You're Under Arrest (Collector's Box 1) Review
Now here's a series that fans in the West have been waiting a long time to see on DVD... and fortunately it's evident from the very start that AnimEigo have put a lot of effort into getting this release right. But before we get into that, a little background is in order.
You're Under Arrest (Taiho Shichauzo) essentially operates on the 'buddy cop show' premise; the leads are a pair of female traffic police stationed in the Bokuto district of Tokyo, with the standard conceit that 'opposites attract' and therefore what might otherwise be a serious clash of personalities instead creates something that is stronger than its parts. Slightly more senior is the character of Miyuki Kobayakawa, a quiet, thoughtful type with a serious love of (and aptitude for) vehicle modification and repair, and possessed of a shyness that inevitably causes her some problems when it comes to romance. However, the one whose antics really steal the show is her younger partner Natsumi Tsujimoto, a feisty woman accustomed to taking wild risks and speaking her mind.
Rounding out the core cast with the usual supporting characters (Yoriko Nikaido, the office gossip queen and all-around meddler; Ken Nakajima, a perpetually-shy member of the motorcycle squad who naturally has a crush on Miyuki; and heart-of-gold section chief Kachou, whom Natsumi fancies) - as well as one quite unusual one (Aoi Futaba, a transvestite officer who's been working undercover as a woman so long that he simply can't get used to acting manly again) - you can see that this series is primed in equal parts with comedic and romantic potential... not to mention satisfying amounts of fast-paced action!
'Sounds good,' I hear you say, 'but where did it come from?' For that we have to jump back almost two decades to 1986, when the now-renowned Kosuke Fujishima's first manga [Japanese comics] series began to be published by Kodansha. Bearing in mind that he was only 22 at the time, it no doubt surprised some that his story about a bunch of zany traffic cops in a near-future Tokyo took off as spectacularly as it did. Unquestionably, part of its success has to do with Fujishima being something of a motorhead (at last count he owned seven motorcycles and three cars!)... and thus being able to present amazingly realistic and detailed mechanical designs throughout his body of work.
By a curious twist of fate, even though You're Under Arrest was Fujishima's first manga in print, it turned out to be the second of his animé series to be produced. By the time YUA was two years old, he produced a silly little illustration for a merchandise competition that showed Miyuki and Natsumi beseeching the aid of a goddess in hopes that they themselves might win. So taken was he with how the goddess design came out that by the end of 1988 she had a name (Belldandy) and a new manga (Oh My Goddess!) was born. The new romantic comedy was so popular that it was made into a five-part animated series in 1993, just a year before You're Under Arrest got its own animé treatment.
AnimEigo has secured the US and Canadian licences to both shows, and while they released Oh My Goddess! on two DVDs back in 2001, a huge series like You're Under Arrest (4 OAVs [original animated videos], 47 TV episodes, and 1 OAV 'special') took a bit more time to prepare for distribution. This review will cover the first of four YUA 'Collector's Boxes', the last of which should be available for general sale by the end of this year. (Currently, in order to get your hands on it, you had to have pre-ordered that puppy!)
So to recap, this first box set includes four DVDs:
- Disc 01: the complete original OAV series (four episodes) from 1994 ['Files 01-04']
- Disc 02: the first four episodes of the follow-up TV series from 1996 ['Files 05-08']
- Disc 03: the next four episodes of the TV series ['Files 09-12']
- Bonus Disc 01: an extra disc packed with special features, only available as part of the box set
...which, at 25 minutes per episode works out to 300 minutes before you even glance at the extras (of which there are many!). As a certain heavy-breathing Jedi knight might say, 'Impressive. Most impressive.'
Episode Guide (and Possible Spoilers)
1: 'And So They Met'
Ah, rarely do you see a premiere episode of a series that so perfectly captures the spirit of the entire show. Natsumi's already 15 minutes late on her first day of work when she decides to take an illegal shortcut... for which she is promptly busted by her future partner, Miyuki! Back at the Bokuto precinct, she's introduced to the remainder of YUA's key characters (save Aoi Futaba, who won't turn up until the first episode of the TV series) just in time to be taunted by a mysterious high-speed driver known only as 'the Fox'.
2: 'Tokyo Typhoon Rally'
But 'the Fox' is a pussycat compared to the dangerously reckless driver the team faces in this episode. Having established a tradition of racing through the rain-whipped streets of Tokyo whenever a typhoon rolls ashore (with no regard for the safety of pedestrians or other drivers), he's someone our heroines need to stop in his tracks. But can they manage this while still delivering a bona fide feline across town to a veterinary specialist?
