Back for yet another Blu-ray review: this time it’s Ouran High School Host Club.
Oh yes, it is finally time to review an upscaled Blu-ray. Let’s take a look at if a non-HD Blu-ray is worth your time and money.
The packaging is a change from what Funimation has consistently used for Blu-ray boxsets. Up until now there would be two normal Blu-ray cases in a cheap paper sleeve. If it was two disks each disk would get its own case; if it was three, then two would share a case. It held the disks well enough, but it certainly didn’t look very good. This time around we have a digipak with a cardstock slipcase. The slipcase uses pink foil in a way that comes across as surprisingly classy. The character silhouettes being at the center continue the theme. What is surprising is how small and nice the logo looks being left in a corner to itself. It’s a more subtle clean look to packaging than we tend to expect from Funimation. The back continues the theme, but has monochrome artwork in the center whitebox. The monochrome art uses a slightly different pink foil for its only color and looks very nice. There is also a good shot of Haruhi next to the series description. The description is accurate to the show, and also has disk contents and a few small screencaps. The Blu-ray information matrix is off to the side underneath the show logo and is accurate to the contents of the Blu-ray. There is one quote from Anime Insider about the series. It’s also worth mentioning that there are no odd credits shoved in in an attempt to get people to have interest in the series (I’m sure people who are just picking it up off the shelf at a Best Buy may never know it is from the director of Soul Eater…)
The digipak itself uses a simple cardstock. The outside of the digipak features a single shot of Haruhi, along with a panorama of the entire cast with minor pieces of text. The inside features another panorama where disks two and three go. Where disk one goes it has a list of what episodes go with each disk. It’s a nice solution. It’s worth mentioning that the plastic trays used for all three disks are of a high quality, and appear to be the same ’rounded edge’ style trays that were used for Evangelion 1.11 on Blu-ray. It’s good quality packaging, although it is a bit of a surprise to see such a complete change in style from the original DVD release.
The menu is relatively basic compared to some of the crazier Blu-ray menus we’ve seen lately, and my poor photography skills don’t help matters much. The main menu has a rose border, with animation playing in the middle. Soft music is playing and the menu is in the center bottom. It’s a nice design, but nothing special. The menu vanishes and is replaced by larger boxes for other choices in the main menu. The pop-up menu is the center box with a few small modifications. The one thing about the pop-up menu is, it pops up exactly in the center of the subtitles, so be warned. Nothing really negative here, although nothing really special either.
Ouran High School Host Club is a fantastic comedy. It has no problem going one step further than you’d expect so it can push a joke a bit further. This leads to a show filled with positive energy and humor, even when drama or small bits of action are tossed in. It also has a tendency to break the fourth wall when a joke can benefit from it. I honestly don’t have much more to say beyond it’s a good comedy (not to mention this specific review is less about the show, and more about the Blu-ray…) so…. on we go!
The video in Ouran requires some proper explaining. Ouran was animated digitally at 480. Outside of the series being reanimated, or a new series being made… Ouran will never have a proper 1080 copy; it just isn’t possible. The best solution as far as Blu-ray is concerned for a series animated that way is to upscale it. The video is scaled up to the new resolution, and various filters and algorithms and other long complicated processes are used to attempt to ‘fake’ HD. By faking it, the various filters attempt to figure out what color ‘should’ be in any given place based on the colors that are around it, rather than just doubling the pixels. So with a proper upscale and using modern codecs, while it will never be HD, it can still be made to look better than the DVD being played on an HDTV.
Most Blu-ray players and most TVs include upscalers of various qualities, and there are also stand alone upscalers. The problem via these methods is that you are limited to what is on the DVD. The best upscaler may produce something close, or just as good as a professionally upscaled video, but by upscaling it and encoding it upscaled to 1080 on a Blu-ray, it gives the guarentee of that quality for everyone. Which is where the problem with Funimation and upscales begin. Funimation overfilters their upscales insanely, which creates cases where watching the DVD can actually lead to a better quality picture, or a picture relatively close to the upscale, regardless of the quality of your hardware. Paying for a Blu-ray tends to make you think you are getting a premium quality product, and in those cases, it just isn’t.
As for Ouran itself, it appears Funimation has listened to complaints about the overfiltering and ‘tweaking’ the video, as it is actually a very nice upscale. The video is far less filtered and there are visible artifacts from the upscaling process that are obvious, which is a good thing. Instead of blurring the picture in an attempt to remove any possible problem, along with a great deal of detail, it was upscaled in a way that generally keeps fine detail in. There are still some problems. There is vertical banding at odd times (mis-colored lines where there should be solid color.) It is possible this is an issue with the source Funimation was given, and from across a room watching it on a large TV, it’s quite possible you won’t notice; I in fact didn’t notice until I was re-watching portions on my computer monitor from just a few feet away for this review.
