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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

20th Century Boys – Chapter 2 – The Last Hope [Blu-ray]

(aka "20-seiki shônen: Dai 2 shô - Saigo no kibô")

 

(Yukihiko Tsutsumi, 2009)

 

 

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Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Toho, NTV, Shogakukan, et al

Blu-ray: Kam & Ronson (HK)

 

 

Region: A-locked! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:20:24.416

Disc Size: 43,313,105,282 bytes

Feature Size: 42,820,638,720 bytes

Video Bitrate: 28.54 Mbps

Chapters: 26

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: September 18th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio Japanese 6144 kbps 7.1 / 48 kHz / 6144 kbps / 16-bit
DTS-HD Master Audio Japanese 2438 kbps 7.1 / 48 kHz / 2438 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
Dolby Digital EX Audio Chinese 640 kbps 5.1-EX / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital EX Audio Japanese 640 kbps 5.1-EX / 48 kHz / 640 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English, Chinese (traditional and simplified), none

 

Extras:

• Trailer in SD

 

 

The Film:

The epic Japanese “20th Century Boys” trilogy, based upon the hugely popular manga by Urasawa Naoki, continues with its second instalment, “The Last Hope”. Director Tsutsumi Yukihiko (“2LDK” and “Forbidden Siren”) returns to continue the sprawling tale, with the action again leaping around between different decades and generations, following the characters as they try to prevent the impending self prophesised apocalypse. With the original cast reprising their roles and with even more special effects and grand narrative adventure, the film was unsurprisingly another box office hit on its domestic release, leaving fans even more excited for the final chapter.

The film begins in 2015, with the events which took place at the end of the first film now being referred to as ‘Bloody New Years Eve’ and with the mysterious Friend having expanded his influence and empire. Most of the characters from the first film have been branded terrorists and have either disappeared or are in prison, with the fate of Kenji Endo (Casshern’s Karasawa Toshiaki) being unknown. The film basically revolves around his niece Kanna (Taira Airi, from “Arch Angels”), a student who works in a Chinese restaurant in her spare time, while threatening to follow in her rebellious uncle’s footsteps. Determined to clear Kenji’s name, she enlists in the creepy ‘Friend Land’ indoctrination program to try and uncover the face behind his mask. At the same time, the New Book of Prophecies’ foretells that a saviour will arise at a church in Shinjuku, only to be struck down by an assassin, a message which Friend is only too willing to kill to keep secret. Meanwhile, Occho (Toyokawa Etsushi, “The Great Yokai War”) escapes from prison and rejoins the other fugitives, planning to stop Friend by any means necessary.

Excerpt of review from Beyond Hollywood located HERE

 

The Movie: 7
I rather enjoyed the movie, what I could see of it – a tacky remark, perhaps, but at a subjective level, not far from the mark. This, even with only reading up on reviews of Chapter 1, which I am now determined to consume, if only on DVD.

Chapter 1 / Backstory (Twitch located HERE):
20th Century Boys centers around normal, average guy Kenji [Casshern's Toshiaki Karasawa], who has turned into a mere shadow of his rebellious, determined childhood self. He runs a failing convenience Store [the backbone of Japanese Society surely] with his battleaxe of a mother and a part time employee with a disastrous inflection. His life is boring and simple, even his sister has run away, leaving him to care for her baby, Kanna.

Everything changes when he goes to a School Reunion and awkwardly meets his friends from the good ol' days of 1973, when rock is revolutionary and 'things mattered'. While nostalgia should be setting in, Kenji gets involved in a conversation about a certain new 'religious' group that people are flocking to. Not just that, but a killer virus has been sweeping the globe, wiping out all who come into contact with it. Disillusioned, Kenji thinks nothing of it until he discovers that this new religion, calling itself the 'Friend Group' is using the exact same symbol he and his childhood mates used back in the day when they swore to 'Protect The World'. In fact, this group and their leader 'Friend' seem to be enacting every single idea he and his friends though of when they were younger. Such horrible, deadly things they thought of...

Soon, Kenji and everyone he loves must join together and fight to save the world before 01/01/2000.

- Brad Wilson
 

 

Image: 4/7   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

For a movie rooted in manga and realized, we would have assumed, with high tech special effects it comes as a great disappointment that the image is so poor. Soft, thin and mushy – we've all seen better on DVD from any number of sources. Alas, what I don't know is how the movie looked in theatres or how it fares on Japanese Blu-ray. The latter is moot for non-Japanese speakers since, to my knowledge, the Japanese edition has no subtitles other than Japanese.

Examine any of the captures derived directly off the Blu-ray – even at full resolution, they are mind-bogglingly weak. Though the movie's lighting tends to be dark, and might have in some cases played a role in an apparent lack of definition, it is no darker than much of Showtime's The Tudors, which does not lack for sharpness for all its dim lighting. (The subtitles, by the way, are clear as can be.) The only saving grace is that there appears to be no noise or other pesky digital manipulations to speak of beyond what the movie's curiously underwelming CG calls for.


This Blu-ray is one of those occasional examples where bit rate is most unhelpful: hovering right around 30 Mbps, leaving scarcely enough headroom on a 50 GB disc for its various audio tracks and what little there is in the way of extra features. Unless, OMG, if what Kam & Ronson has given us is a faithful rendering.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 9/8
The Audio fares much better. Much. The immersive sense of space, the seamless blending of the varied music sources into the soundstage, and localized placement of effects - small arms fire, the clamor and murmur of groups of people, indoors and out, audio cues from adjacent rooms, near and far traffic sounds, and vehicular and glass crashes make for an enhanced viewing experience – or would be if weren't for the pisspoor image. The one is completely at odds with the other. I should note that the popping sound reported by Gerard Magnier in the AVForums did not occur in my viewing experience – either in passing or deliberately cued by pause/play. Take this as you will.
 

Operations: 2
The low score is only because the English language subtitles are shared with Chinese, which takes up a not inconsiderable amount of the frame. To those of us who have no understanding of Chinese characters, the distraction is purely a spatial one, - having no meaning, they come to be ignored fairly quickly. But the sense of placing them together escapes me.

 

Extras: 1
Here it comes: a couple of trailers in standard definition for the feature film and the final "Chapter 3." And since YesAsia observes a similar lack for the K&R Blu-ray of Chapter 1, I should give this title minus points for having no background material – nothing on the series, or for the manga, nothing, zip. The Japanese Blu-ray for Chapter 1 and the Complete Edition appears to include a Making-of feature at the very least HERE

 

Bottom line: 4
Unless you view this on a smallish display of less than 40 inches, this Blu-ray is likely to be tough going. The plot is complex enough – and largely dependent on knowledge of "Chapter 1" and/or the manga itself - without our having to strain to make out the image. The only thing this Blu-ray has going for it is its English subtitles, such as they are. If the Japanese edition turns out to be just as fuzzy, my recommendation would be the same. An alternative strategy is to pick up the DVD of Chapter 1 at Amazon.co.uk. It’s only GPD 6.98 HERE
and includes supplements and a booklet! It’s not that I am that big on bonus features, but in this case, every little bit helps, and it’s a cheap way to find out if you are going to like the series. Since the trilogy did have a brief run in the U.S. distributed by VIZ Media, the same people who publish the English language version of the manga, we can expect to see a North American video release eventually. But even then, what it will look like is anyone’s guess.

Leonard Norwitz
December 7th, 2009

 

 

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About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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