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Manga Entertainment UK unleashed She, The Ultimate Weapon: Volume 1 onto the UK market on 15th May 2006, in what is becoming their standard, two-disc, Dolby Digital and DTS package. An adaptation of Shin Takahashi’s Saikano Manga that itself ran for two years, this set contains the first four episodes of thirteen.

She, The Ultimate Weapon

Feature


The Last Love Song on this Little Planet...

Kids, it’s part of your early life to get the odd scrape, cut or bruise, whether by getting into fights or just by plain dumb luck at times. And then you’ve got that urge to contend with—you know; the one where you’re suddenly attracted to the opposite sex and they’re no longer ‘icky’. These are the things that Shuji and Chise are trying to work their way through, but they are doing it together. It’s an awkward relationship at first, and Shuji seems to be quickly tiring of his new and somewhat accident-prone girlfriend. Chise herself is only really with Shuji because she was curious, but there is a developing closeness between them in these trying times of war.

War can need drastic measures in order to swing things in your favour, and that long walk home in the dark for a young girl can offer up some nasty surprises. Of course, nobody ever expects to be dragged off to the nearest military base to be kitted out with all the latest high-tech weaponry, and it’s even less likely that it would be hidden in the delicate frame of a seventeen year old girl.

But that is exactly what Shuji is confronted with when an attack on Hokkaido results in him finding Chise rather less than timid and harmless. When he learns the full horror of what has been done to her, Shuji resolves to help Chise through it any way he can. Their friends can know nothing of what has happened, and with the military keeping a tight rein on Chise the relationship between the two will be tested at every turn.

She, The Ultimate Weapon
It is mentioned in the extras that the Ultimate Weapon was never realised fully in the original Saikano Manga, and it that sense this would appear to be a faithful adaptation. Told in flashback, and mainly from Shuji’s point of view, we only really get to see the prelude and aftermath of Chise’s transformations. We don’t actually see any battles up close and personal as this is a story about the growing love between two idealistic young things—even though one of them has to live with the knowledge that she is becoming less human as time rolls on.

Even in these opening episodes, Shuji does come across as a bit of a heartless rogue. Never seeming that committed to Chise, and always calling her ‘dummy’ or ‘idiot’, this does get reinforced somewhat when a face from his past comes back into his life. Fuyumi appears to be a few years older than Shuji, but there is no doubt that they shared some tender moments and things could get complicated further when Chise strikes up a friendship with Fuyumi’s husband. This is probably where the ‘15’ rating comes in, as adultery and semi-naked characters aren’t exactly kiddie-friendly themes and we’re definitely not in Pokémon territory with war and death either.

Overall, I’m sure that the story can be adequately told in this form over thirteen episodes, but anyone expecting the action to ramp up in the next few volumes may well be disappointed. It is animated well, and the balance between Junior High high-jinx and desolate, war-torn vistas provides starkly contrasting moments, but in the same way She, The Ultimate Weapon is a mixed bag. It is billed as a love story though, and that is definitely the main focus so those expecting the Ultimate Weapon to rain ninety-seven minutes of destruction down on the world will feel rather dissatisfied—the tender souls out there may find a little more to chew on.

She, The Ultimate Weapon

Video


Here we are, plummeting headlong into the age of high definition where teenage girls are getting transformed into cyborg fighting machines, and we’re still getting non-anamorphically-enhanced, letterboxed transfers on DVD. Well, okay, maybe only two-thirds of that is true, but what we get here is a plain, old, letterboxed 1.78:1 presentation, which strangely includes the menus and—for the most part—the extras.

The picture quality for the episodes is adequate, but the style choices used throughout do more harm than good (in my opinion). Anyone who has come across the HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing making its way into PC games will probably find themselves in familiar territory here, with sunshine in the outdoor scenes bleaching out the picture to some extent. This can lead to a little softness but does not appear to be a problem with the transition to DVD. There aren’t any banding problems in the fades, colour is pretty good, and overall I didn’t find any major things to bitch about, but the overuse of the HDR effect did spoil my enjoyment of the visuals on occasion.

