Review for NieA_7 - Collector's Edition
NieA Under 7 or NieA_7 is a notable title for me. It’s the first series I ever imported from the US. I had dabbled with importing discs before, although for anime, I had opted for Australian releases for the similar PAL format DVDs. But Australia didn’t have NieA_7, so instead I made my first ever purchase from the US, and from Right Stuf, the four DVD volumes of NieA_7 released by Pioneer Entertainment. Why so desperate? At the time, MVM had released everything else associated with creator and character designer Yoshitoshi ABe. I had partaken of the seminal sci-fi Serial Experiments Lain, the ethereal and thought provoking Haibane Renmei, and the bleak dystopia of Texhnolyze. All that was left was his second series, NieA_7, but that never happened in the UK. Since then, he’s been involved in a couple other series, ReRideD (a time travel show which has had a US Blu-ray release from Funimation), and Housing Complex C, which is yet to have a Western physical release. Alas, the much touted, next best thing Despera has still to see the light of day.
Pioneer (subsequently Geneon) gave the show an early DVD outing back in 2002, still early enough in the format’s lifespan that those discs do not look good scaled-up to HD. NieA_7 is an SD format show, made pretty early during the transition from cel and paint animation, to wholly CG productions, but it will still benefit from a sympathetic scaling-up. Thankfully it was the anime archive specialist label Discotek that eventually released NieA_7 on Blu-ray in 2018, although it was locked to Region A. But now, in 2024, 24 years after the show’s initial broadcast release, MVM have got NieA_7, plugging that Yoshitoshi ABe gap, releasing it on Region B Blu-ray using Discotek’s assets.
NieA_7 is about… well not much really. It’s the future, somewhere down the line in the 21st Century, but the world looks much as it does today, except that aliens are among us. Some years previously, a mothership came crashing to earth, and its passengers soon found homes living and working among humans. The aliens look pretty human, except for pointed ears and antennae on top of their heads. And no one on Earth is really bothered or excited by it all, at least not after all this time. Life goes on pretty much as normal, especially for Mayuko Chigasaki, a hard up student barely able to put herself through cram school. She lives in a small room in the Enohana bathhouse, a place that her family once owned, but is now owned by landlady Kotomi Hiyama. Her unwanted roommate is the alien girl NieA who lives in her closet, and whose lack of antenna marks her down on the lowest rung of alien society, an under 7. She constantly infuriates the hard working Mayuko with her freewheeling, and freeloading attitude to life, as well as the constant drain on her meagre fridge. And life goes on…
13 episodes of NieA_7 are released on this Collector’s Edition Blu-ray as follows.
1. Alien and Launching UFO Bath
2. Alien and Violence Cosmic Bath
3. Alien and Radio Noise Bath
4. Alien and a Beginner Waitress Bath
5. Alien and Dried Up Amusements Bath
6. Alien and Rival Hot Springs Bath
7. Mothership, Go-Con & Cloudy Skies Bath
8. Melancholy and Cast Off Summer Bath
9. Close Encounter and After the Rain Bath
10. Glow of the Firefly and Nocturne Bath
11. NieA under Seven Bath (The Former Part)
12. NieA under Seven Bath (The Latter Part)
13. Time Flows By In Enohana Bath
NieA_7 gets a 1.33:1 pillarboxed 1080p transfer on this single Blu-ray disc. At this point, many will be expressing concerns about bitrate and compression, but Discotek from whom this master is sourced, is a master of fitting content onto discs without visible compromise. On top of that, NieA_7 is an SD format show scaled up to HD. The Pioneer DVDs date from early in the format’s lifecycle, and you can see the drawbacks of an early transfer, with issues like dot crawl and rainbowing. All of that is not a problem at all with the Blu-ray, with a clean and detailed transfer. There is the expected QTec style scaling up, with line detail sharpened and smoothed. But there is no smearing or loss of detail compared to the DVDs as is usually apparent with actual QTec up-scales. But there is a tinge of edge enhancement apparent in some scenes.
Yoshitoshi ABe’s character designs are quite naturally a major selling point in this show, and they are unique and memorable, while the world design certainly works wonders in establishing the show’s weary, run-down mood. Enohana is a town in the grip of an economic downturn, and the way buildings aren’t being taken care of, and the faded look of characters’ clothing is certainly indicative. NieA was one of the early anime shows that were accomplished wholly in the digital, there’s nary an acetate cel to speak of here, and it does look a little primitive and unaccomplished compared to modern shows. Detail is lacking in the characters, especially when they are seen from a distance, and the remaining issues with aliasing here have less to do with the transfer than they have to do with original animation techniques. The characters never really quite integrate with the backgrounds. It is a very colourful and cartoonish style, which takes a bit of getting used to, before it becomes invisible.
The disc comes with PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. Again it’s a step up over the DVDs, which had signs translations burnt into the image and a solitary translated subtitle track. The audio is much on a par with the DVD experience, although the uncompressed format gives the stereo a bit more warmth and clarity. As always I prefer the Japanese audio, and the actors are suited well to their roles. I really love the music for the show, a whole lot of melancholic acoustic guitar, and some idiosyncratic tunes.
