What They Say:
Modest Heroes is an ambitious anthology of three thrilling tales created by some of the greatest talents working in Japanese animation today.
Together, the stories (Kanini & Kanino, Life Ain’t Gonna Lose, Invisible) explore ideas of heroism in everyday life, and the infinite potential of the short film format which allows the directors and Studio Ponoc to experiment with breathtaking, action-packed visuals, concise human drama, and gorgeous fantasy worlds in this unforgettable showcase that is a further demonstration of the studio’s exciting future.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in 5.1 as well as the English dub in the same, both of which are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The film has a pretty good range overall and while there aren’t any really big expansive sequences that take advantage of the 5.1 aspect of it, there are a lot of really good areas that do. Each short has some standout moment that knows what to do in terms of going big but they’re much shorter overall, instead working the rear channels more for ambient effects and some key moments. The dialogue is generally fairly standard forward soundstage material, though it’s only the middle story that has any amount of significant dialogue overall. Everything is nicely placed and there’s some good directionality to be had from time to time there. Overall, it’s a very solid mix and the only problem I really had was that it didn’t want to subtitle much of the opening story and tried to get away with it by implied aspects since there’s so much repetition.
Originally in theaters in 2018, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Clocking in at 53 minutes, the Studio Ponoc animated film has plenty of space to work with and uses a good bit rate to accomplish its goals. The result is a work that looks fantastic in each of its individual stories, though some will stand out more in some areas than others. I love the visual design of each as they’re different works that showcases the variety that the studio can handle and each surprise in its own way. The encoding for this captures it all really well with beautiful colors throughout, some fantastic detail that’s visible in high and low motion sequences, and some fluidity that really is a delight to watch play out before you. It’s a crisp, clean, and pretty much flawless looking piece for most people and it’s something that you could easily use to show off any home theater system with.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the discs for both formats on the walls without any hinges. The o-card that the first pressing comes with replicates the case artwork with better color definition thanks to the cardstock. And it’s decent as we get the triptych style approach with a slotted color along the bottom while the top has the key character piece from each film. The large wide white shot in the middle with the logo would normally bother me a little but it works well since this is basically a short anthology film. The back cover expands with some nice shots from the show spread out and a decent breakdown of the stories involved and who Studio Ponoc is. Add in a clean list of extras and the usual logos along the bottom and it comes together well. While there are no show related inserts, the reverse side does come with a nice background visual from the first story.
The menu design for this release is pretty simple as it’s just a blue bar along the bottom with the selections in white while having a yellow highlight box but it works well in a way that’s hard to pin down. The colors just click and it has all the right workings otherwise with quick load times and it doesn’t interfere much during regular playback. What the majority of the menu is made up of are clips from the three shorts and it works well with a good bit of action and design in it to get you curious about what’s to come. The logo along the upper right is simple in its overall design and doesn’t obstruct hardly at all, which is an added plus. It’s a solidly functional menu that does exactly what it needs to do.
The extras for this release are pretty solid overall with a good bit to dig into. With some very appealing art galleries that made me wish we had a limited edition with an art book, the first piece is a 22-minute look at Studio Ponoc and those who work there and why, giving us a look at the people behind it all. The release also includes the 10-minute press conference after the film was completed and they had a premiere screening event and it includes the cast and the directors which is always fun. Wrapping it up are the interviews with the Japanese cast, which clocks in at about 9-minutes and breaks them out by their project as you’d expect.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Studio Ponoc got launched formally in 2017 with the debut of Mary and the Witch’s Flower and it’s had a good bit of excitement behind it as it was formed by one of the Studio Ghibli producers, Yoshiaki Nishimura back in 2015. A number of other folks from Ghibli have joined up in the last couple of years as well so there’s a kind of “second generation” Ghibli aspect to it that was welcome, made more so by how that film looked very much like a Ghibli film. After that project was wrapping up, the focused shifted to something that would show off more of what the studio is capable of and that resulted in Modest Heroes, an anthology film of three works that were directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Yoshiyuki Momose, and Akihiko Yamashita. Each is distinct in and of itself and in my last mention of Ghibli, I think each one could have been produced by that studio over the years with its style.
The opening story, Kanini & Kanino, gives us a fun little underwater tale where a pair of siblings that live in this part of the stream are living with their father while their mother is away getting ready to give birth. The kids are young but capable of surviving in the stream and learn to do so when their father is carried off and they go to rescue him. It’s fairly straightforward in terms of story but it does so with very little dialogue and mostly just the core group calling out to each other, which isn’t subtitled. It puts the kids on their own for a bit and we see them dealing with a few obstacles, including to what is to them a giant fish that will gobble them whole just as they get close to rescuing their dad. Underwater stories aren’t the easiest to animate at times but it comes across beautifully here and I loved the way the family bond is presented so well visually.
The second story, “Life Ain’t gonna Lose,” really worked well for me. This is another small family story where we get a young schoolboy named Shun who has a lethal allergic reaction to eggs. His parents are naturally very protective and they have to educate him very early on about how he has to avoid certain foods, really think about what he’s doing, and to just be so situationally aware in a way that little kids usually aren’t that it’s heartbreaking. Especially when foods that you buy suddenly become “new and improved” without knowing and they add in the ingredient you’re allergic to. It’s hard to watch what Shun has to go through but it’s also hard watching the parents as they live in a small state of constant fear because of how acute it is. There’s a beautiful moment with his mother working as a dancer and she sees him almost eating a cookie out of the corner of his eye and has to make the mad dash to stop him. The hurt in his eyes, the fear in hers, the questioning looks of others… it just hits home hard.
The final story is Invisible which focuses on a salaryman that very much feels that way and is animated thusly. We see his outfit and the things he does, but he himself is invisible. He has to weigh himself down a bit so he doesn’t float away, which takes things to a cute surreal level later in the story, but it’s interesting to see how he’s ignored in so many ways boy co-workers, cashiers, and even doors and ATMs when you get down to it. It’s very light on the dialogue but is so expressive in what it does here without any eyes or facial expressions to follow that you have to love it for its ability to show so much through the rest of the body movements. It’s also my favorite in terms of design, especially when the rain starts and much more so when he races the truck toward the end. It’s just absolutely beautiful animation and design work that won me over.
As with any anthology film, you can never be sure what you’re going to get and you’ll always have something that stands out more than others, or is weaker than the rest. Modest Heroes falls into that category where I like all of them but the opening is the weaker of them while I’m hard-pressed to pick the best between the other two as they’re so different and so excellent. It’s a fantastic release that should be an animation showcase on any setup and they’re wonderful stories on top of that. The film looks fantastic here with rich colors and detail that comes together beautifully in a tight little package. It has a number of good extras included as well and delivers exactly what you want out of it. Very recommended and has me hopeful for what’s to come from Studio Ponoc.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Behind the Scenes Featurette
Released By: GKIDS/Shout! Factory
Release Date: June 18th, 2019
Running Time: 54 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
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.