Destiny of the Shrine Maiden Complete Collection (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, January 25, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Can any show about women who fall in love with women be bad?

What They Say
The Advent of the Priestess of the Godless Month! Shy, timid Himeko happily attends school with both the popular and beautiful Chikane and her childhood friend, Souma, blissfully unaware of what's in store for her. However, the destiny of these three changes on Himeko's 16th birthday when the mark of the sun appears on her chest. What does this solar mark represent? At the same time, why has a black aura of agony burst forth from Souma? Who is the enemy? The legend of the eight-headed beast returns to Japan!

The Review!
Audio:
This release retains the same language tracks as seen on the Geneon release which means a pair of stereo tracks encoded at 224kbps. The series features a solid stereo mix that has a fair amount of directionality across its forward soundstage with lots of dialogue and action effects being moved across it. The majority of the show is very much focused around dialogue but when the action scenes kick in with the giant robots moving around and their respective weapons, the mix is nicely dynamic and works well. In listening to both language tracks, we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The original release was spread across three discs while this one is a two disc collection with six episodes on each disc. The show has for the most part a real world set of colors used for it and they have a slight hazy and dreamlike quality to some of the backgrounds but the character animation and color design is striking and bold. There is some minor cross coloration here and there throughout the episodes on the disc such as around the edges of Himeko's hair or one or two other areas but it is extremely minimal. Where the problem in the transfer lies is in the ending sequence. It's a split scene where one side presumably had the Japanese credits scrolling over the black area and animation on the right. The black section has some macroblocking on it, but not as much as I recall from the original editions.

Packaging:
Destiny of the Shrine Maiden has quite a good look to it as it uses three of the principle design aspects of the series. The foreground is given over to Himeko and Himemiya as they embrace each other, their cheeks all rosy red as they blush. Their designs are really appealing here with beautifully vivid colors and some solid detail to it. The background element uses the shrine aspect which is in front of the moon and the shades of blue. I was unsure of this cover at first but the more I check it out the more I like it. The back cover has a similar version of the background from the front cover with a look at the lunar temple with the Earth in the background. There’s a lot of text to cover the basic premise of the film as well as a small section covering all the extras on the release. There’s a good section of uneven shots from the show spread along the bottom as well as a really sexy illustration of the two leads together with nothing visible on. The rest is given over to the standard technical grid that covers everything clearly and accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reverse side cover.

Menu:
The menu design for this release fits well but is a bit weak to me, at least with the colors used. The background for it takes the title card background and puts it through a couple of color filters in the purple range which gives it a rather garish feeling. Along one of the curves we get the episode numbers that you can select individually as well as the language submenu and the special features for that particular disc. To the right of it we get some good character artwork which is the saving grace since it looks very good. Submenus load quickly when you do use them and both discs correctly read our players’ language presets.

Extras:
The extras from the Geneon release have made their way here, not that there was a whole lot to begin with. The clean opening and closings are included here as well as the original promo for the show which was really quite fun. Add in an artwork gallery and it’s a nice mix of basic extras that were salvaged.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Destiny of the Shrine Maiden, originally released by Geneon under Kannazuki no Miko, is another release in a long line of series that deal with the world of shrine maidens, prophecies that have been foretold for ages about the end of mankind and the giant robots that they will all duke it out with in order to stand against it. The twelve episode series starts off with the first four here and while it does play to a fair number of common themes, it does so with a gorgeous sense of style and pacing that isn't the norm.

The premise is one we've seen before. We're introduced to a somewhat sleepy village where there is a high-class high school academy where lots of young women go to and live in an attached dorm. One of the women there is Himeko, a somewhat dreamy girl who isn't always quite focused on what's going on in front of her unless it's her very close friend Chikane. Chikane's family lives in the town and they're actually the biggest wealthy family there with a massive mansion in which only Chikane and her main maid Otoha seem to reside. We get some mention of her father not being there but parents aren't exactly something you'll see a lot of here. The relationship between Chikane and Himeko is interesting since, at least as its perceived here, it's a mix of adoration from Himeko's side and possibly something more from Chikane. There is very much the feel of a relationship in the brew here but with many female/female relationships being exaggerated into something more serious it's hard to say this early, but the tension is definitely there.

Both of them are about to turn sixteen and that day has long held a prophecy apparently of something very dark happening. As it turns, we learn of an evil that was sealed within a single shrine on the moon where the Orochi was kept. It's now managed to break free as the shrine has broken down over the years and its intent is to come back to Earth and destroy mankind. With its ties to the village we're introduced to, it's no surprise that the sky turns black there and the land starts to turn as the Orochi reaches out to its eight "necks", the pieces by which it will deal with the two priestesses that can potentially return it to its slumber. We see many of these Neck's as they feel the compulsion to do its bidding. The main one we see at first comes from another student, the popular young man Soma. He's compelled to go and hunt down Himeko who he feels is the priestess and he's able to draw upon a sword and, surprisingly, a giant robot from under the earth in order to do this.