3: 'Love's Highway Stars'
Our timid would-be couple, Ken and Miyuki, encounter a few mild knocks in their relationship as the result of a complete misunderstanding. First, Ken sees her heading off for a weekend retreat that she won't explain and frets that she's gone to attend a matchmaking session. So distraught is he, in fact, that Natsumi takes it upon herself to cheer him up... which, however innocent, leaves Miyuki fearing the worst when she finds out about it.
4: 'On the Road, Again'
Rounding out her first year at the precinct, Natsumi is offered a promotion to a special motorcycle unit stationed away from Bokuto. While Miyuki puts on a brave face so that her partner won't pass up the chance of her career, both of them have a hard time in the wake of the separation. (Oh, don't worry... this is You're Under Arrest, after all - of course it all has a happy ending!)
5: 'A Beauty To Be Reckoned With - Her Name Is Aoi'
What better way to begin the TV series and jump-start YUA's superb comedic chemistry than with the introduction of my fave amongst the supporting cast: Aoi Futaba! When the most eligible bachelor to be assigned to Bokuto in years looks better in women's clothing than any of the female officers, no one seems to know what to do with 'him'. But when Aoi's old girlfriend from his school days seeks out 'his' help in a desperate matter, 'she' doesn't hesitate to leap to her defence in a heartbeat.
6: 'Inspector Arizuka - The King of Hades'
Another superb episode. This time the raison de paniquer is none other than a surprise inspection of Bokuto station by one of the Chief's old instructors back at the academy... Inspector Arizuka, nicknamed 'the King of Hades' by Yoriko after his merciless approach to assigning demerits for even the most modest violation of the official rules. Nor does it help that Natsumi went on a bender the night before and is hung-over beyond belief... or that Aoi still hasn't quite got the hang of dressing like a man!
7: 'Strike Man - Defender of Justice?'
Cue a new arrival on the scene - a super-zany 'super hero' vigilante who sees himself as a defender of justice, but whose overzealous approach to punishing even the slightest civil infraction by hurling baseballs at casual offenders and wreaking massive destruction on private property is creating a huge headache for the officers of Bokuto station. But even if Natsumi can put an end to his deranged antics, how will she ever live down the moniker of 'Home Run Girl'?
8: 'Big Duel for Lucky Yoriko'
Mousy little Yoriko, more or less useless at marksmanship, pursuit driving, and mechanical skills... who would have ever guessed she graduated at the head of her class back at the academy through dumb luck alone? Well, there's certainly one person who'll never forgive her: Chie Sagami-Ono, a woman gifted with superior skills and academic achievement, but who came in second place thanks to Yoriko!
9: 'The Love Triangle'
Ah, yet another 'terrible romantic misunderstanding' episode for Ken and Miyuki to fumble their way through. Overseen chatting frequently with the young lady down at the tobacconist's, Ken doesn't realise that his innocent conversation has set in motion a chain of events that leaves Miyuki wondering if he's two-timing her. Sheesh, all this aggro over a special birthday present!
10: 'The Outlaw Scooter Mama'
A curious choice, but one that somehow works... an entire episode dedicated to developing the character of the 'Scooter Mama', a hitherto minor background character whose previous role in the series has mainly been to barrel through on her scooter, causing near-accidents in her quest for the best sale items in Tokyo. She's incredibly rude and thoughtless, but will the tables be turned when her beloved scooter is stolen?
11: 'Santa Claus Panic'
A sweet (if predictable) little story about a young girl (Maho) who's Christmas hopes are shattered by a house burglar disguised as Santa Claus. While Miyuki and Natsumi throw themselves wholeheartedly into tracking down the thief, Ken watches in dismay as his plans for a perfect Yuletide dinner with Miyuki go up in smoke... and there's havoc on the streets thanks to the appearance of a 'new' vigilante super hero... Santa Claus Man. (No prize for guessing his secret identity.)
12: 'I Want To Be a Policewoman'
Enter Tokyo's biggest wanna-be, in the form of a teenage girl named Saori. Bored of high school, her schtick is to constantly fixate upon any new role or profession she thinks might amuse her. She starts out wanting to be a priestess at the same local temple that Natsumi frequents, but quickly shifts her focus to the dream of becoming a policewoman after Miyuki and Natsumi help her out of a fix. She's just as much of a nuisance as you'd expect, but does in fact learn a lesson by the end of the episode.
