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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis (2001)

"Who am I?"
- Tima (Yuka Imoto)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: April 22, 2002

Stars: Yuka Imoto, Kei Kobayashi
Other Stars: Kouki Okada, Jamieson Price
Director: Rintaro

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and images of destruction
Run Time: 01h:49m:21s
Release Date: April 23, 2002
UPC: 043396077966
Genre: anime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The problem with American animation is, simply, that it is seen largely as kids' stuff. Even the crossover hits like Toy Story are produced first with children in mind. When attempts are made to create animation with a harder edge (Atlantis, Titan A.E.), the results have been mixed at best. Even after years of watching anime, I'm still surprised at how different things are in Japan. Though the animation rarely reaches Disney's level in terms of quality, most anime is more mature in terms of storytelling—not just violent, but thoughtful and rife with complex characters. Metropolis is a big step towards eliminating the quality gap between American and Japanese animation. Sadly, however, as the CGI graphics and eye-popping colors take precedence, the story seems to slip into the background.

Said story is a spiritual brother to Spielberg's A.I., set in a future where mankind has created inorganic life; where the question of the right to life of an artificial being looms large. Rulers are corrupt; control rests in the hands of those with the power to take it. One political figure, Red Duke, has built the Ziggurat, a weapon of mass destruction so powerful it can create storms on the sun. His plan involves placing an artificial being into the weapon, creating a melding of weapon and consciousness, and the robot created to take on the task is Tima, modeled on the Duke's dead daughter. The creation of offspring angers the Duke's flesh and blood child, Rock, and he goes about doing all he can to stop his father from succeeding and placing control of the world into the hands of a "mere" machine. Meanwhile, two detectives from Japan, Ban and his nephew Kenichi, are in Metropolis on a case. When the two become separated, Kenichi meets Tima, and they find themselves on the run, trying to escape Rock and his band of mercenaries. The twist? Tima doesn't know she's a robot.

If the story summary sounds a bit unwieldy, it's because it's an adaptation of quite lengthy source material. Metropolis brings together three anime masters. The story is based on a 1949 manga by Osamu Tezuka, often called the father of Japanese animation. It was adapted by Katsuhiro Otomo, who wrote the groundbreaking Akira, and then directed by Rintaro, who got his start with Tezuka's production company animating seminal series like Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. In bringing the complex narrative to the screen, the creative team has jettisoned most of the character and story development. What's left is communicated as much through inference as through dialogue and action. There are hints of a civil war between different social classes of humans, and of a robot insurrection, but neither is fleshed out. Even the relationship between Tima and Kenichi, which should be an emotional centerpiece, is vague and hastily established, to the point where the final act of the film feels forced and rather arbitrary.

It's still worth seeing Metropolis, though, if only to revel in its visual splendor. It's an artistic achievement on the level of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Where that film created a breathtaking digital world, this one fluidly blends traditional animation with CGI enhancements; the results are not quite like anything I've seen before. Metropolis itself is a marvel of design, a three-layered dystopia where the rich live amongst the clouds and the poor crawl around in their own filth below ground, as zeppelins and bullet trains flash between. Characters designs are based on Tezuka's original drawings, with exaggerated bodies and saucer eyes, and the juxtaposition of the unrealistic characters against the hyper-realistic city seems fitting.

The animation in Metropolis is flat out stunning. Once in a while, the story is, too, especially in terms of the creation of a future that feels real. And if the narrative is at times something of a jumbled mishmash, at least it's pretty to look at.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is a very nice transfer, though it isn't quite up to par in terms of what Disney has been doing with their recent animated releases. On the plus side, colors look amazingly rich and saturated without any noticeable blooming or bleeding. The CGI and traditionally animated elements blend seamlessly, without any edginess or halo effects apparent. On the other hand, many of the complex shots of the cityscape exhibit aliasing, and darker scenes show less than perfect shadow detail (though black level is strong overall). If I want to get really nitpicky, I can say I noted a few minor print flaws, but really, overall I have few complaints. Any little problems with the transfer are just that: little, and they don't detract much from the viewing experience.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
Japanese, Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: You can usually count on Columbia TriStar to offer a good presentation of the original language track for a foreign film, and this release goes one better by offering the original Japanese in DTS (in addition to a 5.1 mixes in Japanese and English). There is also a 2.0 French track. Both the 5.1 and DTS tracks are comparable, though the DTS mix does offer more natural separation between the channels, along with subtler imaging. Either track is a good example of using audio not just for explosions and action sequences, but consistently, to really create atmosphere. The front soundstage is very wide, with an excellent balance of the score and dialogue (which is anchored in the center channel and always sounds clear and natural), and there are frequent, intuitive uses of directional and panning effects. Throughout, the surrounds work to further create an immersing track, with frequent support during crowd scenes or when vehicles fly overhead. The nifty jazz score is leveled nicely with the other elements, and is presented with a good amount of LFE in the bass notes to give it some kick.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in original English translation, theatrical English translation, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Multi-angle Animation Comparisons
  2. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: Columbia TriStar has put together a handsome package for their first major anime release, though it seems as if they may be trying to mask a lack of substance with a lot of style. There are some decent extras here, but nothing that can't be digested in one sitting. The presentation is nice, though. The packaging is a glossy book gatefold, with beautiful full color images or character artwork presented on each of the inside flaps. The discs themselves are printed with nice color artwork. The feature has the requisite 28 chapter stops (the norm for Columbia TriStar), and a bevy of subtitle tracks, including, interestingly, two different English translations, one literal from the Japanese and the other (the one used in theaters) that is more natural to an English speaking audience without being less accurate.

Disc one holds only a trailer gallery, one that contains a spot for the feature, along with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door, and Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles.

Disc two, which houses the rest of the extras, is, for some reason, a mini-DVD, which means it is about half the size of a regular disc (don't worry—it will work in all players). It seems the decision to use a mini-DVD was based on the novelty factor alone; regardless, it makes little difference. The major supplement is a making-of piece from Japanese television, presented in Japanese with English subtitles. It features extensive interviews with the creative team, including director Rintaro and the voice cast, all of whom discuss how they became involved with the project. There's also discussion of the late Osamu Tezuka's reluctance to have Metropolis (one of his earliest works in manga) translated to the screen. Rintaro even says flat out that, were Tezuka still alive, the film never would have gotten off the drawing board.

Covering much of the same material is an interview gallery with Rintaro and writer Katsuhiro Otomo. Both again cover the early versions of the story, and discuss their relationships with Tezuka.

Another neat feature is a multi-angle animation comparison. Two scenes (Wheel Room and City View) are presented in several different stages of animation, and you can either watch each individually or flip through them with the angle button on your remote.

There are also some good production notes explaining the history of Metropolis, biographies for Tezuka and Rintaro, and a photo gallery with characters and set designs presented as simple line drawings.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

A wonder to behold, as long as you concentrate on the visuals and not the story, Metropolis is like a fascinating work of modern art with nothing much to say. The DVD is very nice, though, and will doubtlessly make you otaku out there very happy.


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