HD DVD
Give it a Rent
3.5 stars
Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
4.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
0 Stars
High-Def Extras
1 Stars
Bottom Line
Give it a Rent

Freedom: 2

Street Date:
September 25th, 2007
Reviewed by:
High-Def Digest staff
Review Date: 1
October 1st, 2007
Movie Release Year:
2006
Studio:
Bandai Visual
Length:
26 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

This disc contains several HDi-enhanced extras which may require a firmware upgrade to your HD DVD player. If you experience playback issues, consult your player's manual for instructions on how to download the latest firmware update.

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

As I discussed at length in my 'Freedom 1' HD DVD review, "The Freedom Project" was born as a promotional endeavor by Nissin Cup Noodles in Japan. To celebrate their 35th anniversary, the food company commissioned a six-episode anime series called 'Freedom' to create a futuristic world of paranoia and propaganda. Imagine McDonalds sponsoring an R-rated Pixar film, and you'll start to realize the novelty of this project. Rather than issuing the entire series as a single release in the US, Bandai Visual is following the Japanese release pattern for the 'Freedom' series, rolling out each episode individually (every few months) as as an HD DVD/DVD twin format release.

The setup: the year is 2267, and Earth has been ravaged by a devastating climate shift that killed billions of people. The survivors have formed a society on the lunar surface called Eden, a city that was intended as a utopia but quickly devolved into a grimy city rife with street gangs. When children turn fifteen, Eden gives them a brief respite from school before forcing them to work in pre-assigned jobs across the colony. One of these students, Takeru (voiced by Daisuke Namikawa), is a dreamer who longs to win races with his shoddy LTD (Lunar Terrain Vehicle). He and his friends, Kazuma (Shotaro Morikubo) and Bis (Kappei Yamaguchi), work to win a tunnel race before inadvertently stumbling on a secret that threatens to take down Eden's house of cards.

'Freedom: 2' picks up right where the first episode left off. While being punished with community service on the outskirts of Eden, Takeru discovers a capsule in the moon dust that contains a lone photograph of a young girl. On the reverse side of the photo is a hand written message that both confuses and intrigues Takeru. Suddenly obsessed with the girl in the photo, Takeru treks across Eden in an attempt to ascertain her identity, only to find that there isn't any record of her existence. As his search intensifies, Takeru discovers yet another secret that catches the attention of Eden’s dangerous elements. Just in time to leave you salivating for volume three, Takeru and Kazuma leave the city as robots track their escape.

I love when filmmakers create a utopia that slowly reveals itself to be a dystopian mousetrap. Eden is a fascinating and potentially complex beast that makes for a wonderful faceless villain. Takeru, like many young heroes in anime, isn't very special, but that's what makes him so endearing. All of the characters in 'Freedom 2' take shape and begin to exhibit genuine pathos and vulnerability. Even the mysterious girl in the photograph has a strange allure.

Whereas episode one was dominated by simple exposition and character introductions, ‘Freedom 2’ has more to offer anime and manga fans, establishing momentum, a purpose, and a trio of themes that start to emerge as the dominant forces in the series. As the story expands, it finally allows all of its elements to breathe, and I got a sense of its direction and vision for the first time.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that Katsuhiro Otomo ('Akira,' 'Steamboy') is the series' lead character and mech designer. His visual style is integral to the world of 'Freedom’ -- the unfinished line art that appears in the final product makes the animation feel like a published manga, while the painted backgrounds bring an added sense of depth and a distinct texture. In short, Otomo’s art introduces an authentic soul into the series.

The only major problem I had with 'Freedom 2' was that the episode was over just as I was getting into it (no small feat, considering the actual feature content on this disc is only 26 minutes long). It's deja vu all over again -- this is exactly how I felt at the end of 'Freedom 1.' Although both episodes are quite strong, with months-long delays between releases, it's hard to really get into the series, and I continue to find myself wondering if I might feel differently about the individual episodes if the series itself disappoints in the end. As such, while I quite enjoyed this episode on its own, I reserve the right to revisit this review at a future date and update my thoughts based on how this one fits into the larger puzzle.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'Freedom 2' is the second US HD DVD release (following 'Freedom 1') to feature a dual-layer twin-format disc. Unlike the more common HD DVD/DVD combo discs, twin-format discs are single-sided -- one side has a printed label and the other looks like a standard HD DVD. A DVD player will automatically access the DVD-5 layer of the disc, while an HD DVD player will access the HD-15 layer. The end-user doesn’t have to fidget with any confusing technical options – instead, the twin-format disc does all the thinking and eliminates the problems that some users have experienced with two-sided discs.