The encode itself is 1080p using the AVC codec at 24946 kbps (average bitrate of the first episode.) Colors are rather vivid and rich. While no one will confuse it for HD, it is likely the best Ouran will ever look and there aren’t to many issues. Often lines aren’t crisp, but for an upscale you don’t really expect them to be. As I mentioned there is some banding, and black levels aren’t always consistent, but that was something else I didn’t notice while sitting across the room watching it.
It’s a definite step up for Funimation as far as upscales are concerned. If future upscales are done in the same manner, I don’t see many complaints about the quality of the scaling as has become normal at various anime sites and video forums. This leaves one specific issue that at some point Funimation needs to address: they need to begin to label upscales as upscales. Most people don’t mind getting an upscale if it’s all that can be done, but not telling them about it and leaving them to discover it themselves leads to negative reactions all around, not to mention the people who actively avoid Funimation Blu-ray’s because they just don’t know if something is going to be upscaled or not. The problem with the quality of the upscales is fixed, it looks good, but the audience needs to be told. Not being told also leads to questions of how to judge such a product. Should it be in comparison to the DVDs? Should it be judged with a soft hand knowing it’s an upscale? Or since they chose not to label it as an upscale, should it be judged harshly against pristine 1080p digital animation that has shown up on Blu-ray? It’s a hard question to answer, especially since outside of a few issues, I really like how these disks look.
The audio, while not amazing, isn’t bad. Both English and Japanese get lossless tracks that are reasonable clean and clear. Ouran is mostly talking and sight gags, so there aren’t many times for it stretch what it does with audio where it comes across as amazing. It’s nice to see the other Funimation Blu-ray issue fixed though. Having both English and (now) Japanese audio lossless gives that extra bump in quality to everyone regardless of which version they choose to watch. The only really noticeable thing worth mentioning is the volume on the Japanese side seems quite a bit lower. Right below is detailed info on each audio track based on a scan of the first episode (average bitrates).
Ouran has a very nice dub which makes a return appearance from the DVDs. Everyone is cast very well and there isn’t really a stand out here because everyone is cast and played well. A nice touch is giving the twins different voice actors. While they sound similar, each has a distinct voice that has quirks. The thing that works best for the dub is just a general sense of energy. High energy comedies tend to either have great dubs or terrible dubs; this is definitely a great one.
Ouran definitely doesn’t skimp on the extras. We start off with a half dozen episode commentaries across the series. After that we get ‘manga pages’… yeah I know… advertising hidden as an extra… bleh. We get the normal and expected clean intro and clean outtro. The biggy after that though is… over half an hour of dub outtakes. I love outtakes, and having a half hour makes it all the better. It’s definitely a collection of extras that isn’t standard and expected as far as anime goes, so it’s appreciated to have such a nice package.
Ouran High School Host Club is the first time we’ve gotten an upscale that is the full package. It’s upscaled properly, and the audio for both languages is lossless, not to mention plenty of extras and good packaging. The fact Ouran is actually a good show makes it all the better. It’s definitely the best version of Ouran available and worth the upgrade for fans. The more important question though… is Ouran beginning a running change for Funimation Blu-rays? Is it possibly a prototype for future releases? Or is it just a fluke?
Show: A (It’s a great comedy with lots of laughs.)
Packaging: A- (It’s surprisingly different than what we’ve seen from Funimation with Blu-ray.)
Video Quality: C+ (It’s a good upscale, but it’s hard to judge, especially when it wasn’t advertised as an upscale. It’s definitely better than the DVDs, and if I were just judging it against other upscales it’d likely be a B+ or A-… but it wasn’t advertised or sold as that, and compared to native 1080 animation, it looks decent, but not great.)
Audio Quality: B+ (The audio quality is good, but there just isn’t much in Ouran to push it to anything special..)
English Dub: A (It’s a great dub that is high in energy.)
Extras: A (Plenty of extras due to half a dozen commentaries and a large amount of outtakes.)
Overall (not an average): B+ (It’s the best release that most people could imagine for a digital 480 series, and worth a look for fans. Those who aren’t interested, or are ‘happy enough’ with their DVDs likely need not apply.)
Gallery and copyright information under ad. All caps are lossless PNGs, feel free to request more. (Caps are 1140×1080 matching the resolution they are stored on disk, and meant to be viewed at. Black bars on the sides were cropped off.)