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Nanbaka Part 1 Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

The most stylish prison ever.

What They Say:
Welcome to Nanba, the world’s largest, impenetrable prison that houses some of the most dangerous and heinous criminals. At least that’s what they boast. Locked away in cell block 13 are four inmates out to prove that being in prison doesn’t mean you can’t have fun! Follow the hijinks of Jyugo, Uno, Rock, and Nico as they find the most creative and colorful ways to pass time behind bars.

Between daily prison breaks, gambling, and torturing guards, these four are the very definition of trouble for Officer Hajime. No matter what he threatens, these boys are determined to make the best of their life in prison and his a living misery. As for his co-workers? They’re mostly useless! Who’s really serving the life term here?!

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language in stereo while the English dub gets a 5.1 boost, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The show is one that works a good amount of action and wackiness into it so that it’s very busy in this area with all sorts of movement across it. The dialogue often works in this way as well as it’s almost like overacting in a way as they showcase themselves in most scenes and the four main characters compete for prominence. The action for it it is all over the map in what it does in movement and activity which keeps it pretty busy in good ways, working some dynamic moments and really driving home the craziness of it all. Dialogue may be all over the place throughout it but it’s done in a clean and solid way where there are no dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 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 thirteen episodes here are spread across two discs in a nine/four format, giving it plenty of room. Animated by Satelight, this series is all about high-motion action and a lot of really vibrant colors – and a lot of sparkling throughout with the characters. It’s filled with somewhat dark backgrounds of a more purple/blue variety but the main thrust of it is that they’re simple backgrounds more than anything else, keeping it fairly easy to encode. The high-motion foreground material with character animation holds up with with a good smoothness and lots to like in terms of solidity. The color vibrancy really stands out here with some great stuff as it works a range of colors across all the characters so that it’s not all standard uniforms. It’s a bright and colorful design overall and the vibrancy looks great with the encoding used here.

The packaging for this release brings us a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case that holds the four discs across both formats with hinges while also providing an o-card slipcover that uses the same artwork as the case. The o-card has a lot more vibrant colors because of the cardstock and that really does pay off here. The front cover uses the main key visual of the four main prisoners and their jailer together with paint all over the place. It really captures the colo style of the series and brings it to life wonderfully here. The back cover goes with a simple black/blue/pink design that provides the text in yellow to breakdown the premise as well as part of the technical grid. A few shots from the show reinforce the color design and we get a good technical grid that showcases how the formats are put together. While there are no inserts included with the release we do get a reverse cover where the left panel breaks down the episodes by number and title and the right uses the same artwork as the front cover.

The menu design for this release keeps things very simple as it goes for the static approach for both discs. It also goes for the simple design by using the same static image for both of them, which is admittedly a good one as it uses the character material from the front cover of the four main guys up close and zoomed in. It’s very vibrant and appealing with what it does, providing for something that sets the tone very well. The navigation along the lower left features a paint splotch with the simple text which isn’t much since there are no extras for the release. Setup is a breeze and accessing everything as both the main menu and the pop-up menu during playback is easy.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga of the same name from Sho Futamata, Nanbaka is a twenty-five episode series with an OVA that ran in the fall 2016 season and into the winter 2017 season. Animated by Satelight, it’s a show that really is quite distinctive from the first key visual which is captured very well by the animation. It’s bold and vibrant, wacky and serious, and runs the gamut with ease. The original manga began in 2016 and has six volumes out so far so there’s a decent bit of material to work with. The problem is whether the concept is decent enough to work with. While no publisher has picked it up for a print run at this time in English, it is getting some digital distribution through Crunchyroll manga so fans can continue the journey from there.

The focus for this series is on four men who have found themselves in Nanba prison, the one place that’s supposedly impossible to break out of. These four men had been multiple other prisons over the years and formed a bond of sorts and have now all ended up here in cell block 13 where they’re under the watchful eye of Hajime, a supervisor for the block. He’s a talented and strong individual that can handle the creativity of the prisoners of this place all while close to engaging in a relationship with the warden, a beautiful woman named Momoko that has a huge crush on him. But her cold ways and his inability to really initiate things mean a lot of awkward and misunderstood scenes between the two of them that play out to very good effect. Nanba prison has a kind of Vegas flair to it from the outside with what we see in the structure and some of the colors, but once inside it’s a bland place when it’s not doing something wacky.

The main focus of the series is on the wacky cast of four in the cell. The primary character is that of Jyugo, a young man who has five shackles on him that he’s not been able to remove and only a man he’s seeking out with a scar on the back of his neck can do it. That gives him an impetus to keep moving and searching but he’s also the loneliest and most isolated because of that. What helps is that he’s actually pretty damn intense fighter as we see which in its own way isolates him even more. We get a good bit of his backstory as time goes on and he really does come across as the primary character here, the one with greater motivations and background compared to the rest. Having that combined with a kind of aloof aspect with the other three prisoners of his group makes for a good opening half of the series since there’s camaraderie – but only so far.

The other three are interesting but a bit simpler. We get Uno who is looking to escape constantly because he’s interesting in booze, gambling, and women which highlights his skills in luck and intuition. You get Rock being the bigger one of the group physically that’s somewhat intimidating but is such a pushover for good food and constantly advocates for upgrades in the prison – including a stone oven that everyone ends up loving. The smallest of the group is Nico who is just totally into entertainment stuff like anime and just wants to have a good time being a fan. They’re not exactly one-note personalities but they’re fairly well defined. Amusingly, Jyugo is Japanese while Uno’s British and Rock and Nico are American. This doesn’t play into events too much but it provides a little variety to it all and helps to play to their personalities through it. For much of this season it’s mostly just quirks and interests they have that they’re defined by though.

The series doesn’t focus heavily on the group trying to break out of jail, though that’s an early focus. We get several guards in the mix that adds some fun comedy in how they interact with Hajime and Momoko and some of them try to befriend the prisoners as well. We get the addition of a ninja character that’s been captured but his story just feels kind of sad in a way as we dig into the background. While the first few episodes here worked well for me with its energy and vibrancy the whole thing took a bad turn for the middle arc or so as we get an inter-cell block tournament run that just went too big and wacky crazy in a way that didn’t work for me. For about four or so episodes worth of material and then some fallout from it. That does start to lead down the path of greater character material as Jyugo goes too far and the attempts to understand what he’s really after comes up, which lets the others start getting explored as well.

In Summary:
After watching so many long form anime series over the years, tournament arcs almost cause a minor visceral reaction from me at first glance simply because of what they’ve done before. It’s not a huge part of this series but occupying a third of this set definitely changes the energy of it early on. I really liked the first four or so episodes with the setup and the characters and then exploring more of the characters real stories as it progresses – including those on staff watching the prisoners. The visual design of the show is pretty great and I absolutely love what they did with the color work here as it’s appealing across the board. I’m definitely interested in what the second set holds and just hope there isn’t more tournament material.

Japanese 2.0 Dolby TrueHD Language, English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD Language, English Subtitles

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

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: July 17th, 2018
MSRP: $64.98
Running Time: 325 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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