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AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 26, 2014 by  



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If you enjoy sci-fi anime but with an idol twist, whether you are a Shoji Kawamori, AKB48 or just wanting something different and entertaining, “AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection” is recommended!  The second season features a much more serious tone and also features awesome AKB48 music and plenty of action!

Image courtesy of © 2013 SATELIGHT/PROJECT AKB0048. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection

ANIME RELEASE DATE: 2012

DURATION: 13 Episodes (325 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:33:1), English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, English subtitles

COMPANY: Sentai Filmworks

RATING: TV 14 V

Release Date: September 3, 2013

Originally Created by Shoji Kawamori

Chief Director: Shoji Kawaori

Director: Yoshimasa Hiraike

Series Composition by Mari Okada

Music by Hiroshi Takaki, Slavomir Stanislaw Kowalewski

Character Design by Risa Ebata

Art Director: Akira Ito

Mechanical Design by Shoji Kawamori, Stanislas Brunet

Art Design by Thomas Romain, Yann Le Gall

Anime Production by Satelight

Backgrounds by Hyoin Entertainment, Korea Easter Studio, Studio Easter

Featuring the following voice talent:

Amina Satō/Monica Rial as Yuuka Ichijō

Haruka Ishida/Genevieve Simmons as Kanata Shinonome

Karen Iwata/Luci Christian as Nagisa Motomiya

Kumi Yagami/Juliet Simmons as Sonata Shinonome

Mao Mita/Molly Searcy as Makoto Yokomizo

Mayu Watanabe/Emily Neves as Chieri Sono

Sawako Hata/Caitlynn French as Suzuko Kanzaki

Sayaka Nakaya/Brittney Karbowski as Orine Aida

Sumire Satō/Carli Mosier as Mimori Kishida

Akemi Kanda/Tiffany Terell as Yūko Oshima the 9th

Ayako Kawasumi/Beth Lazarou as Sayaka Akimoto the 11th

Kana Ueda/Allison Sumrall as Tomomi Itano the 11th (Tomochin)

Mai Nakahara/Shannon Emerick as Sae Miyazawa the 10th

Mamiko Noto/Nancy Novotny as Haruna Kojima the 8th (Kojiharu)

Miyuki Sawashiro/Sasha Paysinger as Atsuko Maeda the 13th (Acchan)

Momoka Kinoshita/Meaghan Avocado as Megumi Wanibuchi

Ryoko Shiraishi/Cynthia Martinez as Minami Takahashi the 5th (Takamina)

Yui Horie/Margaret McDonald as Yuki Kashiwagi the 9th (Yukirin)

Yukari Tamura/Hayley Adams as Mayu Watanabe Type 3 (Mayuyu)

The road trip to war has already been brutal for the 77th generation of understudies to AKB0048, the combination singing group and combat squad seeking to bring peace and entertainment back to the universe. However, the competition between the individual candidates, as well as the remaining 75th and 76th generation understudies, is about to get even rougher. With the opportunity to become a successor to one of the original members of the legendary singing squad hanging in the balance, the fights on stage and on the battlefield will become even more cutthroat, and things are only going to get nastier when it turns out that someone has been feeding critical information to the opposing DES forces. Will the revelation of the source of the Kiraras prove to be a deadly misstep in the intricate choreography that’s allowed the team to keep dancing out of danger? Will public opinion prove to be more important than actual skill and valor as the squad undergoes a series of grueling trials by fan? The harmony and harmonization that’s held this band of sisters together will be pushed to the breaking point in AKB0048: NEXT STAGE!

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In the first season of “AKB0048”, we have watched a group of young girls who dreamed to become entertainers during an era where entertainment has been banned.

We have watched Nagisa, Chieri and friends go through the grueling training sessions, to grow as kenkyuusei (research students) and become members of AKB0048 but now as AKB0048 members, it’s the next step of their career, to be part of handshake sessions, to be on televisions and magazines but also take part in the general elections to see who will become the center of AKB0048.

