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Nanbaka Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

The most stylish prison ever.

What They Say:
Welcome to Nanba, the world’s largest, impenetrable prison. Locked away in cell block 13 are four inmates, who provide more than enough trouble for Officer Hajime. Between attempted breakouts, gambling, and general misbehaving, these four believe that just because they’re in prison, doesn’t mean they can’t have fun! Follow the hijinks of Jyugo, Uno, Rock, and Niko as they pass time behind bars.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language in stereo while the English dub gets a 5.1 boost, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The show is one that works a good amount of action and wackiness into it so that it’s very busy in this area with all sorts of movement across it. The dialogue often works in this way as well as it’s almost like overacting in a way as they showcase themselves in most scenes and the four main characters compete for prominence. The action for it it is all over the map in what it does in movement and activity which keeps it pretty busy in good ways, working some dynamic moments and really driving home the craziness of it all. Dialogue may be all over the place throughout it but it’s done in a clean and solid way where there are no dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2016, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episodes here are spread across two discs in a nine/four format, giving it plenty of room. Animated by Satelight, this series is all about high-motion action and a lot of really vibrant colors – and a lot of sparkling throughout with the characters. It’s filled with somewhat dark backgrounds of a more purple/blue variety but the main thrust of it is that they’re simple backgrounds more than anything else, keeping it fairly easy to encode. The high-motion foreground material with character animation holds up with with a good smoothness and lots to like in terms of solidity. The color vibrancy really stands out here with some great stuff as it works a range of colors across all the characters so that it’s not all standard uniforms. It’s a bright and colorful design overall and the vibrancy looks great with the encoding used here.

The packaging for this release brings us a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case that holds the four discs for this Blu-ray-only release with hinges. Unlike the singles, there are no o-card slipcovers here so we just get the main cover piece. The front cover uses the main key visual of the four main prisoners and their jailer together with paint all over the place. It really captures the color style of the series and brings it to life wonderfully here. The back cover goes with a simple black/blue/pink design that provides the text in yellow to breakdown the premise as well as part of the technical grid. A few shots from the show reinforce the color design and we get a good technical grid that showcases how the formats are put together. While there are no inserts included with the release we do get a reverse cover where the left panel breaks down the episodes by number and title and the right uses the same artwork as the front cover.

The menu design for this release keeps things very simple as it goes for the static approach for both discs. It also goes for the simple design by using the same static image for both of them, which is admittedly a good one as it uses the character material from the front cover of the four main guys up close and zoomed in. It’s very vibrant and appealing with what it does, providing for something that sets the tone very well. The navigation along the lower left features a paint splotch with the simple text which isn’t much since there are no extras for the release. Setup is a breeze and accessing everything as both the main menu and the pop-up menu during playback is easy.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga of the same name from Sho Futamata, Nanbaka is a twenty-five episode series with an OVA that ran in the fall 2016 season and into the winter 2017 season. Animated by Satelight, it’s a show that really is quite distinctive from the first key visual which is captured very well by the animation. It’s bold and vibrant, wacky and serious, and runs the gamut with ease. The original manga began in 2016 and has six volumes out so far so there’s a decent bit of material to work with. The problem is whether the concept is decent enough to work with. While no publisher has picked it up for a print run at this time in English, it is getting some digital distribution through Crunchyroll manga so fans can continue the journey from there.

The focus for this series is on four men who have found themselves in Nanba prison, the one place that’s supposedly impossible to break out of. These four men had been multiple other prisons over the years and formed a bond of sorts and have now all ended up here in cell block 13 where they’re under the watchful eye of Hajime, a supervisor for the block. He’s a talented and strong individual that can handle the creativity of the prisoners of this place all while close to engaging in a relationship with the warden, a beautiful woman named Momoko that has a huge crush on him. But her cold ways and his inability to really initiate things mean a lot of awkward and misunderstood scenes between the two of them that play out to very good effect. Nanba prison has a kind of Vegas flair to it from the outside with what we see in the structure and some of the colors, but once inside it’s a bland place when it’s not doing something wacky.

The main focus of the series is on the wacky cast of four in the cell. The primary character is that of Jyugo, a young man who has five shackles on him that he’s not been able to remove and only a man he’s seeking out with a scar on the back of his neck can do it. That gives him an impetus to keep moving and searching but he’s also the loneliest and most isolated because of that. What helps is that he’s actually pretty damn intense fighter as we see which in its own way isolates him even more. We get a good bit of his backstory as time goes on and he really does come across as the primary character here, the one with greater motivations and background compared to the rest. Having that combined with a kind of aloof aspect with the other three prisoners of his group makes for a good opening half of the series since there’s camaraderie – but only so far.

