What would you do for a chance at more money? Not a couple of extra bucks, mind you, but a whole heaping pile of money; so much money that you wouldn't know what to do with all of it? Would you sell out your friends, your family, your entire future? What is more important, a secure and prosperous present or an uncertain but hopeful fate?
That question is at the heart of '[C]: Control – The Money & Soul of Possibility'. '[C]' takes place in modern day Japan, but with a twist, Existing in parallel with our reality is another place known as The Financial District. In this place, randomly chosen entrepreneurs make deals for ever-greater reserves of cash. Sounds like Wall Street, but the Financial District is different. Here, time stands still, and the collateral held up for loans from the ever-present Midas Bank is the entrepreneur's future. Each entrepreneur gets an asset in the form of a living creature, and when they make deals the assets fight. The winner takes money from the loser, and the losing opponent sees his future obliterated. Entire families disappear wholesale, plunging people into despair.
Kimimaro Yoga has been affected by the Financial District, although he doesn't know it. His father was an entrepreneur who lost everything, and as a result he and Kimimaro's mother disappeared. Now Kimimaro wants to become a civil servant and live a normal life. However, he's practically broke, so when a strange, flamboyant representative of the Midas Bank offers Kimimaro access to the Financial District and the money that comes with it, he reluctantly accepts. Now, as part of that world, Kimimaro has to navigate its strange waters with the help of his asset, Msyu (pronounced "Mashu"). There are plenty of high-powered characters with conflicting agendas, all vying for Kimimaro's help and attention. Ultimately, the choices Kimimaro makes will have serious consequences for all of Japan.
'[C]' certainly looks different from a lot of other anime. No, not in the animation style or character designs. But the Financial District is a unique spot where time and sometimes physics are paused, leading to a distinct and memorable location that helps set '[C]' apart. Additionally, the writers have ambitious ideas for the series, linking the events in the Financial District to actual economic phenomena that affect people in the real world. It can be tough to use entertainment to educate the audience, but '[C]' does a decent job of it.
The series creates a complex interplay between our financial markets and the Financial District, with the Midas Bank printing its own money with a design that looks like it was swiped from a Swedish black metal band. Most of the show revolves around explaining how this interplay works. Additionally, the series does a great job of developing the bond between Kimimaro and his asset Mysu. Mysu has a strong personality all her own; she's far more emotive and curious than other assets appear to be. Kimimaro cares for Mysu, even at the risk of putting his own life on the line for her.
At the same time, the series still relies heavily on anime conventions that prevent it from being a true home run. Kimimaro is your typical hesitant anime hero, often paralyzed by indecision. I don't know what it is about that particular trope that Japanese audiences love, but it's one of the most annoying character traits I can think of. Also, the deals are nothing more than monster battles. There's nothing inherently wrong with monster battles, but they're played out in anime. Also, they're not terribly interesting; with poor choreography and long sections where the action stops so the characters can talk emotionally. The dialogue, while trying to convey big ideas and emotions, sometimes feels flat and awkward.
'[C]' does go to some interesting places, and tries to do some ambitious things, but is too often weighed down by standard-issue anime clichés. However, at its best, the series poses thought-provoking questions that have no easy answers.
FUNimation presents '[C]: Control – The Money & Soul of Possibility' in an AVC-encoded 1.78:1 1080p transfer. On the whole, this transfer is very strong. '[C]' uses a mix of traditional cell animation and CGI graphics, and both come across very well, although the two styles look very different. The image is sharp, with each object strongly outlined and well differentiated. Blacks are deep, but there's plenty of detail in the shadows. In fact, the animators at times layer shadows on characters' faces to add dimensionality to the image, and the effect comes across perfectly.
The Financial District's CGI landscape looks particularly strong, with excellent contrast and bright, vivid colors that contrast with the more muted color palette of the real world. In both areas, color reproduction is excellent. Being animated, fleshtones aren't much of an issue, but you can see a character's cheeks flush red when they're embarrassed, or bruises on their bodies from fighting in deals. Details abound, allowing you to see all of the work the animators put into each frame of the show.
I didn't detect any artifacts, noise, or macroblocking. However, posterization is evident in many of the shots. This may be present in the original frames of animation, and not necessarily be a fault of the transfer. The posterization tends to show up in the background, such as on dark walls or up in the sky. Again, this may be the way the show was animated, but either way, the image is so sharp that the posterization is often easy to spot.
FUNimation offers two lossless Dolby True HD mixes. The English dub is presented in a 5.1 mix, while the original Japanese gets 2.0. Between the two, the English is definitely the one to go for. Unlike foreign films, where live actors are overdubbed by English-speakers who are forced to try and match performance and lip movement, in anime voice actors have much more leeway to interpret the material as they please, and many voice actors also write localized scripts and direct all the voice acting in an episode. In live action, the original audio is almost always preferable, whereas in anime, the English dub may be just as good or better as the Japanese, and help English-speakers immerse themselves in the story.
Beyond that, the difference between the 5.1 and 2.0 mixes is palpable. For one thing, the surrounds positively light up in the 5.1 mix. The score and sound effects spread to the back, creating a far more expansive soundstage with practically seamless imaging. Dynamic range is excellent, with the strings of the score coming through warmly, and dialogue is clear and crisp. '[C]' is alive with sound effects. In the real world, trains, cars, and passers-by all help sell the illusion of a bustling urban landscape. In the Financial District, almost every object and transaction has its own noise, a smorgasbord of money changing hands that give the District a distinct feel all its own.
Balance could be a little stronger, with the score and effects sometimes overwhelming the dialogue, although not to the point where dialogue becomes unintelligible. Additionally, the LFE runs a little weak, even during the big, explosive battles. However, neither of these are enough to bring down an otherwise excellent mix. The Japanese mix is far more subdued and doesn't have the same punch as the English mix.
FUNimation made an interesting choice for subtitles on this set. Instead of simply offering English SDH subs that work for both mixes, they tied the subtitles in to each audio track. If you choose Japanese, you get full English subtitles with all dialogue and important text subtitled. If you choose English, text is automatically given subs, but there's no option to choose English SDH. You can't even select English subs in the English mix by pressing the subtitle button on the remote, nor can you change audio tracks on the fly. Instead, you have to go to the menu and select your audio preference, which will then also select the associated subtitle track.
Aside from that little oddity, FUNimation serves up '[C]: Control – The Money & Soul of Possibility' with an anemic set of extras.
At its best, '[C]: Control – The Money & Soul of Possibility' has some interesting things to say about the way we live, what we value, and the unseen forces that move our hands. A more daring creative team might have been able to take these ideas and forge them into something truly compelling. Instead, a series of anime tropes prevent the show from reaching its full potential. Visually, this disc has a lot to recommend it, with plenty of detail and color. Sadly, posterization does creep in and mars an otherwise excellent transfer. The English 5.1 audio mix is a real treat, with broad dynamic range and a deep, immersive soundstage. The extras package disappoints, with two fun episode commentaries and then a host of short, interchangeable ads and trailers. If you're curious, this is worth a look.