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Clockwork Fighters Vol. #1 Anime DVD Review

8 min read
Clockwork Fighters may be a BONES production but it's one that doesn't seem to have anything that makes their more noteworthy shows what they are.

At the start of the industrial revolution, a group of young Japanese kids heads off to find their father using a giant clockwork doll.

What They Say
It has been 8 years since the first black ships of the western world visited 19th century Japan. Mechanized clockwork dolls and new steam-powered devices are spreading throughout the country.

The Wind Gang is a group of clockwork and steam controllers who believe in using their creations in battle and violently create the new Industrial Era. They attack the peaceful village of a young clockwork controller named Hiwou one day and completely destroy it. Hiwou and his friends escape with a giant clockwork doll named Homura. Together they begin a journey to find his father and restore peace to the land.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language and English dub together in stereo encoded at 224kbps. This is now a show that really does a lot in terms of directionality and how it expresses itself as it’s more of a very baseline stereo mix. They’re both very full sounding mixes that don’t really work the forward soundstage all that much. There’s maybe some mild placement for voices here and there but for the most part it’s not all that noticeable. Both tracks sound good though and come across clean and clear without any noticeable dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2000, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The transfer fro the show looks like it’s in pretty good shape with no noticeable blemishes or other related problems but it’s not free of issues. The nine episodes are split across two discs in a 5/4 format and there’s nothing on the disc beyond the show but there is still a general level of fuzziness to a lot of the background scenes. When seated from a normal viewing distance and on sets at least 50″ and under, this isn’t too noticeable but once you get a bit closer it becomes much more visible. This is the only real problem though outside of some aliasing and it is free of cross coloration. Colors do maintain a mostly solid feel and blacks look good without much in the way of blocking going on in them.

The cover artwork for the first volume is surprisingly murky looking considering that this is really a show aimed more at younger kids. The top portion with the logo looks fairly silly with the font used though I like the obscured gears in the background. The rest of the cover uses various shots from the show in a collage format but there are just so many dark colors to them that it just doesn’t feel like it’s something you can show to just about any audience. The back cover uses the same gear strip along the top while the rest of it is split in two. The left side has some better looking artwork of the maid characters while the right side has the shows summary and a breakdown of the discs episodes and features. The listing that it’s two DVDs or that there’s 225 minutes worth of show is here is kept far too small since these are both key selling points. Like a number of Bandai’s packages, it just seems like they either don’t know the right way to sell a show or they’re having issues getting it through approval. The back cover also lists a textless opening as a disc feature but it’s not on the disc.

The menu design for the show is very simple with a shot of the three lead kids riding along in their various clockwork vehicles set against a bright outdoor background. To the right of them, where the series logo and navigation strip is setup there are clips from the show playing in the background. The still parts of the menu, such as the character artwork and the text, all look a bit fuzzy and not as solid and clean as they should. A bit of the vocal piece from the show plays along in a decent length loop but otherwise this is a very straightforward menu. Access times are decent and submenus load quickly and the disc played according to our player presets, though the full English subtitles were the second set of English labeled subtitles.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Way, way, back in the day, I remember hearing a quote from someone at one of the domestic companies stating that if it was by BONES, it’d sell. Well, that hasn’t entirely proven true over the years but Clockwork Fighters, aka Karakuri Kiden Hiwou Senki, takes us back to one of their earlier and much lesser known titles. Very little is mentioned about this show online and it seems to have slipped under the radar of most. This set brings together the first nine episodes, and it’s easy to see why. It has very little appeal for the “hardcore” fan.

The series is based about eight years after the black ships arrived in Japan, the period that signaled a huge amount of change and upheaval for the country. Differences about how the country should approach dealing with foreigners didn’t take long to erupt into outright violence but all along the way it couldn’t stop the changes that were happening. One of the biggest introductions to the country is the arrival of steam powered devices which threatens the way of the clockwork device makers. The focus takes us to a small village where it seems like everyone is involved in making these kinds of clockwork devices and have a number of amusing and interesting kinds.

The center of all of this is young Hiwou and his friends. Hiwou’s an outgoing type who fights for justice wherever he sees it since he doesn’t like to see people hurt. This gets him into some minor fights with others but generally puts him opposed to people bigger than him. Where he gets in the most trouble though is that he uses his clockwork devices, such as the small doll he’s created, to help him in these situations. This goes against the general teachings of the town and particularly that of his father, a man who is now fairly far away for reasons unknown. Hiwou’s generally taken care of by his siblings when these things happen, even more so since his mother died earlier in the year. The children all take care of themselves and are generally decent kids with no real problems.

The wave of change sweeping across the country has resulted in a group that’s opposed to the clockwork machines even existing called the Wind Gang. They’ve ended up in Hiwou’s village and have basically razed the place to the ground while the kids got caught up in all of it. They managed to hold things off a bit when they used the secret that their family has kept for ages with a giant clockwork doll that’s basically a clockwork mecha. This giant wooden clockwork mecha gives the kids a chance to travel across the country to where they believe their father is so they can tell him what’s happened and find the security that they need. Made up of several kids, including one baby, they head across very uneven terrain to do just that while fending off attacks by the Wind Gang.

Along the way, they do meet up with some interesting characters. The first volume has them coming across a couple of future Shinsengumi members which is amusing. There’s also a pair of young princesses that they meet up with and have ride along with them into the next volume. A group of ninjas under the control of the current Hattori family member takes up with them to understand their situation which ties them to the upper levels of the government at the time as well. The show makes a lot of noise at the beginning and end of the episodes about its place in history, almost like an educational piece about how it’s tied to various events that are going on. Little of these make an impact here but it does help to set the mood for the way the country was at that time.

I ended up watching the nine episodes on here in one sitting which left a lot of the show feeling like something of a blur. But what was interesting was that both my kids, four and six at the time we first watched it years ago, ended up sitting through a huge chunk of that and watching it very closely. They did kind of drift during the opening pieces where they talked about events going on but once the young kids of the show were back on the screen they were pretty quiet and attentive. In listening to the English language version, which I believe was produced by Odex, they do a decent job with it but kids always tend to just sound bad to me in this form. The amusing part of it is listening to how they pronounce all the Japanese names and places that come up at the beginning of the episodes as they feel like they’re just being rushed through it. For kids watching the show, I doubt the adaptation will bother them in the slightest. Dub aficionados may find this to be a very weak set of performances however.

In Summary:
Clockwork Fighters may be a BONES production but it’s one that doesn’t seem to have anything that makes their more noteworthy shows what they are. With its intended audience being so young and having come out back in 2000, the show has a very flat feel to it both in the animation style and the color palette used. Plenty of people have a hard enough time with how mecha could actually operate in a science fiction setting, so they’re likely to have their eyes rolling pretty hard when watching giant clockwork versions of mecha rolling around in this. It’s certainly entertaining on some levels, but for anyone a bit older than the intended audience I recommend having something with them to heighten the experience or to make some kind of drinking game around it.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

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

Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Release Date: November 28th, 2006
MSRP: $39.98
Running Time: 225 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

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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