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Manga Entertainment UK release Tokyo Underground: Series One into the UK on 27th March 2006. Bringing together the six volumes released in the US over a twelve month period and sticking them all in a single box, is this a piece of Anime goodness or should it be consigned to the depths of the Earth?

Tokyo Underground: Complete Series 1

Feature


”I can only dream of fighting like that. Of fighting like a girl.”

Rumina Asagi was always earmarked as a troublemaker who liked fighting, but the first day at high school presents him with a fresh start. Well, for all of about two minutes anyway. You see, Rumina is an honourable chap and doesn’t believe that boys should go around making girls cry and is always willing to step in to help. An admirable trait, to be sure, but one that is destined to get him in a whole world of trouble—he just didn’t expect that world to be deep below Tokyo.

Returning home with his friend Ginnosuke, Rumina finds his Grandfather has gone away for a few days but other visitors are in hiding. Investigating a noise brings him face-to-face with Chelsea Rorec, a rather intense lass who is hell-bent on protecting her friend, Ruri. Unsure what to do, it isn’t long before the people that are after Ruri make an appearance and Rumina leaps into action to protect his guests. Forewarned is forearmed though, and the knowledge that his new foe, Seki, can control fire would have been quite handy—and probably would have stopped him getting killed.

Of course, Chelsea and Ruri have a few surprises of their own. While Chelsea can manipulate gravity, Ruri is the Maiden of Life—a fact demonstrated by Rumina’s resurrection at the hands of his new friend. However, the event does have a strange side-effect in that it awakens a latent power in Rumina—the ability to control the wind.

Tokyo Underground: Complete Series 1
Seeing off Seki is not enough to keep Ruri safe, and while she recovers from the strain of bringing Rumina back to life, Chelsea recants the tale that will set Rumina off on an adventure. Years ago, a complex deep under the city of Tokyo was used to experiment on human beings attempting to bring out their hidden potential. This worked in part, and many Elemental Users were created with the ability to control certain aspects of their surroundings. Something went wrong though, and the surface dwellers were forced to seal off the complex leaving all who resided there trapped. When Chelsea discovered that the Company had a dark fate prepared for Ruri, she used her powers to escape to the surface with the person she had sworn to protect.

Ruri’s recovery is swift, but the Company’s resolve means that they are not willing to give up easily. Seki’s report of Rumina’s powers produces a couple of tests for the fledgling wind user, but with his powers in their infancy the results are less than impressive. When Pairon and Teil—two water users—turn up to reclaim Ruri, there is little Chelsea and Rumina can do against the onslaught. With Ruri taken back underground, Rumina must prepare himself to get her back and take on the unknown.

Tokyo Underground: Complete Series 1
There is a total of twenty-six episodes contained in the set, running around twenty-three minutes each:

Disc 1 – Awakening
1. The Surface – The Fateful Encounter
2. Resurrection – The Maiden of Life
3. The Awakening - When the Wind Blows
4. Full Moon - Ruri's Wish
5. Fight – The Two Water Users

Disc 2 - Irruption
6. Training and Resolve
7. Charges into the Underground
8. The Traps Hidden in the Darkness
9. The Spirit Gun – To Fight Together
10. The Revenge of the Water User

Disc 3 – The Promise
11. Fight to the Death - Beyond the Hatred
12. The Insubordination - Escape into the Light
13. The Promise of the Ribbons
14. The Assassins of the Tower Gate

Disc 4 - Assailants
15. Raid – The Broken Bonds
16. The Unforgettable Tragedy
17. Fighting for her Smile
18. Wind Blowing Away the Tears

Disc 5 - Convictions
19. Frustration – Unfulfilled Desire
20. The Trap of the Magnet Users
21. Slums - Town of Traitors
22. Invitation to Killing Fields

Disc 6 – Into the Light
23. Battle Toward the Zenith
24. Reason – Treacherous Flame
25. Collapse – Tormented Mind
26. Toward the Light – United Ambitions

Tokyo Underground: Complete Series 1
Throughout the series, Rumina and his cohorts take on many enemies, make new friends and allies, and even get a few of the evil-doers to change sides. As Rumina’s confidence and power grows, he becomes less of an easy target and more of a powerful adversary to his foes and there is a general progression and learning curve that underpins the episodes. His relationship with Chelsea—or Blondie, as he insists on calling her—is strained for the most part (mainly because doesn’t want him anywhere near Ruri) but their quest to free Ruri from her captors keeps them together. Ginnosuke eventually lends a helping hand in his own way, but he has to get help from elsewhere due to not having any latent powers to awaken during the journey.

