Soul Hunter Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, December 18, 2001
Release Date: Tuesday, December 18, 2001
What They Say
The ancient Chinese Yin Dynasty is rotting from the inside out, infested with demon immortals. Project Soul Hunt was drafted by the Immortal High Council to capture all these "dangerous" souls and seal them away forever. Now all that remains is to find someone to carry it out.
Why risk the life of a perfectly good immortal if you can send a good-for-nothing instead? Taikoubou skips his lessons and naps while he's meditating; if he doesn't happen to make it back, so much the better.
Armed with nothing but a magical rod and a hit list, Taikoubou is dragged off by the spiritual beast Sibuxiang. But when your job is killing demon immortals, on-the-job training can be extremely rough! Will Taikoubou get his act together in time to save his skin? Or will he and Sibu get vaporized his first day on the job?
Contains 5 complete episodes!
Soul Hunter, known as Houshin Engi among many of it's US fans, is an anime story about Chinese mythology mixed with their own viewpoint and created with some of the earlier computer generated effects. The end result is... different.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. There's a lot of things going on in the audio department here, with sound effects and music being very prominent and filling up the forward soundstage nicely. There's a decent amount of directionality throughout these episodes as well. Dialogue is nice and clear and we didn't notice any dropouts or distortions.
This looks like another release where the equipment and cabling is going to play a part in things. The first couple of episodes have a fair amount of cross coloration throughout it, usually along edges and hair. It lightens up in the remaining episodes, but there's still some instances of it here and there. This cross coloration mostly goes away or is greatly reduced when you move away from component cabling. The shows animation itself is very bright, being a recent series that employed a good amount of digital painting and CG. The mixing of the two sometimes looks really awkward and poorly dimensional, but then we also get some very sweet looking sequences. A lot will depend on your level of distaste for CG.
This series is lucky to have a nice logo for it, so that looks great on the cover. The front cover for the first volume has the lead character swinging his wand and one of the more mysterious characters observing from behind. There's not a lot of color, but it's fairly eye-catching. The back cover is quite busy, with menu shots, animation shots and background pictures all with a good story summary. Features are clearly listed and production info is easy to check out. The insert replicates part of the front cover image while the reverse side gives a quick rundown on some of the new terms used in this volume.
The menu system works pretty well here, with music and animation playing in the main menu and sometimes in various submenus. Access times between the menus is pretty quick and things are laid out in a nice way. Unfortunately at some times, the colors for what you're selecting are hard to see and/or you can't tell what you've selected. In the extras menu, the red text has a black overlay moving over it so you can see what you're selecting. In the languages menu its white. In the main menu its black, but you also have red and black text there. Suffice to say I made a number of selection errors before getting the right thing. But I may just be old and unable to utilize menus properly.
There's a bucketload of useful extras here. The first one is of course the textless opening, which is always a good thing to have in my book. The English voice actor pages are expansions on what we've seen ADV do in the past, providing a mugshot of the actor, talking about them a bit and then the actor talking about something. There's a good number of these included here. We also get some extensive information on the background of this series and its origins through the Translators Notes, the Historical Notes and the Lingua Franca. There's also a quite well done relationship tree, where you zoom in to see whose related to who and about the characters. It's definitely worth taking the time to check out and explore.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Before delving into the story, there's probably one video issue that should be mentioned, but didn't really belong elsewhere above. The first episode's opening animation has the translated credits played over the existing Japanese ones. This doesn't occur in any of the other episodes, where they're removed like most other shows. All I can figure is that the first episode had them burned into the print and they couldn't be removed. It looks weird though and reminded me of the early days of anime when that was commonly done.
The story of Soul Hunter takes place in the 11th century, at a time when the Yin Dynasty is ruling most of China and the young Emperor Zhou is in charge of things. But things aren't as they were, as a young woman named Dakki is truly in charge and has practically complete control over the emperor. Dakki's apparently from the Immortal World, a place where powerful people have existed for ages but for the most part avoid interacting with the human world.
But Dakki's control of Zhou, which has caused the country to fall into famine and death, is something that they cannot allow to happen. To take out Dakki, the leader of those in the Immortal World bring Taikoubou into play. He's one of the most promising of the current group of students who can potentially pull this off. He's given the leaders Paopei, a weapon shaped as a wand that can discharge energy as well as deflect it. Paopei have been scattered over the world over the years, so they occasionally show up in the human world as odd instruments.
Taikoubou is given a list of 360 odd people whom he must kill so he can gain more skill and powers so he can take down Dakki, as she's immensely powerful. Taikoubou and his friend (who happens to be a truly weird looking flying hippo) end up ignoring all of this and just try to attack Dakki directly. Of course, it can be easily imagined how well that goes over and it's not long before he's on his quest to gather up people to help him, and for him to end up in adventures where he helps them out first.
Soul Hunter's origins in Chinese mythology and history are presented in similar ways to what was seen in Fushigi Yugi. It then gets distorted by the intervention of Dakki. During one ceremony, where four lords of the region come to discuss the problems of the country, Dakki has a party going on instead, with her girlfriends dancing in front of 10' high speakers. The shift between the time period and things like this looks awkward half the time and distracted me from the story itself.
This is also a show where there's just going to be a heck of a lot of characters. There's a number of power plays going on in the Yin Dynasty empire and keeping track of whose who is something that will challenge some, especially with the mix of Japanese and Chinese names. And with Taikoubou having to go after another 360 people, I can only imagine how confusing it can get to remember everyone.
The show felt pretty awkwardly paced for the first couple of episodes with a lot of things going on, a lot of characters going off and doing things and a general feeling of not being entirely sure what the show was about. The final couple of episodes brings the focus mostly down to Taikoubou and his attempts to get one person, Nataku, to join up with him and his cause. These episodes worked a fair bit better as with less of a cast and subplot running, you get to actually know the characters a bit more.
This disc is definitely a deal though. With ADV making most of their new series with five episodes on the first disc, it's worth it to check most of them out since you can get a good deal with it and get further into things than you used to. Soul Hunter hasn't won us over yet, but there are some interesting bits that I'm hoping are explored and clarified.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening,English Voice Actor Profiles,Translator Notes,Relationship Tree,Historical Notes: Yin Dynasty,Lingua Franca
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.
Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Soul Hunter