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Clamp Double Feature(2005)
No synopsis for Clamp Double Feature.
For more about Clamp Double Feature and the Clamp Double Feature Blu-ray release, see the Clamp Double Feature Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on June 19, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Clamp Double Feature Blu-ray Review
While accessible to everyone, this theatrical double-feature will appeal primarily to the fans of each series.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, June 19, 2010
Arriving courtesy of Funimation, the Clamp double feature includes two theatrical anime productions, which create a subtle connection between two of the more successful anime adaptations in the Clamp library. Founded over two decades ago, the Clamp mangaka group was the first all-female writer/artist crew to arrive on the Japanese scene, quickly earning a dedicated following for such series as RG Veda, X, Tokyo Babylon, and Cardcaptor Sakura. Most of their manga publications have been adapted into anime series which often contain contrasting tones that incorporate tragedy with light-hearted tales of romance and innocence. Within this release, we're provided a brief extended episode of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles, and an hour-long Original Video Animation (OVA) for the concurrent sister series xxxHolic. Put together, the two features provide a sample of each production, while still remaining superficial enough to not be considered must-watch material within the framework of the series.
Tsubasa the Movie: The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom (36:54 min)
Continuing their dimensional search for the remaining scattered memories of Sakura's past, the five travelers land in a kingdom populated by humans and birds. Initially separated from Kurogane and Fay, Sakura and Syaoran happen upon a group of humans who've escaped the clutches of an evil king, and devote their lives to restoring the princess to the throne (the rightful ruler). As our heroes soon find out, each human in the land possesses a companion bird, which seemingly warrants the inclusion of a huge birdcage around the world. The evil king of the land is in possession of one of Sakura's magical feathers, allowing him the ability to plunge the country into darkness, and rob the young princess of her voice. As with any Tsubasa storyline, the heroes inevitably sign on for the mission to recover the feather, and restore light and happiness to the people (and birds) of the land.
Approximately two weeks ago, I finally completed the entire 52-episode Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle series, and felt a bit underwhelmed by the production. I can't say this glorified episode changed my impression of the series, but it seemed a bit stronger than the majority of the television episodes, incorporating quicker pacing and an epic feel that suits the theatrical format. One of my chief complaints with the series as a whole is the tendency for episodes to drag on and on, allowing for long stretches of meaningless dialog. In the case of Birdcage Kingdom, we witness the same general plot structure (involving the dimensional-jumping group helping others in return for a feather), but instead of spreading the story arch across the span of three episodes, we only have 36 minutes to reach a conclusion. As a result, there's little time for Syaoran to pine over Sakura, and we can dispense with Fay's long-winded speeches on morality.
Unfortunately, the one aspect that made this a more enjoyable experience also proves to be the primary failing. If you're like me, you'll need at least two viewings to truly grasp every element in the story, and understand the ultimate goal of the evil king. Once you eventually make the necessary connections, it becomes clear the core plotline is as threadbare as they come, consisting of little more than a wicked ruler with aspirations of casting the land in darkness (what's the deal with evil kings that hate sunshine?). This abundant simplicity won't ruin the experience if you love the characters from the series, but those hoping for greater significance could find themselves disappointed.
xxxHolic the Movie: A Midsummer Night's Dream (60 min)
In exchange for a guarantee to keep demonic spirits at bay, young Kimihiro Watanaki made a deal with the dimensional witch Yuko to carry out certain errands involving the supernatural. One day, Yuko's shop is visited by a young woman, who claims she's been locked out of her mansion. She soon discovers that the location of the woman's mansion is also the destination of an upcoming convention for private collectors (only accessible through personal invite), so she summons Watanaki and a young man named Domeki to accompany her to the evening's festivities. Upon their arrival, they discover a variety of collection enthusiasts who've all been summoned to the house by a mysterious host. After settling in and introducing themselves to several of their fellow guests, Watanaki detects a strong spirit within the mansion, which may or may not be related to the sudden disappearance of several guests. As the numbers continue to dwindle, it's up to the team of supernatural investigators to find the source of these strange occurrences, and solve the mystery of the cursed estate.
My exposure to xxxHolic is rather limited at this stage in the game, but if the actual series is as good as this stand-alone production, I'll soon dedicate a large chunk of time to the full-length show. To its credit, the combination of comedy, horror, and mystery strike a perfect tone, allowing the film to remain fun and chilling at the same time. Some may find the over-the-top antics of Watanaki a bit too outrageous for their taste (he tends to freak out about everything), but I thought it balanced well with the seductively flat personality of Yuko. For those of you with zero knowledge of the series, there's still plenty of entertainment value to be found (after all, I'm a newbie as well). You'll immediately gain a feel for the cursory relationships between each character, and the structure of the plot lends itself well to a stand-alone presentation. In addition, the longer runtime allows the story to unfold in a manner that never drags, but ends up feeling less convoluted than its Tsubasa counterpart. For this reason, xxxHolic emerges as the clear value-added title in this collection, with Tsubasa included as a subtle tie-in to the superior sister production.
