What They Say:
There are over 120 million people living in modern Japan, and over 38 million live in the greater Tokyo area alone. Some live in incredible luxury, while others to struggle to survive. But from the high to the low, all are connected through the complex web that binds us all, the bonds of family and relationships. Yet there are times when the isolating nature of urban life tears and tatters that fragile safety net to the breaking point. At times like this, each person can only do the best they can. To meet the challenge or fail. To rise or to fall. Eventually, all of us must make that transition from one part of life to another. From the award-winning manga by Masao Yajima and Kenshi Hirokane, these are the interweaving stories of the Human Crossing.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language in stereo along with the dub that Geneon Entertainment commissioned. Both are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec which certainly is different from how the DVDs were done years ago but it only makes so much of an impact with a show like this. Being a series that’s based on the lives of Japanese people, it’is a pretty standard stereo mix that’s not terribly overactive since it’s heavily dialogue driven and there aren’t really all that many scenes that you could term action scenes. The opening and closing segments have probably one of the fullest sounding areas of the show and come across well. Everything is crisp and clean throughout it and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2003, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 480p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episodes are in standard definition form and on one disc with plenty of room to work with. The material in the show is done with a real-world style but without going for the somewhat traditional dull and pale look that a lot of shows in this vein tend to go for. Instead, it’s well animated for the time and intent with some good vibrant colors throughout and a certain lushness in a lot of scenes. The color palette is pretty lively with a rich choice in a lot of the background and character design colors. We didn’t have a lot of issues with the original DVDs from years ago but everything has a better look here. With the bit rate operating in the mid-teens for the most part and better tools to encode with, it’s a very clean look outside of some mild stuttering that you get during panning sequences that are part of the animation itself from this period. There are no problems with gradients, macroblocking, or aliasing that used to be common with shows like this. It’s also obviously a plus to get it all on one disc.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case and updates the stripe along the top to indicate that it’s a standard definition release on Blu-ray. The main cover uses a familiar concept for it as there’s no central character here with the busy city crossing zone dominating but done through a blue filter that covers most of the cover. We do get a range of shots from the show sliced to the side of the front that conveys a look at the character designs but there’s really no good way to present this show in cover form from what I’ve seen since its initial release. The back cover brings out more of the character shot slice and spends a lot of its real estate on the summary of the premise itself. The production credits are clean and easy to read and the technical grid breaks down everything clearly and accurately so you know what you’re getting into. The back also reinforces that it’s a standard definition show along the top. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this does what it can with what’s presumably minimal materials but we get a good downward view of part of a city block with the high rise buildings all done through a blue filter that makes it feel modern in a good way. The top half presents this while the bottom goes for a breakdown of individual episode selection boxes where we get the numbers and titles. A smaller section along the bottom offers up languages and other options. It’s quick and easy to navigate and setup. Unfortunately, and I’m guessing this is part of the trade-off with it being an SDBD, is that you can’t access the menu as a pop-up during playback, which if you’re checking for which episode you’re on can make it a little problematic. You can use the top menu button to go back and it listed what episode I was one and hitting that button again returns you to where you left off. It’s not a huge loss but it’s unfortunate.
None, sadly, as we don’t even get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Knowing originally in Japan as Human Scramble, Human Crossing is a thirteen episode series that aired during the spring 2003 season. It’s based on the twenty-seven volume manga series by Masao Yajima and Kenshi Hirokane that ran in Big Comic Original from 1981 to 1991, which unsurprisingly has never been licensed. The anime saw a pick up after it aired through Geneon Entertainment, who dubbed it, and we had it across four single volumes before eventually getting a complete collection just before Geneon shuttered. At the time of its original release, there was pretty much no buzz for the show because of its nature but it was something that I was very excited about because it was something that had originally gotten me into anime.
Back when I first got into the medium and for pretty much a decade thereafter, most of what was out there was shows like Robotech and then the first groups of releases like Bubblegum Crisis, Akira, and a lot of other action-heavy OVA or films. At the initial age and then a couple of years following, there was definitely a lot of appeal for shows like that. But in the early 90’s I managed to get some exposure to other shows like Video Girl Ai, Kimagure Orange Road, and Urusei Yatsura. Each of them had outlandish elements to them but they were also very much based in reality in a lot of ways, or with Urusei Yatsura, it was based in a long and detailed cultural/religious heritage that was easily had fun with. These are the shows that had me change from being a fan of action anime into someone who became fascinated with Japanese culture itself since they opened a window into a new world that was different than what I had known.
