What They Say
An entire world exists unseen, a world that can be accessed only by the mind: the Wired World. A place of freedom – and, occasionally, a place of death.
Souma Toru knows the land of the logged-in well, for he and his fearless gang of hackers once had the run of the place. But as tragedy came to call and the group disbanded, he was forced to join the ranks of FLAK: a military organization charged with protecting the hidden data paradise deep within the vast network of servers.
Indentured into service and out for revenge, Toru cannot let go of the dead of the past even as a ghost of the present takes shape. Torn with the loneliness and confusion of being trapped between two worlds, there is only one question: what is reality?
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the English language one, both of which are encoded at 192kbps. The stereo channels are well used for directionality and impact though it is muted from what you feel that it could be. Dialogue is well placed when appropriate and there’s a sense of depth during various scenes that help out as well. With there being so much action it feels like it should be richer and stronger, but what we do get is a very clean and solid presentation.
Originally released in 2006 and 2007, the transfer for this four part OVA series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The release is a bit of a surprise even with the changes that FUNimation has made to their authoring lately as it runs into the high eights and high nines for the bitrates rather regularly. The visual design of the series is a slightly tricky one as they do a number of intentional grainy shots and there is a lot of fast motion and dark colors which then bring in a lot of very vibrant moments. The end result that we get here is one that looks quite good overall but isn’t completely free of problems. Not that they’re major by any stretch of the imagination at least as it’s really just limited to some noisy backgrounds in various scenes and some mild banding in a few places. Overall, this looks like a very good presentation with bright bold colors when needed and an accurate representation of the source material.
With only one release to sell it, the cover used here is a fairly weak piece that doesn’t really do all that much to grab the casual consumer. The artwork focuses on the central artwork of Tohru as he has a fairly dark expression to him while the background has one of the simulacrums that they use alongside various hex designs that represent virtual world aspects. The simulacrum just doesn’t come across well here since it’s not clear exactly what it is and the dark colors don’t help either. There isn’t any real strong hook here to tell someone to turn the case over and read more. The back cover is a bit better as it brings in a few more colors and a lot more artwork through a large shot of Ren and several smaller shots from the show itself. The summary covers the basic premise of the series well enough and they do a decent enough plug that it contains all four episodes. The bottom has a good puffed up listing of the discs extras and finishes it out with the standard tiny production credits and technical grid. No insert is included with this release but they do provide artwork on the reverse side for the clear keepcase that has a larger cast shot of all the women along one side from a rather good illustration.
The menu design runs with a very similar theme to the front cover where it has the close-up of the simulacrum to it along the side while the foreground has the pairing of Tohru and Ren together in somewhat brighter colors which results in a cleaner look. The hex designs are all around as well, though they’re not overpowering at least and the navigation is kept to a small box to the left of the character artwork. This is all set to a good moody instrumental piece of music that runs just under a minute. Navigation is quick and easy but the disc was problematic with the player presets. The language was picked up properly as the Japanese language track is labeled correctly but the English subtitles for the Japanese language track are listed as Japanese, so it picks up the English labeled sign/song subtitle track instead.
The extras are pretty light for this release which isn’t a surprise as it doesn’t appear that the Japanese releases had anything beyond some pack in first press items. There’s a promotional video that runs just under two minutes which has no dialogue or text and really just shows off the action scenes. The opening and closing sequences (but not the fourth episode’s closing) are presented in their clean form as well.
Baldr Force EXE Resolution is a four-part OVA series based off of a multi-platform game from back in 2004 as directed by Takashi Yamazaki from Satelight who hasn’t done a whole lot of anime direction before. In fact, his only previous anime director credit is for an episode of a series back in the mid 90’s. While he’s also done a fair bit of storyboarding over the years, where his claim to fame seems to be is in the live action world where he’s won the direct of the year award and quite a few nods for the film Always: Sunset on Third Street of which he also worked on the sequel for.
Baldr Force EXE Resolution has the kind of problem that most OVA series do in that when you see it in full you really come back to thinking it would have worked better as a movie. Baldr Force EXE Resolution is actually a fair bit better in this regard as they utilize the OVA framework pretty well by actually making these thirty-minute episodes which give them more time to tell the story. With just a bit of tweaking and cleaning up, it’d be very easy to see this presented again in a theatrical venue without any loss of material. This also means that it really does feel like a movie in that everything that happens follows a fairly standard formula.