Clamp Double Feature Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 27Mbps), the Clamp Double Feature sports a visual presentation that's clear and distinct, but not what I'd consider a tremendous upgrade. In large part, this is due to shortcomings in the original animation, which ranks marginally better than episodes of the regular series, but not up to the quality of a full-blown theatrical production. For instance, stair-stepping lines are clearly visible on diagonal borders, and the image has a tendency to appear a touch on the hazy side. In addition, I detected what appears to be a slight chromatic shift during the early stages of the xxxHolic episode, revealing a subtle green line directly to the right of most black borders. It's not overly distracting and doesn't continue for very long, but it's still a visual flaw worth pointing out. Moving beyond the smattering of minor complaints, the most significant improvements to the visual quality of this release lie in the rich color spectrum and the overall consistency of the digital transfer. Banding is kept to an absolute minimum, artifacting is absent, and there's no need for the use of edge enhancement to artificially sharpen the image. Overall, this is still a visually arresting experience, but limitations in the source material demand we keep our expectations in check.
Clamp Double Feature Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Offering a dual upgrade over the prior DVD release, the Blu-ray contains the original Japanese language track in lossless 2.0, alongside a lossless version of the 5.1 English dubbed track. In a perfect world, I'd hope for a lossless surround option in the native language of the series, but considering the original recording was likely completed in its current form, it's impossible to complain over something that can't be helped. As usual, I prefer the Japanese option on the majority of anime productions, so I kicked off my listening experience with the 2.0 mix. As expected, the front-heavy mix lacks the depth of finely tuned surround separation, leaving us with an experience that's merely adequate at getting the job done (but not what I'd consider a value-added audio experience). The English dub on the other hand, demonstrates an excellent sense of immersion, separating nuances in the audio effects to create a wildly entertaining experience. Those of you familiar with Tsubasa and xxxHolic already have some idea of the outlandish fantasy elements in each production, but the prevalence of these over-the-top effects (especially in the case of Tsubasa) is given an epic attribute that often seemed missing from the show. xxxHolic incorporates longer sequences of dialog to move the film forward, but once we cross into the "haunted house" section, the creepy sound effects become a prominent component of the sound design. Moving on to volume balance, every element is afforded appropriate weight in the collective mix, allowing abundant clarity in the overall presentation.
If given the option of scoring the audio offerings separately, I'd give the English track a 4/5, and the Japanese track a 2.5/5. The differences between the two tracks are certainly noticeable, but the lack of surround separation on the Japanese mix rarely downgraded my overall enjoyment of the show.
Clamp Double Feature Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
2005 Premiere in Ikebukuro (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 8:15 min): presented in Japanese with English subtitles, this supplement takes viewers to a cast/director introduction from the initial showing of the theatrical double feature in Ikebukuro.
2005 Movie Event in Shibuya (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 8:20 min): Recorded live at Tower Records, this supplement features the Japanese Band Kinya performing "Aerial", followed by interviews with members of the Japanese voice cast.
Recording Session Montage (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 1:59 min): As the tile implies, this featurette presents various behind-the-scenes clips, interspersed with final animation from the movie.
Feature-Length Japanese Staff and Cast Commentary (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0): Presented in Japanese with English subtitles, the format of this commentary track presents two windows within your screen, with one featuring the commentary contributors, and the other displaying audio/video of the episode. The discussions remain light and superficial, focusing largely on the characters from the story, but the contributors are lively and enthusiastic as they banter with one another.
Origin of Birdcage Kingdom (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 1:46 min): This supplement offers little more than a brief description of the events that took place prior to Sakura's arrival in the Birdcage Kingdom. It's helpful in understanding the story, but the rough sketch artwork and text-based story isn't anything to write home about.
Opening Day at Shinjuku Cinema Milano (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 8:11 min): Presented in Japanese with English subtitles, this supplement features an introduction with the cast of both feature films prior to a film screening event.
Recording Session Montage (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 1:15 min): As with the Tsubasa montage, this featurette presents various behind-the-scenes clips, interspersed with final animation from the movie.
Audio Commentary with Cast and Crew (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0): Presented in Japanese with English subtitles, the format of this commentary track presents two windows within your screen, with one featuring the commentary contributors, and the other displaying audio/video of the episode. Considering the film lasts longer than Tsubasa, the actors struggle to find much worth talking about, and simply chat about aspects of the animation (as if they're watching it for the first time).
Rounding out the extras on the xxxHolic side, we have a collection of character design slides, background plates, original trailers for the double-feature (480p), and various trailers for other DVD and Blu-ray releases from Funimation.
Clamp Double Feature Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Offering a recommendation on the merits of this release becomes rather convoluted when you take into account a cost-benefit analysis. I'd imagine most fans of Tsubasa are already planning to spring for the colossal 7-disc series on Blu-ray, which includes the same Birdcage Kingdom film found on this release. If that's the case, the money spent on this disc is really only paying for the xxxHolic film, which doesn't seem worthwhile for what amounts to little more than an hour-long episode. Don't get me wrong, both films are entertaining in their own right, but I'd wager this double feature won't find much traction until it lands at a price-point that falls closer to the true value of the release.
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