Basilisk Box Set -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: B
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: A
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: TV MA
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
  • MSRP: 89.98
  • Running time: 650
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Basilisk

Basilisk Box Set

By Paul Gaudette     December 13, 2007
Release Date: October 23, 2007

Basilisk Box Set
© FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.

What They Say
When honor means nothing and power is everything, can love survive? A legendary pair of rival ninja clans battle to end years of slaughter as a forbidden love struggles to prevail. Fate will decide if the ultimate declaration must be made: To the one I love... prepare to die.

Contains all 24 episodes!

The Review!
Can a new love survive generations of hatred?

For this review, I primarily listened to the 5.1 English dub. The track is appropriately rich with some deep bass and clarity. Unfortunately, it features little in the way of directionality and the vast majority of activity is kept in the front three speakers. After some spot checking, I found that both stereo mixes are also decent even if they are not quite as clear as the surround track.

Originally aired in 2005, the show is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and the animation quality is exactly what you would expect from Gonzo. Character movement is always fluid and believable, and the world seems to breathe around them. I wish I could say that the discs feature a flawless presentation of the source material, but that isn’t the case. Blocking and mosquito noise rear their ugly head and are particularly evident in scenes that feature intense fog or rain. The good news is that both are usually more pronounced in the background- away from the action. However, I did see the blocking creep its way into character animation during a few large profile shots. These flaws are never strong enough to overshadow the show’s inherent quality though. They would also probably be barely noticeable or non-existent in standard definition.

This boxset is the epitome of showcase material. First of all, the box itself has a thin embossed slipcover which feels roughly like snakeskin. This slips over a very sturdy box that houses the DVDs and booklets from the original single-volume releases. The booklets are packed in an embossed holder of their own, and the DVDs are held in a folding cardboard case with plastic trays akin to shows like “24” and “The Sopranos” which have a relatively high number of discs per season. All of this comes wrapped up with a nice, red bow. Please don’t think I’m making some lame attempt at a joke. The disc case is actually wrapped up with red ribbon tied into a bow. (Note: It’s best to remove the ribbon once opened because it can be a hassle putting everything together with it in place.) Every piece of this set features colorful, high-quality artwork that will stand out on any shelf.

Every disc has static menus that feature a major character or characters “letterboxed” between flowered borders of a single color. Text is easily read, and selected options are easily discerned with the help of a throwing dagger pointing to the selection. Access times are very fast as well. The menus work, and they look nice. Nothing to complain about here.

There’s quite a bit to wade through aside from the textless opening/ ending sequences and studio trailers (which can be found on every disc). Starting with the first disc, the viewer will find a commentary by the English dub director and cast, English cast auditions and a 5-page essay, “History of the Ninja.” After the opening volume, every disc contains two (approximately) half-hour “Behind-the-Scenes” featurettes. These are actually roundtable discussions with selected Japanese voice actors from the show. They are very breezy and reminded me of an anime-themed morning talk show. There is one irritating thing about these extras: neither the auditions nor the behind-the-scenes segments have chapter skips making them harder to navigate.

The year is 1581 A.D., and it is time for the retired Tokugawa Shogun to choose his successor. He decides to let fate pick the outcome by abolishing a standing “no hostilities” contract between the Kouga and Iga clans. It is decreed that ten ninjas from both sides, each with unique abilities will battle to the death for their assigned candidate. This could not have come at a worse time. The intended marriage of Gennosuke (future leader of the Kouga clan) and Oboro (future leader of the Iga clan) was fast approaching, promising a peaceful end to long-standing grudges. Is there any hope for the young lovers when all around them clamor for war? If not, does either have the strength to watch their beloved die?

I went into Basilisk knowing only three things about it: there is also a manga, it has a sizable fanbase and there would (hopefully) be some nice battles between ninjas with bizarre abilities. It would be a severe understatement to say that the show met my expectations. Once the war got underway, I was transported back to the first time I saw Kawajiri’s Ninja Scroll. It was one of the first anime I ever saw and my eyes were glued to the screen because the battles seemed so fresh and unique. I was prepared to be reminded of Ninja Scroll, but I didn’t expect Basilisk to trump it.

The first half of the series finds unique ways to showcase all of the ninjas’ surprising talents. And they are surprising. Even if one warrior is standing over a bound opponent with weapon in hand, they are not guaranteed a victory. Since the show chooses to keep the audience (along with the rival factions) in the dark about most of the powers, I’ll only provide an example from one of the opening scenes.

The series begins with a friendly battle between a Kouga ninja, who appears to be half-spider and can paralyze with his web, and an Iga ninja who has effortless control over strands of string that he can make explode at will. These may not sound impressive to someone who’s a veteran to similar shows, but these are the most commonplace of the characters’ talents. They only get more inventive as the series moves along.

Of course, the show would get stale if it only offered battles between faceless characters. Thankfully, the writers of Basilisk took every opportunity to flesh out its rather large ensemble cast. The audience can get a feel for characters pretty well in the beginning as a few will instantly be likable and others will make you nervous. The show’s strongest selling point really is in its character development though.

In one of the Behind-The-Scenes segments, the voice actors reveal that the two most popular characters among Japanese fans aren’t the main characters. I can understand that because the show finds ways to slip in intimate moments and flashbacks to make every one of its characters sympathetic in some way and flesh out their relationships. After a particularly bloody exchange, the show takes a break to show what life was like during the “no hostilities” pact. As its title (“First Encounters”) implies, it takes place when Oboro and Gennusuke first meet and gives a fresh perspective on the characters (both fallen and not) away from the battlefield.

The writers didn’t skimp on the relationship between Oboro and Gennosuke. Their relationship is being fleshed out from the very onset of the series and it never gets old despite its familiarity. While the two have similar powers, their characters are complementary opposites. Gennosuke is strong and silent while Oboro is passionate and out-going. Both have a duty to their clan as well as their love leaving them conflicted. Of course, the new twist on the old story is that all of their followers know of the couple’s engagement and want their leader to be the hatchet-man (or woman) when it is time to slay the other side’s leader. Both lovers spend the show secretly praying for peace but preparing for the worst.

It’s strange that my only complaints are linked to two specific episodes. First, a cast of twenty is large, and that’s not all the characters that the audience will need to remember. Thus, the first episode is packed with shots of important characters while a name and affiliation is briefly shown on screen. I barely remembered anyone from these fleeting shots. Instead, I gradually got to know them through subsequent episodes. The way the first episode tries to introduce everyone makes it seem random and scattered and I didn’t really start enjoying the series until the second episode. My other complaint is that a recap episode appears way too early in the show. The framework makes sense as Tokugawa is learning about the war. However, it still is 90% recycled footage, and the episode occurs before the series is even half over.

In Summary:
I went into Basilisk with few expectations and found an enjoyable action show. Not only were the battles exciting and well-done, I was invested in their outcome thanks to the show’s stellar development of the relationships between sympathetic characters. There are a few scenes that had me wishing against their assured bloody end because I had come to care about both combatants. If the viewer can get past the initial shock of the first episode which tries to throw too many characters out there at once, they will discover a well-paced tale of intrigue, tragedy and love. And bloody fantastic ninja duels.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Behind the Scenes of Basilisk: Japanese Original Extra Features, Textless Songs, Trailers, History Behind the Story, Real Ninjas, The Weapons of the Period, The Bansenshukai: Influences of the "Koga Ninja Scrolls."

Review Equipment
26” Olevia 16:9 LCD HDTV, Sony Playstation 3 (upconverted to 720p through HDMI), Kenwood 550-watt 5.1 surround system


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