The world of Baldr Force EXE Resolution takes place in a near future setting where everyone has become increasingly wired, to the point where a lot of the citizens spend more of their time in these virtual worlds than in the real world. The exterior world has a gray and drab feeling to it, the kind of oppressive feel you got from Blade Runner, while the virtual worlds are made up of sunshine and fun. This is particularly telling during one scene where a brief pan over a wired cafe shows the monitors of dozens of people in their own worlds and they’re all brightly lit and incredibly active. The parallel of the physical bodies sitting there jacked in and looking like zombies is quite striking and apt.
Naturally, in a world like this, there are those that play against the virtual worlds and have their kind of fun with it all. One of those groups is a band of hackers known as Steppen Wolf. Led by Yuuya, the group is disbanding due to the different feel everything has now that a recent new unknown member named Bachela has become involved. Before they disbanded though, the original group of four intends to do one more hack to go out in a blaze of glory. That planned hack is against FLAK, the military branch that deals with protecting the virtual worlds of the citizenry and handling all sorts of virtual terrorist attacks. This is critical since there are terrorists out there, such as the Fe Tao group, who destroy entire servers which in turn can kill those who are logged into it.
Of course, that hack goes down poorly and before the group knows it, Yuuya is dead, Tsukina and Akira have disappeared and Tohru has found himself in the hands of FLAK. Enough so that he’s actually being brought into FLAK to run one of their simulacrums in order to deal with Fe Tao and other groups. Tohru wants nothing to do with it but is compelled to join in order to figure out who it is that piloted the simulacrum that killed his best friend from childhood. Revenge is really the name of the game here but it’s surprisingly muted as the series spends more of its time showcasing the various factions that are building up. While FLAK is arguably presented as the good guys in all of this, they’re being helped out by VSS, the Virtual Sphere Security company that has come up with new chips that people can have implanted that will keep them safe. Or may put them under remote control if you go by some conspiracy theorists. Add in the Fe Tao group and whatever things that Bachela may have in mind and there are a fair number of different groups running around with their own agendas.
Where the show ties everything together is with something from the past involving testing on pliant children about their duration of being connected to the Wired. One child in particular, Ren, found herself connected too long and her mind became one with the Wired as her body separated from her soul. Wandering out in the net, she’s become something of a ghost in the machine that has been searching out for someone and has latched onto Tohru. Tohru is unsure of her at first, but as she’s presented as a fairly innocent and cute young woman who doesn’t come across as threatening, he ends up taking on a big brother approach with her and starts to discover more about his own past because of it. This is something of the weak part of the show simply because there’s only so much time to deal with it and the natural progression is quickened. In a TV series format, even at twelve episodes, it could have felt a lot more natural. But when taken in a “movie” context, everything does have a good flow to it and it works, especially if you watch all of it in one sitting.
Baldr Force EXE Resolution brings the folks from Satelight one more show to work on and I continue to find their animation style quite engaging. The CG aspect of it with the simulacrums is consistent with what they’ve done in the past, such as Noein and Aquarion, but it does feel a bit slicker and smoother here than it has on those shows. The integration of it with the rest of the show isn’t as problematic since they’re playing in a virtual world so the blending is much smoother. The character designs by Hideki Yamazaki, working off of Seiji Kikuchi’s original work, is quite strong as they’re all very appealing without being overt. There’s a hint of sexuality throughout the show, but it isn’t something that has the viewer being bludgeoned by. Even the outfits that the characters wear when in their simulacrums is very tame. The characters also make out well simply because outside of Ren there aren’t any children or teenagers here. That goes a long way towards providing some more variance and intriguing designs, especially since they get to range from the military characters in FLAK to the terrorist groups and everyone in between.
Baldr Force EXE Resolution plays up the violence rather strongly at the start of the series as the heads explode when the virtual personas of people die, but that’s a very minor aspect of the show overall. Baldr Force EXE Resolution doesn’t refrain or shy away from the violent side of things, but at its core, it’s about Tohru doing what he can to protect Ren while seeking out revenge for the death of a friend. That core is placed in a very heavy action-packed show that has a very smooth feel to it. I tend to be somewhat wary of four episode OVA series since often they feel incomplete, but Baldr Force EXE Resolution hits just about everything right and tells its story with competence and style. Though it doesn’t make me want to see an extended TV version, it is one that has some good replay value to it and has a very shiny look. It’s certainly worth spending an evening with as it’s a very strong production throughout.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Original Preview, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B0
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: May 20th, 2008
Running Time: 120 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.