Review for The World Of Narue DVD Collection
Believe it or not, The World of Narue was released in the UK in 2006, although you may be hard pressed to find it in stores now. I don't know why, as surely no one bought it. I certainly didn't, and I'm a sucker for cheap anime. Getting a 12 episode series for under £5 sounds like a bargain, but the fact was that it was ILC (now 4Digital Asia) who had the rights to distribute it in the UK, and they took the show, stripped out the extras, stripped out the Japanese audio and the subtitles, bunged it all onto two discs in an Amaray case and considered it job done. They showed more care with the Darkness hentai boxset! In the US, it was the now defunct Central Park Media who released the show, and they were one of the early companies to champion anime on DVD. The love and attention they gave to the show certainly tells, and when I had a chance to pounce on one of their boxsets in a recent sale, I didn't hesitate. They released World of Narue on four discs, collected together in a lovely art covered gatefold digipack, with both Japanese and English audio, subtitles and signs, which is all de rigueur for anime of course. What's exceptional is that the discs are loaded with extras, commentaries plural, interviews, storyboards, and much, much more. And UK anime companies complain about imports…
A somewhat hapless and wimpy teen male encounters an otherworldly girl, and unexpectedly romance blossoms? Say it isn't so! It's not exactly the least visited genre in anime, what with Keiichi and Belldandy in Ah! My Goddess, Tenchi and his harem of aliens in Tenchi Muyo, and Kei Kusanagi and his alien wife in Please Teacher to name but three. The thing is that all of these series offer something a little different, and The World of Narue is no exception. Kazuto Iizuka is the hapless teenage male, but he's one that anime fans can find it easier to relate to. After all, he is an anime fan himself, and he lives a fairly nondescript life for a fourteen year old, coming and going to school, finding life a little awkward around girls, until the day that he's rescued from a marauding alien by a pretty alien girl named Narue Nanase who also happens to attend his school. But until she meets Kazuto, she's a little gloomy and introverted, living in a rundown apartment with her father, and ridiculed at school for claiming to be an alien…
The World of Narue comes in 12 episodes across 4 discs. The episode synopses are on page 2, so feel free to skip if you want to avoid spoilers.
The World of Narue's 4:3 transfer is adequate, but certainly shows its age. The image is clear throughout, the colours are a little subdued, but this looks to be one of the earlier anime to be realised through the digital medium, rather than with inks and acetate. There is a greater consistency to the animation, and a hint of CG enhancement when it comes to the spaceships and cityscapes. It's still pretty static for an anime, detail levels are low, but it's all more than watchable, and there is no cutting of corners when it comes to getting the story across. What really marks this out as an older anime is the amount of rainbowing and shimmer to the DVD transfer, which can even be a little distracting at times.
It's just the anime standard for the audio, with DD 2.0 English and Japanese stereo, and optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. The dialogue is clear throughout in both versions, while the music, aside from the rather catchy theme songs, is pretty low rent and generic. It does suit the show well though, and does what it needs to in enhancing the show's pace. The dub is certainly getting on in years now, and has more of the bad old days about it than other English dubbed anime of the period. My own personal annoyance is that the English voice actress for Narue sounds a little like Peppermint Patty from the Peanuts cartoons.
On disc three, the audio drops out twice, 3½ minutes into the programme in both the English and Japanese audio, but not the commentary.
1. My Girlfriend Is An Alien
On a rainy day when Kazuto Iizuka is late for school, he happens to spy an abandoned puppy outside a low rent apartment block. It's still there on his way home, and he's about adopt it, when a girl's voice warns him off. It's just in time too, as the dog transforms into an alien and goes for his throat. It's fended off by the girl with a baseball bat, but she leaves before Kazuto has a chance to thank her. All he's left with is her bat, which has the name Nanase written on it, and the school uniform indicating she goes to his school. In fact, Narue Nanase is in the class next door, as his best friend Maruo Masaki points out. Although her home address of 'Galaxy Federation' is a little weird. Narue claims to be an alien, something that causes no end of ridicule, except for her classmate Hajime Yagi who takes this personally, and wants to unmask her as a 'fake' alien, to uphold the reputation of real aliens (Yagi's a bit of a UFO nut). Kazuto wants to take her out for some tea to thank her, but the money conscious Narue invites him home instead to the Galaxy Federation. That's the low rent apartment, where the alien dog is back, attacking Narue's father.
2. The First Date!
Somehow Kazuto has worked up the gumption to ask Narue out on a date. They're going to see a movie together, but Kazuto needs advice on how to be the perfect gentleman. So it is that Maruo holds a master-class in date etiquette, and just to see the fruits of his labours, he tails Kazuto and Narue on their date. Kazuto's got it all down pat, except Narue refuses to follow the rules. Meanwhile on her quest to unmask Narue as an attention seeking human, Yagi's tailing the couple too.
