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Ai No Kusabi Unchained Blu-ray Anime Review

7 min read
A strange adventure with a small amount of sex.

A strange adventure with a small amount of sex.

What They Say:
Set in a dystopian future where the mostly male society on the planet Amoi lives under the authoritarian control of a supercomputer named Jupiter. Since a social class is determined by the color of one’s hair, Iason sits at the top of the pecking order as a ‘blondie’. He is given a lot of latitude in his daily life but draws unwanted attention when he chooses to take on a ‘mongrel’ gang leader named Riki The Dark as a ‘pet.’ There are no taboos against those in the lighter-hair classes staking claim to lower class dark-haired citizens but the intensity of their relationship begins to draw dangerous attention. As emotions and tensions deepen, will Iason and Riki escape the fateful consequences of their forbidden romance and for violating the strict caste system?

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the English language dub, both of which are done using the uncompressed PCM format. The show has some moments of action to it and some decent sequences of movement here and there, but it is more focused on dialogue and atmosphere than anything else. What we get is a show that feels like it takes us into its world pretty solidly and we get a clean and easy to access show. Dialogue is well placed as needed and it works the highs and lows well. There’s some decent placement here and there and it moves well but it handles the dialogue cleanly and clearly with no dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally released throughout 2012, the transfer for this four-episode OVA series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The single-disc release is animated by AIC with a number of strong studios involved with them to give us a pretty good looking show. There are some areas where things aren’t quite as good looking with the movement of CGI ships and the like, but the overall draw is the character designs. These look good and move well with plenty of detail and a good sense of color designs. The animation maintains well with nothing to be had in terms of real blocking or noise but there are some weaker moments in a few areas where the animation is a bit simpler and doesn’t look quite as good. But overall, fans of the show will be pleased to get a very good looking release here.

The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the single disc inside. The “Unchained Edition” looks good with the artwork used to give us an idea of the characters and their designs but just the sense of power that exists here. The logo is kept along the upper left which looks good and the overall darkness of the cover with the color palette used draws you to the characters well. The back cover has a solid breakdown of the premise and we get a good run of shots from the show as well. The extras are clearly listed and the technical grid breaks everything down cleanly and accurately. It also proclaims that this is the first yaoi-themed show dubbed in English that also has a Blu-ray release so it is particularly noteworthy.

The menu design for this release goes with a static approach that works well with its colors to set the mood for it. The layout puts the two leads along the sides while a larger middle segment lets part of them show through underneath the navigation. Things are straightforward here with large selections in block form underneath the appealing title that has some style to it. It’s quick and easy to navigate about it but there’s only a main menu and no pop-up menu to utilize during regular playback.

The extras for this show are pretty standard but welcome as we get the clean opening and closing sequences as well as seven minutes of promotional videos.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the novel by Rieko Yoshihara, Ai no Kusabi 2012 is the second OVA series produced for the work. The original OVA was a two-part piece back in 1992 that I think I’ve seen and the novel has seen release here previously. This incarnation landed in 2012 with four episodes that clocks in at just a bit under two hours, giving it more room to tell its tale and spread things out. The show saw Katsuhito Akiyama directing it and Rieko Yoshihara came on board to write the scripts for it, which made it more authentic for the fans. It serves up some solid animation as AIC handled the animation for it as they’ve never shied away from shows with some sexytimes in it or with themes that you tend to not see in a lot of other anime projects.

The science fiction series takes us to a world called Amoi where there’s a structure to how everything exists to keep it running right. The computer, called Jupiter, set up a class system with elites, middle class, and the rest under. That rest are called Mongrels and are basically playthings of the Elites, who, in a strange turn, are sterile. They keep a range of Mongrels for around a year and use them through voyeuristic methods to get some sense of satisfaction before they discard said Mongrels. And, naturally, most of them are in the late teenage years in order to be appealing to the Elites. Those Elites are also pretty distinctive as they largely look alike with the blonde hair and Nordic look, which is a contrast to the obviously rougher look of the Mongrel class. There are other Elite types with a range of hair colors but the focus here is largely on the blondes that are the elites of the elites.

Within this, our focus is on Riki, an intense young man who has found a strong love while taken in as a pet of Iason. Mimea is an attractive woman that fell for Riki just as much and the two make an attractive couple, but as pets things are pretty limited in a lot of ways. Everything goes south for the both of them as they were engaged in a secret affair that wasn’t allowed and Mimea was punished severely for it, which causes Riki to plot an escape into the city of Midas in order to find a life somewhere in the slums of Ceres. The problem with all of this is that Iason basically allowed this to happen, figuring that Riki’s time in the slums would draw him back to something more beautiful and safe. With both of them having very distorted worldviews because of how isolated they are and how their upbringings have skewed them, it’s not exactly the best plan in a lot of ways – for either of them.

The show takes us through both of their paths, though Riki gets the greater focus, and we see more of how this world works and the kinds of male sexual relationships that exist. It doesn’t go as heavily into it as one might think and it’s usually somewhat obscured in order to titillate without going the full distance, but this also keeps it from being like a lot of the really dark yaoi material out there that’s brutal in how the dominant treats the other. And there is that background piece with Mimea that surfaces from time to time as well, so it’s not strictly just a yaoi piece. The show, for me, was a bit hard to get into not because of that but because of the way it shifts in its time moving forward so that we cover the year or so. Skipping ahead six months in the third episode means a lot of life lived but mostly mundane, but it all kept me feeling at a distance from Riki as he carves out a life until Iason ends up crossing into his orbit again and complicating everything.

In Summary:
Ai no Kusabi works better in this incarnation than the two-episode one from far too long ago as it gets more space to spread its wings. But I still found myself struggling with it in trying to connect with the story. The world design is interesting but it really comes through that lens of the early ’90s with an upbringing an earlier decade or two. It has that sense of not fully formed and design to achieve a particular goal without the rest of it really making a large amount of sense. There’s an appeal in that, as I grew up with a lot of weird ‘70s science fiction and earlier, but this show just didn’t hit well for me. Riki has some interesting moments but I didn’t find him accessible while Iason is similar but even more aloof. It’s the kind of work that I’d love to see completely written anew from today with the core ideas and into something larger and more meaningful in terms of story and richness of character.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Promotional Videos, Textless Opening & Textless Closing Sequences

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

Released By: Media Blasters
Release Date: December 19th, 2017
MSRP: $39.99
Running Time: 120 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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