Meanwhile, there are a few things happening behind-the-scenes, Yuko is trying to find out what happened to Atsuko Maeda; Chieri’s father has taken a major interest in his daughter’s popularity; and the government tries to increase their DES forces to take on AKB0048.  But also, behind-the-scenes, one of the members of AKB0048 may be working for the other side?

Get into the idol groove and sci-fi action with the second season of AKB0048 with the Blu-ray release of “AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection”!

What is “AKB0048”?

Shoji Kawamori, one of the well-known anime creators in the industry and well-known to fans of mecha anime series.

Kawamori was the original series concept creator for “The Super Dimensional Fortress Macross”, creator of “Macross Plus, “Macross Zero”, “Macross Frontier” and also created series such as “The Vision of Escaflowne”, “Aquarion Evol” and many countless mecha anime, as well as a mechanical designer for “Ghost in the Shell”, “Dangaih”, “Glass Fleet”, “Eureka Seven” and many more.

In 2012, Kawamori went to work on his new anime series “AKB0048”, an anime series that ties the mega popular idol group from Japan, AKB48 and sets the story in the distant future where entertainment is banned and a rogue group that continues to bring entertainment to the masses is AKB0048. Trained as idols but also to train warfare to fight against the DES (anti-entertainment) and their large mecha.

With AKB48 creator Yasushi Akimoto as an executive producer, the anime production would be done by Satelight and bringing in talent such as director Yoshimasa Hiraike (“Solty Rei”, “Kaleido Star”, “Aria – The Natural”), writer Mari Okada (“Vampire Knight”, “Black Butler”, “Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine”, “Red Garden”), composer Hiroshi Takaki (“Beet the Vandel Buster”, “Tytania”, “Kaidan Restaurant”), character design by Risa Ebata (“Macross Frontier”, “Macross FB7: Ore no Uta o Kike!”, “Prism Ark”) and art direction by Akira Ito (“Bodacious Space Pirates”, “Durarara!!”, “Elfen Lied”).

“AKB0048” is set in the 21st century after Earth’s ecosystem was badly damaged by interplanetary war and humanity had to flee the planet. As humanity populated other planets to create a new society, any entertainment that would affect humanity such as music and art has been declared as forbidden.

48 years later, a rogue group known as AKB0048 modeled after the idol pop group AKB48 was created in which members are chosen through auditions to train and those with special talent will become the latest generation of the original member’s name. So, a person can be the successor of Minami Takahashi (Takamina), the next Atsuko Maeda (Acchan), the next Yuko Oshima, and so on.

While AKB0048 are looked at as hero’s for those who support entertainment, they are branded as terrorist by anti-entertainment establishments.

One day, four young girls: Nagisa Motomiya, Chieri Sono, Orine Aida and Yuuka Ichijou snuck into a tunnel to watch AKB0048 perform and were touched by their music and saw them fight against the DES, who are sent by the government to stop them. The four declared that when they get older, they will be come members of AKB0048.

Fast forward many years later and the girls are now teenagers. Nagisa, Orine and Yuuka find out that AKB0048 will be throwing auditions and the group can now make their dreams come true.

For Nagisa Motomiya, it’s not that easy. Her father works for the government to ban all entertainment activities and forbids her from dancing, putting up posters of AKB0048 in her room. And as Nagisa wants to badly attend the audition, she know her father will not let her.

Orine decides to leave her job at the metal factory to pursue her auditions, while Yuuka turns down a relationship with the boy she likes to pursue her dream of becoming a member of AKB0048.

As for Chieri, it is revealed that her father is responsible for creating the DES mecha that attack AKB0048 and she has been declared as missing.

But all four girls made a promise to pursue their dreams to become members of AKB0048 and the four have gone through a lot of training in order to become members of AKB0048.

Originally as training members, the girls have now began to shine as members of AKB0048, but now their training has gotten to become much more challenging as they must take part in television, photo sessions, general elections and more!