This first YUA Collector's Box has the unique circumstance of containing episodes from two completely different productions, but as it seems silly to break this section into one part just to discuss the OVAs and then another for the TV series, I'll just endeavour to take care in identifying which animé I'm talking about at any given moment. Let's not mince words, though – this is a great-looking transfer all around.
Unsurprisingly, the four OVA episodes on the first disc do edge into the lead. After all, they benefited from a more expansive budget than the TV series enjoyed... and yes, it shows. The OVAs really shine with super-vivid colours, practically no encoding defects of any kind (save a little cross-colouration here and there), a gorgeous opening (OP) segment that shows off some very smooth 3D and lighting effects, and jaw-dropping chase sequences.
Not that the eight TV episodes on discs 2 and 3 are all that far behind... the palette used may be vaguely less saturated, the colours a bit more restrained than the rich ones peppering the OVAs, the chase scenes not quite as flashy, and slightly more evidence of rainbowing present, but it's just a shade of difference between the two productions.
You're Under Arrest also specialises in fluid renditions of 'flying camera angles' and suchlike, which are extremely laborious to animate by hand (as all of these were). For those viewers more familiar with the usual techniques for simulating motion in animated shows – simple camera pans, flat character translations, etc. – the scene early on in the first OVA with Natsumi driving her bike up and across a pedestrian overpass will prove a real eye-opener, as the amount of effort required to realistically portray (without the aid of computer graphics) a complex 3D path of motion while the 'camera' darts in and out of it is nothing short of phenomenal. Lots of attention is paid to detail in this series too... not merely to the creator's trademark automotive mechanical designs, but also to optics (lighting, transparency, reflectivity, and focus); it comes as little surprise that another of Fujishima's personal interests is physics!
Alas, few things in life are perfect, and so we come to the minor quibbles paragraph of the 'Picture' section. Although AnimEigo deserves praise for keeping the original title screens intact on the four OVAs, the font they chose for the English translation thereof (an overlay which only appears if you have the subtitles turned on) is, well, 'icky'. I suppose they were shooting for a 'blocky computer font' look to go with the 'computer desktop' theme (see 'Menus' below), but it's unfortunate they ended up going with something this ugly. To make matters worse, once you get to the TV episodes, the original Japanese episode titles are lost altogether. (At this point, your only option is the blocky English overlays; if by any chance you're watching the English dub with all subs turned off, you'll just see a strange blue screen embedded with the YUA logo... and no episode titles whatsoever!)
Speaking of subtitles, they are for the most part easily up to AnimEigo's usual high standard. (That is, you get hyper-readable text in a good-sized font with a really solid outline, in a variety of colours to distinguish one speaker from another and dialogue from song lyrics.) They only dropped the ball once in 12 episodes, where a weird shift occurred in the size of the subtitles font during a brief scene.
Nor can one fault the audio quality on this release. Although we're only talking a Dolby 2.0 track in either language (you didn't really expect 5.1 on this, did you?), both the OVAs and the TV series enjoy a very spacious stereo mix that carefully balances both the show's music and dialogue to good effect. (If you do a bit of spot-checking with the AUDIO button on your DVD remote control, you'll discover that the English dub is a few notches louder than the Japanese soundtrack, but that's what the VOLUME buttons are for, ne?)
You're Under Arrest is also a fine example of an animé production where the quality of the English dub nearly outshines the original Japanese. Why? Because, for some reason, North American voice actors seem to ham it up a bit more than their Japanese counterparts... something that in a drama or even a serious romance can become a major liability, but in a wacky police comedy like YUA is (ahem) 'just the ticket'. No, I'm not kidding; there's something very appealing about a gung-ho, over-the-top performance in a show like this... it imbues all of the action with just that added bit of momentum and puts a huge silly grin on my face. So kudos to Coastal Carolina Sound Studios for once again producing a very fun English dub. (In case you're wondering, this is the same outfit that delivered a spot-on dub for Oh My Goddess!.)
