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eX-Driver The Movie Anime DVD Review

8 min read

With a few OVAs under its belt, eX-Driver goes big time with a movie release.

What They Say
The squeal of smoking tires, the roar of the engine and the thrill of a hairpin turn in a power drift. Most people in the future have no knowledge of these adrenaline-pumping aspects to driving because they only use cars driven by AI computers. However, sometimes the computers lose themselves and the cars race out of control! Fortunately, the eX-Drivers still love their gas-powered racing cars and are hired to shut-down the AI cars using their amazing racing skills. Three high-school prodigies, Lorna, Lisa and Souichi, go to Los Angeles to participate in a world-class race of eX-Drivers. As they prepare, they soon suspect that underground gambling and the mob may be involved- the thrill of the race is about to explode with this more sinister danger!

This release was a really fun one at the time because as Japanese 5.1 release always sounded good and it got a DTS mix for it as well. The mix for this is really good and not unexpected considering how much effort went into the stereo mix for the TV series and the sounds they recorded for it. That’s all taken up several notches here with the 5.1 mix that uses the full surround soundstage very well with plenty going to each of the speakers in both dialogue and sound effects. Of course, this is mostly during the action sequences and the bulk of the non-action sequences are simple dialogue scenes that are mostly center channel based, but otherwise, this is a really good sounding track and a lot of fun. We didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback on either language track.

Originally released in 2002, the movie is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for anamorphic playback. The presentation for this show, particularly the movie part, is just gorgeous looking. The show does mix plenty of CG into the mix and you can see how far the style has come from the first season of a show like Initial D as the blending is much better than it used to be and is definitely a leap over the eX-Driver OVA series. The colors are very rich and vibrant, the cars are very nicely detailed and the scenes with them have a great fluidity to it though it does drop down some when interacting with the characters. The show has nothing in the way of grain, cross coloration or noticeable aliasing. This is a beautiful and essentially flawless looking print.

Released in a white keepcase, we get the same cover as the regular edition Japanese release that also looks like it was the theatrical poster for the show. It’s a great piece that has the four lead characters from the movie in a center shot while below them the three vehicles they use are given space as well. It’s a bit of a busy cover with so many different characters, colors, and styles as well as the cars but I like the detail to it. The back cover provides a couple of shots from the show and some artwork of Nina and Rei alongside the summary of the various parts of the show and the overall concept. The discs features and basic technical information are all relatively easy to find and the cover, though a bit cramped in a few areas, looks good in general. The insert has the movie logo along the top while below it gives a full breakdown of the chapters for both the movie and the special as well as listing all the extras included. The insert opens up to a mini poster of the lead characters next to the Super 7 in Santa Monica while the back of the insert is another version of the front cover.

The folks at Nightjar serve up yet another solid menu and I believe one of the few groups around that provide full 5.1 menus. As this menu uses clips from the show through the center strip with the cars racing around and sound from it, the 5.1 sets the tone nicely for the show and uses some understated music, for the most part, to help build it all to a nice crescendo. The layout is well done with a good mix of colors and style and some good filters used on the animation part to give it a really slick feel. Access times are nice and fast and the layout very easy to navigate. The disc defaulted properly to our preset language settings though we did change it to DTS since that’s not a normal selection for most discs.

A good mix of extras is included with this release. It should be noted that the Danger Zone OVA is not listed as an extra but part of the feature so it’s not talked about here. In the extras section, we get the fun and all too short Illustration Theater which has a little fun with the cast as a visual radio drama of sorts. Though I think they have a bit too much fun in messing with Souichi and his young age, getting some good skin shots of Lisa is worth it. The movie has a series of commercials and trailers for it and also has a textless opening and ending sequence included as well. For the Danger Zone OVA, the only inclusion here is a series of production artwork for it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Back in 2002, we got to see the OVA series that this movie is based on, a six-episode piece that introduced us to a world about a hundred years in the future where cars are controlled by AI programs and guidance facilities so that nobody has to drive anymore and people are basically safe and sound. There are those that object to this though and still want to drive their cars themselves so there are all sorts of incidents that happen, as well as AI cars that go awry and cause problems. To deal with that, there are groups of licensed drivers who use non-AI cars to catch the criminals and save the innocent known as eX-Drivers.

Ok, ok. Hokey concept and while you can understand it happening to some extent in places like Tokyo and other massively packed Japanese cities, you simply have a hard time wrapping your head around it being a worldwide kind of thing and those American’s even falling for it. Well, they do in this world and while we’ve enjoyed the adventures of the Japanese team of Lisa, Lorna, and Souichi in the OVA series, the trio has come to California to participate in the big entertainment event of the eX-Driver racing competition. It’s basically the NASCAR of the future in a way. All the eX-Drivers around the world participate in tournaments in their own country and the best of the best come here for the big final race. So it’s NASCAR gone Olympics.

Once you’re done laugh, come on back.

While this is hokey and comical in concept and in some of its execution, it’s one of those shows that just manages to work somehow. A good deal of that comes in how you can feel a real love of the machines in this show by the people working on it. Much like Initial D, that love shines through in the end product and there is a thrill and sense of excitement that comes out when you watch it. The OVA series managed to capture that fairly well and the movie manages to take it up a notch further with some really streamlined CG cars racing through the streets and on the racetracks. Wrapped up in all of this racing is a plot about various sponsors that are forming an illegal gambling group to bet on the big races which sets the racers on end in trying to deal with it. The plot is fairly minimal throughout since it’s the characters and the chase sequences that make this exciting. In reality, you can really sum up the plot in one or two sentences and be done with it.

The movie runs just over sixty minutes but it’s followed up by another tale, the Danger Zone special, which runs just about twenty-five minutes. This is a fun little tale that takes place a few years before the cast in the movie became eX-Drivers and shows a tale that happens in Japan about someone trying to get close to one of the drivers and uses his knowledge of mechanics to build remote controlled cars that can toy with them. The special is basically like another OVA episode but with the same style and budget of the movie itself so it’s got a really great look to it. With direction by Shinichi Watanabe, he’s even managed to include himself in his Nabeshin outfit as someone just crossing the street. It’s an amusing little cameo inside a very fun episode.

The combination of the two shows results in a fun disc. This isn’t high a big high art sort of show or something where it’s shooting for the big thoughts but rather something that has a pretty basic storyline, a lot of racing and some good action scenes. I think it manages to do all three pretty well as the story served well in allowing for plenty of racing and some fun action to take place. The animation is really good and having been raised on the early Initial D looking vehicles, I love the much more streamlined and detailed look of these vehicles and the way they interact with the world around them. Some of the cel-shaded cars don’t look so hot in some places but it’s a mix in general that I think works more than it doesn’t, but it’ll really depend on how you feel about outright cg in your anime.

In Summary: 
Much like the OVA series, this isn’t a show that’s out to change the world but pretty much falls into the check your brain at the door category. The plot is pretty minimal and the characters haven’t changed since the OVA series but the racing scenes are still a lot of fun and the higher detailed action sequences made it all the more fun. Combined with the Danger Zone OVA that serves as an earlier story to the overall franchise with another pair of drivers, a good mix of fun is available on this release. For fans of the OVA series, this is a fun time and a little extra enjoyment after the fact of watching the OVA. I checked my brain at the door for this one and came away with a smile.

Japanese 5.1 Language, Japanese DTS 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, 30 Minute mini-feature, Danger Zone directed by Shinichi Watanabe, Illustration Gallery, Commercials & Trailers, Art Gallery, Textless Opening, Textless Ending

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

Released By: Geneon Entertainment
Release Date: October 12th, 2004
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic 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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