Meanwhile, there may be a spy amongst AKB0048 and Chieri’s father is starting to become very interested in his daughter’s progress in AKB0048.  Why is that?

The main characters of “AKB0048” are:

  • Nagisa Motomiya – A 13-year-old who can’t sing or dance that great but she dreams to become a member of AKB0048. The problem is her father works for the government and is involved in banning all entertainment activities.
  • Chieri Sono – The daughter of the CEO who builds the mecha for the DES. She is a fan of AKB0048 and can’t stand the fact that her father makes the weapons that tries to hurt AKB0048 and thus runs away from home to pursue her dream career to be a member of AKB0048. Chieri is often with a Kirara that she found when she was young at her first AKB0048 concert. A kirara can detect idol radiance and it upsets her that the Kirara has never glowed around her but only Nagisa, so she looks at Nagisa as her rival.
  • Orine Aida – A friend of Nagisa who worked at the factory after the death of her parents. She dreams of being the successor to Sashiko.
  • Yuuka Ichijou – A 14-year-old with a fiery temper and is very protective of her friends.
  • Suzuko Kanzaki – An AKB0048 trainee who wears glasses and knows a lot about AKB history but is not interested in becoming a successor.
  • Sonata Shinonome – A ten-year-old who failed the first round of the audition but sneaks aboard to audition for AKB0048. Her older sister is Kanata.
  • Makoto Yokomizo – A trainee who is often scared and stressed out about her body.
  • Kanata Shinonome – Sonata’s older sister and part of the unlucky 75th Generation who have not been able to join AKB0048 for some apparent reason. A big fan of the current Takamina.
  • Mimori Kishida – A 17-year-old who loves pheromones and often sings alongside Kanata and also belongs to the unlucky 75th Generation.
  • Megumi Wanibuchi – A 76th generation trainee who is resentful of others that came after her who have become successors. She is good friends with the current Sae (Youko).
  • Yuko Oshima the 9th – Current AKB0048 member. Her dream is to become the “Center Nova” and wants to know what happened to the previous Center Nova’s.
  • Minami Takahashi the 5th – Current AKB0048 member and the Team Captain. She is affected when the Kirara show the new successor for Takamina and it’s no longer her. Torn between graduating and her desire to stay as the current Takamina.
  • Tomomi Itano the 11th – Like the original Tomomi Itano, from a long line of Tomochin, she also lacks taste (and can eat anything).
  • Sayaka Akimoto the 10th – The fitness enthusiast of AKB0048.
  • Yuki Kashiwagi the 6th – A current member of AKB0048.
  • Haruna Kojima the 8th – A member of AKB0048 who loves pheromones.
  • Sae Miyazawa the 10th – A member of the 76th Generation who became successor of Sae.
  • Mayu Watanabe Type 3 – An android that has a gun built into her forearm and current member of AKB0048.
  • Atsuko Maeda the 13th – A former member of AKB0048 who was the Center Nova and mysteriously disappeared during a performance like two other previous Center Novas.
  • Tsubasa Katagiri – AKB0048’s manager and producer, formerly known as Mariko Shinoda the 7th. She was with Atsuko Maeda when she disappeared and joined management to find out what happened to Acchan.
  • Sensei Sensei – The mysterious head of AKB0048.
  • Mr. Ushiyama – The choreographer of AKB0048.
  • Mikako Minamino – A photographer of AKB0048 and in reality is Minami Minegishi the 5th of AKB0048. She makes a vow to Tsubasa that she will never ever let the Center Nova happen again.

