Prétear (Volume 4) Review
OK, for those of you who simply have to know right away whether Prétear ends well or falls prey to that oh-so-common pitfall of short animé series (the rubbish ending), you can put your mind at ease. This has been a series which showed a lot of promise from the start and has maintained a solid pace of plot developments throughout, never once feeling stale or sluggish. The writers didn't permit it to progressively lose its sense of direction (as did, for instance, Real Bout High School), nor did it squander its initial strengths racing to an ultimately dissatisfying conclusion (like, say, Please Save My Earth). All in all, Prétear struck a good balance throughout and therefore doesn't let the viewer down at the very end.
That said, however, the ending is one you will see coming a mile off, because it follows standard rules of engagement for both mahou shoujo [magical girl] animé as well as fairytales in general. This meant that for me, it felt a bit pat and lacking in some of the excitement possessed by the events which preceded it. Regardless, it's a perfectly acceptable and fitting conclusion to the show and does manage to resolve all of the major outstanding issues (well, bar one, but I suspect many viewers won't notice) without resorting to a deus ex machina, so in that sense it is successful.
It's probably best if I place the rest of my plot-related comments in the 'Episode Guide' section, as that way those of you wishing to avoid spoilers can skip them easily enough.
Episode Guide (and Potential Spoilers)
11: 'Eyes of Glass'
In the usual 'things must get worse before they can get better' motif, we witness a continuation of the downward spiral of events from the previous disc. Not only is Sasame holding steadfast to his devotion to the Princess of Disaster, but she has hatched a new plan to empty the living world of all its Leafe... one that anyone who was awake during the episodes of the previous volume will have seen coming. Imprisoning Mawata in the Tree of Fenrir, Takako is counting on the former's despair and depression to feed it whilst it carries out her dark purpose. While the family attempts in vain to free her from the Tree, Hayate and Sasame face off for one final confrontation.
12: 'Warmth, Once More'
As the Tree of Fenrir wreaks destruction on the world (or, at least, the city in which all of our characters reside), the Knights of Leafe have their work cut out for them trying to save as many lives as possible. The battle rages on between Takako and Himeno, with the former's position seeming to grow stronger with every passing minute... until a breaking point comes as Mawata finally realises that her family has not forgotten her and snaps out of her dark reverie.
13: 'The Legend of White Snow'
Thanks to a sacrifice on Sasame's part, Takiko is finally freed from the sinister thrall of being the Princess of Disaster. However, this only removes the last person who could have had any chance of controlling the Tree of Fenrir, which seems intent upon draining the world of Leafe, with or without Takako's intent. It is only through Himeno's devotion to protecting all of her loved ones (family and Leafe Knights alike) that she achieves the ultimate form: the White Prétear. And to learn how it all ends, you'll just have to watch the show!
Picture & Sound
The video and audio quality of this release is on par with the three volumes of Prétear that have gone before, so there's not a whole lot to add to my earlier comments (which see). The short form is, this is a standard 4:3 aspect ratio, modern animé production with a solid DVD encode, bilingual audio in Dolby 5.1 (English) and Dolby 2.0 (Japanese), and competent voice acting in either language. However, neither the picture nor the sound particularly shines: the former because of generally uninspiring animation, overuse of pastel backgrounds, and lack of attention to detail; and the latter due to a relatively flat soundstage which doesn't explore its full potential. As such, this disc receives above-average, but non-stellar, ratings in both categories.
Menus, Extras & Packaging
The disc menus follow the clean and attractive lines of the previous three DVD instalments, so no earth-shattering changes to report. On the packaging front, we're presented with a pleasant bit of cover art showing Leafe Knights Go and Kei sitting on either side of a sleeping Himeno, lying on a bed of snow white feathers. Not as exciting as some of what has gone before, but an image as serene as this still has its place in a show like this.
The special features on this final volume of Prétear are very similar to the set provided on volume 3, starting with the ever-beautiful clean opening animation and the considerably less ethereal clean closing animation. These are chased by no fewer than five 'behind the animé' segments, this time featuring the American voice actors Lauren Goodnight, Kaytha Coker, Shelley Calene-Black, Mandy Clark, and Jason Douglas. As usual, what these interviews lack in depth and general insight into the series they at least make up for in raw enthusiasm. As such, although I personally found them to be too disappointing to sit through, I at least appreciate that ADV made an effort to include something special. (However – and I'm not sure I mentioned this in my write-ups of the previous three discs – there are no English subtitles available for any of the 'behind the animé' bits, which is an unfortunate oversight for HOH audiences.)
Continuing on, this disc swaps the original Japanese TV spots of the previous volume for three Japanese CD & DVD spots (well, one of the former and two of the latter). Again, always interesting to see how products are promoted in other countries, particularly something as typically Japanese as an OST [original soundtrack] album featuring 'image songs' for four animé characters. Then it's onward to the standard production sketches gallery (including 14 images this time around) and the pseudo-extra that is trailers for other ADV properties, including Slayers Gorgeous, Kino's Journey, Magical Shopping Street Abenobashi, Azumanga Daioh, and Angelic Layer.
Having now watched Prétear in its entirety, I can happily recommend it to anyone who thinks they might be at all open to this sort of series. Dedicated fans of magical girl shows will almost certainly adore it, but those of you who, like me, find such fare as Sailor Moon way too cutesy to bear can still breathe a sigh of relief, because Prétear is vastly more moderate and incorporates the strong suits of other sub-genres of animé as well. The one respect in which this show might disappoint has to do with the fight scenes; if you're a aficionado of lovingly-rendered battle sequences (magical or otherwise), just bear in mind that in Prétear these tend to be quite brief (and pretty few in number)!