Time for a mega-review since I’ve been fairly quiet for a while. This review takes into account the 21 discs making up a seriously good series called “You’re Under Arrest”. It covers the 52-episode Season 1 TV series, the 26-episode Season 2 TV series (Fast and Furious), and the 24-episode Season 3 TV series (Full Throttle). All discs are released as Region 1 and have not been released locally (see below).
Kick in the way-back machine. Back in the mid-1990s, Madman released on VHS a 4-part OVA called You’re Under Arrest. A rather charming and likeable series it was too about two young female police officers and their day-to-day adventures at the Bokuto Police Station. Fast forward to somewhere in 2005 when they released on DVD the feature-length movie of the same series. Unfortunately, what Madman had neglected to do was release the first season of the TV series, produced in 1996 (or thereabouts), which would have helped a lot in establishing the context of the movie. So, what we have here is a stand-alone movie without any background — and it would be no surprise why it might not have sold well. A dreadful shame, though, because the series is actually bloody good. Note to Madman: if you’re going to release one-off movies based on an existing title, it would be really helpful if you had the rest of the series on-hand to back it up (Sakura Wars – The Movie and Revolutionary Girl Utena – The Movie, anyone? — and, yes, I have both of them). Now that I’ve got that little rant out of the way, let’s begin.
You’re Under Arrest is based on the manga of the same name by Kosuke Fujishima (also the author/artist for Ah! My Goddess, or Oh! My Goddess, depending on how you prefer to call it). It tells the story of two police women, Miyuki Kobayakawa and Natsumi Tsujimoto, and their slice-of-life adventures upholding the law at a local police station somewhere in Tokyo. Both Miyuki and Natsumi are cut from very different moulds: Natsumi is brash, tom-boyish, physical, impetuous, stubborn, and loud — she’s also a hot-shot motorcyclist. Miyuki is quieter, very considered in her actions, principled, sweet, while still having a strong will that comes to the front from time-to-time —she’s a very competent driver and mechanic for her car. Put these two together and one would expect the sparks to fly. They do — and in a good way as their abilities click together to form a firm partnership. But sometimes that partnership does get strained when they each decide to become headstrong and things don’t always turn out well. This all makes for a story that one can easily slip into and enjoy as it isn’t always light and fluffy. While the focus is mainly on the partnership of Miyuki and Natsumi, there is also a decent supporting cast — not too large — but enough to keep you interested. We have the tough-looking, well-meaning, but rather shy motorcycle cop who has an infatuation with Miyuki and cannot get the confidence to confess his feelings. We have the Chief of their division, who comes across as the paternal leader — he doesn’t take any crap but has the faith in his staff to get the job done, even if it involves some unorthodox methods. We have the bubbly air-head who spreads rumours and is a bit klutzy but well-meaning; and the tall, elegant, beauty, who is a man that looks amazingly feminine and dresses in the female uniform (long story, but well worth getting the series to find out); and that’s just for starters. As one progresses through each season, there do appear to be bits where some of the episodes felt repeated or recycled, but there is ultimately enough of a storyline that kept me interested throughout. The episodic nature of the story is no issue to enjoying it as the focus stays on the characters (with a tongue planted firmly in the cheek). There are also no issues of offensive or gratuitous violence or coarse language — quite unexpected for a “police show” but that’s really what makes it so enjoyable.
Visually, there is a clear evolution in the presentation. You’re Under Arrest were presented in the original 4:3 aspect and look great with nicely defined characters — Miyuki and Natsumi are extremely good to look at — and the rest of the cast is easy on the eyes too. Artwork is vibrant and colourful. The first TV series is also presented in 4:3 ratio and shows a shift in quality (slightly downwards) as the budget has to be spread further, but that doesn’t overly detract from the presentation. The action is fast and well detailed with slight alterations to character designs. Fast and Furious (2001 vintage), also in 4:3 ratio, show further improvements and use some computer-aided rendering. Full Throttle (the most recent at 2008), presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen, shows more improvements showing what can evolve out of current techniques and technology. Computer rendering is used frequently and appears mostly seamless, particularly for the vehicles or moving shots. The best part about the visual presentation is that the core elements have only been tweaked around the edges, mostly for the better, but do not lose their charm from the original OVA through to Full Throttle. In fact this series could be used as a good observation of the evolution of anime artwork from the mid 1990s to the late 2000s (almost 15 years) on a single franchise with the same characters and settings — probably a unique situation as even the long-running generations of Gundam have had different characters and settings. The other examples of a situation like this would be Astro Boy (1960s, 1980s, 2000s); or (go figure) Ah! My Goddess, but with a larger gap between the original OVA and movie and following TV series.
For audio, primary listening was to the original Japanese dialogue across all seasons. The main character voices retained the same actors so a strong consistency was kept, thankfully. One thing to note, though, is that the voices matured across the seasons, something that can be expected with a 15 year production timeframe. The original Season 1 had English dialogue, but Fast and Furious, and Full Throttle were Japanese dialogue only with English subtitles. All seasons were presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, with the dialogue pretty much front-and-centre all the time. There wasn’t much in the way of directionality, but, then again, there were no real examples of action requiring a specific direction on the soundstage. Natsumi’s voice actor portrayed her well with a loud brash voice, while Miyuki’s voice had a softer timbre but was nonetheless very firm when it had to be. Nothing to complain about in the dialogue area. Music was a mixed bag with some quite nice pieces — opening theme for the OVAs particularly — and some that didn’t stand out. The music that did stand out fitted in nicely with the action — gritty dramatic scores where the action was fast-paced; or relaxed light fluffy pieces where a comedy or relaxed focus was to be found. You’ll see a change in the type of music across the seasons. The later ones had a more industrial and percussive feel to them: the opening for Full Throttle was a full-on techno fast-paced thing (that I didn’t overly like, and skipped regularly).
Extras were very limited. The OVA and Season 1 discs did not have any extras at all (not even trailers), but this could have been due to the fact that they were DVD-5. Good thing about that is the space that may have been taken up by extras was allocated to the feature presentation instead. Both Fast and Furious and Full Throttle had limited extras in each collection — a clean opening and closing as well as various trailers for the Sentai Filmworks releases.
Bottom line: Get this one if you want to have a wholly enjoyable series with rather attractive female police officers. The character interaction is the key standout feature in this series and there is a lot of fun to be had. There are some mature moments often involving alcohol and Natsumi getting sloshed, but nothing overly offensive or violent. It’s definitely worth four-stars as something that is quite different — a drama/comedy/slice-of-life mix that doesn’t need magical girls, giant robots (but you do get them a few times), or over-the-top action, but relies on good story, characters and artwork to give you a good time.