What They Say
Karakuri, or “mechancial puppets,” are appearing at festivals throughout the country. Most take delight in these mysterious and magical contrivances of a new age, but one day, all that changes when the Wind Gang, a group of steam punks who are bent on using the power of clockwork dolls to wreck havok, attack the village of young boy named Hiwou.
Hiwou and his friends are exploring a cave when the plunder occurs, but they quickly make a plan to strike back. With the help of a giant doll named Homura, they defy the warnings of Hiwou’s father, and enter into a battle to save their town!
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 for 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 five/four 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 second 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 were both key selling points at the time. 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.
Clockwork Fighters has had a hard time with its release schedule as this one manages to come in just under a year from the release of the first volume. After multiple delays before finally getting a date that it kept, you have to wonder what happened along the way to push back these nine episodes as it likely helped to kill off what few fans were still interested in the show. For those like myself that weren’t all that interested in it, it was probably fairly welcome to see the delays. Seeing these nine episodes reaffirmed that feeling as this is once again one of the weakest efforts from BONES. It actually makes Kurau: Phantom Memory look good to me now.
The setup for the series has really made this little more than a historical travelogue at this point. Hiwou and everyone else have been traveling around the country in search of clues to where their father is. The destruction of their village has led them to meeting numerous people along the way as well as varied encounters with the nefarious if fairly ineffective Wind Gang at the same time. These stories have generally been self contained as it went along though there are story tangents that carry through to other episodes. On an episodic basis, there isn’t much real meat here and even though it’s not heavily structured you come away from most episodes with nothing really happening beyond moving along in the journey.
Where Clockwork Fighters becomes problematic is in how it bookends each episode with some historical framing and then plays with it a bit in context to the show. Events go back and forth at these moments where we’re six months in the past of ten years or more into the past. Events happening overseas are introduced throughout the series that have impact on how events will play out as the show firms up its focus. Yet these things are thrown at the viewer so regularly and without much real context that to a non-Japanese person who did not grow up with learning the history there, so much of this feels like it’s all over the map. Just from what I’ve picked up over the years from various sources I can piece together a lot of it, but it lacks that kind of connection that you could get if you had grown up with it in greater familiarity.
Clockwork Fighters does make some real progress as it goes through these nine episodes as the gang gets closer to finding their father and some of the dealings with the Wind Gang reveals that not all of them are pure evil for bullying kids. Some folks they meet along the way are decent while others vary in their anti western statements and how to deal with the. Japan was a very chaotic country during this time with so much going on internally as well as externally which allows for a lot of intense words and feelings by the characters. Towards the end of the second volume here it starts to come together more as what the Wind Gang is actually after becomes more apparent but I can’t imagine many younger viewers holding out for this long or even caring. And for adult viewers, it’s the same but for different reasons. The target audience for this show really confounds me since I can’t see who it will appeal to.
Where the series really has a hard time in holding me is in the ability to suspend disbelief long enough in regards to all these clockwork items. There’s an amusing nod to the near present when they show some scientists dealing in robotics finding the blueprints for Homura and then discovering how to make their robots actually work. But in the past tense, there are so many varied little clockwork items in addition to the big one of Homura that it just makes it hard to really get past it. Making it so that so many of these things are operated by children makes it even more difficult to work with. The ease through which Hiwou in particular comes up with new ones and then the addition of steam engines to others just destroys what little belief you can put into all of it and turns it into an almost magical world in a way. With the show being so closely tied to history, it doesn’t mesh well at all.
Clockwork Fighters is the kind of series that I simply dread. It doesn’t appeal to kids much that I can see and for adults it’s just about the same. Without a solid knowledge of Japanese history, much of what they through at you doesn’t have the right context to pull it all together. Add in the flat animation, basic designs, and being populated mostly by children and Clockwork Fighters just fails continually at each step. The cast is so large and has so many guest characters that when combined with most of them rarely using names there isn’t much to really latch onto here. Outside of a few core characters, a lot of them that are in the group tend to be off-screen for episodes at a time or onscreen but saying or doing nothing. It isn’t exactly a train wreck but it’s so mind-numbing that a double-disc set of it is almost painful.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: D
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: C+
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Release Date: October 2nd, 2007
Running Time: 225 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
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.