The other three are interesting but a bit simpler. We get Uno who is looking to escape constantly because he’s interesting in booze, gambling, and women which highlights his skills in luck and intuition. You get Rock being the bigger one of the group physically that’s somewhat intimidating but is such a pushover for good food and constantly advocates for upgrades in the prison – including a stone oven that everyone ends up loving. The smallest of the group is Nico who is just totally into entertainment stuff like anime and just wants to have a good time being a fan. They’re not exactly one-note personalities but they’re fairly well defined. Amusingly, Jyugo is Japanese while Uno’s British and Rock and Nico are American. This doesn’t play into events too much but it provides a little variety to it all and helps to play to their personalities through it. For much of this season it’s mostly just quirks and interests they have that they’re defined by though.

The series doesn’t focus heavily on the group trying to break out of jail, though that’s an early focus. We get several guards in the mix that adds some fun comedy in how they interact with Hajime and Momoko and some of them try to befriend the prisoners as well. We get the addition of a ninja character that’s been captured but his story just feels kind of sad in a way as we dig into the background. While the first few episodes here worked well for me with its energy and vibrancy the whole thing took a bad turn for the middle arc or so as we get an inter-cell block tournament run that just went too big and wacky crazy in a way that didn’t work for me. For about four or so episodes worth of material and then some fallout from it. That does start to lead down the path of greater character material as Jyugo goes too far and the attempts to understand what he’s really after comes up, which lets the others start getting explored as well.

As the show moves into the second half, events here do largely stick to the familiar as they run with the gag about them being a comedy series with lots of action. The second cour actually opens this half in a way that’s almost too familiar because it spends a lot of the first episode on just random things happening, particularly with the whole Random Hair Color Syndrome that has spread into the place and is impacting everyone – that has hair, at least. It’s silly and fun watching everyone with different hair colors than usual and the way they deal with each other, especially jealousies, but at the same time it left me feeling less and less sure of who anyone was because of some of the silly twists and turns they throw into it. It’s a fun one-off gag for an episode though.

The escapes are regular as the show goes on and there is some fun early on with new guards coming in and some time spent with Hitoshi. Just the way everyone leers at him since he looks so girlish is amusing as his responses don’t factor that in at all. So it ends up reinforcing their interest in her and lots of frustration for Hajime. Hajime is always good for some laughs as he mostly plays the straight man in so many situations and this half does some decent things by him in giving him a bit more to do and interact with, especially toward the end when he basically has to team up with Jyugo for a bit in order to deal with the problems of the final arc. Hajime’s also got some fun as there’s a cat brought into the show along the way as well and with the cat having a position of power within the ranking it just makes for even more tension within the guards’ group as they grate against each other over seemingly everything.

Some of the more amusing things with these episodes focuses on what’s below building 5 and elsewhere, some of the creative things put into the whole place, and just how strange everything can go as various prisoner groups start going at each other and the guards have their own rivalries as well. A big kind of subplot that grows over the course of it is the use of Enki as a big bad to deal with. It’s something that provides for some background since he was a guard that killed prisoners and betrayed other guards, but I found him to be someone that I couldn’t really connect with as a villain in a way. More that he wasn’t a strong enough character to really make an impact as most of the fun really keeps coming back to the core group and their interactions. Which is good and bad since they get split often and we have subplots that become dominant for a bit and those in marathon form simply don’t go as smoothly as they could.

In Summary:
As much fun as I had with Nanbaka in its first half, I had a bit less with the second half. There are lots of very enjoyable moments throughout and the visual design is crazy fun and enjoyable but it’s something that really needs to be in small doses. It’s a case of too much of a thing that makes it less interesting as it goes on. The core group and the focus on Jyugo mostly works well when they’re together and I like a lot of the supporting characters, especially Hajime. But the more it went on the less I felt like there was a really cohesive narrative to latch onto and more just an ongoing series of incidents. They’re fun and silly but they lack that oomph that they need. The release is nicely done with a great looking encoding and a fun dub but it’s unfortunate there are no extras here as a dub commentary cast could have been a lot of fun, especially a video commentary.

Japanese 2.0 Dolby TrueHD Language, English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD Language, English Subtitles

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: November 26th, 2019
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 650 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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