3. A Secret Base For Two
After explaining how her teleporting hairband works, which is fascinating to a fourteen-year-old male, Narue invites herself to Kazuto's home, which is more terrifying than fascinating. His mother is ecstatic that he actually brought a girl over, while his older sister is having a hard time dealing with the shock. Add to that, Kazuto has the stereotypical teenage bedroom, messy, full of gadgets, and a barely concealed adult magazine stash, which true to form, is the first thing that Narue spies. And apparently sharing your love of the anime Magical Girl #4 isn't the polite way to entertain a girl. Narue's happy though, and in return, she offers to take Kazuto to her favourite place on Earth. She doesn't expect someone to throw up a Time Stasis Shield though.
4. My Younger Older Sister
Kazuto wakes up to Narue, which is an odd enough occurrence. She's teleported into his bedroom to tell him the good news. It turns out that she has an older sister, and Kanaka is coming to visit Earth. She is excited at the prospect of having her family grow, but trouble arrives with Kanaka. Kanaka has been a victim of the Urashima effect. Narue's dad came to Earth via a hyperspace gate, and has lived the last 15 years on Earth. Kanaka missed her dad so much, she stowed away on a freighter and followed him, in realspace at the speed of light, meaning she hasn't aged. Kanaka arrives to see her father with Narue, and instantly takes objection to her new 'mother'.
5. Kanaka Goes to School
Yagi still suspects Narue of being a human pretending to be an alien, and she's using her patented 'basketball in the face test' to prove it. Then when the other girls see Yagi with Kazuto (she's interviewing him about aliens), they accuse her of stealing Narue's boyfriend. But the nerdish social outcast has at least one new friend. Kanaka has started at school, with strict instructions to be discreet about her true origins. Her new classmates interpret this as her being snobbish and stuck-up, and start bullying her, and Kanaka isn't ready to run to her baby sister (who happens to be older) for something so trivial. But when Narue sees her newfound sister getting along happily with her eternal bugbear Yagi, it sows a rift between the sisters before they've even gotten close.
6. The Impact of Love
There is a fleet of spaceships surrounding the Earth, protecting the planet from unwanted interference, and all the while there are terrorists trying to sneak in, all because of the presence of the Nanase family. The simple thing would be to remove the Nanase family from the planet, but Narue doesn't want to leave now that she has a boyfriend, and she's been promised that no one will try to force her. The higher-ups will have to come up with something else. Which is why Kazuto suddenly wakes up to a pretty blonde female in his room. Meet Rin, his baby sister. It's news to him, and it's news to Narue, but for everyone else, it's as if Kazuto always had a sister, and it's the natural way of things. Besides, one look into those baby blues has Kazuto believing too. Now Rin is a permanent attachment on big brother's arm, and Narue can't get a look in.
7. The Pool: Clear Danger
Summer has arrived, and already it's too hot for comfort for Kanaka, who isn't used to Earth summers. She wants to go to the pool, to relax, to sip drinks and be waited on hand and foot. Narue and the others can only afford the public pool though, which at this time of year is so full of people, there's hardly enough room for the water. But Kanaka has a surprise for everyone, a way to get to her own private pool, with no one else around to bother them. You'd think that Kazuto not being able to swim would be a big problem, but that's nothing compared to the woolly mammoth!
8. A Message From Earth
The subtle pressure for Narue to leave Earth continues, as she gets another invitation to transfer to a prestigious galactic school. Kanaka wonders why she is so keen on staying on Earth, so Narue tells her sister about how their father first came to Earth, on a mission to discover just how a fragmented collection of nations manages to get along, so that they can translate the secret to their own wartorn galactic situation. She also tells her about how he met and fell in love with Narue's mother.
9. A Starship in Love
It's still summer, and Kanaka still wants to cool off. This time she, Narue and Kazuto hitch a lift with Kanaka's sentient starship Bathyscaphe. Besides, in her humanoid form, Bathyscaphe likes to soak up the rays as well. She and Kanaka decide to let Narue and Kazuto have some quality time, and go exploring the seaside town. Narue, ever thrifty, decides to go looking for shellfish to harvest. The last person that Kanaka and Bathyscaphe expect to find is another starship. Haruna is working behind the counter of a beach vendor, and seeing Bathyscaphe she instantly fears that they've come to take her back to the military. She's put the wars and the fighting behind her, come to Earth, and fallen in love as well.
10. The Great Cosplay Plan
Narue and Kazuto are on a date; their first chance to be alone together in ages, but then Kazuto goes and messes things up by dragging Narue into his geek pursuits. First it's to a comic book convention where he eagerly snaffles up a ticket. It's a ticket to an exclusive meet and greet with the new voice actress playing his anime heroine Magical Girl #4, and Narue's not invited. If that isn't enough, the voice actress is cute as a button, egotistical, and tickled by coming between Kazuto and Narue. Understandably Narue storms off in a huff. While Kazuto tries to understand what went wrong, Narue's determined to win her man back. She decides to enter a cosplay competition.
11. A Private Little Wedding
Everyone is revising for exams, and in need of a break, so it's a good thing that Haruna calls and invites everyone up for a stay at her boyfriend's hot springs resort. It's a nice, relaxing break, with about the only stress coming from preventing Yagi from finding out that Haruna is a sentient starship. Yagi's distracted more by how much Haruna and Akio are in love, but it seems her innocent question about a wedding brings the mood down. Haruna and Akio aren't even sure that a human and a starship can be married. Narue decides to prove to them that it is possible.
12. The Night of the Festival
With a summer festival looming, it's time for the girls to don their kimonos and accompany the guys to partake of fun, food, and fireworks. At least that's what's happening on Earth. In space, terror capsules have threatened the blockade, and a trio of space ninjas have broken through and made their way to the surface. Their target is Narue Nanase. Suddenly at the festival, a time stasis shield goes up, the humans all freeze, and Narue comes face to face with her enemies. They're in the mood for a little fun too, so they unfreeze Kazuto to toy with him as well. Could this romance be brought to an untimely end already?
All four discs are presented in a gatefold digipack, wrapped in a card sleeve. The discs all get animated menus as well.
The actors' commentary accompanies episodes 1-9. Mamiko Noto (Narue), and Daisuke Sakaguchi (Kazuto) collaborate on a commentary that wouldn't be out of place on a Funimation disc. It's a gigglefest, but in Japanese, in that the actors take a light-hearted look at the episodes, allowing what is happening on screen to set off whatever train of thought is at the mental platform at the time. It's mostly trivial nonsense, but fun enough. Later on in the commentaries, they host the occasional guest voice actor to add to the mayhem. There are no commentaries on the final disc, but they stop rather abruptly at episode 9. I get the feeling that they were recorded for all episodes, and are probably available on the Japanese release, just not on the US one.
All three episodes on this disc also come with a Directors' Commentary. CPM representatives Masumi Homma and John O'Donnell interview Series Director Toyoo Ashida and Director Hiromitsu Morita about how the show was brought to life, although it isn't long before the conversation turns to panties. This heads off into quite an interesting conversation about the cultural idiosyncrasies of Japanese otaku, and the US fanbase, and how that relates to how this anime, and anime in general is received.
Disc 1 also gets a 90-second art gallery with stills and artwork, a 90-second sketch gallery with line art, 5 minutes of storyboards that let you compare and contrast with the finished product, alternate previews for episodes 2-4, the Japanese commercials for the first two DVDs, and the textless credits.
The English voice actress for Narue, Veronica Taylor spends a minute talking about her character and the show. There is also a Japanese Character Intro that lasts a little longer, but is more of a trailer.
The Japanese Voice Actor Interview lasts 7 minutes, and has Mamiko Noto and Daisuke Sakaguchi talking about their characters and the excitement surrounding the anime.
There is the World of Narue: Volume 1 trailer from CPM. And also there are trailers for Cyber City: Time Bomb, Black Jack: Infection, Birdy The Mighty: Double Trouble, Legend of the Dragon Kings: White Dragon, and the Slayers Special Manga Preview.
The second disc's extra features offer much the same sort of thing as the first, with a 50-second Sketch Gallery and a 50-second Art Gallery slideshows, 3 minutes worth of Storyboards, Alternate Previews for episodes 5-7, Commercials for Japanese DVDs 2-3, and the Textless Credits.
The English voice actor for Kazuto, Jamie McGonagal speaks about his character for 3 minutes. There's another Japanese Character Intro, and it's all polished off with the CPM trailer for World of Narue.
This disc has previews for, Doggy Poo, Arcade Gamer Fubuki, Patlabor: The TV Series Volume 8, Spirit Warrior: Festival of the Ogres Revival, and a CPM Manhwa Preview.
Rinsing and repeating, we have… a 40-second Sketch Gallery and a 50-second Art Gallery slideshows, 6 minutes worth of Storyboards, Alternate Previews for episodes 8-10, Commercials for Japanese DVDs 4-5, and the Textless Credits.
The English voice actor for Maruo, Jimmy Zoppi speaks about his character for 3 minutes. There's another Japanese Character Intro, and once again you get the CPM trailer for World of Narue.
The previews here are for Black Jack: Seizure, Cyber City: The Decoy, Birdy the Mighty: Final Force, Urusei Yatsura Movie 2: Beautiful Dreamer, and the Alien Nine Manga Preview.
You'll find a minute worth of Art Gallery, 40 seconds of Sketch Gallery, a minute of Storyboards, Alternate Previews for episodes 11 & 12, Commercials for Japanese DVDs 5 & 6, the Textless Credits and the World of Narue trailer.
