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ADV Films presents
Sakura Wars (1997)

"You aren't just ordered to defend the capital from harm, you also get to give the people in the theatre something to wish for."
- Ichiro Ohgami (Akio Sayama)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: February 19, 2002

Stars: Chisa Yokoyama, Urara Takano, Michie Tomizawa, Mayumi Tanaka, Yuriko Fuchizaki, Kumiko Nishihara, Amber Allison, Sascha Biesi, Catherine Berry, Jessica Schwartz, Boni Hester, Shelia Gordon
Other Stars: Ai Orikasa, Akio Sayama, Masuro Akida, Amy L. Gamber, Jill McMillin, Brian Gaston
Director: Takaaki Ishiyama

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Animated violence)
Run Time: 01h:54m:38s
Release Date: October 26, 1999
UPC: 702727000225
Genre: anime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B-B+B+ D

DVD Review

Sakura Wars (Sakura Taisen) is based on a highly popular Japanese video game originally developed for the Sega Saturn, and based on a story by Ohji Hiroi. The story is set in 1919 Japan, the year following the end of the Demon Wars, a time when steam was the primary power source. Things have pretty much returned to normal, but Admiral Yoneda and Ayame Fujieda of the Capital Defense Program predict that the wars are not over, and with the help of Kanzaki Heavy Industries, are developing steam-powered mecha, known as Oobu, which also rely on psychic energy from their pilots. Unfortunately, experiments with the male subjects aren't producing results, but while visiting her grandfather, who is the lead scientist on the project, Sumire Kanzaki triggers the Spirit Energy meters, and she becomes a candidate. This leads to rounding up other young girls from around the world, each with different fighting abilities, who form the Teikoku Kagekidan (Flower Division). It turns out that Sumire Kanzaki, a snobby aristocrat, is a master of the Kanzaki Rising Wind Style attack. Kanna Kirishima uses the Kirishima Open-Handed style of karate, while the deceptively small Iris Chateaubriand possesses psychic abilities of immense proportion directly effected by her emotions, making them unpredictable and undisciplined. In order to keep their identities secret as the team develops their skills, they pose as a theatrical troupe, staging performances in the local theater. With an evil mecha army approaching, Yoneda and Fujieda decide to enlist the daughter of a veteran of the Demon Wars, and master of the Northern Long Blade-style Spirit Sword, and its Cherry Blossom Spirit Attack. Sakura Shinguji has inherited her father's calling to the Long Sword, but her ability is as yet undeveloped. Her presence in the troupe is not without conflict; Sumire objects to the country girl's inexperience and awkwardness both on stage and on the battlefield, a situation the group's leader, Maria Tachibana is unable to appease. It is decided that a new leader is required—one that isn't female—and Ichiro Ohgami is designated as the new commander. With a mecha army to keep them busy, the girls must learn to put aside their differences and work together as a team. I very much enjoyed the character design, artwork and especially the steam-punk mecha designs. The characters, while pretty clichéd, were also fun, and their interpersonal battles were entertaining. However, the storyline has many gaping holes, leading me to assume that this was aimed more at fans of the game than a general audience which, considering the budget this must have had, is pretty short sighted. While I can understand not delving too deeply into the Demon Wars that precede the story, there are many events throughout that are unexplained. For example, one of the team members decides she must leave to avenge her father—why, we don't know—but in the next installment she is back with no further mention of the subject. The team geek and bumbling scientist Ri Kohran's involvement with the group is also unexplained—one minute she is holed away creating concoctions, the next she is piloting an Oobu. Also, the team leader, Ichiro Ohgami, is summoned because the girls can't get along with each other, which makes little sense, since as soon as he arrives all of them are fawning over him, increasing the rivalry.Sakura Wars combines interesting historical aspects with mythological elements in combination with mecha battles and spiritual powers—a pretty full slate. Sound and production design are first rate. It also infuses a lot of humorous situations, from Sakura's inability to understand her grandmother, Sumire's renaming, and repainting the army's battle mecha into a colorful collection, or Iris' constant deliberations with her stuffed bear Where the series falls down is in its obvious attempt to cram far too much material into a four part OVA, building up to something that never materializes: a story. As a character introduction for the game, this succeeds, but I would hope that viewing the twenty-five part TV series that has since been developed would give more depth than what we get here.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image here looks gorgeous, aside from a few minor issues. Colors are vibrant and deep, black levels spot on. There is some rainbowing, but it isn't excessive or overwhelming. Typical amounts of aliasing are also present. This is a very nice-looking transfer on the whole.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Japanese, Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Stereo audio is available in both original Japanese and English dub. Both feature nice use of the stereo field, and dialogue is easily discernable. The sound design is great. The voices on the dub are louder, making the mix more center-focused. There are two technical problem areas however. The first is that the audio switches back to English with each episode, including turning the subs off. The second is that the opening theme for the fourth episode is much louder than the rest, which is pretty jarring if you have the volume already turned up. Grading is for sound quality, not accounting for the technical issues.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
11 Other Trailer(s) featuring Tekkon, Slayers: Book of Spells, Legend of Crystania, Sonic the Hedgehog, Queen Emeraldas, Battle Angel, Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040, Burn Up W, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ninja Resurection, Those Who Hunt Elves
1 Multiple Angles with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The packaging states 15 previews, however there are only 12 in total, which includes one for the main feature. Also presented are Tekkon, Slayers: The Movie, Legend of Crystania, Sonic the Hedgehog, Queen Emeraldas, Battle Angel, Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040, Burn Up W, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ninja Resurection, and Those Who Hunt Elves.Menus are nice with songs from the show as background for most of their length. As an older ADV release, many of their now standard interface improvements are missing here. I found the language selection menu awkward in its implementation, as it took me a while to figure out what it was doing, and provided little feedback as to the selections made. Japanese seiyuu credits are provided as an alternate angle in the opening.As mentioned in the audio section, the language settings are reset with each episode on many players, including the subtitles. The first episode features hard English subs for foreign language (non-Japanese) dialogue, which also has the translation in Japanese on screen. Packaging is very nice with well chosen images for the cover and the single insert.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Sakura Wars was certainly entertaining, and I enjoyed the artistic and character elements a lot, but the disjointed plot and incomplete feeling, coupled with the annoying technical problems make this tough to recommend for purchase, though worthy of a rental for the interesting mecha.


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