You're Under Arrest (Collector's Box 2) Review
Having covered the premise and essential background details of You're Under Arrest in my write-up of the first YUA box set, I thought - particularly considering the contents of the bonus extras disc included with this second instalment! - that I'd turn the spotlight on the English dub cast this time around. (And just to be fair, I'll do the same for the original Japanese voice actors when I get around to reviewing the third collector's box.)
However, before I get into that, allow me a moment to wax enthusiastic for this series. I don't know why this came as such a surprise to me, but as I watched these next 12 episodes of YUA, I came to the inescapable conclusion that the show is getting even better. Much as I enjoyed the introductory stories found on 'Collector's Box One', they pale in comparison to what we're presented with in this release. The reasons for this improvement are very straightforward, but the consequences are extremely satisfying.
First, there's the standard positive effect of no longer needing to spend valuable running time establishing the personalities and motivations of the core characters. This really shows up as a dramatic improvement in the quality of the underlying stories. (For instance, looking back at the first box set, I'd have to say only four or five of the twelve episodes really stood out as particularly noteworthy, the rest being fun but somewhat standard-fare action comedy. This time around there are at least seven truly superb episodes, outshining anything that has come before in the series.)
Second, and probably more important, is the excellent attention being paid to the overall story arc, something that was frankly lacking in the previous set of episodes... all of which were one-off capsule 'incidents' which (as they left the show's recurring characters essentially unchanged) could have been presented in more or less any order to similar effect. Not so with 'Collector's Box Two'! The writers have begun to cross-reference background events from one episode to another, clearly making an effort to subtly advance developments on many fronts simultaneously: plot, character, and thematic development.
The best example of this, naturally, is the seamless interlinking of episodes 16, 17, 19, and 23, which introduce a fascinating new character (Ken Nakajima's widower dad, Daimaru), see him find an unexpected fiancée, show the two of them setting up a business together, follow up with a tragic story about a lost friend of his, and then finish strongly with a wedding! You'd be forgiven for wondering if all this action detracts from developing the main characters... but that's what's so impressive about this arc; each of these stories spends almost as much time focusing on Miyuki, Natsumi, and Ken as it does on the newcomers.
Additionally, there are a great number of inter-episode references going on which do not constitute 'plot arcs' per se. The subtle association of the events from episode 13 with the 'samurai cinema' of episode 14 is a lot of fun to watch unfold. Not to mention the continuing nods in the direction of Natsumi's superhuman strength and quiet, understated acknowledgments of Miyuki's exceptional qualities. And of course there are plenty of 'Remember me?' reappearances of secondary characters (Chie, Strike Man, and Arizuka all get new episodes in this box set... and none of them are boring retreads, either).
But I'm allowing myself to get sidetracked here... I was going to talk about the North American voice actors, wasn't I? First off, with only one exception (Miyuki Kobayakawa) the characters of both the TV series and the OVAs were voiced by the same great cast, something which gives a nice continuity to the English dub. Speaking of which, Miyuki's VA from the OVAs was Jo Ann Luzzatto, while the entire TV series was performed by the charming Juliet Cesario. Most famous for her rendition of Belldandy in Oh My Goddess!, she's played key roles in a number of other animé, most notably Rane in Elf Princess Rane, Rouge in Princess Rouge, Alfin in Crusher Joe, and Mutio in Blue Submarine No. 6.
The cast member with the most in-field experience is almost certainly Pamela Weidner, who played Yoriko Nikaido. She's credited with a number of popular roles, including Skuld in Oh My Goddess!, Miyu in Vampire Princess Miyu (the OVAs, not the TV series), Mari in Elf Princess Rane, and Kino in Blue Submarine No. 6. She also shared ADR Editor and Director duties (not to mention some of the actual writing of the YUA English adaptation) with the incomparable Scott Houle, whose Voice Direction credits are as long as my arm (Blue Submarine No. 6, Elf Princess Rane, Kite, Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy, Oh My Goddess!, Princess Rouge, etc.).
Getting back to the primary characters, we see Tamara Burnham Mercer taking on the role of Natsumi Tsujimoto and really making it hers; although the only other animé acting experience she has was Kite, she's definitely brought something magnificent to her role in YUA. Similarly, Marc Matney is wonderful in the role of Ken (and Daimaru!) Nakajima... although perhaps we should expect no less of the man who brought us the voice of Inspector Zenigata in Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy. Amy Tipton plays Aoi Futaba, and although I prefer the Japanese VA for this role, there's nothing wrong with her performance. (She's also been Voogie in Voogie's Angel and Pai Chan in Virtua Figher.) Finally, rounding out the principals we have Dave Underwood as the voice of Chief of Bokuto Station Kachou, having played everything from Akai in Kite to Iga in Blue Submarine No. 6 to Kazami in Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy.
