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page added: 1/11/08



Hi-Def Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise (Blu-ray Disc)

1080p - Analog Full ResolutionBlu-ray Disc FormatUncompressed PCMDolby TrueHDDolby Digital PlusDolby Digital

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Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise
1987 (2007) - Bandai Visual, USA
Released on Blu-ray Disc on September 11, 2007

Film: A-
Video (1-20): 17
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras: C+


Specs and Features:
120 mins, NR, AVC 1080p standard (1.66:1), 2 discs (movie: BD-50 DL, 1 DVD-9 DL), Amaray keepcase packaging with slipcase, trailer and pitch film, 20-page insert booklet, animated film-themed root menu with audio/"in-film" menu overlay, scene access (16 chapters), languages: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (1997 remix - Japanese), Linear PCM 2.0 Surround (Theatrical mix - Japanese) and Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 (English dub), DVD contains Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese and 2.0 English dub, subtitles: English and Japanese

Features from previous DVD not included:

Deleted scene and audio commentary


In the mid-1980s, anime was in its golden age in Japan. With a booming economy, and a huge OVA (direct to video) industry churning out new and interesting miniseries, creative juices were the highest they'd ever been before or since, with talented creators getting to do those vanity projects they'd always wanted. So it must be fate that a bunch of fan boys who ran a successful model kit company came forward with their vision of a Sci-Fi Right Stuff, with a completely new bend. GAINAX, best known in America for Neon Genesis Evangelion, was given the most money ever spent on an animated film in Japan based on a 5 minute pitch film.

What emerged on the other side is arguably one of the finest films ever to come out of Japan. On another world, the kingdom of Honneamise has had a space program running for decades. Largely the joke outfit of the military, the Space Force is full of lazy do-nothings and people who are treading water in life. It's not until the threat of loss of funding that the powers that be decide that they must move forward with a manned launch. Shirotsugh Ladhatt laughed at even the notion of a man in space, until he meets a woman in the red light district of the capital who changes his life forever. He gains meaning in his life, and suddenly sees spaceflight as a way to improve humanity as a whole and volunteers to be their Alan Shepard. Meanwhile there are those in the government that want nothing to do with this foolish enterprise, until they see that they might be able to maneuver the launch for their own political gain, and get a war going to stimulate Honneamise's failing economy.

The Manga Entertainment DVD of Wings of Honneamise is widely reviled as a poster child for poor compression and authoring. From the horrific telecine to the double flagging, fake anamorphic and the ludicrous edge halos, many professionals I've shown it to couldn't believe it ever was released at all, as The VHS looks better in many cases. Fans of the film can now breathe a sigh of relief that they can now own the film the way it's meant to be seen. Presented window-boxed in its proper 1.66:1 ratio, this new high-definition version of Wings of Honneamise finally brings the theatrical experience that only a handful of Westerners have experienced home. Finally the lush and detailed backgrounds are crystal clear, and line definition is sharp as a tack. The final launch footage, drawn directly from Apollo launch footage are breathtaking, with thousands of small details popping out for the first time. While it loses some points from the realities of the time period, minor cases of dust and debris that were on the original cels when photographed for instance, I seriously doubt the original prints of the film looked any better 20 years ago. The companion DVD features an encode that appears to be recycled from the 1997 THX-certified Renewal edition, and is excellent in its own right. A separate HD-DVD/DVD bundle is also available that features an almost identical compression using the VC-1 codec.

Bandai really went all out for the film's 10th anniversary in 1997, not only did they get THX to help clean up the elements, but they took the sound elements to Skywalker Sound for a full-on remix. The result is included here for Western audiences for the first time. The Dolby TrueHD track exhibits much wider dynamic range than the Dolby Digital 5.1 on the previous Japanese DVD. While many areas of the mix are subtle, a breath of wind, crowd noise, it envelops you in the environment of its world. Too many Hollywood soundtracks go from flat front-centered sound field right to the holosonic boom sequences, but the consistent world that Honneamise creates is an aural treat. The original theatrical mix is included in uncompressed PCM stereo for posterity, along with the same mediocre dub from the Manga DVD.

The one area where this release falls down is in the extras department. A superb, densely written 20 page booklet is included covering everything from the history of GAINAX to animation special effects techniques. Sadly absent from this new all-but-definitive edition of the film is the superb commentary track that Manga did with director Hirouki Yamaga and the assistant director, Takami Akai, and it's worth tracking down that disc if only for that feature. Also missing is a single deleted scene that really doesn't go anywhere, but was nice to have as so few animated films have actual finished deleted scenes. Rounding it out are 1080 transfers of the theatrical trailer and the original pitch film.

For many people, the $79.99 list price of this film is a shock. Japanese home video prices were set back in the early 80s, when the yen was almost half the value it is now, and given that the U.S. and Japan now share a region code, and the existence of Amazon.com, it is frankly impossible to set the prices much lower. The inclusion of the DVD with the Blu allows them to produce a single SKU to make it easier for shops to carry the title without adding much at all to the price (only a dollar or so at manufacture). While I dearly wish that Bandai Visual in the future will manage to grow their international sales to the point where producing retrospective documentaries is financially feasible, I understand that their new approach, unified releases across the U.S. and Japan is a worthy one, and no one can argue with the quality of the end product. The Wings of Honneamise is a landmark film that possibly speaks more to today than it did 20 years ago, and is an important part of any true film lover's collection.



Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (Blu-ray Disc)

1080p - Analog Full ResolutionBlu-ray Disc FormatUncompressed PCM

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
2000 (2007) - Bandai Visual, USA
Released on Blu-ray Disc on November 27, 2007

Film: A-
Video (1-20): 17
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras: C+


Specs and Features:

142 mins, NR, AVC 1080p standard (1.85:1), BD-50, Amaray keepcase packaging with slipcase, trailers, 20-page insert booklet, 500+ page paperback of storyboards, animated film-themed root menu with audio/"in-film" menu overlay, scene access (18 chapters), languages: Linear PCM 5.1 (Japanese), Linear PCM 2.0 Surround (Theatrical mix - Japanese), subtitles: English and Japanese

Features from previous DVD not included:

45 min conversation on the film


As the last theatrical animated film released in Japan using purely traditional techniques, Jin-Roh feels very much like its creator Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, Avalon). Many of his films center around hanging onto the warmth of humanity in the face of stark and cold dystopia, and certainly there is a certain texture lost, especially with the resolution of Blu-ray, in the brushstrokes and minor flaws that give hand-drawn and painted art its character. Jin-Roh tells the story of an alternate Japan, where after World War 2 reconstruction the country was besieged by terrorist factions, and so an antiterrorist police force was created: The Wolf Brigade. They've spent years tracking down a major terrorist group, and after a disastrous confrontation with a suicide bomber, a lone member begins to question the path he's taken in the world.

The video of Jin-Roh features none of the (albeit minor) cross-coloration that has plagued so many versions of this movie. The entire film has a very drab and pseudo-sepia toned color scheme, meant to emulate newsreels of the 40s and 50s that feels far more accurate to the print I saw years back than the browner, muddier tones of the previous Bandai DVD. Freed from the constraints of DVD bandwidth and the limitations of NTSC television, the grand artistry of the hand drawn and painted backgrounds is a wonder to behold. The only thing marring this otherwise gorgeous presentation is occasional bouts of print damage, dust and debris (virtually all of which appear to be on the negative), and occasional bouts of very fine film grain. None of which I found to be a distraction. Disc load time from insertion to movie start (including language selection) was under 60 seconds on my BD-10A.

Instead of the TrueHD track that was on Wings of Honneamise, Bandai has gone back to basics with an uncompressed PCM track on Jin-Roh. This film is not a thunderous tour-de-force of audio, or a subwoofer Olympics, and instead relies far more on its quiet moments than the noisy ones. I feel that silence is underappreciated in the film world, especially when the high compression of a standard Dolby Digital track tends to remove the environmental flavor of a scene by muffling all of those little taps, rustles and background conversations that are the icing on a sound designer's cake. Jin-Roh is not a loud film, but it is an immersive one, and Hajime Mizoguchi's moving score has never sounded better.

Once again, Bandai Visual has not included extras that are on the previous U.S. DVD release, and I have to ask why since it that 2-disc special edition was released, unlike Honneamise, by their sister division Bandai Entertainment. Whether it's ignorance of the existence of these extras, licensing issues, or what, it's very disappointing to people paying $69.95 for the upgrade to not get everything they already have. The only on-disc extra is 4 theatrical trailers, subtitled in English. Finishing up the package is a very attractive box and a 500+ page booklet (must be read right to left) of storyboards for the film. While since its contents are untranslated, it will be of limited use to U.S. audiences, it is interesting to glance through. I wish my Japanese reading comprehension was better, and there are extensive notes in the margins that undoubtedly give some great insight into the production process. Far more effective would probably be to place these images on a subtitle track and have them play in the corner for a direct comparison.

While high prices necessitated by the low runs, cost of living differences and retail prices between the U.S. and Japan are necessary for these nearly simultaneous releases, there can be no doubt that the end result is a top-notch presentation worthy of the film. Unlike other Blu-ray releasing companies, Bandai chooses to use DVD Amaray keepcases. In a recent interview with Animeondvd.com, they said they feel the larger packaging is more conducive to a collector's edition, and on the surface I believe their right. The LD sized boxes they put out with their first DVDs were beyond gorgeous, but at the same time I have to note a lot of people being upset that they can't fit these discs in with their other Blu-rays. I believe that there is a place of compromise, putting a spacer in the box to fill the void between a Blu-elite box and an Amaray so that those that wish to can remove it and place it on the rack, or even just including artwork for a standard Elite in there so you can easily replace it would go a long way toward satisfying both parties. Between that and including more existing extras in future releases, I believe Bandai Visual can create a stable customer base in North America.

Whether Bandai Visual's releases ever gain a large following in the United States is debateable, but whether those who choose to spend the money will be happy I think is not. Recommended.

Jeff Kleist
jeffkleist@thedigitalbits.com



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