Now, about the theme songs... well, there's good news and there's bad. The good news is that both of the OP songs (yes, both - don't forget there's OVA and TV episodes in this box set) are quite passable. The OVA opening theme, '100mph no Yuuki' ('Courage at 100mph') is pretty much your standard bouncy animé tune, neither offensive nor particularly memorable; I didn't think much of it at first, but grew to like it by the fourth and final episode. Similarly, the OP theme for the TV series, 'Boka de Arutameni' ('To Be Myself') is actually fairly catchy and almost edgy enough to fit the fast pace of the show's car chases, so that's a plus.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the two ED songs. The end credits theme for the OVAs, 'Arittake no Joonetsu de' ('With All the Passion I Have'), is thoroughly unremarkable and probably worth skipping unless you're desperate to read the credits scroll. Likewise, the end theme for the TV series – 'Thank You, Love' – is simply way too slow and peaceful to really fit with the show's antics.
For those of you interested in such things, both of the OVA songs were in fact performed by the voice actors for Natsumi and Miyuki (Sakiko Tamagawa and Akiko Hiramatsu, respectively), and the full English lyrics to all of the YUA songs are thoughfully provided in both the subtitles – if you have them turned on – and the 'liner notes' cards enclosed in the Amaray cases. (Always good to have.)
Oh, how I wish animé distributors wouldn't force you to sit through the idents of every copyright holder in the entire production chain before allowing you to access the main menu. I've noticed a creeping trend in this regard lately, with more and more unskippable additions tacked onto the front of your average DVD. The discs in this box set present the viewer with no less than four such logo animations – Emotion, Kodansha Video, TBS [Tokyo Broadcasting System] Animation, and AnimEigo's own (which, ironically, I happen to really like... just not after having wasted a minute watching all of the others that preceded it). At least one redeeming feature here is the (very amusing) custom copyright notice which reminds you that if you do anything dodgy with the DVDs '...you're under arrest!' (Well, it made me smile, anyway.)
Once you get past all of the legal detritus, however, you find yourself face to face with some very slick-looking menus. Fully animated (albeit curiously silent), they are done up in the style of a computer (operating system) desktop, complete with 'file folders', mouse pointer, and even the customary rubbish bin. In addition to the four episode selections themselves, the main menu of the first three DVDs also features 'Play All', 'Languages', and a help button.
All main menu transitions involve a traffic light (visible in the upper left corner of the screen) changing from red to green, and a miniature Natsumi on her bike zipping by along the top of the menu, which is a charming little touch (although it does slow down menu access ever so slightly). The menus definitely look professional, so probably the only serious complaint the average viewer will have with them is that there is no 'Scene Access' sub-menu provided anywhere on these discs. (Which is not to say there are no chapter stops provided. In point of fact, there are generally five per episode: intro sequence, part A, part B, credits, and next episode preview.)
All of the special features are conveniently collected on the fourth (bonus) disc... which is great if you've purchased the box set and potentially fairly depressing if you were thinking of just picking up each DVD individually. To help you decide how important this trade-off is to you, here's the scoop on the extras.
There are three major sections to the bonus disc: 1, four line art galleries; 2, two colour art galleries; and 3, a huge collection of behind-the-scenes videos. There's also a 'Bonus Credits' page and a somewhat more useful 'Play All Behind the Scenes' option. Even better, there are a trio of easter eggs just waiting to be discovered!
Now for those of you doubting how meaty a feature the art galleries could possibly represent, let me assure you that you won't be disappointed. Want hard numbers? OK, there are over 260 images in the line art section, and you can either kick back, relax, and watch a slideshow of the pictures to music (it clocks in at over 20 minutes this way) or instead choose to skip through them as fast as your NEXT button will take you. These sketches are not framed per se, but rather only occupy the middle two-thirds of the screen, the bottom being reserved for an ever-present copyright notice. Still, there's a lot of really wonderful designs in here, showing off Fujishima's almost slavish attention to detail. Not to mention that you'll find line art for all of your favourite characters, from every angle, in all sorts of poses. Great stuff.
The colour galleries are not quite as amazing, but with almost 100 images in total, they still stand up under scrutiny. Unfortunately, this set of pictures is framed, which means they generally only occupy the very centre of the screen. Some fans will also feel the colour galleries have been 'padded' out by the presence of cropped detail sections taken from larger ensemble images. I tend to ignore that in favour of the fact that there are some superb cels included in this section... not to mention some really clever fantasy shots of Miyuki and Natsumi.
