Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit Vol. #8 (of 8) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Rarunga are on the move and Chagum’s instincts have taken over as the conclusion to the series arrives.

What They Say
Infused with the power of the Egg, Chagum sets off to the Land of Feasting on pure instinct. Unable to keep up with him, Balsa, Shuga and the Hunters race against time, tracking their way through the forest. Rarunga the Egg Eater rises up from Nayug to tear Chagum apart, but the immortal monster has to get past Balsa's spear first. Shuga's research has also let him equip the Hunters with weapons that will let them fight. However, Rarunga is not a single monster but a species, and each and every one of them is coming for Chagum. Balsa and the others must somehow survive until dawn against a relentless tide of supernatural attackers!

The Review!
Audio:
Media Blasters has a pretty good selection of mixes here with four audio tracks, two of which are relatively unnecessary if DVD players are built properly. The Japanese and English language mixes are presented in both a 5.1 mix and a 2.0 mix to ensure the best overall playback. The stereo mixes are done in a standard minimal 192kbps encoding while the 5.1 mixes get the full 448kbps. The 5.1 mixes almost feel like overkill for a lot of this since it’s basic dialogue and little more for the bulk of the episodes. When the big action scenes do kick in, the mix comes across a bit more dynamic but not in a way where it’s really strong. The mix is used more for accent and clarity of placement more than overall impact. We only spent a little bit of time on the stereo mixes and they came across well, stronger with the forward soundstage, but there isn’t a huge world of difference between the two.

Video:
Originally airing throughout 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With very strong production values by Production I.G., the transfer for this is pretty disappointing in a lot of ways. The bitrate hovers in the sixes and sevens for a lot of it, and unlike some of the earlier discs, there’s far less blockiness and noise to be found here. While some amount of noise is expected, it seems to be stronger than it should be in some scenes and the ending sequence in particular, where it shifts from the dark blue to the lighter blue with the headshot of Chagum, really showcases a good deal of banding and blocking as it goes along. Colors look good in general and there isn’t any over saturation nor is there any visible cross coloration.

Packaging:
This release is another sideways piece from the company which looks great with its artwork of Balsa and Chagum together with the sun rising over the mountain behind them. Like most of the previous covers, there’s a lot of detail here and a very strong defined look that eludes many other shows. The downside is that they put it in a large jewel case that’s keepcase sized. Other than a few music releases in the US and a number of Japanese releases, you don’t see these kinds of cases often. They’re thinner than keepcases but the non-standard aspect is certainly going to annoy some, especially those that try to transition them to regular keepcases since they don’t fit all that well. The back cover is nicely done with the background from the front cover extended here along with a few shots from the show. The summary runs through the predictable basics of what to expect and there’s a listing of the discs extras as well. The production information and technical grid is solid as always and comes across in a very easy to read fashion.

The front cover for this release doubles as the booklet as well. The interior opens up to several pieces of character concept design items. There’s nothing on the back of the panel though which keeps it from feeling like anything truly worthwhile. It’s not a bad insert, but it’s very minimal overall.

Menu:
The menu design was one that while basic could be quite serviceable if not for the poor look of it. The static image of Balsa from the front cover is used here to goof effect overall and it avoids the fuzzy feeling that we had with the previous volume. The navigation strip is simple, especially as the sole extra is listed along the top level, and submenu navigation is easy. Language selection is awkward since once you make a selection, it doesn’t really show what’s selected in any way. The disc didn’t read our player presets and defaulted to English stereo with sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
The extras for this release have been fairly minimal overall but we get a few new pieces here at the end. The first is the press conference that runs just over seven minutes and is really nice if you want to see some of the staff as well as the original author talk about her work. The other extra, which is a bit flashier than I expected in comparison to other discussion videos from other series, runs just under ten minutes and was produced back in November of 2006. It brings the director and the original author together again to talk about the show and their experiences on it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the final three episodes of the series, Chagum and Balsa's story comes to a close as the egg is about to be born but not without the Rarunga trying to get a meal. Much of this volume is all about the chase, the drama of it all, before it deals in the final resolution with the ramifications of all that's happened and where everyone will go from there. Moribito has had a number of lulls to it in its storytelling style, but it's one that has kept the viewer engaged the whole time and these final episodes are no exception.

The events here are mostly about the chase for the first two episodes as Chagum's instinct is to run and protect the egg until the dawn when it can be born. The Rarunga are very different from what was believed they'd be like, mostly in that there is more than one of them. That difference alone has made the arrival of Shuga and the eight legendary warriors highly important since they do have some weapons that can work on them. Events do change though and the Rarunga end up being unaffected for awhile, though with Tanda there able to help, it doesn't take all that long before something is figured out so the men can help in protecting Chagum from the creatures and aiding Balsa in her defense of her seemingly adopted son.

The final battle between the Rarunga and those protecting Chagum is really well done, both in the visual design of it and the drama. Chagum's protective nature is handled really well here and he's matured a lot in his time with Balsa and Tanda as he now carries himself very differently. It was done in a way that felt natural though, especially after all he's been through and the things he's learned. Having everyone involved here at the end, with Torogai and Tanda keeping up as well, there's a very good sense of closure with it as most of them end up in the otherworldly Nayug where they handle it. The egg itself is probably the weakest aspect of it as part of what made it special is taken away when we see at least one other egg bearer out there, albeit in a surprising creature.

Where Moribito manages to shine really well here is at the very end where the last episode focuses on Chagum's return to Shin-Yogo. There's a lot of potential for this to go badly, especially with his father, but it is handled in a very political and delicate way, though his father tends to steamroll over things with his personality. The real drama comes from the separation that's about to occur between the three principal characters that have bonded so well, especially in this second half of the series. Chagum's youth really does shine through here even after all that he has done and grown, so it was really good to see this part of him after all that has just happened. And Balsa doesn't escape from it either as she's grown quite close to the young man and what he's represented in her quest for redemption. As a series closing, it ties up everything well and leaves it set for more to come.

In Summary:
Moribito has been an interesting series to watch, but it's one that had a lot of release problems that made it difficult to truly be captivated by. The eight volume release, or the four two disc collections, made it problematic from the start for many people even with the reduced pricing. Those that followed the singles like myself found each volume to be like a tease, especially with the delays that crept into it as well. In the end though, the show itself is solid through and through and it's one that is very easy to recommend, though it's easiest to just recommend waiting for the box set that will come out eventually. This is a beautifully animated show with a lot of heart and great characters that are begging for more stories to be told. While I can't support this kind of release format, I can enthusiastically support this show.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, Japanese 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Press Conference, Discussion Panel

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: A-
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
MSRP: 24.99
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit