good listing of the episode and disc quantity along the top and you know you have a good package here in terms of the amount content. The rest is given over to the production credits and a clean technical grid that lays out the specs clearly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
While not the best menus I’ve ever seen, the ones used here work really well for the show and were some of the best flowing pieces from ADV Films back when it came out. The main menu is simply a series of blacks and blues with shifting water motion effects playing across it set to the end song theme. When you move to the submenus, a bit of transitional animation plays where it morphs the menu slightly to bring in the new material and it’s practically seamless on my decks. This is rare in general and I’ve only seen them this smooth on a number of Nightjar menus in the past. Though simple in general, they fit the theme well and they’re pretty slick. Access times are nice and fast and the disc read our players’ language presets perfectly.
The extras for this release are spread across all three volumes as we saw in the single disc form release. The first volume has the first segment of a Behind the Scenes piece. For this one, it’s used with him asking a number of the actors what they think of auditioning and how they approach it. There are some amusing bits in, particularly when Jessica Boone reveals what’s really going on when she gets all serious and I have to say I just laughed at Sasha Paysinger’s reaction to seeing the camera. For the Japanese language fans, there’s a promotional trailer that runs a few minutes that shows how the series was promoted early on before it started airing and includes some great Kajiura music to it. The opening and ending sequences are done in clean format and we get a round of production artwork as well.
The extras on the second disc are roughly the same as the first with some minor changes. The Behind the Scenes piece continues though this one moves away from the actors for the most part and spends a good amount of interesting and informative time with John Duckworth, the audio engineer for the show. Though I knew most of what’s involved in the clean-up side of things, it’s told well here and is surely an eye-opener for many others and even has a tip or two for aspiring voice actors. The rest of the extras are basically updated versions of the first volume or repeats, such as the clean opening and closing sequences. The Japanese DVD spots and production artwork pages get updated as does the original Japanese trailer.
On the third and final disc, the Behind the Scenes piece finishes out by going with the project lead for the series and then goes into a good run of material with voice actress Monica Rial, which has an amusing moment or two before she gets into the booth and does what she does. The rest of the extras are basically updated versions of the first volume or repeats, such as the clean opening and closing sequences. The Japanese TV spots and production artwork pages get included as does the original Japanese trailer.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Aquarian Age takes place within the timeframe of “now” and focuses on a small group of friends who are all going through a period in their lives where things are going to change drastically no matter what happens. In a change of pace, they’re all different ages. The group is made up of three guys and one girl. The girl, Yoriko, is in college but as we learn more about her we find that she’s fighting against a destiny that her family has had in place for her for centuries likely. Of the guys, the three are together as a band. The two older guys, Shingo and Jun, live together in a small apartment to make ends meet while the youngest, Kyouta, lives with his family above the convenience store that they own. Kyouta’s in his senior year of high school and isn’t exactly sure what he wants to do with his life. Yoriko, who really wants to be considered his girlfriend but has never really pursued it seriously enough, continues to urge him to go to college and not used the store as a fallback. At the same time, Kyouta’s wanting to really give the music life a go, which his friends do as well. But they can’t really push forward until he makes a decision once school ends since, well, you’re not supposed to be in a band or have outside jobs during your high school career for the most part.
The group actually manages to catch a break after their New Years performance where they go up to one of the bigger towns in the area and perform along the street where other groups perform as well. They’ve caught the eye of Yukimura, a producer from Cosmopop who thinks she sees something in their work. The opportunity is there for the guys to go in and record a professional demo that she’ll produce with them in order to sell them to the higher-ups in the company and start them on their path to fame. It all moves so fast that the guys are a bit stunned, well, outside of Shingo who is just ready to live up the high life, but they move forward with it and begin working back and forth from their daily lives and starting a career. As things move along, little connection is made with Kyouta’s school life and only a few people there seem to really realize it’s him even though a lot of girls are seemingly swarming the trio whenever they show up in public.
During all of this, Yoriko is struggling with a change of her own that’s being forced on her. Being the daughter whose father is important to the temple, there are often obligations in general that must be followed. For Yoriko it’s even worse as there is a bigger history for this group, one that goes back far into time. As we learn early on, she’s the chosen leader of the newest generation to fight the battle against the various forces that are seeking to gain during this particular age but she’s been putting it off for as long as she can. Her doing so has caused a number of those on her side, the Arayashiki, to be involved in some minor infighting and a general breakdown of structure since they aren’t getting what they need from her. But one of them, Rumiko, continues to push her into accepting her destiny and to face up to it. The first part of that is to give up completely on Kyouta and let him get on with his life without her. Something that Kyouta’s new manager also has been less than subtle about.
Mixed into both tales are various battles that occur wherever Kyouta seems to be at. These battles aren’t generally visible to the public at large and to the viewer they’re often just shown as bands of light that are banging against each other in the sky or swooping along the streets. Their effects are felt by the real world though as minor earthquakes and a lot of shaking. The people they’re visible to are those that are involved in the ancient struggle, which lets us get familiar with the various sides pretty easily. What we do see is an interesting mix of types, as one side seems to favor normal looking people in combat armor while the other seems to be a mix of semi demonic looking creatures and the like with human level intelligence. There are a number of forces that are watching from the sidelines and playing different kinds of power games to gain control. With the idea that this has been going on for as long as it has, there is definitely a feel that some of these people have been at it far longer than others and are playing a much deeper game.
The middle arc of the series becomes all about Yoriko’s, though the story is not told entirely through her eyes for a very specific reason. Yoriko’s life is changed right from the start after she had her experience of awakening as almost the next thing that happens to her is that she’s attacked by a Dark Lore, only to be saved by a Mindbreaker. And not just any Mindbreaker but Abuto himself. This allows him to casually feel her out to see what she knows, which is precious little as that’s what the Arayashki have decided is best, and he’s able to tell her enough of the truths that she realizes she’s being lied to by those who she is supposed to lead. So much so that it sends her into a mode where she’s ready to leave them entirely and does just that.
