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Utawarerumono The False Faces Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

Utawarerumono - The False Faces Blu-ray Front CoverA new exploration of familiar faces.

What They Say:
Where is he? More importantly, who is he? Awakening in a frozen wasteland, his first memories are of danger as he is instantly attacked by a giant creature. Kuon, the cat-like girl who rescues him, doesn’t know who he is either, but she gives him the name Haku in honor of another mysterious stranger who came to this world. Now, Haku must quickly learn how to survive in a land where monstrous beasts prowl, and where half-human beings rule in a city riddled with intrigue and secrets. With armies to aid, Princesses to guard, and a whole new future to explore, Haku and Kuon will face truth after shocking truth!

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with a new English language adaptation, both of which encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The show works a good blend of action and dialogue material, though it leans more on dialogue for the bulk of it than it does the action. As a stereo action show, it handles things well with a few big moments here and there and some decent directionality as needed during it. It’s not going to be a huge stand out kind of thing with what it wants to do but the end results are solid and what you’d expect. The dialogue side is similar as it moves across the characters well as needed, handles the quieter scenes in an effective way, and the incident sounds and background music has a good feeling to it. The mixes are clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in late 2015 and into early 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 twenty-five episodes are spread across three discs in a nine/nine/seven format with all of the extras on the third disc. Animated by White Fox, the show has an appealing look to it that has some solid continuity to the previous series that aired back in 2006. Which isn’t a bad thing as that was a good looking series at the time that had a simpler look in some ways but was pretty polished. The colors hold a solid feeling about them throughout, the CG animation as it comes into play is blended well, and the high motion scenes are clean and solid without any noise or breakup along the way. It’s a good looking encoding that captures the look of the series very well and should please most fans.

Packaging:
The packaging design for this release is one that’s definitely appreciated with what it does as the foil look is the same kind used for the original singles way back in the day from ADV Films. You can’t get perfect continuity for obvious reasons but it’s a nice nod to what was before. The standard sized Blu-ray case holds the three discs inside with two on a hinge and one against the back. The front cover artwork is appealing with a look at several of the main characters in standard poses against the colorful background and it shows off the details of the characters nicely while being eye-catching. The back cover keeps to a familiar layout with some nice character images on the sides, a solid breakdown of the premise, and a few shots from the show through the middle that plays up several different elements of the project. The extras for the set are clearly listed as is the technical grid that lists everything clearly and accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design for this release works a standard pattern where we get static screens that changes out character artwork with each disc. Some of it comes from the front cover while others are from elsewhere and they’re all pretty nice looking set against an indistinct blue background that’s soft in design. The navigation along the left is a bit more intricate with its background design while the selection blocks themselves are clean and easy to read with blue text on black with white numbering. It looks good both as the main menu and the pop-up menu and moving around in all of it is a breeze, both for the main show and language setup as well as with the extras.

Extras:
The extras for this release are fairly straightforward with the basics in that we get some of the Japanese promotional material along with the clean opening and closing sequences. The fun extras are the shorts that were produced for it, which run about a minute each in terms of actual content. There are eighteen of these and they’re silly little chibi pieces of omake that are a great way to finish off the show after marathoning the whole thing.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the game franchise of the same name, the False Faces incarnation of Utawrerumono (which we called Underwater Ray Romano back in the day) is a twenty-five episode series that aired in the fall 2015 and winter 2016 season. With the games being popular in Japan and the original series being released here years ago, there’s some built in expectations for the show. I’ve never played the games but in the early days of Blu-ray, the original series is one that I imported because of how much I enjoyed the series. And with it being a DVD-only release through a rescue situation years ago, the accessibility of that show in high quality isn’t exactly easy. There was a lot to like about that original show with what it did so I was definitely excited to check out this one, though I avoided the simulcast. Sentai changed things up with this release as they gave it a complete collection run, which we definitely like, and worked a very good dub for it as well.

While I had hoped for a next generation or continuation piece in a more direct way, this series is essentially a reboot/re-imagining of the original property for a new generation. The problem with that, at least for fans like myself, is that we become mired in comparisons. And as much as there are things to enjoy with False Faces, I kept finding myself making those comparisons and becoming frustrated. The basics are certainly here as we’re introduced to a man with no name that awakens without a memory of who he is or where he came from. He’s confused, scared, and ends up in a problematic situation along the way where he encounters a giant red slime. This is actually critical much further down the line with what it represents but it’s just a standard kind of fantasy adventure moment at the start. All of this leads to the man meeting a young woman named Kuon who brings him back to the village she’s traveling to and gives him the name Haku.

Haku’s not exactly lazy in a sense but through a lot of the early episodes it becomes clear that he’s physically not quite up to snuff and doing what’s necessary to survive is difficult for him, which has Kuon kind of playfully mocking him while helping him get in the right frame of mind. Kuon essentially takes him in and has him doing a lot of things, but it also begins to work him to understanding the larger world with the various places that exist. A lot of the first half of the series is working this kind of expansion and understanding, notably with the country that they’re in of Yamato and the emperor, but also expanding the cast. One of those that makes a significant impression is that of Oshtoll, who is basically the image of the lead from the previous series with the mask – which isn’t exactly unique in this world either. That’s a connective piece but it’s also hugely distracting as I kept wanting to follow his story more instead.

When the series shifts into its second half, things get more serious. Once they move the main cast to the capital and we get introduced to the Emperor and those captains/generals that exist there, it becomes more complex with the politics coming up with how Yamato is dealing with all sorts of small countries/villages and the like that are problematic from time to time. There’s a lot of structure that’s explored through the cast of characters, such as Vray and his very intense ways, but a lot of it doesn’t really connect well in a way that makes it feel grounded. Where things become interesting is similar to what we got in the first season where the Emperor spends some quality time along with Haku through certain circumstances and reveals the true history of the world. I enjoy shows that play this angle, though it’s far less of a surprise here after the first series did it, and there are some interesting ideas to explore in how this world formed and its people, though it’s all very superficial when you get down to it.

And that, sadly, is what a lot of this series felt like, even though it’s put together in a polished and strong way.

In Summary:
The False Faces incarnation of Utawarerumono is one that has a lot going for it, though I suspect it’ll work a lot better for newer viewers than fans of the original series. I do my best to not make comparisons between the two as they have to stand on their own but it’s just near impossible to do, especially when it just made me want to go and rewatch the original instead. Haku as a lead doesn’t feel like he has enough of a personality to carry the show forward and the progress that’s made is something that doesn’t feel as well earned. Whereas the first worked a more military/strategy oriented approach to introduce the world, here it’s more of a travelogue before it gets mired in Yamato and then crams a lot of things into it with the cast and world expansion. Sentai’s release delivers in a big way for fans of the show with it containing the entire run, a bilingual presentation, and a cheaper combined price than it would have been with half season collections. And with a great run of silly extras it’s a pretty strong release overall.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese trailers, Japanese Shorts, Clean Opening Animation, and Clean Closing Animation

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

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 25th, 2017
MSRP: $99.98
Running Time: 625 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 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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