Losing some of its energy and enthusiasm, the second half of the season draws to a close with more of Kazuma’s past revealed.
What They Say
The only person with a chance to melt Kazuma's chilly exterior is the same red-hot firebrand who incinerated his chances of a happy home life. Ayano is the smoldering redhead who issued a royal beat-down to her cousin and staked her claim to the Kannagi Clan's sacred sword.
This stubborn flame thrower is a prodigy when it comes to making things explode, but she fights with an enraged, reckless abandon that could get her burned. Put her in the same room as Kazuma, and there's bound to be fireworks. Trouble looms on the horizon, and a pairing of Wind and Fire is Tokyo's best bet to survive the night and see the light of day - provided it can take the heat.
FUNimation has given Kaze no Stigma a very good release when it comes to the audio as the series has a fair bit of action to it. The original Japanese language track is presented in its stereo format encoded at a meager 192kbps while the English language mix is in 5.1 at 448kbps. Both tracks are solid enough when it comes to the basics and what we get out of the Japanese track is essentially a solid forward soundstage mix that’s at times fairly center oriented. The English mix with its 5.1 bump up adds a bit more bass to the whole experience as well as generally raising the volume level a bit. I liked the English presentation overall as it does have more oomph and impact to it, but I’m drawn more to the way the Japanese presentation comes across simply because of my preference of the language itself and the flow of it. Both are good tracks however that are problem free.
Originally airing in 2007, Kaze no Stigma is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is really strangely laid out as it’s a twenty four episode show and this set contains the second twelve episodes. While I expected a six/six two disc format, I got a seven/five two disc format instead. The extras on the second volume do take up a small bit of space, but nowhere near enough to require this kind of layout. The release looks really good overall as Gonzo has created a work with lots of vibrant colors that stand out well. In some ways, it doesn’t feel like a Gonzo series and some of that comes from the visual design of it. The transfer is similar to a lot of what FUNimation has been putting out in that there is some noise to be found in some of the darker scenes, but by and large the majority of people will be pleased by how it looks. Colors are generally solid, cross coloration is blissfully absent and line noise is very minimal when looking at the twelve episodes in total.
Kaze no Stigma really surprised me with the first volume in with its packaging as it avoided the traditional FUNimation half season model. Instead of the slipcover and the two thinpak cases, we get a single sized clear keepcase with two discs inside on one side. I prefer the other method as we get something that feels a bit weightier and it allows for more artwork and design options. This release has a good looking cover with the main duo of Ayano and Kazuma together looking serious as the flames rise around them, serious expressions and all. The background colors are a bit drab but it allows for the character artwork to really stand out and draw you in. The back cover uses the same kind of background but with a full length shot of Ayano in a rather good dress as she wields her fiery blade. The summary covers the main story elements quite well in the space allotted and there are a few very small pictures from the show just above it that don’t help it too much. The extras are clearly listed and the remainder is given over to standard production and technical information. There’s a lot of open space here which I think works well instead of feeling too empty. The release does provide for some reverse side artwork that’s really nice as it has the main trio done to a similar look as the front cover but spread out as they work together. Other than the choice of the keepcase over the thinpaks, I really like how this release looks.
The menu design is done using the same elements as the front cover in a really nice way. The background is kept the same for both volumes and the little side tab is shifted to the bottom where the menu navigation selections are just above it. The cover art for the characters is split up though so that the first volume has just Ayano by herserlf, which looks quite imposing, and the second volume features Kazuma. They’re very simple menus similar to the way the cover is laid out and it’s very appealing as it gives it a serious feel. Submenus load quickly and the navigation is quick and easy. The discs don’t read our players’ language presets though which continues to disappoint me after all these years.
The extras section has some cute pieces to it, though it does feel a bit like “voice actresses gone wild” except for the fact that it pales next to what I’ve seen some US voice actresses do at conventions. The first extra is broken up into three parts where it essentially follows three of the Japanese voice actresses as they do an event prior to the DVD release and then two of them off exploring Kobe. Also included in the release on the second volume is the clean version of the opening sequence and the two closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first season of Kaze no Stigma was really a surprise since I wasn’t expecting such a fun show from Gonzo. I’ve had such mixed luck with a lot of their more recent shows and when I found out this was from them, it left me a bit uncertain. The first season introduced some fun ideas, a decent concept and a solid enough traditional execution that it all flowed together well. It wasn’t the best of this particular genre, but it had a nicely defined world and it progressed well as we got to understand the core characters and the familial relationships that play a decent sized role in all of this as well as all the magic. There was a rather good arc that reached a climax with that set which allowed for this half of the show to stake out new ground.