It becomes even worse for her though when Abuto sets things up to push her already fragile mental state over the edge just a bit. Sending Kanae to meet up with Kyouta and take him out for awhile, Yoriko comes across them when Kanae settles in and begins to kiss him, something he does resist but not entirely so. The vision is enough to break what little is left of Yoriko’s trust in people at this point and her innate powers start to appear, allowing Saravasti to basically take Yoriko over. The change in her takes a slight bit of time but as we find her next, she’s being groomed to be the top new actress in Japan. “A woman twenty years older than she is” is how she’s referred to in how she carries herself suddenly as well as the scope of her abilities.
The loss of Yoriko sends Kyouta into a downward spiral as he tries to figure out just what’s going on with her. Of course, being a blinded male he doesn’t really see that she’s been into him for much longer or that he’s basically had three women vying for his affections recently. While it’s not surprising that he’s somewhat blinded to Yoriko’s interest in him, he’s got to recognize the advances of Kanae the most as well as the intent of Asumi herself. Yet even with all of this and the way he can play the field a bit, he instead keeps in his downward spiral. And this lets him become unfocused and unaware of things so much so that it takes a bit to realize he’s being targeted by these strange forces he’s become aware of and ends up in a bad accident with his band mates.
There is a lot of things to like with this particular arc as the dance between Kyouta and Yoriko is very much at the center of it. With Yoriko firmly under Saravasti’s control now, she’s making huge waves inside the film industry with her first role being of critical importance. It’s also a role that brings her into contact with many other people and she’s able to break them down into fits of shame that cause them to quit, which also allows for Cosmopop to start bringing in their own people. The change in Yoriko is a lot of fun to watch as she really is a completely different person now and carries herself with full confidence. Seeing how Abuto continues to manipulate everyone and gain new pawns plays strongly into this though he may have overstepped in letting Kanae be as free as she is right now.
The story of the band definitely moves to the back of the show now but the friends continue to have an upfront impact on Kyouta’s life. The bonds he has with them is something that the forces aligned against him are trying to cut so that he’ll be alone but it’s not something any of them give up easily, even with a major car accident. Some of the other tales continue to move around in the background, such as Kiriko’s becoming an employee of Abuto’s place and the breakdown of her friendship with Asumi. So many little pieces are built up throughout here and no visible or easily guessed of way that it’s all going to fall in the final four episodes is making this a lot of fun to watch. While the focus will obviously be on trying to save the relationship of Kyouta and Yoriko, I’m far more interested in seeing where all the side relationships will end up falling.
When we get to Kyouta’s arc, it has him being pushed and pulled in different directions as the various sides try to use him to their own advantage and manipulate either him or things around him to get him to do what they want. This does make Kyouta look pretty wishy washy in a number of ways since he doesn’t seem decisive about wanting to save Yoriko from the fate she’s seemingly trapped by. But even Yoriko tries to get his help by appearing to him in timeslipped moments where she shows up in mirrors or other flat surfaces, pleading for him to save her. While Kyouta does eventually get to make some decisions on his own, it’s unfortunate that he’s not able to really exert himself until just the critical moment itself.
One of my favorite new arcs of this series was the one that started in the last volume that had Kiriko working in the entertainment industry after her fall-out with Asumi. After she got discovered in the last volume, she gets to really shine this time around as she starts to come out of her shell and frees herself to the passion that’s hidden within that Kyouta’s music helps to unleash. Her quick ascent to popularity is pretty comical though as that’s got to be one of the fastest photo books to get made out there but it does help to tie things together a bit and it works really well later on when she as Asumi finally make amends over things and realize what they really wanted wasn’t Kyouta.
The real arc though that focuses on the inner battle that Yoriko is fighting against her darker self in the form of Sarasvati is what really is the main focus here as things move towards a final battle with her that Abuto tries his best to control. With Kyouta more confident about things and realizing his place in all of it, he’s able to finally confront Yoriko in her current incarnation and tries to work through what’s there with the help of the girls from E.G.O. serving as his bodyguards. Amusingly, they end up in that role through some of the manipulation done by Yui of Wiz-Dom as she’s come to realize that Yoriki in her present form is too much of an unpredictable variable and needs to be eliminated. Watching the various forces slowly revealed and with their own agendas that are tied to this characters problem is an interesting piece though it’s hard to keep track of it at the same time.
This is a series that could have really benefited from being twice as long. Since the show opened so slowly with the interesting angle on exploring Kyouta and the band, it ended up having to move pretty fast to keep the rest of the plot in pace with what few episodes were left. Getting twice as many episodes would have allowed for more exploration of the various factions and providing more background that would have fleshed out the game more. In a way, I’m guessing that while they hoped for some mainstream appeal and would gladly take what they could get, they were working more towards pleasing fans of the game and providing a story that isn’t critical to the overall franchise but can be told well enough to hook new folks and satiate the fans. I know I’m tempted to find out more about the game now.
Aquarian Age as a whole does a good job of bringing a number of arcs together in a way that doesn’t feel incredibly forced at the end. It seriously messes over a couple of characters and frees others from the things that bind them. The main characters of the show are given enough time to work through things and actually explain themselves and most of the important secondary characters have some solid closure. There are more that I’d like to spend time with, particularly those that were really doing the manipulating, but the air of mystery about them only enhances things here. This show came out hard and fast and told an interesting story. It’s definitely one of a very few shows that are based on a card game that I think successfully made the transition without really keeping much of a campy or corny level. This is good stuff.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: ADV Films
Release Date: July 14th, 2009
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic 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.