Crows Zero comes to US Blu-ray via Media Basters/Tokyo Shock with a 1080p resolution, encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is Region Free.
It's a good transfer for a niche film, punchy and bold in the right places but not perfect. If you were worried it was going to fall in line with other Media Blasters releases like The Machine Girl, fret not, it's a world away from the flaws of such low budget artefact ridden schlock. The graffiti and mad haircuts are brought to life with some fine detail, the wardrobes, looking like a boyband on acid, have texture to them but fall away slightly the further into the frame they sink. Close-ups and stationary, in bright light, the delineation is solid, indoors and into the mid distance proceedings start to slip a bit, with softness the most noticeable change, particularly under what appears to be mainly natural overhead lighting.
Not all interior shots suffer, the early club scenes hold up well, even Genji's black ensemble is easy to pick out as a nylon track top with apparent fabric detail. The colour palette is a bit on the yellow/sepia side indoors, if you've ever seen any of the low budget Japanese splatter films you'll instantly recognise this hue, but outside things stay cooler and the odd flash of red is as crisp as you'd like.
This slight skew doesn't have the knock on effect on skin tones some titles show, they remain pretty naturalistic, if obviously slightly coloured. The whites hold well considering, but the blacks can crush occasionally and the aforementioned drop in clarity the further you go into the frame, when not outside, doesn't help the dark uniforms. Unless you're right on top of them in good light they can suck in a certain amount of detail, a few shots even the distinction between trousers and jacket becomes lost in the mire.
If you've got reasonable light flashing down on proceedings things stay rosy. Delineation is good and all the little accoutrements of the clothing, snazzy belts, wristbands, chains and flash trainers are easy to pick out and see a decent level of detail in. Close up is even better, the hair-sprayed Barnets sidestep aliasing and show themselves to be the mad creations they are. In the confines of the fights, dust kicks up from the ground without any noticeable signs of noise or banding and the motion stays smooth.
It's a solid image, perhaps a bit flat, but seemingly all the more impressive when held in comparison to similar material (certainly from Media Blasters), certain shots on lower budget Eastern films never light up the screen, but it's far superior to many niche Japanese offerings we've seen grace the format recently.
There are four audio tracks to choose from: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and 5.1 as well as Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and 5.1.
If you have either an interest in the manga or are a Miike fan, you'll doubtless want to hear things in their native tongue. The English dub is a lip-synced monstrosity that is actually unintentionally funny in its grotesque display of middle-of-the-road American anime-style voice acting. I can see the reasoning behind the talent and direction they've used, but it's a ill judged linking of two Japanese media and how to make them palatable to a Western audience in correlation. Back to the good news though, now, assuming this is was a 2.0 film originally and the 5.1 has been upmixed, I’m suitably impressed. This type of film has a tendency to be a bit flat, relying on the moments the score kicks in and have a perfunctory centre channel, but Crows Zero seems to aim a bit higher, with some success.
The speech is good, with some nice effects like the early microphone and megaphone usage coming through well. The raspier voices show the channel's benefits well, the hoarser diction and so oft shouted insults have a resounding quality. Insults in Japanese manga fare should never lose volume, and this track keeps them hitting through the middle of the soundscape.
The environmental effects sit reasonably well in the rears, perhaps a hint too loud and pronounced (the music also pump from the rears with some intensity), but the whistling of wind or such like makes this more noticeable than the cacophony of a brawl, the latter proving the worth of 5.1.
The LFE will be what draws most to the 5.1 offering, the thought being that no action film worth its salt can do without a bit of bass brutality, but the implementation of it here is less than refined. The first proper crash of it, as Serizawa plunges his head into a van window, hits into the room well, but lacks any hint of a truly tight punch. The fight scenes bring more use of the LFE, it's potent and works nicely with the directionality woven into the encounters as Miike always looks for a stylised shot and the surround generally matches.
If you opt for 2.0 you'll get a fairly wide track, it handles the balance of score, sound effects and speech well, as you'd expect for the original recording (assuming it is), but it's just a bit impotent, the music doesn't fly out of the fronts (which The Street Beats demand) as you'd expect of a lossless stereo offering, it settles behind a lot of the action rather than in front of it, particularly Kenichi Asai's “Little Linda” in a key fight scene. This isn't the case with the 5.1 which, however unrefined, still feels right for the material. If anything, the rough edges add to the manga appeal.
Interview with Takashi Miike – SD - 5:41
The prolific director discusses what drew him to the project, the appeal of the characters, the uniqueness of Takahashi's source material and how he felt the need to make his film distinct in some ways from that.
Original trailer – SD – 1:35
Crows Zero is a worthy tie-in to the manga from which it draws its inspiration. What Takashi Miike sometimes lacks in terms of polish he makes up for in sheer exuberance which shines through this production. It's not quite the unbridled brawl-a-thon it's marketed as, it's got a few laughs in there and though the emotional weight could float away like a feather, it fits the comic-book atmosphere well. Essentially a tale of growing pangs spoken through broken teeth with a couple of suplexes thrown in for good measure.
The Region Free disc from Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock is far better than some of their other releases. It may not demand a double dip but the image is punchy (no pun intended) enough, with some good detail only let down by a touch of inconsistency under lower light. The four lossless audio tracks may seem bountiful, but only two are in the native Japanese and the 5.1 option is far more potent and fitting to the material. I dare say it's the only option you should really consider. Extras unfortunately (but expectedly given the niche nature of the title) are infinitely missable.
If you're a devotee of the manga there's no reason not to pick up this excellent adaptation and Miike fans should also take note.
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