Of interest on this disc is the Big Apple Anime Fest Anime Idol Voice Acting Contest. The voice of Hajime Yagi, Michelle Knotz actually won the role by entering the contest, and this 12-minute featurette follows her from the competition all the way to the recording studio. There are 4 minutes of Manga Comparison, which take a look at the anime in the context of the original manga. In a neat bit of editing, the scene takes the place of the manga panel next to the one being compared. Finally there are 8 minutes worth of Japanese Voice Actor Interview, with Mamiko Noto and Daisuke Sakaguchi, as they look back on the series following the recording of the final episode.
The previews on this disc are for Mask of Zeguy, Domain of Murder, Spiral Warrior: Castle of Illusion, Legend of the Dragon Kings: Blue Dragon, and a preview of some Tomoko Taniguchi manga.
The World of Narue is fun. It's not the best romantic comedy ever, it's not the best hapless teen falling for fantastic female comedy ever, and it's not even the best hapless teen falling for fantastic female who just happens to be an alien comedy ever. But The World of Narue is a gentle, old-fashioned fun anime that delivers its tale in a light-hearted and heart-warming way, it doesn't get heavy, or melodramatic, and it doesn't even bother with much of an overarching story. These are episodic, soft, comedic hi-jinks that are designed to make you feel better about yourself and the world. It's like Ah My Goddess, but nowhere near as intense.
I guess its unique selling point is that the characters actually do have a relationship. Narue and Kazuto are girlfriend and boyfriend, and they do go a little further than the holding hands stage. There's also no need for a harem, and not every random alien girl is falling for Kazuto for any particular inexplicable reason. In that way it's refreshing to see female characters that have other agendas, whether it's Kanaka getting to know her family and her new sister, or Yagi obsessing about UFOs and aliens.
You'd think with the episodic nature, and the variety of small stories that are told in the World of Narue, that it might get a little variable in quality, or maybe a little repetitive. But the World of Narue maintains a constant quality through its episodes, while telling some really quite charming tales as it charts the ups and downs of Narue and Kazuto's relationship. It also works as the central characters are so appealing. Kazuto is hardly the non-descript, hapless teen that usually typifies the role. Well he is a little hapless, but he's also pretty easy for the target audience to relate to, being a little geeky, and obsessed with anime and manga, and not exactly comfortable around girls. Of course this is a fantasy world where sharing one's love of anime doesn't drive members of the opposite sex away. But even Narue has limits, and her reaction when Kazuto goes to a convention is understandable, and even a little overdue.
Narue is also quite surprising a character. For an alien, she's pretty down to Earth, and has a good sense of self. She isn't the kind of anime girlfriend who would spend hours slaving in the kitchen, just to sit aside and gaze lovingly while her significant other eats. She's certainly more equal, more fallible, and more apt to be insecure. Her every thought doesn't revolve around Kazuto, and her penny-wise nature is quite comical at times. She also isn't necessarily all perky and bright. When we meet her, she rescues Kazuto from the space ninja, but she's certainly no magical girl. She's instead more gloomy and melancholy, as if weighed down by her true nature and alien heritage. The animation really excels here, as when Kazuto accepts her as a person, and sees her as a potential girlfriend rather than just an alien, her melancholy turns to joy in a remarkable transformation, bringing the character to life. In that way, Narue reminded me somewhat of a proto-Haruhi Suzumiya, although without that character's manic intensity.
In some respects though, Narue's episodic nature is its weak point. There are two main arcs here, Narue and Kazuto's relationship, which develops pretty well over the course of the episodes, and the whole Galactic Alliance, blockade of Earth back-story, which isn't quite as satisfactorily explored. Certainly you can see bits of this story as it impinges on the background of many of the episodes, but there are ideas and characters, such as Tail Messa and the three androids, that are never sufficiently explored, and I get the feeling as if there is a whole other story that we are missing out on. Certainly, with just 12 episodes to the run, there isn't the time and space to develop these ideas to any real extent, and it's also fair to say that some of the ancillary characters around Kazuto and Narue are a little hard done by too. I would have liked to see more of Yagi and Maruo, as they were certainly interesting characters in their own right. Of course that would have demanded a series with a longer run.
The World of Narue may not be unique or special enough to demand that you hasten to purchase it, and certainly there are better anime with similar themes available in the UK, not least the aforementioned Ah My Goddess. But it is a nice, entertaining bit of fluff that will while away the hours, and the CPM boxset, if you can find it, is a nice bit of artwork, laden with extra features. If the CPM box isn't forthcoming, then Section 23 licence-rescued the series recently, and you'll be able to import their release. The World of Narue has wormed its way into my affections. It isn't every anime that uses Einstein's Twin Paradox as a plot point!