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Release Date(s)2008 (April 8, 2008)
Studio(s)Gonzo (Bandai Visual USA)
Approx 180 mins (5 episodes at 45 mins each), NR, AVC 1080i (upconverted from 480i, presented pillar-boxed in the original 4x3 aspect ratio), 1 BD-50, 2 BD-25s, Elite keepcase packaging, Experimental Film trailer, Conversations about Aircraft in Yukikaze featurette, 20-page booklet, animated program-themed root menu with audio/"in-program" menu overla, scene access, languages: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English and Japanese), subtitles: English and Japanese
Thirty years ago, aliens created a hyperspace gateway between their world and Antarctica, but a special task force (the Fairy Air Force) has kept their invasion fleet back since then. The danger long since forgotten by the public at large, the stragglers of the FAF have continued developing new technologies to fight back the alien JAM forces. Among them, Rei Fukai has a very close relationship with his aircraft, called Yukikaze, which seems to know his desires even before he does. But a number of questions remain unanswered for Rei: Why are they fighting this war? What does JAM really want with Earth? And who or what is his plane, Yukikaze, really?
Based on an acclaimed pair of novels by Chohei Kambayashi, and produced with the technical assistance of the Japan Self-Defense force, Yukikaze was a gigantic hit when it was first released back in 2002. Considered a crown jewel of the modern anime catalog, and a major achievement by the studio (Gonzo), the producers wanted to create a true archival version of Yukikaze for its fans on Blu-ray Disc.
As such, Yukikaze is something of an anomaly in the Blu-ray world. Not only is it 4x3, but the original animation was rendered/colored in standard definition. What this means is that the entire feature has been upconverted to 1080i resolution. Now, this isn't as bad as it might seem at first. After all, this was done from the original digital source materials, and as much detail as possible was wrung from every frame. It also demonstrates that real benefits can be achieved from throwing Blu-ray bandwidth at standard def material - something to consider for potential BD reissues of TV series from the 1980s and 90s, that were mastered in 480-resolution analog video. That being said, Yukikaze on Blu-ray is definitely soft looking, and sometimes really soft looking, with the lines losing definition. Still, it certainly looks better than any DVD upconvert I've seen by a long shot, because, if nothing else, the added bandwidth means that compression macroblocking and splotchiness isn't there. It's best to just take it as what it is: The best example of 480p material you're going to see on home video.
The audio quality is much better. The directionality and ambiance of the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless track is excellent, with a crispness and bite to it that's like a fresh apple. It's a huge improvement even over the DTS track on the DVDs, as Japanese mixing tends toward the creation of environment and ambiance, instead of the "always something going on" Hollywood style. Missiles and fighters whiz all over the place one minute, but when things are quiet, the room tones maintained are superb. Gonzo has been mixing in 5.1 since their inception (and well before any of the other anime studios made it a standard), and it shows here. If you need an excuse to upgrade to Blu-ray from the DVD release, this is it.
The extras here are a bit sparse. A 20-page, full-color booklet that contains a lot of information about the production (as well as heavy spoilers, so don't read the page on each episode until you finish watching it) is included in the wonderfully constructed and illustrated outer box. On the actual discs, you get the Experimental Film trailer that was shown at the Japan National Science Fiction Convention, as well as a discussion with an ex Japan Self-Defense Force pilot about how realistic the film is, and whether some of the futuristic gadgets seen in the aircraft would work in real life. The latter is the only item in the entire set actually shot in HD, and while dry, it does contain a lot of interesting information for airplane geeks, so it shouldn't be missed.
It's worth noting that Yukikaze is very Japanese in terms of tone, style and structure, which probably means it's not as good a title for "anime virgins" as, say Macross Plus was 15 years ago. What it lacks in accessibility, however, it makes up for by doing what it does very well. This is certainly a modern classic worthy of preservation for its fans.
A couple of other things worth noting:
Bandai Visual has been the whipping boy of the Japanese animation world of late. They're stuck between the rock of not sabotaging their domestic market and the hard place of a U.S. audience filled with growing numbers of fans that want ultra-low prices on everything. Unfortunately, the company's noble experiment in trying to bring anime releases quickly to market in the States (with all the Japanese trimmings) has been tempered quite a bit by the weakening dollar vs. the yen recently. So now, with Japan and the U.S. being one big happy region (in Blu-ray terms), selling the titles here effectively creates a 50% off sale for Japanese fans who purchase the U.S. versions via Amazon.com. Obviously, people aren't biting at the current Japanese prices in large enough numbers, so the best way for the company to deal with this is probably "happy medium" price reductions in Japan, to make reverse importation less attractive, while keeping the prices low enough here to entice more U.S. buyers.
What does this mean for Yukikaze on Blu-ray in the meantime? Well... at $149.95 (a positive bargain compared to the $260 the set sold for in Japan last year, albeit with a few more physical extras), combined with the fact that it's a 1080i upconvert, it's simply impossible to recommend it as a blind buy. If you're already a fan, this is the best Yukikaze can possibly ever look and sound, so by all means dive in. If you're not, however, you'd best rent it first to make sure it's worth the investment for you.
The fact that there are high level meetings going on at Bandai as I write this would seem to indicate that they understand how fans feel about the high prices, so with a little luck they'll find a better arrangement price-wise on future releases - one that works for the company, and yet is still fair for U.S., Japanese and international customers.
- Jeff Kleist