- HD DVD/DVD Twin-Format Disc
- HD-15 Single-Layer/DVD 5 Single-Layer
- Japanese Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround (1.5 Mbps)
- Japanese Linear PCM 2.0 Stereo
- English Subtitles
Exclusive HD Content
- PiP Featurette
- HDi Enhanced Content
- Web-Enabled Content
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Freedom: 5 (HD DVD)
Bandai Visual / 2007 / 27 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: April 22, 2008
List Price: $39.99
Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Editor's Note: 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.
If you haven't already been hooked in by the 'Freedom' series from Bandai Visual, this fifth volume is not the place to start. "The Freedom Project" was born as a Japanese promotion designed to celebrate Nissin Cup Noodles' 35th anniversary. Instead of pumping out a promotional campaign centered around noodles, the company hired design legend Katsuhiro Otomo ('Akira,' 'Steamboy') to work on this sci-fi series detailing the roots of a dystopian society and its young characters. Over the last year, Bandai Visual has brought the series to the US, releasing each individual episode on HD DVD/DVD twin format discs.
The first three episodes of the 'Freedom' series were fantastic. In the year 2267, a devastating climate shift killed the majority of the planet's population. The survivors of this disaster colonized the moon and created Eden, a utopia that quickly devolved into a crime-ridden amalgamation of disenchanted citizenry and legions of street gangs. Out of this oppressive dystopia rose a young man named Takeru, a bumbling dreamer who stumbled onto a strange photograph which threatened to unravel Eden's house of cards. Without a solid plan, Takeru avoided the authorities, commandeered a clunky space shuttle, and made a hasty exit for Earth to uncover the truth for himself. Unfortunately, the series imploded with its fourth outing -- a plodding filler episode that didn't retain any of the tension or intrigue that allowed the series to resonate with fans across the globe.
I'm sad to report that the fifth episode is even more disappointing. After landing on Earth, donning the most ridiculous yellow outfit imaginable, and hitching a ride with a busload of post-apocalyptic hippies, Takeru conveniently arrives at the home of the mysterious girl in the photograph, Ao. As he finally gets a chance to talk to the girl he has dreamed of, he learns that her people have developed a society where dreams are encouraged rather than stifled. Each year, the survivors of Earth launch a rocket loaded with correspondence to the moon in an attempt to reestablish communication with their homeworld's "lost" colony. While Takeru learns about their yearly ritual, Biz tracks down the radio DJ who kept his hope alive during their cross-country journey to find Ao, but just as Takeru and Biz become acquainted with an Earth long thought deserted, an alarm warns everyone of an approaching hurricane that threatens the launch of the shuttle and the life of a young child in Ao's care.My emotional divorce from 'Freedom' can be traced back to Takeru's anti-climactic arrival on Earth. I know the survivors are meant to provide a thematic counterpoint to the government of Eden, but they're so naïve and childlike that they failed to grab hold of my imagination. Whereas the political intrigue of the Eden segments held me in constant suspense, the revelations in the last two installments make the government's cover-up seem largely hollow and unnecessary. With the rug of logic yanked out from under my feet, I no longer have any real investment in the characters or the story. Personally, I don't care about Takeru's quest anymore; he's proven himself to be a hormonal teen looking for a cute girl rather than a dreamer undermining a vast conspiracy. I don't care about the survivors on Earth; they're free floating simpletons who don't provide the intensity their characters deserve. I don't really even care how the series ends; it's become a predictable mess that hasn't engaged me for two full episodes. With the series quickly wrapping up, I doubt it has sufficient time to win back my affections.
In my review of 'Freedom 1,' I mentioned how difficult it was to evaluate a series based on one episode alone. I was worried that I'd become attached to early episodes, only to be disappointed by future installments. Sadly, my fears had merit. The 'Freedom' series made an admittedly bold left turn at its midway mark, but it did so at the expense of its characters, plot, and overall appeal. By my estimation, 'Freedom 5' is a complete letdown that continues to crush the high hopes I had for the series. Here's hoping 'Freedom 6' turns water into wine.
