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Embracing Love: A Cicada in Winter Anime DVD Review

8 min read
Young men fall in love on opposite sides of ideology and the currents of time amid the Boshin War.

Young men fall in love on opposite sides of ideology and the currents of time amid the Boshin War.

What They Say:
In Japan, the Tokugawa Era represents a period of change in which the country must decide on how best to deal with its relationships with foreign countries. While many believe in isolationism, especially among the Choshu faction, Touma Kusaka’s ideals are against his clan’s. He secretly attempts to learn English for the purpose of preparing for the future of an open Japan. To this end, he gains an ally for his silent struggle in a man named Keiichiro Akizuki, despite the fact that Akizuki is on the opposing side, the Tokugawa shogunate. During the course of their interaction, their bond deepens into something beyond commonality.

The Review:
Audio: 
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track only and it’s a stereo mix encoded at 192kbps. Which is about all it really needs for as basic as the show itself is. Embracing Love is really just a dialogue piece with some music accents here and there so it comes across well enough and is essentially problem free. There isn’t much to say about it other than we had no problems with the single audio track on here during regular playback.

Video: 
Originally released in 2007, the transfer for this three episode OVA series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. While not a lavish OVA production, the general animation quality is rather solid here and Kitty uses some decent bitrates for it which gives it a very smooth and solid feel overall. The series uses the time period well so there are a lot of great looking backgrounds to look at. While the animation is somewhat par for the course for a boys-love show, the overall visual quality of the show is rather solid and the widescreen presentation helps give it a bit more of an epic romantic feel. The three episodes are generally problem free outside of a bit of noise here and there so fans of the franchise will definitely enjoy this release.

Packaging: 
Covers like this are interesting when they’re done since you have to wonder if they go too far in one direction or another. This release is a bit too soft for my tastes with the colors as there’s a lot of purples to it, but I’m not exactly the main audience either. The pairing of Akizuki and Kusaka together certainly isn’t a surprise nor that Akizuki has a strong feminine feel to him with the outfit he has as well as the umbrella. The back cover has much the same feel, with a few more shots to show that there’s some man love going on here, but still retaining the purple hues where appropriate to let Akizuki come across as the more effeminate of the two. The summary runs through the basics of the pairing and there’s a clean listing of the disc extras alongside the production credits. The technical grid is solid as always with a very clear listing of what to expect from the release. No insert is included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu: 
The menu is laid out similar to the front with the same artwork but it comes across much more vibrant and colorfully. The logo and navigation along the bottom has the same angled feel that the logo does on the front cover. The navigation is fairly straightforward though I’m surprised they offered a setup menu since it doesn’t really have anything to select. Submenus load quickly and we had no problems navigating around with what’s here. With only one language, player presets obviously aren’t an issue at all.

Extras:
The extras for this volume include the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences which is definitely a nice inclusion considering how good they look at times.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the successful release of the two-episode Haru o Daiteita series, conceived as a manga by Youka Nitta, Embracing Love is given another go around in a very different form. Similarities abound in character designs as is expected, but the time period has shifted to the 1860s where the nation of Japan is rife with problems. Into all of this comes a little bit of Romeo and Juliet really, except both are men and their country is being torn apart by two sides of a conflict.

This particular time period is rather well used for anime and manga series since it offers up so much tension and political material for a backdrop to the character events. It almost seems like you can shoehorn in any kind of storyline against it and it’d work without a hitch. It’s little surprise that Youka Nitta would take her familiar characters, formerly seen as porn actors in Cherished Spring, and rework them into the Boshin War at the end of the Tokugawa period. As one can expect, the two principal leads come from very different walks of life. Kusaka is a man who wants to find peace and a way to adapt and learn from the foreigners, but this isn’t a position that has him fitting in well with many of his Choshu clan mates. He’s not for the violence that many are provoking, violence that has gotten him into trouble once again as a bombing now has him caught up in the clean-up afterward.

It’s at this period that Kusaka meets a young policeman samurai who lets him and his friend Aizawa escape from capture. His simple words that such things need not be handled in this way mirrors Kusaka’s belief as well. When the two end up meeting again a year later, the samurai looks quite different with his hair grown out but is familiar enough to Kusaka. Introduced as Akizuki, the two end up hitting it off fairly well as each has a similar view on how Japan needs to change in regards to foreigners. Kusaka is drawn to him for the way he talks and expresses himself but also because Akizuki is able to help teach him some English. Their friendship is one that helps both of them in the long run as they’re amenable to each other and have much to talk about as they meet in relative secret to avoid the eyes of others because of what they talk about.

Naturally, somewhere along the way, Kusaka began to realize his feelings for Akizuki were more than just that of a really good friend. Little things here and there pushed the two of them closer and closer together. But with the realization that eventually he’d have to fight with him because of their respective sides in the culture war that was going on, Kusaka decided that his best bet was to head overseas to continue his education. His greatest fear is that of having to face his love on the battlefield and he couldn’t bring himself to do that. He actually does reveal this to Akizuki however, though with little real hope considering the age and time, but he’s shocked to find that Akizuki feels just as strongly towards him. Not quite pleading, Akizuki insists that Kusaka leaves him with more than just words to leave him wanting until Kusaka comes back in the future.

Embracing Love covers a lot of ground across the three episodes and much of this setup is done in the first episode and a half or just under that. The relationship between the two men is given a good deal of time to grow and they do a good job of taking the storyline over several years as the conflict rages on. From its smaller times to the later when Kusaka finds himself working in the new government, the transition from period to period is potentially fascinating when you add in the angle of two men in love. Their passions are kept mostly under wrap through a lot of this, but there are some stronger scenes where they get very physical with each other. There’s no graphic material in that you see body parts going at it like you do in normal adult shows, but you know exactly what’s going on here underneath the sheets or the clothes. It’s certainly titillating in that regard since sometimes the less blatant it is the more exciting it can be. It does get rather awkward in the final episode though considering what one of the characters goes through and that can be somewhat unsettling at times.

In Summary: 
A Cicada in Winter comes across better than the Cherished Spring OVA series from 2004 simply because it doesn’t feel as contrived or forced. With an extra episode to work with and the widescreen aspect, the series feels a bit more relaxed and it uses the location and scenery to help tell the story more effectively. In the end though, it really does have that whole Romeo and Juliet thing going from a different angle or two but with enough of the familiar. Taken out of the modern day context and some of the poor behavior by some of the characters from the previous OVA series, Embracing Love comes across more honestly and more interestingly than it has before. Boys-love fans will enjoy this but it may be one that can sneak a few more eyeballs as well because of its production values.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

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

Released By: 18+
Release Date: Kitty Media
MSRP: $29.99
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic 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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