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Spirit of Wonder Anime DVD Review

7 min read

After a well-received OVA in the early 90’s, the new century saw a second work that resulted in this intriguing and definitely different set of shows.

What They Say
Brand new adventures awaits those who seek a new ‘Spirit of Wonder.’ As young boys, Cooper, Gordon, and Shepherd were enchanted by the theories of life on Mars published by Percival Lowell.

By forming a group club called the ‘Scientific Boys Club,’ trio pursues their long-time dream of traveling to Mars. And while the town of Bristol may be small, its always exciting! What’ll happen when the town’s own Miss China is shrunken to the size of a pea and travels to Mars in two very special short stories ‘Shrinking of Miss China’ and ‘Planet of Miss China.’

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo while the English dub gets the same, both of which are encoded at 224kbps. The episodes are done in a solid stereo mix with some really nice moments of directionality throughout, but nothing that really strikes out into amazing. The show is more focused on dialogue and ambient sounds and music to create the mood, which it does well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no technical issues with either language track.

Originally released to video in 2001, the OVA is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. While it’s showing a bit more in this high definition age, the standard definition transfer here is gorgeous for what it is with its traditional animation. There’s precious little to even nitpick about with it, as the usual problems of cross coloration and aliasing are pretty much absent here. Colors are rich and nicely layered, particularly the reds later in the episodes, without being over saturated or bleeding. Dark blues maintain a nice solid look to them with only a touch of a grainy look to them.

The packaging is a nice piece overall, but fairly bland in its general look. The front cover has the look and feel of an old photograph to some extent with an image of Windy outside with the ship in the background tied to the ground as she stands alongside a broken down fence. It’s a good image, but it doesn’t really push the ‘wonder and awe’ of the series itself, but it’s a hard concept to really be able to push on a cover. The back cover has a summary of the two-part storyline (and a blank area where I think the China summary would go) as well as a clear listing of the discs features and extras. A mix of screenshots lines the bottom and buffer the production credits for both sides of the Pacific. The insert provides the full image from the front cover without the border (which actually makes it look better I think) and opens up to a three-panel poster of China in sexy fight mode. One of the back panels provides summaries for the episodes while the main back panel provides the production staff and voice actors for the episodes, but only the Japanese voice actors, unfortunately.

The main menu is a decent looking animated piece in places where you have the central static image of the characters and the animated image of the ship flying in the background, all ringed with the classic SF symbols and lines. There are some transitional animations between menus slowing things up a bit, but submenus load nice and fast and getting around isn’t terribly bothersome with the animation.

This release is really chock full of extras but it’s deceptive. The bulk of them come in the interviews, which has text pieces with the original creator of the manga, the directors of the individual episodes here and even one with the publisher. They’ve all got a lot of interesting items in them that are just too wide to cover. The art gallery included has two this time, a color one that features 12 pieces and a line art one that has 19 pieces, including one really gorgeous one from the start. There’s also a handy liner notes section that covers some of the scientific phrases and terms used throughout the middle episodes.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Having enjoyed the original Spirit of Wonder OVA, the sequel was very much anticipated when it came out in 2001 and took a few years for it to arrive here. What wasn’t expected was that it didn’t have all that much to do with the original cast.

The presentation here provides an interesting way to watch it. There are four episodes here, broken down into two vignettes and two main episodes. The opening vignette has Miss China breaking into Breckenridge’s room once again over the rent, but this time she gets caught in the beam of energy from the device he and Jim were working on. Unfortuantely for her, it wasn’t just any old beam of light but one that started a shrinking process on her. Over the course of the next few days, she starts shrinking down and down until she fits between the floorboards. It’s an amusing little tale as we watch her changing and adapting to each situation, both in how she handles her life and handles her clothes. There’s some surprising fanservice in there.

This then leads the way to the bulk of the show, which is the two-part story entitled the Scientific Boys Club. The tale here is about a young couple named Windy and Jack, two people who look an awful lot like China and Jim at first glance, and their life together. Much like anything else in the Spirit of Wonder world, nothing is every quite normal. Windy and Jack and quite definitely in love, but Jack’s become enamored by the Scientific Boys Club, a group of graying old men who are trying to achieve their lifelong dream of going to Mars. Over time, they’ve been working and building, but they’re finally getting close to their objective.

One of them is the father of Windy and she has very little interest in all of their talk and bluster. For her, she simply wants to lead her life with her true love and enjoy the here and now. But with Jack so enamored and coming home dead drunk nearly every night along with her father, she doesn’t know quite what to do. What’s worse is that Windy is actually quite the gifted mathematical physicist, having even written a book that’s the basis for their plans to use the ether waves to float from the Earth to Mars. She doesn’t want to encourage Jack by helping with their calculations, but at the same time, she wants him to be happy, bringing a conundrum for her to deal with.

While we do get the human side of the story with these two episodes, we also get an expansive wonder story, with the kind of science fiction tale that was told in the time that this is set, back in 1958. The look and feel of the SF here is definitely ‘old school’, the kind that can be quite difficult to read today without properly placing your mindset. Much of it would be comical if it wasn’t done in such a way that it really does cause wonder. When you have panning shots across Mars, you can’t help but sit quietly and just absorb it, especially when you recognize certain shots from the recent lander missions there.

To close out the disc, there is a second Miss China vignette. Taking a bow to the original OVA, we have the same device that allowed the cast to ‘walk on the moon’ and interact with it there. Using the local beach, Breckenridge has set it up again with the intent to take a walk on Mars due to all the interest in it. Of course, he device doesn’t work quite as well as it should since Mars is considerably farther than the moon, the resulting situation brings a comical and almost trippy little adventure. It’s not quite as outright funny as the first one, but there are some good moments throughout it.

In Summary:
While I found myself quite enjoying all four of the stories here, I did leave the show with a sense of disappointment that it wasn’t as I had hoped in that I’d be getting an entire disc about Miss China and her life. The Scientific Boys Club was a great story and ended beautifully as well as bringing to mind the kind of ‘science fact’ of the 50’s that permeated science fiction novels in a nostalgic way. It just wasn’t what I thought I’d be getting, having based my expectations on the previous release. This is definitely enjoyable and I’ll likely find myself enjoying it even more next time, having gotten rid of the preconceptions I had about it.

Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Miss China Mini Poster, Art Gallery, Interviews

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

Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Release Date: September 2nd, 2003
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

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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