PLEASE NOTE: “As an Amazon Associate, [Need Coffee] earns from qualifying purchases." You know we make money from Amazon links,
and I know you know this, but they make us say it anyway. More info, click here.

Of Machine Men, Languid Bishie Mages, and Vicious Attack Crows

Appleseed DVD cover art Someday's Dreamers, Vol. 1: Magical Dreamer DVD cover art Princess Tutu, Vol. 2: Traum DVD cover art

First up, we have the standard edition version of Appleseed, and it’s hard to disagree with the cover quote from a review by the great John Woo, calling the film a “stunning visual achievement” and “a new milestone for CG animation.” The world has succumbed to a massive war, and only one city, Olympus, survives. Olympus was able to do so only because of androids, who now nearly outnumber humans, and create a kind of utopia. However, human soldiers resent their loss of power and threaten humanity’s hard-won peace. Deunan Knute (the Master-Chief of anime) and her boyfriend, who is much less human than machine, are the only ones who can stop this new war and maintain the fragile peace.

The DVD has a stunning transfer that makes great use of the original HD coding. The artwork is awesome and affecting and does a splendid job of helping the characters tell the story. The features include an appealing commentary track with the director and producer; if only all anime movies would have this! Commentaries are not all created equal–some degenerate to mere self-congratulation and pointless reminiscing–but this one is interesting, funny in places, and a must-see for fans of the show. There’s also a creative, innovative feature called “music/scene cues,” where you can link certain scenes with the musicians and bands involved to learn more about who is playing what when. Very nice, and I love the attempt at innovation. We also get a set of staff profiles, which is a great way for those who work so hard getting anime to the needy otaku get some much-delayed credit and props. Available for the low, low price of less than $20, Appleseed is a must-buy. Fans of the show might want to also check out the two-disc special edition release. (Buy it from Amazon.)

Next up is Someday’s Dreamers, Volume 1, a kind of Harry Potter for J-pop fans or a dreamier, watercolor version of Kiki’s Delivery Service. Our Heroine, Yume Kikuchi, has come to Tokyo to be trained as an apprentice mage. Her new master and teacher, the startlingly bishie Masami Oyamada, helps steer her through the government requirements and training that might someday allow Yume to become licensed as a magic-user. The first four episodes on this disc basically introduce the world and characters and start to create the situations that will drive the plot for the rest of the series. It’s a great introduction to shojo anime in general, and will appeal strongly to fans of anything shojo, especially the magical girl genre (though without the sometimes annoying and distracting transformation sequences and monsters of the week) and the domestic romantic comedy genre.

The show’s art is absolutely incredible and sell the series by itself. It’s as finely drawn and attractive as a CLAMP show, but more pastel and charming, instead of gritty and goth. The disc features are a clean opening and closing, a lovely reversible cover, and a music video made especially for the series by J-pop stars The Indigo. An interview with an anime scholar, or, better yet, an interview with original manga-ka Norie Yamada would have been awesome, but we seem doomed never to have anime treated the same way other TV series or films are treated. Geneon’s production values are satisfactorily high, which yields solid video and audio elements, along with decent features and a nice final product. (Buy it from Amazon.)

Finally, we have Princess Tutu, Volume 2: Traum. Continuing the story from the previous first volume, the Princess is continuing her search for the shards of Mytho’s heart, despite the protestations and impediments of Mytho’s so-called protector and his girlfriend. However, the search has many other dangers and problems for Tutu, such as the crow princess Kraehe, the continued power struggle with Fakir, and more importantly, the question of whether or not it’s actually good for Mytho to be getting these shards of darkness back. This is a show with a surprising depth and range of emotion, and it also covers some interesting aspects of psychology and ethics. The young to mid-teen target audience may not appreciate all the subtleties of the show, but parental involvement, as always, will help viewers get even more out of their entertainment. The covers and ads may make this show look like a frilly Swan Lake rip-off, but it’s not in the least; it has depth, emotional resonance, and a truly interesting and intricate plot that touches upon some important human questions, such as what it means to love someone actively and properly.

The nicest feature with this release isn’t on the disc, but in the case. The single page insert has a very nice, interesting text interview with Executive Director Junichi Sato. Even with translation costs, this can’t have been an expensive addition, and it adds so much to the value of the disc and the pleasure of the watching experience itself. Maybe more and more production companies will take a page from ADV’s book here and include such texts in future anime releases, and I hope it’s the first in a long line of planned additions for other ADV releases. The music is very well done, and has a lovely medieval Irish feel to some of it. (Buy it from Amazon.)

Shojo anime fans will want to have this one and the whole series, as will people who appreciate popular culture tackling philosophical issues or people who like it when entertainment treats teenagers like human beings and not idiots who shouldn’t think lest they be harmed. The art alone makes it worthwhile, so pick up Vols. 1 and 2 today.