Now that doesn’t mean my view of Japanese culture is just based on anime and manga, so don’t misread. But my enjoyment of shows that deal with the slice of life aspect is something that I enjoy immensely and something like Human Crossing appeals to me quite a bit. Just like any series that deals with the lives of people in any country, there’s a fountain of story ideas to work with and a wide range of things that can be told. Human Crossing works standalone tales in each episode about different people and a critical point in their life. These aren’t world toppling stories or things that are going to change the perception of anime in general, but for someone like me, these are very fun and enjoyable pieces that showcase parts of what anime is able to accomplish that’s rarely done with western animation.
The opening story is one that brings us to the boxing arena once as we follow a young man who’s just won his fourth title defense and is getting close to breaking the legendary Ohba’s record. While the boxing segments aren’t given all that much screen time in the episode, we do get to see his training period and what got him into it. The show follows two interesting points; one of them is how the character has changed since a little boy when his mother wounded him and he’s held a grudge against her since then about many things she’s done in her life. The other interesting plot point is how the character is something of a new kind of hero, one that’s not had to work hard for anything, not from a down and out family and one that is like many other new celebrities and entertainers in that they’re from the good life in general and don’t have the real push or drive that really gets them to excel like others. And that it’s viewed as a good thing. The two pieces don’t relate directly as it’s more of a character study of how he has to deal with the changes in his life and what he’s done to his mother, but they’re both interesting story elements.
One story that I liked a lot had to do with a father who has very strong positive memories from his youth when his own father, who he never saw much at all due to work, brought him a new bicycle. The bicycle gave him freedom to leave his small world and to explore new areas and towns nearby and opened up everything to him. This has been a long-held memory of his and as he heads home with a new bicycle for his own son, he’s eager to see the excitement and joy there that he once felt himself. So when his son doesn’t even turn to look at it and instead continues to watch his show, it sends him into a bit of an internal spiral over the next few months as he tries to understand what he’s done wrong, or what he didn’t understand in his own past that maybe caused him to misinterpret his own feelings over the years. This delves into his own work ethic and things with his job but what’s interesting is that he does take the time to actually talk to his wife about it and try to understand things. Of course, it’s easy to understand some of it with the son because you just have to look at the lives of kids today and all that they often have if you’re in the middle class range. The number of gadgets and “necessary” toys always seems to go up and for a lot of kids, how can a bicycle compare?
Another story that I really liked had to deal with a hotshot reporter who was stationed at the papers main office but finds himself being reassigned to a regional paper as something of a punishment for his attitude and other problems he’s caused. He’s come up with a number of scoops during his time there, but at the age of thirty-one, he’s considered something of a youngling that needs more time to mature before he can be properly used. Most of his stories were never used and he finds himself always going up against his boss trying to do what he wants instead of what he’s assigned.
When he’s out there in the field, he’s completely uninterested in everything about it. When spending time at the press club where it’s filled with slightly older men who help each other out with stories, he ignores them and just doesn’t get involved. He doesn’t like the area, the people or anything about being out there and makes it plainly obvious. It’s unfortunate since his wife is very happy to be there, happy to see him more and to be with such nice neighbors and have what’s turned out to be a better life by being there. This only serves to infuriate him more. Watching as he struggles against this and then lets his ego get in the way when a big story does break, it turns into something of a lesson on how real reporters should be, which I can’t help but find comical based on the way the newspaper/journalism field is here in this country these days.
Past the halfway mark of the series brings us to something that I don’t rightly recall being done in any anime series to some extent, or at least not in this vein. We’re introduced to a woman who has just begun her tenure as a prison guard. She’s ended up having trouble with one woman in particular who has messed with her by lying about her past and just giving her grief in general. The guard is being watched closely by her superiors as she’s not exactly the best guard out there and a bit too trusting, and she still has a lot to learn about what it means to be a guard in a women’s prison. The entire thing is a fairly simple romance story that’s undergone problems, but the setting is new and while it’s probably not the most realistic, it’s one of the first attempts at a “real-life” setting version of it. The ending though is something that can only happen in film and anime, as much as it does tug on the old heartstrings.