Here is a brief spoiler-free synopsis of what happens in “AKB0048: Season One – Complete Collection”:

  • EPISODE 14 – It is announced that the AKB0048 General Elections will return and fans can nominate kenkyuusei and successors to participate in a single.  Also, the revival of the Center Nova position.
  • EPISODE 15 – Chieri has been captured by DES and her trial is being broadcasted throughout space.  Can AKB0048 rescue her?
  • EPISODE 16 – The understudies must participate in a pre-election handshake, but Chieri is concerned that her new popularity was not by her talent but by her dad’s work.
  • EPISODE 17 – It’s the day of the General Elections, but Chieri said that she will quit AKB0048 if she is announced as one of the top 10.
  • EPISODE 18 – The 77th generation of AKB0048 must infiltrate a nearby military base.
  • EPISODE 19 – When images of Atsuko is shown via the Kirara of Succession, it is foretold that someone will be the successor of Atsuko Maeda.
  • EPISODE 20 – Mimori suddently becomes sick with a fever, why has she suddenly become sick?
  • EPISODE 21 – Why is Yuko practicing alone?  Yuko makes an important decision.
  • EPISODE 22 – The traitor has been revealed.
  • EPISODE 23 – The trainees must go to a planet and gather data and Yuka and Orine come across strange creatures.
  • EPISODE 24 – Chieri and Nagisa arrive on Sagittariusstar, home of Chieri.  But Chieri reveals to Nagisa of why she ran away from home.
  • EPISODE 25 – A major death, meanwhile the WOTA try to take back Akibstar which was taken by the DGTO.
  • EPISODE 26 – FINAL EPISODE: AKB0048 returns to Akibastar to perform but instead, they find an audience who feel betrayed by AKB0048 and unite against them.  Can AKB0048 win them back?  And the successor to Atsuko Maeda is revealed.

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VIDEO:

“AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection” is presented in 1080p High Definition and as one can expect from a Shoji Kawamori anime series, the anime series looks absolutely fantastic. Character designs are done amazingly well, backgrounds are one of the best I have seen for a TV series with a lot of detail, vibrant colors and I did not see any problems with artifacts or major banding issues.

For a TV series, I was very impressed by the anime production from Satelight. Everything about this series is full of detail, great use of CG. Mechanical designs as one can be expected from a Kawamori series is well-done! Definitely one of the better, high-budget produced TV series that I have watched.

“AKB0048” looks magnificent on Blu-ray!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection” is presented in Japanese and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Dialogue and music is crystal clear, I do wish this series was given a 5.1 soundtrack for better dynamic range and more immersive sound from the surround channels but for the most part, for this lossless stereo track, dynamic range for a stereo track is clear and understandable and sounds good via the front channel speakers.

While I do prefer the Japanese soundtrack over the English dub, I did watch the second season with English dub and while some characters are well-cast, the one thing that irked me a bit is that the pronunciations of the names are inconsistent.  The biggest example is the name Atsuko Maeda (a prominent member of the real AKB48 and while not a main protagonist of AKB0048, her storyline is even more important in “Next Stage”), there are occasions where the voice talent got the name down in terms of pronunciation.  But for “Next Stage”, Maeda (mah-e-da) has been changed to Madea (mah-day-ah).  Atsuko was pronounced as Atsuku.

But unless you are an AKB48, perhaps most people will not notice.  But as an AKB48 fan and also having loved the first season, to hear the name of Atsuko Maeda’s name incorrectly pronounced a few times was a bit of a surprise.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection” comes with the Japanese promos and clean opening and ending animation.

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As a fan of Shoji Kawamori’s work and a fan of AKB48, my interested in the anime series “AKB0048” is quite biased.

As a mecha fan, especially a “Macross” fan, you can’t help but be in awe of Kawamori’s work. And to see this collaboration with Yasushi Akimoto and tapping into the popular AKB48 fandom, the whole concept involving AKB48 and the training as kenkyuusei (idol trainees), handshake events, gravure shots, the wota fans, etc. and incorporating it into an anime series is rather fascinating.

But let’s discuss what I enjoyed about this anime series. Having watched Akimoto’s “Ice” and utilizing AKB48 members in his animated film, I’m glad that he tapped into notable talents for this series. Kawamori’s work not only brings attention, but it also entices mecha fans because you know that it will be a sci-fi-based series. The other thing is tapping into writer Mari Okada, one of the more talented anime writers in Japan at this time. And last to incorporate the popularity of AKB48, you have the original music, the use of the original member names plus a new AKB48 sub-unit, No Name, singing the opening and ending theme.