Zooming in to the letterboxed frame on your widescreen TV doesn’t harm the presentation much, although the minor edge enhancement is a little more visible, but what is pleasantly surprising is that the optional English subtitles have been kept within the frame rather than the bars. The layer change on disc one is decently positioned just before the end titles of episode three, but disc two is a curious affair with a grand total of three layer changes over the course of the disc (onto the second layer at the end of episode two, back to the first layer at the end of episode three, and another switch in the middle of episode four).

Despite the lack of an anamorphic transfer and the abundance of annoying daylight effects the visuals still stand up pretty well.

She, The Ultimate Weapon

Audio


Manga once again give you a variety of sound choices for your enjoyment, with Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and DTS 5.1 soundtracks all available in Japanese and English.

Disc one contains the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, along with English and Japanese Stereo tracks, while disc two has the DTS 5.1 versions and only a Japanese Stereo track, but there isn’t much to choose between the multi-channel mixes. All flavours present a nice atmosphere with insects and birdsong in the outdoor scenes—although the DTS is a little clearer in that respect—and all of the tracks go for light bass reinforcement rather than full-on ground-shaking shenanigans (end titles excepted).

Vocals are clear no matter which way you go, and overall this is a collection of decent but unspectacular tracks.

Extras


Eschewing the Manga trend for putting as little as possible on the second disc to allow for the DTS tracks, it is disc one that gives a home to the usual trailers. Art of Anime, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Heatguy J, Millennium Actress, Submarine 707R, Street Fighter Alpha Generations, Tokyo Underground and Tetsujin 28, Survive Style 5+ and Karas: The Prophecy—they’re all here (again) and have the same presentations as any other Manga disc I’ve reviewed in the last few months.

Onto disc two then, where we get about an hour of extra material presented in letterboxed 1.78:1 with Japanese Dolby Digital Stereo audio and English subtitles (unless I point out otherwise). The first snippet—‘Conversations with Voice Actors’ (13m20s)—lets Fumiko Orikasa (Chise) and Shiro Ishimoda (Shuji) give us their two Yen on the series, the original comics and some of the characters that appear.

She, The Ultimate Weapon
‘All About Saikano’ (24m05s, 4:3 & 1.78:1) is, errm, all you may wish to know about the Manga and the Anime. Covering the comics, story, animation, characters, featured songs, the realisation of the Ultimate Weapon, and the story’s Hokkaido locale, each section is covered quickly but together they give a fair knowledge of what went into making the series.

A collection of episodes of the short TV programme ‘Saikano Times’ (20m07s, 4:3) are also included here. Running around four minutes each, these were originally shown as part of Saikano’s original run in Japan and focus on Shin Takahashi, the recording studio, the songs and the supporting cast. The fifth and final segment is basically a look over the other four shows and gives nothing new away. The presentation is definitely skewed towards the teenage end of the spectrum, but it still gives more insight than some of the ‘added value materials’ that are shoved onto other discs.

A set of eight Japanese TV Commercials (3m08s total, 4:3 and 1.78:1) are also included here. By their very nature they are short and a bit repetitive, and this is probably not helped by the fact that there are no subtitles.

Finally, we get some ‘Colour Character Sheets’ featuring a selection from the designs for the characters in the show, as well as Chise’s pager, giving you twenty one screens to shuffle through in turn.

Not a bad selection, and where the subtitles are present they are fairly readable but not as well placed as in the main feature. Also, we get purple subs for four of the five ‘Saikano Times’ programmes—not particularly noteworthy, but I thought I’d mention it.

She, The Ultimate Weapon

Overall


I’m still not sure what to make of She, The Ultimate Weapon, which perhaps means that it’s just not quite my cup of tea. Having the story told in flashback from what appears to be a quite deserted Hokkaido school gives the hint that things do not all end up rosy in Shuji and Chise’s world, and there are seeds planted in these opening episodes that could lead to trouble down the line.

Released in Japan over five volumes (one episode, followed by four sets of three), I would guess that we in the UK have another three volumes to discover the fates of Shuji and Chise, but things would have to kick up a notch (BAM!) to keep my interest past the next set.


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