Another episode does a bit of a shift in things by starting out taking place in Paris where we meet a young couple who are living up their lives in that time and place, surrounded by art, culture and a sense of change swirling about, only to see how it all changes when he returns to Tokyo to deal with the death of an uncle and ends up doing some artwork for a friends business. His work ends up becoming a major attraction and wins numerous prizes, but more importantly, it sets him on the path to commercial design and artwork and away from the creative energies and pieces he was doing before. For his wife, this causes her to feel pain over what’s happened and as the years go on, the two drift apart. The focus shifts from how it all started to where they are now eighteen years later and the way the relationship has become hollow. It’s interesting since she goes on about how he lost what he was while he tries to get her to understand that even though he has, he’s found something else that he enjoys and loves doing. It’s an interesting angle since most pieces would have him just talking about the money itself (which he does) but leaving out that aspect. The show is surprisingly critical of Japanese culture and art which is a nice change of pace since it tries to show where things have gone wrong in a number of areas.
It was also interesting to see in the other episode a look at the way relationships and families have always been different in some ways, or at least for some people. The episode focuses around a relatively new family whose finally built the home of their dreams only to surprisingly have an old woman move in with them one day. As it unravels, we learn of her relationship to the husband of the family and his own parents through flashbacks and dialogue. The concept of a mistress certainly isn’t new (either here or in Japan) but it was interesting to see how they played it out against family feelings, from the death of the father with whom she had the relationship to how she’s felt about her life and what she missed but wouldn’t give up. This episode is the kind of piece that’s reflective of the continuing changing look of families across the “modern” world in general which made me happy to see since it shows both the problems and the pluses of such things instead of just vilifying it.
When we get toward the end, we get another bad girls episode but done a bit differently as it follows an instructor at a girls reformatory who has to deal with the worst kind of person that’s brought there – the repeat offender. Something like ten percent of the girls who leave the reformatory come back for something else and they end up being the worst to deal with for any number of reasons. The instructor in this episode has one of those at the start of the show and it spawns the memory of another one he went through some years prior, a young woman named Akemi who had run away from home, ended up in a gang of some sort and was selling her body on the streets for drugs and alcohol as well as food. He took her on as he did anyone else but he felt more for her in wanting to see her succeed and get on with a normal life that he went above and beyond the call of duty when things went bad for her.
While the reformatory material is fairly standard stuff, it’s the interactions of the people that is what this series is all about. When Akemi manages to break out of the reformatory, the instructor goes off to find her even though he probably shouldn’t. This cements the bond between them so that when she does finally leave after serving her time, she sends him letters every month for well over a year before they stop for some reason. The way this works is such a nice break in tradition as he has no romantic feelings towards her but just the feelings of someone concerned about someone else, something that’s usually just not given much screen time in any series. His efforts to find her in the red light district where the letters originate from has him feeling she fell back into old patterns, but instead we see something far different and the emotions that flow from it just feel all the more honest.
For a lot of reasons, a series like this is hugely appealing to me. With some standard stories tied with some cultural issues and the differences of living in a place like Japan as opposed to the US, Human Crossing provides a window into another world where the differences are small but at times critical in just how differently a story will play out. I really enjoyed this when I watched it back in 2005 and it’s always been in the back of my head, a show that I never thought would get another lease on life. While not everything gets a happy ending or truly fully resolved, we get to look into parts of these characters lives and see just what motivates them or confounds them, what helps them excel and what holds them back from achieving success. I’m very glad that it got this pickup and that Maiden Japan didn’t try to just roll it out on DVD but rather gave it a better run as an SDBD with better encoding, fewer restraints on the bit rate, and the lossless audio mixes. It’s a show that has always been engaging to me and I hope people explore it and find something interesting in it.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Maiden Japan
Release Date: January 8th, 2019
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480p AVC
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.