Like the first episode released in June, the HD DVD presentation of 'Freedom 2' features a stunning 1080p/VC-1 transfer that enhances the 2-D animation to its maximum potential. Bandai has teamed with Microsoft to optimize the codec, and the results are praise-worthy. Colors are flawless, line art is crisp, and the level of detail (which renders visible textures of the painted backgrounds) is surprisingly noteworthy for hand-drawn animation. Unlike some other 2-D animation available in high definition, color fills in 'Freedom 2' attach to the linework perfectly The HD picture pulled my eyes across the screen on a regular basis and easily surpassed the standard definition DVD layer. Don't get me wrong, the DVD transfer is no slouch, but its visuals lack the stability and solidity of the noiseless high definition transfer.

I did find a few minor hiccups similar to those on 'Freedom 1.' Specifically, there are a few instances where artifacts and banding appear. However, these discrepancies are static and don't fluctuate when a shot pans. This would suggest that these eyesores were present on the original graphic files used on the animation cels. It is mildly distracting (since the majority of the picture is so clean), but it shouldn't be attributed to the HD DVD transfer. Instead, the only issue I had with the VC-1 encode itself was that extremely thin lines tend to pixelate.

Note that both of these problems are relatively insignificant and will likely go unnoticed by most anime fans. Overall, this video transfer is nothing short of breathtaking and will leave you hungry for 'Freedom 3.'

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Featuring an immersive Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (1.5 Mbps) and a technically proficient Linear PCM 2.0 mix, like its predecessor, 'Freedom 2' forces viewers to choose between a full soundfield or a high-fidelity source.

Each track is presented in Japanese with English subtitles and takes advantage of their individual strengths. The Dolby track showcases deft ambiance, precise directionality, and explosive dynamics that open up the soundfield on a regular basis. The PCM mix offers crisp voices and pitch-perfect clarity. While I preferred the surround presence of the Dolby offering, I really wish that this release had combined the best of both worlds with in the inclusion of a TrueHD mix or an uncompressed PCM surround track.

Still, both tracks attach a lot of power to the on-screen action. The level of attention the audio package received from the production staff is apparent from beginning to end. Pans are swift, the high ends are stable, and bass tones are resonant, shaking the floor as if they have something to prove. All in all, the Dolby and PCM tracks are above average and should easily please fans of the series and anime in general.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

The only supplement included on both the HD DVD and DVD layers of 'Freedom 2' is a trailer for the next episode of the series.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Like the supplemental package on 'Freedom 1,' the exclusive extras on the HD DVD layer of this disc could really benefit from additional content -- it would certainly help to justify the high cost per episode.

The meatiest feature is a PiP "3DCG Simulation" that places sketch work and early CG renders on top of the final presentation. The disc’s only other extra content comes via this disc’s web-enabled features, which the time of this writing only included an HD trailer (1 minute) that teases scenes from all six episodes in fast-fire.

Still, for fans of technical wizardry, all is not lost, with Bandai Visual bringing back the customization options they introduced on the 'Freedom 1' HD DVD. These options allow users to change the size and transparency of the PiP window, swap the main feature with the overlay video, access pop-up production credits, and bookmark favorite scenes. All of these tools are useful and easy to control. (For a more thorough examination of these customization controls, visit the HD exclusives section of our 'Freedom 1' HD DVD review.)

Final Thoughts

Although I still dislike being forced to take it in only one episode at a time, the 'Freedom' series is really beginning to grow on me -- the script, characters, and animation are all worth checking out. This HD DVD is technically solid as well, boasting a stunning picture and a nice set of audio tracks. Only an anemic supplemental package hampers the overall presentation. Still, the biggest disappointment orbiting this release remains its price point. With a list price of $39.99 for a single 26-minute episode (27.95 at Amazon), this one is tough to recommend outright. As such, unless you're an uber-fan of anime, 'Freedom 2' is probably best experienced as a rental.

Technical Specs

  • HD DVD/DVD Twin-Format Disc
  • HD-15 Single-Layer
  • DVD-5 Single-Layer

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/VC-1

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.78:1

Audio Formats

  • Japanese Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround (1.5 Mbps)
  • Japanese PCM 2.0 Stereo

Subtitles/Captions

  • English Subtitles

Supplements

  • Trailer

Exclusive HD Content

  • PiP Storyboards
  • PiP CG Renders
  • HD-i Technology
  • Downloadable Content

Review Components:
- 52" Sony Bravia XBR3 1080p Flat-Panel LCD
- Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD Player
- Yamaha 7.1 (840w) with Klipsch Synergy series 7.1 speakers
- HDMI and optical audio connections

Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.

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