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(Note: This is the second part of a review of Freedom. The first part can be read here.)

After a release schedule spanning nearly two years, Sunrise and Nissin Cup Noodle’s Freedom Project OVA finally wrapped up in May of last year. Unusually for an anime series, a Blu-ray box-set was released worldwide on 11th November 2008 – coincidentally while I happened to be in Tokyo. Thinking it would be cool to pick one up on launch day in Akihabara, I was pretty shocked when I saw the price – ¥15520, or about $174. Ouch. At first it seems like a perplexing amount for a 7 episode anime box-set, but this is an OVA, where fans had been paying up to ¥ 3162 ($35) for each individual episode. The amount Japanese otaku are often willing to pay for their anime and manga is one of the main cultural differences that separates them from their western counterparts, and it’s a commitment that the industry often depends on in order to produce large scale, high budget projects such as Freedom.

Patiently, I waited. Not only, it turned out, until I got back to the UK (where the box-set is available at a far more reasonable price) but also until Christmas morning, when through the generosity of my partner I finally got my hands on it. The question was, did the final parts live up to the first four I’d reviewed last year?

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The second half of Freedom makes a significant shift in focus, not just in the setting, but also subsequently in the shows art style and character development. With Takeru and Biz now stranded on the newly re-discovered Earth the futuristic, artificial environments of Eden give way to the rolling, open planes of America, as the pair make their way to Florida to find the senders of the message Takeru received in the very first episode. As well as allowing the artists to shift to a warmer, more organic palette, it also gives the writers a chance to explore a different side of the characters.

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If I had one concern from the first few episodes, it was that the main protagonists seemed to be little more than Akira style archetypes, interested in little more than bikes and girls. But when Takeru and Biz finally reach the remains of Cape Canaveral, the story changes, becoming a coming-of age tale as the two become part of the survivors community, gain new values and fall in love. Together with their new friends they spend a couple of years working in NASA’s Apollo scrapyard to build a rocket that can take them back to the Moon – not just so they can get home, but so they can show Eden that Earth still lives, bring back to Earth vital supplies to stop their new community from starving, and most importantly confront the Lunar authorities that have suppressed the truth from their people for so long. While the ‘teenager becoming an adult’ theme is hardly original in anime, it’s seldom done as well as it is in Freedom, with a witty and punchy script that makes you believe in the enthusiasm and drive of it’s main characters.

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Without straying too much into spoiler territory, it’s safe to say that the story doesn’t stay Earth bound for too long. The series’ hour-long finale takes the action back to the moon, giving fans another hit of Otomo’s fantastic mechanical and character designs, as the bike riding teenagers take the battle to Eden’s oppressive leaders. Of particular note are the ‘Octopus’ mecha, immediately reminiscent to hardcore Akira fans of the ‘Care Taker’ robots from the original manga.

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Put simply, Freedom Project is excellent. It manages to carry the pace and excitement generated in the first episodes despite the huge shift in setting, while simultaneously adding depth to it’s characters and back-story. With animation and CGI that seems to improve in quality towards the end, it’s hard to not recommend it to a wider audience than the Otomo fanatic to home it initially appealed. The BR box-set is a great buy – nicely put together and presented, with a short manga booklet and some great extras – the highlights of which are the informal, light-hearted interviews with Shuhei Morita (director) Dai Sato (screenwriter/planner). It might seem a little expensive at first, but it’s worth it – and at least you’re not paying those Japanese prices.

(Note: This is the second part of a review of Freedom. The first part can be read here.)