What They Say
Deep down beneath the capital city of Tokyo, Japan, there exists a large, vast, and unknown world known as the “Underground”. There, people known as Elemental Users exist; people who have the ability to control the elements: Fire, Water, Lightning, Magnetism and Ice. Meet Rumina Asagi and his best friend Ginnosuke Isuzu, two average high school freshmen who reside in Tokyo. When they meet the gravity user known as Chelsea Rorec, and the “Miko of Life”, Ruri Sarasa their whole life changes into one big adventure.
This release comes with the full range of audio options ” Dolby Digital stereo & 5.1 tracks and DTS options in both Japanese and English. Since the region 1 version of Tokyo Underground only came with 2.0 tracks, it seems Manga’s done a little work here. I listened to primarily the Japanese DTS track for this review but used the other available tracks for some episodes. While sound effects and music make reasonable use of the front soundstage, the dialogue is, for the most part, locked to the center, regardless of where the character’s speaking from. The surround tracks seem to be up-conversions of the original 2.0 soundtrack and don’t really add anything to them. In all cases, the audio is clear and free of any obvious problems.
The series is presented in its original 1.33:1 full-frame format. The animation style of the show is quite simplistic, with scenes often lacking in real detail, although good use is made of colour to bring life to the settings used. The transfer is good, with no obvious encoding issues to be aware of. Subtitles use a white font with thin black border which isn’t the easiest to read, but is manageable.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
The menus for each of the six discs follow the same basic pattern ” a series of clips from the volume runs in the background with a static image of one of the main characters in the foreground, with a clip of the first opening song providing the musical accompaniment. Menus are provided for episode selection and language set up. There’s a short transition animation with each screen change, but nothing too intrusive. The small number of available options makes the menus quick and easy to use.
Deep under Tokyo is the Underground, a hidden city where years previously a series of experiments into genetic manipulation had been conducted. One of those experiments had created Dragons – the real, fire-breathing deal, by most accounts – that were dangerous enough to be a threat to the surface world, and so Underground was sealed off, its inhabitants locked forever beneath the surface. In the time since, the Company has taken control, and as well as providing the power and light that keep Underground habitable has turned into the top tier of a ruthless police state.
One other result of the experiments carried out underground was the creation of Elemental Users – human beings with the power to control the elements. For most, their powers are limited to control of water or magnetism, but for some, the powers are much greater. Enter Chelsea Rorec, a guard with the Company and a rare Gravity user, and Ruri Sarasa, the Maiden of Life, whose elemental power is the ability to resurrect the dead – one of a kind, and as such of great value to the Company.
So far, so good. One day, for reasons only explained towards the end of the series, Chelsea decided to forsake the Company and take her young charge to the surface. On arrival there, they met Rumina Asagi and his friend Ginnosuke Isuzu, but with Company being unwilling to let their most prized possession go it’s not long before Ruri is recaptured and taken back to the Underground. With Rumina having fallen in love with Ruri pretty much at first sight, he’s keen to go and get her back – and thanks to having been revived by Ruri’s power after a brush with death, he now has a unique elemental power of his own to help him: the power to control the wind.
As far as setup goes, that’s all you need to know. The vast majority of Tokyo Underground deals with Rumina, Chelsea and their ever-growing band of allies fighting their way to Ruri’s side. It’s done in fairly typical shounen-fighting-show style, with lots of posturing (“How dare you wound me when I’m trying to kick your ass & steal your girl!”), fights spanning several episodes, and an apparent inability to concentrate on any one plot element for long enough to bring it to a conclusion.
A story example: Ginnosuke has no powers of his own, but naturally wants to find a way he can help out & not just be a drag on the others. Enter Sui, who conveniently has the technology to create a “spirit gun” – a gun with the power of an elemental user. This leads to a lengthy interlude while Ginnosuke gathers the parts to build his own spirit gun before returning to the gang, ready to fight – and the gun is barely seen again for the rest of the series. An episode wasted for no good reason, and not the only incident of that, either. Even at the end of the series, there are so many things left hanging and unresolved that it’s infuriating.
The fights themselves, the mainstay of the series, aren’t anything particularly special either. There’s never any real feeling that Rumina or Chelsea are in any real danger, so there’s no sense of suspense – just a series of action sequences that in some places just feel contrived. Similarly, Underground itself just doesn’t feel real – a series of corridors here, a wide-open space there, some lighting gantries dotted around, but no real feeling that anyone sat down and thought about this world that was being created before the animators got to work on it. There’s a shot during the first opening sequence, where the view drops through the roof and lights of Underground to reveal a vast terrain, that has an epic feel to it, but that feel is never recaptured during the series itself. It’s a real shame, given the potential the setting has, that more wasn’t made of it.
For all its failings, Tokyo Underground isn’t completely without charm. The characters – at least, the good guys – are an appealing bunch, the show’s fairly well animated and there are some fun scenes here and there. Is there enough here to justify the outlay? For £40 (possibly as low as £30 if you buy online), probably yes, especially if you enjoy fighting anime anyway. But an essential purchase? Probably not. The show has an interesting premise and was produced by people that went on to greater things (Naruto, for a start), but the potential here isn’t really exploited and the show’s failings can be infuriating. At this price, though, it’s worth a punt.
Japanese Language 2.0 / 5.1 / DTS, English Language 2.0 / 5.1 / DTS, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: March 27th, 2006
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Panasonic TX-W28R30P 28″ widescreen TV; Pioneer DV-626D player; Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.