I won't pretend to be an expert concerning the release of 'TO' on Blu-ray. To be honest, the only TO I know about plays football and is better known for his mouth than for his talents. Adapted from the Yukinobu Hoshino Manga titled 2001 Nights by Avex in 2009, 'TO' is an interesting anime release, consisting of two unrelated standalone stories from a nineteen story series. Why more weren't produced is beyond me, especially after discovering how interesting the show is.
'TO' doesn't redefine science fiction. Rather, it's a very loving homage to literary and cinematic sci-fi of old, with completely plausible, scientifically possible stories across a fairly wide futuristic time period. Many of the great ideas of space adventure are utilized, creating a strangely familiar experience that still manages to have a level of uniqueness and intrigue. Comprised of two stories, 'Elliptical Orbit' and 'Symbiotic Planet,' this anime release may be one of the most pleasant first encounters with a show that I've had in some time.
In 'Elliptical Orbit,' an unnamed cargo station in space is docked by The Flying Dutchman, a crucially important craft that appears seemingly once every fifteen years, with a precious load of liquid proton that will be able to power the dying Earth for ten years, easily. As the two crews unwind and prepare the Dutchman for reentry to Earth, though, a group of terrorists attacks the station, planning to use the power source as a weapon to make a statement after their colony has been given less than suitable living conditions compared to most others. As the workers try to save their lives, the moon colony which is threatened by the well armed group, and the Earth, they face difficult odds, and must make sacrifices, some ultimate, for the greater good.
With 'Symbionic Planet,' a completely different experience is to be had. A planet is being adapted to be suitable to human life, and the two entities on it, one American, one Eurasian, and their differences are threatening to bring the wars that have plagued Earth to a new destination. Through it all, Aon and Elena, from opposite sides of the planet, fall in love. After a fungus outbreak in the American branch threatens all human life on the planet, the Eurasians are quick to launch an attack, using the situation as an excuse to revive the conflict. However, there's more to the fungus than anyone can imagine, and soon the Americans are left in a dire situation: fight back and essentially declare war, or find a way to neutralize the issue peacefully.
At first, I thought I was going to strongly dislike the show, as some of the production values hit me as...amateurish, at best. Sequences would be prolonged, it seemed, lingering on characters doing nothing, panning on static shots, just drawing out the runtime frustratingly. Thankfully, though, this issue resolves itself with the appearance of the terrorists in 'Elliptical Orbit,' and the show doesn't lose its footing once afterwards. It's nice to see the extreme attention to detail, to create a more realistic experience, and this quality is found in spades in both stories in 'TO.' In fact, it's almost overkill, with story elements managing to pull it together to create a fairly immersive and enjoyable hour and a half that can pass in the blink of an eye.
Character designs, well, it's hard to connect with them, as they seem beyond generic, much like the characters themselves. There really is no main character to root for in the first story, as we're given two eclectic crews at the expense of developing one or the other. The superbly designed terrorists, though, with their mechanical suits and weaponry, pull everything together, and soon the players come to life, and suddenly we care and understand everyone and everything. The battle in 'Elliptical Orbit' is riveting, to say the least, and is definitely the highlight of this release.
'TO' is odd, to be sure. It's two-tone, with little common ground to be found between its dual stories. The key, though, is the sheer believability of it all. 'TO' is philosophical and extremely analytical of the human condition, and may very well be a portent for things to come, as our continued inability to coexist makes progress seemingly impossible. The stories may be over 25 years old, but they both hold up amazingly well, without a single major issue exposed by modern science and theory. This is timeless science fiction, and definitely a tease at that, as when it's over, you will find yourself wishing that more of the series had been produced.
The Disc: Vital Stats
FUNimation's release of 'TO' comes only in a DVD/Blu-ray combo release. As I received the Blu-ray disc only for evaluation, I cannot comment on the packaging inside the release, but seeing it in stores makes it appear to be in line with the 'Eden of the East: The King of Eden' OVA combo released last month, which is a standard thickness DVD case with a slipcover containing all of the discs in the release, both DVDs and a single BD.
