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ADV Films presents
Sakura Wars OVA II #1: Return of the Spirit Warriors (1999)

"I believe destiny is your own to make."
- Sakura Shinguji (Chisa Yokoyama)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: December 04, 2002

Stars: Chisa Yokoyama, Michie Tomizawa, Urara Takano, Kumiko Nishihara, Yuriko Fuchisaki, Mayumi Tanaka, Maya Okamoto, Kazue Ikura, Akio Suyama, Katherine Catmull, Catherine Berry, Lane West, Lauren Zinn, Boni Hester, Jessica Schwartz, Kelly huston, Jessica Smollins, Brian Gaston
Other Stars: Ai Orikasa, Masaru Ikeda, Uyako Hikami, Akemi Okamura, Yuki Masada, Nachi Nozawa, Meredith May, Cassie Fitzgerald, Kelly Dealyn, Meg Bauman, Lana Deitrich, Michele Déradune, Corey Gangne
Director: Susumu Kudoh

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (7+)
Run Time: 01h:28m:08s
Release Date: October 08, 2002
UPC: 702727017520
Genre: anime


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+A-A C+

DVD Review

The Spirit Warriors of the Imperial Flower Combat Division return in Sakura Wars (released as Sakura Wars 2: Gouka Kenran in Japan), a six part OVA, with a story by Ohji Hiroi, who also created the popular Sega Saturn video game the show is based on. Taking place in a steam-powered, early 1920s Japan, after the events of the original Sakura Wars OVA that introduces the cast, this collection is primarily a showcase of the different personalities that make up the eclectic mix of female warriors from around the globe, whose guise is that of a theatrical troupe, and a very popular one at that. While the steam punk technology is still in place in this series, the mecha takes a back seat to fleshing out the characters, as a primer to the upcoming television series. Each of the three installments here focuses on a pair of girls, and their particular quirks.

In the opener, the Flower Division is staging a successful run of Cinderella at the Imperial Theatre. After failing to complete a nearly impossible show of her talents in the celebrations afterwards, Maria believes she has gone soft by allowing a more compassionate side of her nature to develop within the troupe, which has taken the edge of her abilities as a warrior. When a figure from her past arrives from America to kill her, she strikes out on her own to defend herself and the Flower Division from an explosive danger, but can she do it alone?

The second installment showcases Iris, who is playing the lead in the troupe's latest performance, but her inability to remember her lines brings scorn from the headstrong Orihime. Unable to take responsibility for her failings, Iris blames the problem on her supporting actress, and storms off the set. Later, she finds herself in a predicament after being inspired by a Red Lad street play.

Next, the troupe faces an other worldly threat as they break into the newly emerging movie business by filming the Crimson Lizard. Sumire finds herself the target of a ghost from the past whose jealousy has her out for revenge, but no one is prepared for Captain Ohgami's involvement.

This first set of stories was a lot of fun, but do require having seen the original Sakura Wars OVA for maximum enjoyment, as this assumes you know who everyone is and delves more into the character personalities than their backgrounds. While there is somewhat of an overall progression, and a few ancilliary players who reappear later on, the episodes are pretty much self contained. Each character presented faces an internal demon (figuratively) that they must reconcile with the help of their friends in the Flower Division, and the growth they experience lends a more human depth. There is plenty of action to be found, but it is somewhat non-traditional, as there are no real mecha on mecha battles to be found. The steam technology that is integral with the show's setting comes into play in a variety of machinery, but the girls' spirit-powered fighting suits, the Oobu, are nowhere to be found. Humor is abundant, both in the personality conflicts which are central to the story, and in the situations and resulting solutions to various challenges the girls face, in particular, newcomer Reni's "fixing" of mechanical devices, which more often than not is a disaster waiting to happen.

The production style is gorgeous, as is the character design. The only thing that I found bothersome in the presentation was the digital panning in the second episode, which really called attention to itself with an unnatural, and very linear look to it. The music is once again very enjoyable, and thankfully the show's opening theme has been left intact, if slightly modified. The stories move at a good pace, and don't feel as forced or disjointed as the original OVAs. Overall this is a fun viewing experience, and a welcome precursor to the television series.

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

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: The gorgeous artwork is well rendered with brilliant color and well defined blacks. Compression issues are very minor, but aliasing is a bit more prominent during pans than normal. There are no print defects to speak of, and overall this looks very good.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Japaneseyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is available in Japanese 5.1 surround or English stereo. Neither tracks had any detectable technical defects. The Japanese track is nicely enveloping, with a good use of directionality. The English dub is less expansive, but still very good sounding, although I'm not that keen on some of the decisions behind the acting, particularly the accents used.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Zone of the Enders: Idolo, Noir, Chance Pop Session, Saiyuki, Sakura Wars TV, Wild Arms
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Clean opening animation
  2. Production sketches
  3. Character bios
  4. Original Japanese DVD cover art
  5. Mini poster
Extras Review: A good selection of supplements are available, beginning with the clean opening animation, which features the original Japanese logo. Like the original OVA disc, this one uses angles for the inline openings, with cast credits dependant on which language preference is selected.

Production sketches run as a 10m:44s slide presentation, accompanied by music from the show. Some character information, plus plenty of steam gadgets are shown, along with ancillary cast and the Flower Troupe's stage costuming.

Brief character bios cover Sakura, Iris, Reni, Maria, Yoneda, Oghami, Kaede and Ayame.

When this OVA series was originally released in Japan, it came on six DVDs, and the cover and insert art for the first three are presented here. Seeing this beautiful art almost makes me wish we had a six disc release here—then again, maybe not!

A Japanese promo section runs 5m:58s, which includes the live action musical shows, and the Sakura Project 2000 feature film.

While the extras here are well handled, they aren't quite enough to introduce the characters to first time audiences.

Preview trailers for Zone of the Enders: Idolo, Noir, Chance Pop Session, Saiyuki, Sakura Wars TV and Wild Arms complete the on-disc supplements.

A fold out mini-poster of the cast is included in the package, which is backed by interviews with author Ohji Hiroi and music composer Kouhei Tanaka, which explain some of the approaches taken for this OVA series.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

Sakura Wars is an enjoyable series with likeable characters and plenty of humor. This second OVA makes a great addition to the first set, but will be confusing on its own, and its marketing by the series title alone may add to the confusion. The quality of production is a rare treat, and the timeline and technology are a nice change of pace. The series concludes with a second disc.

 


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