The Blu-ray disc comes in a BD Amaray style case with a reversible sleeve. It slides into a thick card artcase along with five character art-cards.
Each episode ends with a live action bit from Dalgit, Chada’s image consultant. A Sikh who can speak fluent Japanese constantly fascinates me, and Dalgit offers little bits of Indian trivia to Japanese audiences.
The extras on the disc are as follows.
Textless credits (1OP & 2ED)
Japanese Commercials (0:44)
Chada Music Clip (2:01)
Karna Music Clip (0:53)
Both clips are on the disc, but they are labelled the wrong way around, you’ll get Karna if you click on Chada and vice versa. The disc also ends with a translated English credit scroll for all 13 episodes.
NieA_7 dates from 2000, adapted from the Yoshitoshi ABe doujinshi dating between 1999 and 2001. It’s not hard to see that this show is inspired by the crash of Japan’s bubble economy some years earlier, resulting in an economic stagnation whose effects are still felt today. These things come and go in cycles, and somehow I get to watch this show just when it’s most appropriate. I first saw it in 2009, just after the sub-prime mortgage crash led to a global financial crisis. And now I watch it in 2024, and we’re in an even worse economic situation following a global pandemic, exacerbated by various regional conflicts, and a bunch of populist, isolationist governments around the world. NieA_7 is a reflection of a society in depression, but also an antidote as well, reminding us of how it’s possible to face such adversity with a degree of positivity.
It is the most purely comic of Yoshitoshi ABe’s works, yet manages to retain a sense of realism with the characters. It comes across as something of a blend of Mork & Mindy and Alien Nation set in a future retro Japan. Actually given the abrasive relationship between Mayuko and NieA, it’s more of the anti-Mork and Mindy. NieA_7 is set in a world where aliens came to Earth. Their mothership crashed, and a whole society of aliens wound up moving in and integrating to varying degrees of success. They look human, but have pointed ears and antenna on their heads, and have a stratified social structure of Under Sevens to Over Fives. NieA doesn’t even have an antenna, and she is on the lowest rung of the ladder.
The series is set in Enohana, a town which architecturally remains in the past while the cities are modern and shiny. It’s all small traditional wooden buildings and a friendlier, interconnected population. It’s close to a crater where many of the lower ranked aliens live, and you can see the crashed alien mothership on the horizon. But this is a world where aliens now live among us... and no one cares. It’s all been normalised and for most people it’s just boring everyday life.
The show has a bleak undercurrent to it, examining themes of alienation, depression, discrimination and social stratification, yet manages to infuse its narrative with a whole lot of comedy. You could almost see NieA_7 working as a British sitcom. It introduces a large cast of characters and sees how they face their respective difficulties.
At the heart of it though is the relationship between Mayuko and NieA. Mayuko is a poor cram-school student, working multiple jobs to make ends meet, to pay the rent in the bathhouse, and occasionally put food on the table. It becomes clear that she’s trying to get into college with a sense of obligation to her family, particularly her late father, whose memory is beginning to fade for her. That is a big contributor to her depression. She obviously has the sense that she’s at the bottom of the social ladder, and treats everyone around her with deference... That’s except for NieA, who herself is at the bottom of the alien social ladder, and given that she lives rent-free in Mayuko’s closet, and mooches her food, is the only one who Mayuko can feel superior to, and the one person who can receive her voluble ire without rocking societal norms.
Being looked down on isn’t new for NieA. As an Under-Seven, she gets it from the other aliens, and whereas most other humans ignore her, at least Mayuko engages with her. But where Mayuko is burdened by expectations, and is working hard to get into college, NieA freewheels it, does whatever she wants to, brings attitude to anyone she rubs up against, and has a ‘career’ collecting junk to build her UFOs. She seems happy-go-lucky, but she too has a bit of melancholy which is triggered when she thinks she hears the mothership talking to her. Given her lack of antenna, no-one takes her seriously, not even the other aliens, but it becomes something of an obsession for her as the series plays out.
I love Niea_7 even more now than I did when I first watched it. It’s a rare combination to get something this funny, and this bleak. Back when I first saw it, I would have said that it would fit right in, back during the eighties in Thatcher’s Britain, but given the constant cycle of depression and recession that we seem to be on, I feel it has attained a timelessness that will see it revisited a lot more than many other anime. That it can hold up a mirror to society, and still leave you feeling good as the end credits roll makes it feel very unique. One thing that I wish for is more artcards. The five we do get are really nice, but the DVDs got some really special cover art, and if there had been a way to recreate those sleeves as artcards, I would have been happier. NieA_7 is unlike any other comedy anime, which is reason enough to buy this show.
The NieA_7 Collector’s Edition can be had directly from MVM’s webstore at Anime on Line, from Anime Limited, and from mainstream retailers, and there will be a standard edition release in due course.