The Blu-ray disc in this three disc set is a Region A coded BD50, with one pre-menu trailer (for 'Vexille: Isolation'). 'TO' has been available on Blu-ray since 2009 in some Asian markets, but without any English options, dub or sub. The Japanese release is Region A locked, as well, and extremely expensive (though nowhere near as bad as some other releases...), featuring two Blu-ray discs. I cannot comment as to any differences between the domestic and Japanese discs, other than the apparent inclusion of a Japanese 2.0 track in the native release of this OVA compilation. Due mostly to the massive pricing discrepancy, I'd advise all interested parties to buy the FUNimation version. No reason to pay quadruple the price, or more, considering how often FUNimation titles are on sale on Amazon!
'TO' is not the first solely computer generated animated release to hit Blu-ray, and it's also not the greatest. It's a show that has its moments that wow you, immediately followed by issues that you can't ignore. FUNimation's AVC MPEG-4 1080p encode (at 1.78:1) isn't bad, though. It's limited and faced with a problem that riddles many other animated releases, and outside of the one ever-present issue, 'TO' would have been one of FUNimation's best discs!
The opening sequence to both segments in 'TO,' the white on white CG mechanical reveal credit screens, doesn't quite tell the tale, though it does give a big hint. Zooms and pans are almost flawless, but there's just the tiniest aliasing pulse found in small random parts of the machinery. When the OVAs actually begin, the aliasing and shimmering issue becomes a major concern. Vertical lines, especially those on what would be zippers, or character outlines and stitching in clothing, it's just a mess. Lines disappear and reappear randomly, sometimes there are even spots where you see parallel lines that should not exist. In 'Symbiotic Planet,' this issue is near constant, as the Aon character has the ever-present pulse and throb along the giant divide in his uniform shirt, which is always in motion. This issue also gives a few very random jagged edges, though they're hardly distracting...
A shame, really. Detail levels are phenomenal, absolutely stunning at times. The exaggerated color bleed is neat, and some of the chroma fringes are beautiful touches. Notice I said some of, as there are some random outlines that have weird fringing issues that make the scenes look much less sterile. I was impressed, though, with how minimal banding is present in this release, as it is beyond minor. Normally in these types of animations, with heavily pronounced "shadowing," the change in skin tone creates a horrible step-by-step change in faces, but not here. Even the hair of the characters, which is always a problem in CG movies, is rarely an issue, with only the tiniest bits of aliasing noticeable. Artifacting is a complete non-factor.
If it weren't for the massive problems detailed in the second paragraph of this portion of the review, 'TO' would have earned a four to four and a half star video rating. As is, though, it gets knocked down a significant amount, no matter how unavoidable the issue is, as it does detract from the viewing experience.
The dual Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks on this FUNimation release of 'TO' aren't game changing, but they are quite solid, sometimes great.
The soundtrack bleeds through the room perfectly, as do random effects, with precision movement effects that put you in the OVAs, as well as some solid light bass (particularly in the 'Elliptical Orbit' segment). Dialogue is always cleanly prioritized and crystal clear, with great mechanical-like filters for the terrorists and engineers in the space suits. 'Symbiotic Planet' isn't as active or immersive as the first half of the release, but it's much less action-oriented, and more verbal, emotional.
A fine pair of tracks for a fine release.
Please note, the default track on 'TO' is the English dub, much like all other FUNimation releases.
With 'TO,' you have two distinct chances to find something you enjoy, with two stories that couldn't be any more different than each other playing in quick succession. Both 'Elliptical Orbit' and 'Symbionic Planet' have their strengths and weaknesses, but if you're aching for some old school science fiction, this CG animated pair of mini features hits just the right spot. The Blu-ray would be extremely solid if it could get past all that damn aliasing. One of the most surprising anime shows I've seen in some time, this one earns an easy recommendation, but it would have been a ranting and raving demand for people buy it if it just looked better.