Freedom Vol. 4—Bandai Visual (HD DVD)
Bandai Visual delivers the next episode in the Freedom series. For those not familiar with this series it was created as a marketing series for "Cup-O-Noodles" though it really has no tie in to the product except some of the characters eating it in the show. Each segment is thirty minutes long and each segment has been released on HD DVD individually, making this is a bit of a steep investment considering the length of each release. This fourth episode finds our main characters on Earth's soil and on the way to Florida to meet the girl in the pictures. This episode wasn't quite as engaging as the ones before it, but it's an essential part of the story. The animation was also a bit disappointing in comparison to the previous episodes with most of the longer shots not coming off quite as detailed, but this was obviously an artistic choice of the creators. I'm still looking forward to seeing where it all goes and I have word that the rest of the series will be released on HD DVD despite its recent demise.
This entire series has looked great on HD DVD so far and this is no exception. The animation depth did change a bit, but characters still look wonderful and I'm always blown away with the color resolution and saturation. Line twitter seems to be a bit better in this release with only a few spots showing any sign of it but I did notice a bit more banding this time around in some of the sky shots. This is always a stumbling point for animation and the display used can usually exaggerate the issue. Contrast is superb and I loved the nighttime sequences and the amount of dimensionality the image had both with characters and backdrops. Overall another winner from Bandai.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 in its original Japanese dub. The voice work is good but like most anime it can be a bit silly at times. Tonal balance is dead on though. Dynamics are good but this episode is a bit toned down compared to previous volumes so don't look for as much action as before. Bass response is impressive when it's there and the soundtrack actually has some decent infrasonic information.
Extras are identical to the previous episodes. You get a sneak peek at the next episode (which I always avoid) and some great use of HD DVD's HDi interactivity. This includes a picture-in-picture of the CG footage used in the film while it’s playing so you know what is hand drawn and what is CG. This is always an interesting comparative and fun to watch. There is also a storyboard-to-film comparison and the disc is web enabled.
I'm still really enjoying this series though I would still prefer a release of the whole thing edited together. I don't like having to wait it out between each one, especially when they're only 30 minutes to begin with. The A/V presentation is great though so fans should enjoy.