What They Say:
Ken Amafuji has lived a dark life. He’s had to fend for himself as long as he can remember, selling himself to strange men just to pay the rent. The one ray of light in his life has always been his childhood friend, Ritsurou Yoshinari. Bright, upbeat, Ritsurou has always been everything that Ken is not, and Ken loves him like he loves none other.
Ritsurou has a girlfriend, Moeko, and studies hard, hoping to live a simple, conventional life. But then Ken learns that Ritsurou has been unable to bring himself to consummate his relationship with Moeko, and he feels a spark of hope. Ken seduces Moeko himself to get closer to Ritsurou and starts the three of them down a path of no return.
With this being in the boys-love category, Media Blasters naturally opted to save a bit of money on it by leaving it just in its original Japanese language version. With no English language adaptation, we only get the single stereo mix which is at a low but standard and unsurprising 192 kbps encoding. The single episode is mostly dialogue and some ambient music so it isn’t a huge issue. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and while there isn’t anything there in terms of directionality it comes across well. With the focus on the characters, the dialogue doesn’t really have anything to do other than to be there. We didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released in 1996, the transfer for this OVA is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Though I’m sure they could have maxed out the bitrate on this, it’s still kept mostly in the sevens for the show with a few dips into the sixes. Due to its age, I’m suspecting that some of the issues with this are related to the source in that there is a good bit of softness in some of the busier scenes which leads to some mild artifacting. A bit of cross coloration does crop up in a couple of scenes but is generally minimal and unobtrusive. Colors look good and there is a certain warmth to the presentation with its traditional animation style. Lacking in the digital wizardry of today’s shows, there is just a bit more of a natural feeling to it as well as simply being far less processed.
The cover artwork is somewhat gloomy in its color design but appropriate for the show as it features the two male leads against each other. Of course, you have to play off the traditional roles with one being all proper in his school uniform suit and the other with his shirt falling off of him. Their designs look good and there are some nice design elements and details to how it’s all put together. The back cover carries over the same kind of background as the front cover with a few more purple hues to it. The summary covers the bulk of the episode, which isn’t a surprise since it’s just one episode, as well as some good sized shots from the show. The production info and disc extras are all clearly listed and the technical grid covers everything perfectly.
The menu design as is expected is minimal but works well as we get a static image. The background is pulled from the cover design as is the two sections of character art that are shifted around in the layout with the title and navigation strip. With a bit of the vocal piece from the show playing along, the menu is simple overall but it manages to set in a relaxing tone for what is a character drama piece. Access times are nice and fast and everything is easy to navigate. With only one audio track here, player presets are basically a non-issue though they do provide two subtitle tracks.
Only one extra is included but it’s an interesting one as it’s an interview with the voice actors that runs about ten minutes in length.
Based on the six-volume manga series by Kazuna Uchida that ran from 1992 to 1997, this single episode OVA is a bit of a love letter to its fans. Though these kinds of OVAs are rare these days, it used to be far easier to take a fairly popular niche manga series and animate a particular set of events from it and sell it just to those fans. It raised awareness of the manga and served as a potential pilot for doing something more. Obviously, nothing more came of this but it is an interesting look at some older boys-love anime.
The story is simple as it revolves around three lead characters in high school. Ritsuro is your studious young man, Ken is your happy-go-lucky type with family issues and Moeko is the attractive girl next door. Ritsuro’s been interested in Moeko and finally asked her out and she gladly accepts. At the same time, Ken is dealing with some family issues where his divorced mother has been dumped by her latest boyfriend and she’s intent on just living by herself for awhile. Ken ends up dropping out of school and working at a host club. Ritsuro is quite concerned for his friend and ends up doing all sorts of odds and ends at Ken’s apartment. The two are close but we don’t realize just how close for awhile.
The introductions all come quick and the show then moves things forward a year. Moeko hasn’t seen Ken since he left school and is surprised to see him. During that year that she and Ritsuro have been together, the two of them haven’t been physical even though she’s obviously open to it. Something in Ritsuro keeps him from doing this and it looks to go back to his previous girlfriends. The three before Moeko had all apparently been “stolen away” by Ken and it appears that history is going to repeat itself once more. To the viewer, it’s obvious that there are strong feelings between the two young men and Moeko is getting caught up in all of it. The drama revolves around Ritsuro trying to figure out what’s really going on as the other two engage in some tomfoolery.
With this being a snapshot of a decent length dramatic manga, we get bits and pieces of how these characters are being developed overall but never the full story. The single episode does provide some conclusion to what’s going on but it’s also open-ended in how they act. It’s actually where the show could go that makes it interesting and wanting to see more of it. As much drama as there is in this, it looks like it could be all the more interesting with the way the relationships change. The episode revolves primarily around the three leads though there are a smattering of other people that get involved but are little more than peripheral characters. In some ways, you can easily imagine this being a high school play put on with just a couple of actors in a larger show.
The animation for it is pretty good and it avoids much in the way of very obvious shortcuts or shortchanged scenes. There are obvious pans and the like in order to save money but they’re also done well in order to add a bit more sense of drama to those scenes. The character designs don’t have the kind of waif nature that a lot of them seem to have today though they are terribly thin in general, but that’s always been a part of the appeal in the boys-love genre. Moeko brings a nice balance to things both in her design as well as the way she acts when all these events occur. It’s her reactions towards the end that spark my interest in seeing what happens next.
I Shall Never Return certainly won’t light up a firestorm of interest in the boys-love genre, nor would a dub bring in a trove of new viewers to it. This is a very small targeted release that’s done competently but could be done a bit better. Boys-love anime is an area where there is potential for growth but I still don’t believe that the two markets (manga and anime) are the same. This isn’t a generalization but it’s always seemed like that people who read manga in this genre are far less pre-disposed to check out anime versions of the same genre. There is crossover there, there is no denying that, but not to the level that would make a show like this profitable in any other form. I Shall Never Return is priced right (after discounts) and was an enjoyable brief viewing.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Interview
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Media Blasters
Release Date: February 13th, 2007
Running Time: 30 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
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.