Reviewby Theron Martin,
Rumiko Takahashi Anthology
DVD 2: Happy Disaster
Once more Rumiko Takahashi provides with three stand-alone short stories, each a full episode long. In “In A Pot,” a housewife who has recently moved to a new apartment building makes some wild assumptions about one of her neighbors after hearing some disturbing gossip about the neighbor's relationship with her mother-in-law. In “Aberrant Family F,” a 7th-grade girl is convinced, based on rumors she's heard and the atypical behavior of her parents, that the family trip she's on is leading to a family suicide. In “As Long As You Are Here,” a proud, stern company man who has recently lost his job substitutes for his ill wife at her part-time restaurant job—an occupation for which he's spectacularly ill-suited.
Rumiko Takahashi is best-known to North American fans for her creation of lengthy series that mix humor, romance, action, and supernatural or sci-fi elements, such as Urusei Yatsura, Ranma ½, and Inuyasha. With this anthology we get to see her experimentation with an assortment of self-contained slice-of-life tales, each of which introduces an entirely new cast of characters and a new situation. The big advantage of this format is that a viewer does not have to have seen the previous volume to appreciate this one, nor is there any need to worry about keeping track of what happened in earlier episodes. The disadvantage is that it limits the actual storytelling to only 21 minutes per story, but as she proved with the first volume, this does not seem to be a problem for Ms. Takahashi.
The first tale, “In A Pot,” is the weakest and most predictable of the three. It uses over-exaggerated dramatics in an attempt to lighten the mood, but this ends up being more annoying than funny. It is otherwise a reasonably well-written story about a woman who lets gossip shape her opinion of a neighbor she doesn't know well, then allows her imagination to run rampant when she discovers something which looks like a piece of bone in a flowerpot the woman asks her to look after for a while. As one might expect, little about the situation is what it seems once the truth comes out. The second of the three, “Aberrant Family F,” is the only story in this volume to focus on a younger character; in fact, it's the only episode to have children in more than very minor roles. The story, told from the point of view of 7th-grade Hazuki, focuses on her worries that a family trip she's on may just be the precursor to a family suicide. It is the best-written and most entertaining episode of the three, as it effectively balances humor and some more serious elements while never losing its focus on the thought processes of a 13-year-old girl. The narrated third story, “As Long As You Are Here,” which focuses on Mr. Dohmato's comically inept efforts to adapt to a customer service job, is the funniest and most light-hearted of the lot, though it does deal with the very real issue of a proud businessman learning to adjust after losing his long-time job. It features the best set of supporting characters, especially the store manager who, while wimpy, still knows well how to deal with customers, and the cheery foreign student who works at the restaurant's counter. She is fond of saying, “I no understand your language,” but understands people pretty well. In each case the story is brought to a reasonable and generally satisfying conclusion which affirms some value emphasized within the story, a pattern not unlike that seen in Human Crossing, the other anthology series currently in circulation.
The character designs for each episode are consistent and all bear the distinctive mark of Ms. Takahashi. These are realistically-proportioned, ordinary-looking people strongly reminiscent of designs seen in her other major anime series. Though not as clean, sharp, or refined as designs seen in recent digital-heavy productions, they serve the purpose well enough. Background art, while good, is also not especially clean, sharp, or refined; artistically speaking, these episodes look like they could have been produced 15 years ago rather than just two. The animation is good enough to suit the purpose but is otherwise unremarkable.
The musical scoring for these episodes tends to be overly dramatic, especially in episode 4, but it isn't out of tempo with the storytelling. The opener and closer are wholly ordinary, providing a pleasant but unmemorable, low-key framing for each episode.
Geneon's dub production fares better in this volume than in the previous one. Most lead roles are well-cast and well-performed, though supporting roles are more uneven. The significant exception is Mrs. Tonegawa in episode 4, who has some dialog which is supposed to sound flat and emotionless, but the English VA overdoes it. Balancing this is an excellent performance by Rachel Hirschfeld as Hazuki in episode 5, who sounds convincingly like a preteen girl. (She might be better-known as the voice of Anita King in the R.O.D. TV series.) Also particularly well-cast is Alfred Thor as Mr. Dohmato in episode 6. He may not sound much like the original seiyuu, but his voice and delivery is exactly right for the part. Reiko Matsuo, who normally does translation, production, and ADR direction work for Geneon dubs, steps in to give the role of Achala in episode 6 an appropriately foreign-sounding accent and cheery lilt; in this case her dub performance is an improvement on the original, which doesn't sound especially foreign.
Extras on this volume include a clean closer, company previews, and a production art gallery. The original Japanese closing credits are used for each episode, with English credits provided only in a block (with no music) at the end of the volume. Menu screens completely lack any kind of sound effect or music, but setup for the Scene Access menu, which has all chapters of all three episodes side-by-side on the same screen, is one of the best and most user-friendly I've yet seen on an anime DVD.
Though completely devoid of any graphic content or harsh language, the Rumiko Takahashi Anthology is a series aimed more at adult audiences. It uses some of the visual gimmicks common in her other works, but its structure and storytelling bear little resemblance to any of her other series, so fans expecting more of the same will be in for quite a surprise. Its artistic, technical, and musical merits will not excite anyone, and feel out of date, but most who come into the series with an open mind should find its stories to be sufficiently satisfying.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : C
+ Entertaining and widely-varied stories.
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