His unspoken love for Himeko though gives him the willpower to resist the Orochi which surprised the other Necks as they all huddle about in a strange mystical place watching what's going on. Soma has a difficult time keeping in control at times from the power and compulsion of the Orochi but with his pledge to defend Himeko he's able to handle it for the most part. This sets up an interesting conflict as the two women try to deal with their newfound position as priestesses. Soma's family, the Ohgami's, are actually very aware of what's going on as they were apparently involved in the original sealing some time ago and know what's going on with the seal being broken. The head of the family does his best to explain the complex situation to the young women who now find themselves branded as the Solar and Lunar Priestesses. The Orochi cannot proceed to deal with eradicating mankind until it can deal with these two and so the remaining Neck's come down one by one to deal with them and now the added thread of Soma.

After the introductory phase of the series, it shifts from the heavier episodes to something that's much more focused on just a few of the characters. That's not to say there isn't any action though because there's a good mix of the "Neck's" that come down to play against Souma. Souma's time is spent dealing with the issue of one of the Neck's being his long lost brother Tsubasa and all the pain that seeing him brings back. It brings an interesting aspect to the character in how they dealt with a problem in their childhood unlike many other characters who would typically just run away instead of taking action. The discovery of this by others close to him starts to change their view of him though and that helps smooth some of the feelings between them a bit.

There's also a couple of fights that have things going up a notch when Souma and Himeko are out on the closest thing to a date that the two can have so far and it brings in a trio of the Neck's and their mecha but it also has Himeko right on hand for Souma which means it's a very engaging fight. This also comes as Souma has been working through the problems in his mind about his commitment to defending Himeko and what it all entails for his life. The best part of this entire sequence though is that it has an attack going against Chikane as well by Miyako. With Chikane already so conflicted about her desires for Himeko as well as seeing the way Souma is just flailing about in a way with his own, it leaves her wide open for an attack. Miyako's able to get inside of Chikane's mind and through a great visual sequence that has mirrors surrounding Chikane exposing different visions of Himeko, it's a great push on her that starts wearing her down as Miyako wants her to admit everything she feels.

One of the biggest things that occurs in the series, for a really engaging reason that’s revealed at the end, is that it shifted Chikane over to the Orochi and left Himeko in a state of denial about the loss of her special friend. The truth about what Chikane has done has really unsettled her and it's left her unable to do the work she needs to do as the single priestess left in bringing down the power of the god they need to fight the Orochi. The end of the world is almost at hand with barely a day left before the last sun will set on everything and Himeko is unable to manage it at all. Even worse, when she tries to take some time away from everything by going back to the school, she's either tormented by other students who adore the now missing Chikane or she sees images of Chikane in every place she's at.

As Himeko goes through all of this, Chikane is in her best stoic form as she resides with the other Necks of the Orochi in that other-dimensional place. Though she's joined on their side, the remaining members that are there aren't all that pleased about it and actually take up against her in order to secure their own position for the end times. Chikane's able to truly unleash her power during all of this and it brings about a really interesting new giant robot for her to use. Her ascension in the ranks of the Orochi isn't a surprise but it is amusing that it comes as she takes down all the other members. You almost expect that she's joined them in order to destroy them from the inside, but even after she's managed all of the other Neck's, she's intent on killing Himeko and bringing about the end times.

The best material with this release comes from the confrontation between the two women. Their reunion is a curious piece at first since you go in believing one thing is possible about Chikane's motivations, but she then continues on in her current form with one of the best challenge sequences ever. The setup for their confrontation, the revelations about the true motivations and the lengths they go to in order to secure what they believe is victory is just spectacularly done here. Part of it is definitely attributable to the relationship that's brought into this; if it had been a standard male/female arrangement, I'm sure it would still be pretty engaging and emotional. But with it being between two women who don't hold back their feelings when it's time to play that card. Though the show takes a strange pause in the midst of the action to allow for this period to pass, it is one of the real highlights of the show. Something about it just strikes strongly with me as the two bare themselves to each other emotionally.

In Summary:
Destiny of the Shrine Maiden felt like it was something that was rising above its own material just because of how well it was being executed. As much as I enjoyed the show, I knew that it wasn't something stellar but it was extremely enjoyable. And that's sometimes even more difficult to do than something completely original. The series does come to a fantastic conclusion that is very strong and really focuses on the very core characters themselves. With the short format for the series, they avoid a lot of fluff and filler and keep the focus on the relationship itself with just the right amount of flashback and revelations to keep it exciting and intriguing. I really enjoyed this show the first time around and enjoyed it just as much this time, viewing it over the course of a day and seeing the threads of it a bit tighter than the bi-monthly schedule of the original. I’m definitely glad this one found a new life through Sentai.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Promotional Video, Artwork Gallery

Review Equipment

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 16 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: 39.98
Running time: 300
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Kannazuki No Miko