The remainder of the English dub cast has more limited animé experience, having come from various other fields including DJ radio, news broadcasting, and the like. However it would be hard not to at least mention the distinctive voices of Jason Hatfield (Strike Man), Joe Gallison (Tokuno) and Michael S. Way (Oshou).
Episode Guide (and Possible Spoilers)
13: 'Big Trouble at the Little Onsen'
Ah, it's time for the gang to take some much-needed R&R over the New Year's holiday, so it's off to a hot springs resort of Nakajima's recommendation. Of course, while Yoriko is decidedly unimpressed once she lays eyes on it, everyone's spirits are raised by the addition of... well, copious amounts of spirits, actually! While most everyone else gets roaringly drunk or hits the karaoke machine, the writers do manage to work in a theft, a chase scene, and an entertaining sub-plot regarding two local guys who have taken a fancy to our lasses... including Aoi!
14: 'Manju Terror! Natsumi's Edo Escapade'
I know some people hate anachronistic 'gimmick episodes' in their favourite series, but I just had to giggle at the set-up for this one: the entire cast transposed from near-future Tokyo to ancient Edo in this 'samurai cinema' special. Although the plot itself is fairly weak, this episode is absolutely priceless in my book for all of the humorous touches the animators have worked in, including cameos by Scooter Mama (or should that now be 'Cart Mama'?), characters appearing in different guises (like 'Doctor' Kobayakawa), the 'samuraident' eye-catch that splits this episode in half, and full-on 're-enactments' of earlier events (as with the kids and the kitty from episode 2 and the 'fondling' of Aoi from episode 13).
15: 'Up Against Chie Sagami-Ono... Again!'
Ah, Yoriko's arch-nemesis Chie Sagami-Ono returns in this action-packed (and very silly) episode. This time she challenges the hapless Yoriko to a seek-and-destroy mission using super-realistic paintball guns on her private estate. While Yoriko is only just able to convince Miyuki, Natsumi, and Aoi to act as her team, Chie hires professional soldiers for hers (as you do). By far the best thing about this episode, however, is the sub-plot involving the two bank robbers who become convinced they've entered a parallel universe... a classic line being 'So it appears to be Japan, and yet it's warped. People here are shooting off guns, just like in America!'
16: 'Nakajima's Double?'
A nice bit of misdirection on this one. The episode at first seems to be doing a retread of the 'we think Nakajima has an alternate identity' schtick, then does a tight left-turn and hands us a great new supporting character, Daimaru Nakajima, Ken's dad and an unbelievably-accomplished motorcycle racer (and you wondered where the White Hawk of Bokuto learned his stuff!). As dad's heard rumours about a girl at work Ken fancies, he drops by and promptly misidentifies her as... Natsumi!
17: 'That 20-Year-Old Is My Mother!'
Enter Sena Wakabayashi, Ken's soon-to-be 'mum'... and yes, she really is only 20 years old. Not a particularly strong episode but definitely a likeable character, the story is that Daimaru and Sena hooked up and want to get married, but only if Ken is happy about the arrangement. Inexplicably, the one condition set for this is that the 26 year-old Ken has to address Sena as 'mother'!
18: 'The Strike Brigade'
Oh, you didn't think we were through with Strike Man, did you? He's back and, erm, more 'baseball-y' than ever. Having given up trying to find grown-ups to help him in his never-ending quest to serve up his own warped brand of justice, he recruits three schoolgirls to form the 'Strike Brigade'. We have some very obvious Sailor Moon homages/parodies in this episode, as one might expect.
19: 'The Broken Dream of a Bike Mechanic'
This is a very good episode which looks back into the past of Daimaru Nakajima. Apparently ten years previously, he and his best friend, a wizard in the world of motorcycle mechanics named Tokaya Kanno, had tried to set a certain speed record with a heavily-modded bike. Alas, Daimaru had ignored Tokaya's instructions not to overstress the engine, and ended up losing control in the very last lap of the race, wrecking the bike and losing sight in one eye. In the wake of this disaster, Tokaya allowed his dreams and career to slip away, and so it's up to our heroes to somehow give him hope again.
20: 'Fight! Traffic Combat Team OB3!'
Ah, this has to be a uniquely Japanese thing. Apparently in Japan you can't just put up a public service announcement admonishing children against breaking traffic rules (you know, 'look both ways before crossing the street,' etc.) because that's boring. So the adults end up staging little 'dramatic performances' to spice things up, catch the kids' interest, and get the message across. But can the show go on when Traffic Combat Team OB3 (Natsumi, Yoriko, and Aoi) have to go head-to-head against... the Black Brothers of Sumida?
21: 'The Bank Robbery Task Force Manual'
Although this episode features the return of Inspector Arizuka, our brave lasses from Kobuto station have nothing to fear from 'the King of Hades'. In fact, he wants them to head up a bank-robbery simulation exercise... and believe me, they take this assignment very seriously!
22: 'Yoriko Nikaido's Day Off'
I'm shocked to admit that this is an exceptionally good 'let's focus on Yoriko again' episode. Her character hasn't appealed to me much before now, but I may be warming to her. The premise may sound slightly absurd, but we really do see Yoriko hooking up with a bona fide prince (Saki Abdusha) on her day off from work. (In case you hadn't already got the message, the writers would like to make it clear: 'No, really, you don't understand... she's very, very lucky! See? Look how lucky Yoriko is!')
23: 'A Flower Blooms on the Virgin Road'
And so we come at last to the wedding of Daimaru and Sena. As weddings generally are happy occasions and there's not a whole lot to provide in the way of plot, the dramatic tension in this episode comes from the fact that all of the old motorcycle buddies of Daimaru have shown up for the occasion, and they've decided that the winner of their traditional get-together race will get to kiss the bride. Only Daimaru isn't very happy about that, so he's quietly asked his son to participate so the others won't win. As you can imagine, neither Ken nor Miyuki are particularly thrilled about the idea of the former kissing Sena. A very fluffy episode, similar to many of the Ken/Miyuki ones on the first box set.
24: 'A White Rose For Aoi'
Quite possibly the best episode of the twelve. As is common practice in Japan, it's Bokuto station's turn to have a celebrity act as 'Chief for a Day' (ostensibly as a positive PR exercise)... in this case the famous actor/singer/you-name-it Go Kitakoji. But Go has done this schtick once before in years gone by... back at Aoi's old precinct, in fact. When he specifically requests that Aoi act as his personal assistant for the course of the day, it stirs up some very powerful emotions in the both of them, and causes a crisis for Aoi. This is really a beautiful little story, and it handles potentially-tricky material in a lovely, warm-hearted fashion that never once lowers itself to go for the cheap laugh.
The video quality on these episodes is fairly close to what we witnessed in the first box set, but a few persistent minor problems brought the score down by a point this time around. Minor flaws were the continued evidence of jaggies visible in various camera pans, and a little bit of cross-colouration as before. Also, I noticed that the artistic team have somewhat backed away from the heavy use of 'simulated 3D' animated sequences... which I suppose is understandable seeing as we're now firmly ensconced in the strictures of a TV animé budget, and doing the really fancy stuff costs a fortune.
More visually distracting, however, was the sequence of weird picture glitches that could be seen spiking in certain frames of the animation. (These have the look of a scratchy white horizontal line appearing intermittently at the top of the screen.) I stopped counting these after the first dozen or so, but there are quite a few to be found... though I think the problem was limited to the episodes on the first disc. I'm not an expert, so I'm not sure if this is due to damage in the video masters... but fortunately these light glitches stuck fast to the very top of the screen, never descending to mar the bulk of the picture. It's really nothing severe... just enough to flag up.
Sound, Menus & Packaging
There's not much new to report on the sound, menu, and packaging fronts. All three were great on 'Collector's Box One'... and all three are similarly solid in this release. No new opening or closing songs have turned up, so I'm thinking that the TV series probably kept just the one set all the way through. There has, however, been a slight improvement - to my ear, at least - in the use of both incidental music and left/right stereo directionality in the episodes on these DVDs. Some of the songs playing in the background during certain scenes really enhance the show's action, so I hope to see more of that in the future.
The menus follow the same model as before, and are easy-on-the-eyes with fairly good access times (only slowed down slightly by the 'Natsumi cruises by' transition animation. As for the packaging, what can I say? It still looks fab. Once again the cover art on the four Amaray cases features on fan-favourites Miyuki and Natsumi in various poses, again with the solitary exception of the second DVD, which has a nice action shot of two motorcycles rounding a curve. And I see AnimEigo chose to carry on with the use of adorable SD [super-deformed] pics of our heroines for the bonus disc.
Well, I have good news to report for anyone out there who has - for whatever reason - decided to forego picking up the YUA box sets in favour of simply buying the individual DVD volumes of the series. Namely, this time around AnimEigo have provided a neat little extra (not mentioned anywhere on the packaging) for each of the first two discs (YUA volumes 4 & 5): video introductions by some of the English dub cast! Appearing in the space between episodes - after the 'next episode preview' of one and before the OP sequence of the next - we have short full-screen recorded messages by Jason Hatfield, Juliet Cesario, and Reily Whitaker (the child actor who voices Yuuta). Both Jason and Juliet have fantastic screen presence and it's great to have such a personal touch from them. I was hoping for more of the cast to turn up, but the second DVD just recycles the same three video intros in a different order... so perhaps we'll have different VAs appearing to introduce episodes on the third YUA box set.
Otherwise, it's the same story as before. You want special features, you'd better get the box set, because they're all on the bonus disc. We see a reprise of the 'Behind the Scenes' segments, this time featuring only 6 sub-sections of content (covering studio sessions for the key roles of Aoi, the Chief, Nakajima, Miyuki, Natsumi, and Yoriko), for about 22 minutes of content in total.
Replacing the huge set of art galleries from before is a fairly sizable collection of 12 interview segments with the English dub VAs (spanning all of the following characters: Miyuki, Shou, Aoi, Sena, Madoka, Oshou, Scooter Mama, Strike Man, Chie, Yuuta, Akamoto, Ken, Daimaru, Kachou (the Chief), Tokuno, Maho, and the Santa Thief!). There's an enormous amount of material to wade through here, with each interview segment generally lasting 5-8 minutes. Naturally, some of the interviewees have interesting backgrounds (I learned that Juliet Cesario has also been on live TV series like American Gothic, Dawson's Creek, and Star Trek: The Next Generation) while others don't (however cute some of the kid actors are, they generally don't have much to say).
However, although I applaud the effort that went into providing these special features, it's unfortunately necessary to bring up a sensitive topic: flawed presentation. First and most obvious is AnimEigo's failure to provide any subtitles to speak of... which is an ironic blunder from a company famed for the continuing excellence of its animé subs. This makes both the interview and behind-the-scenes segments nearly inaccessible to those viewers who are hard of hearing. (Certain parts of some of the interviews have a text banner popping up to spell out the question being put to the actor at that point, but this is applied so inconsistently as to be essentially useless... half of the interview segments don't feature it at all, and just as often the ones that do don't bother to display text for any question that is vaguely audible from the off-camera interviewer. I myself am not hard of hearing, but even I couldn't make out what was being asked at those points.)
All of this might not be such a problem if better attention had been paid to audio fidelity during these sessions. Everything seems to have been recorded at a really low level, so the sound is a bit murky... and if you attempt to turn up the volume to counter this, you'll encounter the really epic levels of white noise [hiss] that are flying about in the background. 'Ah!' I hear you say, 'but don't forget that some of us can read lips!' To which I respond, 'Ah! Just you try it!' Each segment begins with the subject seated far away, apparently so the camera can take in the beauty of the room in which the interview is being conducted. Which means you'll have a very hard time indeed making out their facial expressions because the actor appears so small and distant. Generally at some random point in each interview the camera is moved a lot closer - to, in fact, the distance you'd normally expect it to be positioned for interviews - at which point the whole experience improves markedly. All I can say is that it's a shame such a nice special feature had to be knee-capped in this way.
Finally, there's the obligatory easter egg on this DVD, though only one this time around: the one hidden in the 'trash can' on the main menu. Once more you'll be presented with a 'code keypad' and it's not hard to discover the correct code (777-9311)... at which point you'll be shown about 6 minutes' worth of those YUA scenes the dub cast liked best. Oh! And let's not forget AnimEigo's trademark liner notes, enclosed as a card inside each Amaray case; the ones enclosed with this box set were especially informative on issues of Japanese language and culture.
Well, paint me impressed. You're Under Arrest has become a great little show with this second box set. (Not that it wasn't a decent series to begin with.) What began as merely another light-hearted action comedy has abruptly found a lot more emotional depth now that its protagonists have been fleshed out and it can turn its focus towards telling an outstanding story. Although not having entirely forsaken its earlier episodic nature, we now see the choices each character makes have real consequences in later episodes. And despite certain minor flaws in the picture quality and special features departments, this is a quality release that will please any fan of the show.