As for 'Behind the Scenes', there are no less than 11 sub-sections included in this area, covering the following characters and their English VAs [voice actors]: Aoi, Chief, Madoka, Miyuki, Nakajima, Natsumi, Oshou, Scooter Mama, Strike Man, and Yoriko. (And no, I haven't forgotten how to count... our friends at Coastal liked Strike Man so much, they gave him two sections in which to strut his stuff.) These bits are a wonderful addition to this box set and really flesh out the special features nicely. In case my screenshot doesn't come out, they consist of a simultaneous presentation of each VA recorded as (s)he performs the role and a clip of the corresponding animation. The quality of the on-camera videos is a little on the choppy side, but the actual entertainment value completely outweighs any such concerns.
So what about these easter eggs, then? Well, they're not precisely hard to find, but since I hate reading about a cool hidden feature in a DVD review which then withholds instructions on how to locate it, I won't be a hypocrite. Two of them can be accessed by working your way through the colour art galleries to the very end, where you'll be faced with an on-screen keypad. The 'secret' codes are 2112 and 1999, respectively, and will bring up a small collection of 'before-and-after' artwork. The third and final easter egg is staring you in the face from the main menu screen... yes, it's the rubbish bin. Select it to gain access to another on-screen keypad, which is looking for a seven-digit code this time around. (First hint: 'the Goo Goo Dolls'. Second hint: 'Jenny'. Oh, you're hopeless! Just key in '867-5309' already. :-)
For those of you keen on unintended special features, if you'd like to watch the original Japanese OP sequence for the OVAs, you can view it simply by turning off all subtitles and playing episode 4 on the first disc. For whatever reason, episodes 1-3 display the textless OP sequence (overlaid with English credits if you have the subtitles on), while the 4th oddly provides the original Japanese opening credits. (Just be sure to turn off the subs or it won't be pretty.) Weird, ne?
Paying attention to fan feedback has always been one of AnimEigo's strengths, and it's safe to say that the You're Under Arrest Collector's Box shows the company has learned from previous mistakes in the field of packaging. Long gone is the flimsy 'software box' look that plagued their Bubblegum Crisis Megaset release; nor did the company repeat the error of squandering the spine of the cardboard slipcase on marketing information, as with their more-recent Kimagure Orange Road box set.
Instead, we're presented with a very sturdy box done up in silvery-greys that give an impression of brushed metal, the front of which features one of the YUA 'handcuffs' logos in reflective silver, and the spine - for those of you who like to shelve DVD box sets with the spine facing outward - decorated with a nice side-on silhouette of Miyuki and Natsumi above the word 'ONE' (as in 'Collector's Box One'). The rear of the slipcase lists the names of all four discs (and the episode titles for each of the first three DVDs), while the marketing info/copyright notice/UPC code have sensibly been moved to the foot of the box.
The front of each of the four Amaray cases enclosed within the slipcase features fetching cover art of our heroines in various poses, with the solitary exception of disc two, which offers a group shot of the pair of them plus Yoriko, Ken, and the Chief. (I particularly like the super-deformed [a style that shrinks adults down to cute, childlike proportions] version of Miyuki and Natsumi found on the front of the bonus disc!) The back of each case is also nicely laid-out, with brief episode synopses and a continuation of the 'computer desktop' theme found on the disc menus themselves. An all-around professional job here.
As this first Collector's Box only covers the four OVAs and one-sixth of the TV series, it still feels as if we're in an introductory phase of the show. That said, I can already discern that You're Under Arrest is the kind of series I'm bound to enjoy the further I advance into the overall story arc. That is, I anticipate that the episode plots will grow more complex (hopefully leading to multi-episode arcs) and that the likable team at the Bokuto precinct will see a great deal of additional character development in the next box set, as the show seems slightly lightweight in these areas at this early stage of the game.
In many ways, however, it doesn't really matter if the story becomes more intricate or the twists any twistier... YUA has the rare distinction of being an animé that can afford to remain predominantly character-driven, with the occasional dash of light romance or (generally self-induced) panic to liven things up. One thing this series isn't, however, is dark... even during the tensest of car chases or moments of mortal danger (the two occasionally going hand-in-hand, as in episode 2, 'Tokyo Typhoon Rally'), it's pretty clear that the 'good guys' will prevail in the end.
And it's certainly hard to fault the production values exhibited in this particular release. The picture is solid, with the OVAs coming across a bit better than the TV series; the audio quality is good and sports an excellent English dub; the menus and packaging are super-professional; and the spread of special features is quite generous. So if this kind of story interests you at all, I'd heartily recommend checking out You're Under Arrest!