The plot itself follows a fairly straight line. Think of the usual boy meets girl, boy dies, boy brought back to life by girl, girl gets kidnapped, boy finds he has super-powers and heads off to rescue her type scenario and you’ll be pretty much there. That said, the secrets of the Company, the origins of the Underground, and the motives of the sinister Lord Kashin are all revealed to us slowly enough to keep a bit of mystery going. There is also a fair smattering of subplots for characters other than the main quartet.

What anyone watches this sort of thing for, though, is the fights. To be honest, most of them seem a little anti-climactic, but there are a few inventive uses of the powers on display. Smoke, heat, gravity, water, wind (the blowing kind, not the smelly kind), magnetism and lightning all get utilised, but although our heroes get battered and bruised you know it’s all going to come right in the end. Visually they are all well done, and the anime style works to their advantage.

If I was to have one complaint it would be that the ending is very vague and more than a little rushed. It doesn’t have a cliffhanger feel to it, but then neither is it satisfying in any way. To add a little more confusion, everywhere is plugging this as Series One, and although this was originally shown in 2002 I can’t find any evidence of a second series (that might just mean that my Japanese isn’t very good though).

Tokyo Underground: Complete Series 1
The release details I got with the discs say that this will appeal to fans of Pokemon, Beyblade and Rave Master, and it may well do so, but to me it has a little more depth than those (although I have seen very little of the last two). To me though, the connections with the elements and the calling of powers gives it a Final Fantasy feel—Square Enix had a hand in the source material, so perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising - and fans of that may find this appealing. As for the PG rating, this is all harmless stuff, but there are some questionable underlying connotations in the way that the self-styled Chelsea Rorec Fan Club fawn over their idol, and the least said about the floating forms of Ruri and Chelsea in the opening titles used from episode eighteen onwards the better.

Video


Well, with the numerous options for the audio (more on that below) the room for the video to perform in is reduced somewhat. Fortunately, the flat colours associated with cel-shaded animation and the lack of intricate detail mean that there is not so much harm done as with your effects-laden live-action stuff.

Contrary to the promotional materials—and all the online retailers I checked—the discs are presented in plain, old 4:3 and not anamorphic widescreen. That said, what is here is clean, bright, and apparently free from edge enhancement leaving an image that is very nice to look at. Colour reproduction is excellent and any fast motion in the fights is similarly handled well.

The sole English subtitle track is easily read and although the layer changes on the first two discs could have been placed better, the remaining discs make use of the even number of episodes and place the change right before the third instalment.

Overall, it’s a solid presentation that would probably not benefit much from cutting down on the audio tracks.

Tokyo Underground: Complete Series 1

Audio


The six tracks presented here are probably a little overkill. With DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks in both Japanese and English, all the bases are covered but the actual sonic content doesn’t gain a great deal in the multi-channel mixes. They come across well, and the addition of the surround channels does create a nice ambience, but there isn’t a great deal of use made of directional effects. The subwoofer occasionally kicks in and adds a little oomph that is lacking in the vanilla stereo tracks, so if you’ve got the choice there’s definitely no harm in going for either of the 5.1 options in your desired language.

Choosing between DTS and Dolby Digital is a close call here, but yet again I find that the additional bit-rate of the former adds just enough clarity in the treble end over the Dolby Digital tracks for me to come down on the side of DTS.

Like I said before, unlike some releases the video hasn’t been harmed by the additional room needed for the numerous tracks, so it’s nice to be able to pick your poison here and the audio quality is quite good.

Extras


Deep, deep down in the depths of the sixth disc lurks a world seen by many, but forgotten by most of those who have witnessed it. Yes, it’s the world of the Trailer section—and sadly these are the only extras you get here. Art of Anime is a blipvert of some of Manga’s back catalogue entries, and you also get trailers for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (a shameless plug, but you should check out our review of the UK release), Heatguy J, Millennium Actress, Submarine 707R and Tetsujin 28. There is also a trailer for what looks to be a hilarious ‘man-in-suit’ live-action version of the latter in Tetsujin 28: The Movie.

Tokyo Underground: Complete Series 1
To be fair, the US Geneon releases only add character profiles, the original Japanese opening and closing credits, textless opening and ending credits, and a few art galleries, but it would have been nice to see them make their way to this edition.

Overall


Ignoring the lack of extra material, the presentation here is excellent. Animation can look superb on DVD, and here the colour and appearance of the series doesn’t disappoint. It may not be in the promised anamorphic widescreen, but then the US discs aren’t either so I’d guess that this is all that’s available. Sonically you get a level playing field from which to choose the English or original language tracks, so again I’m left with nothing to complain about.

The series itself will do enough to keep you interested if you are into anime, but I can’t help wishing that the ending provided a little more closure.


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