NIS America, the game publisher that finally brought the Sakura Wars franchise to North America (among various other console games) is getting into anime. They were nice enough to send us copies of their first two releases, “premium editions” of Persona: Trinity Soul and Toradora, to check out.
I took some photos, so you can get an idea what these look like past the marketing shots you can find elsewhere.
What’s most interesting about these two releases is that they’re explicitly accepting that both series are widely available fansubbed, so they’re trying to give people buying legit physical copies something extra. I like this in concept; it’s smarter than playing an impossible game of whack-a-mole with streaming/torrent sites, and it rewards people paying with something other than a slightly higher quality copy on disc (or, if you’re torrenting HD fansubs, lower quality). The pricing is reasonable—competitive with more expensive TV releases without the extras and not too much more than, say, Sentai Filmworks’ recent budget-priced season-in-a-set releases. The only oversight, in my view, is not having an ad-supported streaming version of their own available to pick up some business from the cheapskates (Funimation seems to be the only company that really gets this one), but it’s only a first release.
So, the price is reasonable, but do you get your money’s worth?
Yes, with a design caveat. The box sets are very slick productions. Each set ships in an uncommonly sturdy artbox/slipcover with attractive matte finish cover art all the way around—nice enough looking you could prop it up like a small poster. These contain a hardcover, glossy, full-color guidebook with character and episode notes and a bunch of nice illustrations, plus two DVDs in thinpack-style cases. The artbooks are nice, the boxes are some of the nicest I’ve seen, and the DVDs, having watched a couple episodes on each, are well above average (I’ll come back to that later).
The Persona bonus book contains character profiles, an episode guide with plenty of illustrations, and a couple of four-panel comic strips poking a little fun at each episode (interestingly, these could actually be cannon—the only thing they break is the mood). Additionally, when you flip it over, you get the illustrated children’s story A Whale’s Feather, which makes an appearance in the series itself. That last one is a particularly cool little tie-in (although the story is weird).
As for Toradora, its book is a little thinner and quite a bit different; it features an episode guide as well, but with a lot of fancy diagrams illustrating the various character relationships, plus sidebars on some of the key (or completely random, but amusing) things you’ll see in the show. To fill it out there are also a selection of interviews with the creative staff.
Only two complaints, one of which is a nitpick, and the other a lifestyle thing.
The nitpick is that both sets are labeled “Volume 1,” which is really a misnomer, as they contain a full season (as in a dozen episodes) of a two-season TV show on two discs. Given that “Volume 1″ usually means “4-5 episodes of a 3-8 disc season,” I incorrectly assumed that you were getting a lot less actual anime for your money. It’d have made much more sense, both logically and from a marketing perspective, to call it either “Season 1″ or, if they thought that was too confusing, “Box Set 1″ or something like that.
As for my complaint, it might seem a little odd: Where the heck am I supposed to shelve these things?
See, the boxes, being a little taller than a DVD and quite long, certainly aren’t going to fit on a DVD shelf. They also won’t fit comfortably on a bookshelf among normal taller-than-they-are-wide artbooks, unless you put it upright, which is unsatisfying to the OCD Monk fan in me. Further, if I put it on my bookshelf, then the DVDs are in the wrong area of the house. I could put the DVDs on my DVD shelf and the book and box on the bookshelf, but then the box has an unsatisfying gap where the DVDs belong. And the box is far too nice to consider it just packaging to toss, then separate the book and DVDs in their respective media homes.
What would have made much more sense, from a shelving perspective, would be what Honneamise did with their Freedom Project and Jin-Roh blu-ray releases: Make the book roughly DVD case dimensions so that the box set fits nicely on a media shelf, book alongside the DVDs. It admittedly wouldn’t have looked quite so snazzy (and certainly a lot less memorable), but at least I’d know where to put them.
As for the DVDs themselves, they’re great, and not for the usual reason. They’re sub-only, the subtitles are reasonably accurate (with some fan-Japanese left in—“aniki” goes untranslated, for example), and they look nice on my TV (although there is apparently some sort of mastering issue—they’ve already announced a replacement program for early buyers—I didn’t actually see anything so far; still, kudos for stepping up so proactively). All that’s fine but unremarkable.
What’s remarkable is that you stick the disc in and after a single 12-second chunk of skippable copyright and company logos, the disc starts playing. At first, I was annoyed—I don’t care if there are no language options, give me my menu! And then I realized there was no unskippable FBI warning. After being forced to sit through countless unskippable legal warning screens (the only one of which I’ve ever bothered to pay attention to was the brilliant Ilpalazzo Is Watching screen on Excel Saga), trailers I have no interest in seeing (which half the time I’m also not allowed to skip—thanks, Disney), company logos, and more, all of which are on separate titles with the associated title-switch delay, this was a breath of fresh air. Having a single 12-second track with three and a half seconds each of copyright info, NIS America logo, and Aniplex logo, which I’m actually allowed to skip, saved a minimum 30 seconds of fiercely annoying wasted time usually lurking when I stick a DVD in.
With discs like that, you’d think that NIS America actually likes its customers or something. (You listening, Sony? People like it when you don’t treat them like criminals or a captive marketing audience.) Good job, guys—I’m looking forward to seeing future releases from this company.