Reviewby Theron Martin,
Coicent / Five Numbers!
Sentai Filmworks once again presents two unrelated OVAs, this time both futuristic tales from Sunrise. In Coicent, Shinichi visits Nara City as part of a school trip to its 1,300th anniversary and the 2,000th anniversary of the capital's relocation. He dreams of a romantic encounter with a girl like the resurrected idol Himiko, but his dream actually becomes reality when getting tangled up with a recalcitrant albino deer leads him to unwittingly save a falling girl. The girl, who introduces herself as Toto (for short) and claims to have seen little of the city despite living there, explores the city with Shinichi, much to the delight of both. Toto is far from an ordinary girl, however, and has some shady characters pursuing her.
In Five Numbers!, five Coalition prisoners and a cat awake from a drug-induced sleep to discover that their cells are open, but the main power is off and no one – not even guards – seem to be around. As they search the area, they discover that there appear to be no windows or other exits. They must puzzle out where they are, why they are there, what happened to everyone else, and who among them may or may not know more about the situation than what he or she is letting on.
The past 30 years of anime history are littered with eccentric, graphic, and/or experimental one-shot OVAs, the overwhelming majority of which never (legally) see the light of day in the States because they are difficult to market, especially to a fan base which demands plentiful episodes per purchase. Voices of a Distant Star did get released, but it is the rare exception amongst episode-length, non-hentai one-shots because it had almost universal acclaim, was widely-renowned in the fan base, and was a great curiosity. Earlier this year Sentai Filmworks tried a novel approach to rectifying this long-standing problem: their Feature² combo pack, which combined two unrelated OVAs onto a single disk release. It apparently worked well enough for them to try it again – only this time both their picks and their release standards are far better.
Aside from using futuristic settings, these two Sunrise creations have only one major factor in common: both forego explanation and background development in favor of storytelling. The limitations of having a mere 25 minutes to tell a story demand some sort of sacrifice, however, and those are the least necessary components of both of these stories. Otherwise the two starkly contrast, with Coicent being a simple, youthful adventure-romance and Five Numbers! being a darker and more mature mystery story vaguely reminiscent of the Canadian horror/mystery film Cube. (Occasional mention of concerns about booby traps seems to support that this is not a coincidental likeness.)
Of the two, Coicent is the stronger effort. While it may have a far less intricate story and a more familiar concept (boy has nearly magical encounter with girl and loses his heart), it finds a pleasing balance between action, silliness, sci-fi, and sentimentality, resulting in an honest and enjoyable tale which can evoke a warm, nostalgic, and even emotional appeal. Why Toto can do the special stuff that she can, and why the old lady and her dullard sons want her, seems unimportant against the simple joy of watching her delight in her temporary freedom with Shinichi. Even the albino deer, who is himself quite the character, can ultimately be more likeable than annoying. Complementing the great writing is a sterling artistic effort, one full of beautiful animation and a brightly-colored, CG-enhanced marvel of a setting that would be a tourist's dream. Robotic Hindu and Buddha status march in parades, animated oni statues struggle to pin down a traditionally-clad dancer who nimbly dodges around them, herds of deer trample people in first-person perspective, and everything bursts with lavish color. Toto dazzles in elaborate dress, but even in schoolgirl form she stands out with her distinctive head design and enchanting expressiveness. Head director and scripter Shuhei Morita has done excellent work before with Freedom and Kakurenbo, and this is another major triumph. And the closing number with the line-dancing deer will either be a treat or one of the most ridiculous things that you have seen lately, and quite possibly both.
Five Numbers! has a less impressive pedigree and does not shine as brightly in its artistry, but it is no slouch, either, and also has production personnel who were involved in Freedom. It quickly works to develop its cast and their distinctive quirks while giving them the opportunity to explore their unusual prison and puzzle out the mystery before them. The surprise involving in the nature of their prison is a mild one that has been used before, but the surprise twists at the end involving why the prisoners were all in the prison in the first place and the apparent identity of one of the prisoners are more genuine, sit-forward-in-your-seat shockers worthy of an episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. The story and the characters are much coarser, with one female character playing up her sex appeal and applying derogatory sexually-based references to certain other characters. The art style reflects that, with a character design and animation look well removed from the anime norm but nonetheless capable of showing off a wealth of motion. Great setting design is also a strength here, though it has a much more classic sci fi feel than the more showy Coicent.
Musical efforts on both are appropriate and effective, though of vastly different styles. In each case one of the seiyuu sings the distinctive closing theme. While the visuals for Coicent's may be more attention-catching, the closer for Five Numbers! stakes out its own distinctiveness by doing its theme song in a kid's song flavor and entirely in Italian.
In addition to choosing better material, Sentai Filmworks also spruced up the production values on their end. Both of these OVAs are dubbed this time, with a cast headed by Vic Mignogna and Luci Christian turning in a great effort on Coicent and a cast featuring Greg Ayres, Tiffany Grant (as the vampy gambler), and Hilary Haag (as the girl hacker) delivering an acceptable job on Five Numbers!. This release also has Extras, with Japanese trailers offered for both, clean opener and closer offered for Coicent, and a pair of interviews offered for Five Numbers!: a shorter one with one of the principal seiyuu and a somewhat longer one with scripter Dai Sato, whose most interesting observation is that the two OVAs do not only coincidentally resemble the fourth and seventh episodes of Freedom!, respectively. A Blu-Ray version of this release is also being offered, though it was not available for review.
Although this release still only provides a bit more than 50 minutes of content, the combination of these two efforts still justifies the purchase price. See the first one for a great-looking tale about the joy of young love and adventure and then flip to the second for a much grimmer mystery yarn with savage twists.
Note: Ratings given below are for Coicent. Five Numbers! ranks one notch lower in story, art, and Overall grades.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Excellent animation, beautiful settings, first story is emotionally compelling, second story has shocking twists.
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