'Freedom 5' is the fifth US HD DVD to be released on a dual-layer twin-format disc (following the four previous installments in the series). Unlike an HD DVD/DVD Combo Format disc, 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.
Despite my annoyance with its rapidly decaying plot, 'Freedom 5' features a 1080p/VC-1 transfer that's as striking as every other entry in the series. Once again, crisp lines, stable color fills, sharp details, and a bold palette make the series one of the most impressive high-def anime titles on the market. More importantly, you won't find any noise, as every frame is incredibly clean. The animated precision makes for an impressive demo disc and it easily outclasses the DVD version included on the disc. As an added bonus, fans of the series will notice this particular episode doesn't have as many instances of color banding. While it was always a negligible problem, the blue and green gradients of Earth look a bit smoother than the reds and purples of Eden.
Like the previous four episodes, there are a few instances of artifacting and pixilation. However, these static discrepancies are present on the original background graphic files used in the animation. It's mildly distracting (since the majority of the picture is so clean), but it shouldn't be attributed to the HD DVD transfer. All in all, the transfer on 'Freedom 5' doesn't disappoint.
'Freedom 5' includes a Japanese language Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround track (1.5 Mbps) that handles the episode's conversational soundfield with ease. Dialogue is crystal clear, prioritization is spot on, and a collection of transparent pans keep the surround presentation clean and natural. Although the beginning of the episode is centered around expositional chats, LFE presence is as strong as ever, supporting the most mundane effects with solid low-end extension and healthy thooms. Better still, treble tones are stable and the whiz and whine of clunky machinery doesn't suffer from peaking or errant noise.
My lone complaint is that the DD+ track just doesn't boast enough power to warrant a higher score. While a violent storm front allows the soundfield to come alive for three or four minutes, there just isn't a lot to get excited about in this episode. The rear channels mainly provide hushed ambient support, interior acoustics are unconvincing, and immersive surround effects are random and rare. To be clear, I have no significant technical qualms with the mix itself -- the audio simply provides an underwhelming experience that doesn't live up to the fantastic tunnel races and mech assaults of the first three episodes.
The only bonus that appears on both the HD DVD and DVD layers of 'Freedom 5' is a high definition trailer for the next episode.
Like previous HD DVD installments of the series, the exclusive features on this release are technically impressive, but could really benefit from lengthier and more thorough content. Behind-the-scenes featurettes or commentaries would definitely help offset the disc's price.
- Computer Graphics Simulation -- This overlay amounts to a PiP featurette of sorts that showcases the design work and production sketches that led to the completed episode. While it lasts for the entire episode, it's merely presented in 480p (making the HDi zoom feature irrelevant since the SD video is so bland and blocky).
- HDi Interactivity -- As the PiP video plays, the placement, size, and transparency of the overlay window can be adjusted on the fly. It's also possible to set bookmark points, access English credits, and view other storyboards via buttons on your remote.
- Freedom 4 Digest -- A montage of scenes from the previous volume.
- Web Enabled Content -- If your player is connected to the internet, you can access downloadable content, including additional trailers and TV spots.
No easter eggs reported for 'Freedom: 5' yet. Found an egg? Please use our tips form to let us know, and we'll credit you with the find.
'Freedom 5' continues to waste time focusing on the survivors of Earth -- what was once a uniquely dystopian cautionary tale has become a strange mish-mash of anime clichés and follow-your-dreams rhetoric. On the technical front, Bandai Visual has held up their end of the deal. This episode is presented with a stunning video transfer, a solid DD+ audio track, and a comparable supplemental package. While I do wish there was more bonus content to dig through, the real disappointment with this release is that it comes at the same high price as every other 'Freedom' episode. Rent this one before you drop much more cash on what's quickly becoming an anti-climactic letdown.
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