Unfortunately, it felt like a lot of the energy and enthusiasm that the first half of the season had falls a bit flat for a lot of this half. Not surprisingly, the first chunk of episodes for Kaze no Stigma in this set go for some simple standalone stories that revolve around secondary characters and establishing a bit of humor. There’s even the predictable hot spring episode that we get to “enjoy” as everyone ends up there for some fun. The only main twist really given to these early episodes is the introduction of Catherine McDonald, an up and coming fire magic user from America who has a powerful family name behind her as well. She clashes with Ayano right from the start and amusingly gets Kazuma on her side, though he’s doing it for a bit of a crafty reason that nobody else gets for a bit. Catherine brings a bit of chaos to the show since she’s boisterous and outgoing which in turn throws Ayano off her game in a few predictable ways.
Where a lot of this season goes is in two directions, both tied together. Mixed into some of the standalone stories is the growing problem of a number of magic based powered people showing up throughout the city causing problems. Some are plainly silly while others are your basic street toughs that are making their names known. What’s different with all of this is that they’re talking and acting as though they’re making progress in a video game, leveling up and gaining new powers as they changed classes and the like. It’s all real world, but the trappings of what they’re doing play this particular avenue out. Kazuma and Ayano get involved in all of it, Kazuma working with Tachibana over it, and they start to make some discoveries about a group called Pandemonium that’s organizing all of this for some mysterious purpose.
The “public” aspect of Pandemonium really doesn’t feel like it belongs in this show since it’s a bit too gaming oriented – and the characters even say as much – and it felt like it reduced the seriousness of it. On the flip side, Pandemonium does have some elements to it that work out well towards the end. Those that are running it have connections to Kazuma from his time spent in Europe as they’re a powerful group from there. Kazuma’s past has certainly been touched upon at times in the first half of the season, mostly in direct relation to events when he left, but here we get to see what he did with his time in Europe and the people he spent it with. Namely, an attractive young woman named Tsui-Ling that won over his heart, though events didn’t play out in a way that worked for the two of them. The changes he went through while there, and the things that happened that caused him to come back, are all wrapped up in Pandemonium.
Not surprisingly, there’s things going on within Pandemonium that end up sending Kazuma over the edge when he discovers it since it relates heavily to his past. This is a predictable angle unfortunately and we end up with a good chunk of the last part of this arc where Kazuma is your generally unthinking bad guy out for revenge and he doesn’t care who gets in his way, including those closest to him. It doesn’t have a lot of real impact to it since he is kept off screen for more of it than I expected, but it’s also just too early and too quickly done for him to become this way, especially after all he’s done with his younger brother and with Ayano. This particular angle just felt forced in the storyline to give it more tension and to provide something more interesting than the terribly dressed villain himself who sits on a throne. That villain and Pandemonium’s plans are pretty unimportant as it plays out as the focus is much more on what’s going on with Kazuma and the manipulations made upon him. And unfortunately, Kazuma is forced to be out of character for a lot of it and that lessens the overall impact.
The first half of Kaze no Stigma was a lot of fun and it had me really interested in seeing this second half. Unfortunately, it feels like it lost a lot of its steam and then had a less than interesting top level plot for the storyline. People gaining powers and acting out like they’re in video games, leveling up and so forth? It didn’t work well and it even felt like the leads were talking down about it. There are things to like throughout this set simply because the characters are fun even when they bring in someone new like Catherine. But the small stories and the background material for Kazuma can’t sustain the whole thing. The Pandemonium story gets twisted around a few different ideas before it reaches for a big city-ending idea that lacks a real impetus on the part of Pandemonium. That said, I do like the show overall because I like the characters, but everything felt a bit weak here compared to the first set. It’s not bad, but it lost its way some.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Behind the Scenes
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.