With the second season of “AKB0048” titled “AKB0048: Next Stage”, the situation is much different than the first season.  The first season focused on the core four becoming trainees and going through major training and getting involved in AKB48 activities, but with the second season, the series starts to include as many characters who are trainees and current members of AKB0048.  So, the character of Yuko plays a major important role this time around and also Mimori.  While for the trainees, it focuses more on Chieri and Nagisa, moreso for the character of Chieri.

So, the focus on certain characters is much more prominent this time around and what I liked about the first season is the training, the challenges and camaraderie.

The camraderie is still evident in season two, but not like the first season.  This time, there are higher stakes involved as being a member of AKB0048 and things become more chaotic and hostile, one character also ends up getting killed.  So, there is somewhat of a serious tone for the final episodes for season two.

But I do love the fact that it features an huge cast. To know AKB48G (the AKB48 groups), there are many members of Team A, Team K, Team B and their sister groups in Japan right now and as a fan, I don’t know everyone’s names but I love the fact that the series features a lot of names based on real-life AKB members and pays homage with the successor and the Center Nova storyline.

For “AKB0048: Next Season”, they also dwell on the General Elections and incorporate some of the real-life senbatsu election situations that happened to actual AKB48 members to the AKB0048 characters.  Such as Chieri’s walking to the stage and having a hard-time breathing (a common situations for real life AKB48 member Yui Yokoyama), the character of Haruna Kojima giving her speech is exactly the same as Mayu Watanabe’s frustration speech in the second general election and more.  Also, the tie-in of the real life Minami Minegishi scandal to the Minami Minegishi of AKB0048 is touched upon a little in the series.

But there is also a deep storyline about entertainment not being allowed in society and music used to defeat the enemy, a connection to Kawamori’s “Macross” work as music played a big part in the original series and also “Macross 7”.

For AKB48 fans, several AKB48 members are voice talent in this series. Karen Iwata has the lead role as Nagisa but you also have Mayu Watanabe playing Chieri and many others in their first time as voice actresses.

As for the Blu-ray release, “AKB0048: Next Season” features stunning visual backgrounds, beautiful character designs especially the close-up of the eyes, the use of CG in combination with the artwork… for a TV series, you can tell that this was a higher budget anime series as their is detail galore in “AKB0048”. On Blu-ray, the anime series looks stunning and colorful and it is by far one of the most impressive looking anime series on Blu-ray.

As for audio, if there was one small thing that I wished, it would be the fact that I would have loved to have heard a more immersive 5.1 lossless soundtrack considering the action and the music featured in the series. Both soundtracks are good, but while I am biased towards the Japanese soundtrack, I did watch the English dub soundtrack and the inconsistent pronunciation of Atsuko Maeda’s name (sometimes pronounced as Madea or Atsuku) was a bit irritating.

And as far as special features go, there is only the Japanese promos and clean opening and ending animation.  Nothing else.  I was hoping the No Name music videos would have been included.

Overall, I absolutely enjoyed the “AKB0048” series and while I enjoyed the more upbeat and fun antics featured in season one much more over season two, the more serious tone in season two was no doubt bound to happen as fun and games are over and the trainees had to learn that to become a member of AKB0048, there is a lot of work involved and also the importance of the general elections and winning your fans over.  But also the importance of being a center and also a successor.

I know that idol-based anime series is not for everyone. From the old school “Hummingbird” OVA’s to the “Idolm@ster” anime and video games, I enjoyed them and as for “AKB0048”, I think it’s the best idol-based anime series that I have ever seen and the fact that Shoji Kawamori is tied to the series and brought his attention to quality and mecha makes “AKB0048” even more special.

If you enjoy sci-fi anime but with an idol twist, whether you are a Shoji Kawamori, AKB48 or just wanting something different and entertaining, “AKB0048: Next Stage – Complete Collection” is recommended!






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