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Sakura Wars TV Complete Collection SDBD Anime Review

20 min read
A new telling of a classic tale.
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A new telling of a classic tale.

What They Say:
In 1918, a giant demon appeared in Tokyo, and although the monstrous creature was finally defeated, the Imperial forces knew that something had to be done in anticipation of future attacks. The solution was the development of the Imperial Assault Force, an assembly of secret teams of dedicated young women gifted with a unique spiritual power that enables them to operate Kobu, steam-powered mechanical armor that combines the attributes of humanoid robots and tanks. While pretending to be normal, ordinary girls in everyday life, these brave battle maidens and their international counterparts stationed around the world must remain ever vigilant for assaults by demons sent by the leagues of evil magic users. Get ready for the wildest monster versus mecha fantasy ever in the incredible alternate history that is Sakura Wars!

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo and the previously created English language track that was done in 5.1. Both tracks are presented using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec, giving it a much higher bit rate to work with and a cleaner sound, it’s probably the best upgrade here even with the relatively limited musical component that exists. The forward soundstage has a decent application to it with dialogue mostly center channel placed but with some good moments where it goes bigger while also handling the quieter character dialogue material well. The action scenes are solid and they get a better bump in the 5.1 mix with the bass, but in the end both tracks service it well. The show may not be a big and bold one but it handles the music the best with the various songs while the character and action elements are just right.

Originally airing back in 2000, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The twenty-five episodes are spread across two discs with seventeen on the first and the remainder on the second, which is odd but it works. Animated by Madhouse, the release essentially repurposes the previous edition of this about a couple of years ago and it really needs some new and cleaned up Japanese materials. The show has some good detail to be had in the designs and mechanical elements and I like the color design a lot, but it’s working off some poor masters as there’s a lot of cross coloration to be had in it and some softness that’s just unsettling, especially in the earlier episodes. It’s stronger in some sequences and some episodes more than others, but it does stand out even with all the ways modern players attempt to correct for this. There’s also some nasty dot crawl in a few areas, notably with the eye-catch sequences. The source material and the masters are definitely showing their age and I had hoped that something better was going to be done with it before another re-release happened. But for those wanting fewer discs and to own a copy of the show, this is the best we’re getting in North America at this point.

The packaging for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that uses the same cover artwork as the 2016 DVD edition but changes out the Sentai Selects banner with the SDBD banner so it’s clear along the top of the front cover. The main visual is still a pretty great image of everyone in their uniforms looking great with some solid detail and some good mechanical design elements. It’s one of the more appealing pieces of cover artwork that’s been used over the years so I’m glad to see it again. The back cover goes a bit brighter as it uses a gold border here with a little mechanical aspect to it and within it we get a good shot of Sakura, a few colorful shots from the show of a decent size, and a solid breakdown of the overall premise for the series. The episode and disc count are clearly listed as are the extras – though the 5.1 audio I wouldn’t exactly call an extra. The remainder has the standard production credits and a clean and accurate technical grid. The release does offer a cleaner reversible cover and one that goes for the mechanical side with the mecha getting laid out with eight of them across the front and back while the center strip has the logo on the front and just the technical information on the back. It’s definitely a very different way of doing it but it offers up something for fans of that side of the show. No show related inserts are included with this release.

The menu design for this release goes with a very simple but serviceable approach that gets the job done. With no pop-up menu included due to it being an SDBD release, the main menu has a huge block with the episodes laid out, especially on the first where there are 17 episodes plus the language selection. It’s got a little bit of thematic style applied but is pretty straightforward. The right side, maybe a third of the screen, has some nice artwork of a few of the characters that’s bright and colorful. Everything is quick and easy to navigate and looks good when it loads up as it sets the tone with the big upbeat theme song.

The only extras included in this set are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Back when the Sakura Wars TV series came out, some sixteen years ago just to make some of us feel old, I was always a bit on the outside of it because I wasn’t playing the games and wasn’t exactly enamored with the music because of that disconnect. The concept was one that I liked well enough but the passion for it that drove many fans through the game side was something that I never found to be properly conveyed within the anime experience – be it the OVA series, the theatrical feature, or this TV series. With the TV series in 2000, they opted to go and retell the story once again and start from the relative beginning – which really isn’t a bad idea overall. Sakura Wars TV takes us on the longer view of things, and though some of the first few episodes will see overly familiar if you’ve gone through the first two OVA series, it picks up really nicely after that.

The series gets underway in the traditional method, which is the arrival of Sakura Shinguji to the capital. With an invite from Ikki Yoneda, she’s come to be a part of the Imperial Flower Combat Troop, a first-line defense arm that protects the capital from demons and other spiritually based creatures. They operate as a secrete arm of the nations military and have several differing divisions, such as the Dream or Wind units, each of them performing different aspects and goals. But it’s the Flower Troop that handles quite a bit of the front-line fighting and danger.

Sakura’s arrival at the headquarters proves to be everything she didn’t expect. Instead of a military establishment, it turns out to be the Grand Imperial Theater. And after making her way in and seeing one of the shows, she finds herself very fascinated with it, giving a nod to her more country bumpkin ways. After she manages to essentially ruin a segment of the Romeo and Juliet play that was being performed, she ends up meeting her new boss, Yoneda.

As it turns out, Yoneda explains, the Troop uses the theater as a cover to their operations. And though Yoneda doesn’t speak it outright, it also serves another more useful purpose, and that’s to foster teamwork and respect for each of the pilots. As each of them are required to participate in the plays, they end up learning to work with each other in a number of ways. When Sakura learns of this aspect of her employment, she’s quite unsure about the entire situation. And as the other women of the troop meet here, they pretty much shun her from the start.

A good portion of this first volume is centered around Sakura’s arrival and her learning the ways of her new trade. There is a substantial amount of trepidation among the cast about Sakura, and she works her way towards both winning them over and mastering her seemingly natural acting abilities. This works out very nicely as it gives a chance for all the primary characters to really be themselves and to expound on things important to them. But as we get towards the end of the first volume, the show starts bringing in the actual elements of danger in the form of an enemy as well as a new male member of the Troop.

The introduction of the enemy, lead by Crimson Miroku and the large Wakiji that terrorize the city. Their arrival brings into play a number of things, from a government that doesn’t quite care enough about its people at times to Sakura learning more about the spiritual powers she has. The spiritual powers are slowly explored in these episodes, mostly in relation to the Spirit Armor, aka the Koubu, and how each of the pilots of the Flower Troop interact with them. With the series taking place in the 1920’s, I definitely continue to like the mix of technology and the times to bring something different to the plate.

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