Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal Director's Cut (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, May 10, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, May 20, 2003



What They Say
Nineteenth century Japan: a land torn by rebellion and civil warfare; small bands of soldiers roam the land, seeking to overthrow the tyrannical Tokugawa Shogunate. Enter the young orphan Kenshin, trained as a fighter by the master swordsman Hiko. Kenshin's desire for peace is at odds with his brutal life, and the tension seems unreconcilable until he meets a mysterious woman named Tomoe. The enigmatic Tomoe's actions may show Kenshin that another life can exist for him, or may instead conceal a destructive secret. Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal Director's Cut follows the progress of the rebellion against the Shogunate and the complex evolution of Kenshin's and Tomoe's involvement, and reveals how Kenshin received the distinctive cross-shaped facial scar that gives the film its name.

The Review!
Video Grade: Due to issues with this show, our video grading is split into two areas. Please be sure to read the review for an explanation why:

Video Presentation: F
Video Visuals: A-

Originally released as four OVA’s in Japan, they then went and mucked with perfection in creating this Directors Cut.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. It's an above average stereo soundtrack, for the Japanese language portion at least. Listening to it on our main theater setup, it sounded quite wonderful and full. The incidental music and the action sequence music are beautifully orchestrated and create a big impact on the scene. During the selected fight sequences, the clash of swords and the grunts and gasps of the men is distinct and strong. The English track sounds good, though we only listened to it on our smaller TV speakers later on.

Video:
The transfer for this show looks excellent, with great depth to colors being a real highlight. Cross coloration is just about non-existent and there were only a few minor areas of aliasing. The two minor issues I had with the original OVA release appear to have been either lessened or corrected entirely here, as I noted no issues in the first episode.

Packaging:
Done up in a clear keepcase, the front cover has the Samurai X logo along with a nice image of the main characters who become involved in this series with flames reaching up from below. The back cover goes for the bloodier look with a violent shot of Kenshin in action while set against some soft images from his memory. There’s a very brief summary of the show and a good listing of the discs production and minimal technical information. The insert provides a look at both covers, one on each side. The reverse side of the cover, something many are very grateful for ADV for doing, has the great image of Kenshin and Tomoe sitting together in the snow with a nice background image of the two. The back cover is the same as the other one, but with just screenshots as opposed to the slight collage.

Menu:
With little on the disc outside the main program, things are pretty minimal here with a static image of a black and white lined Kenshin for the main menu with music from the show playing. Selections line up along the side and are quick to access with solid load times. This is a decent serviceable menu, though some will naturally be annoyed that it only has the Samurai X logo on it.

Extras:
None, not even the few things from the original release such as the historical background of character introductions make it here.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
“Two words sum up the majority of this disc; stunningly beautiful.”

That’s how I started off my original review of the first OVA release back in 2000.

Four words sum up the majority of this disc; stunningly beautiful but flawed. That’s how this disc gets summed up.

The flaw on this disc will be quite dependent on the viewer, but to me and my sensibilities having now spent so long in the “film” community over the years learning about the craft of filmmaking, this Directors Cut does something that I really don’t like. While the main intent of the show was to take the four OVAs and splice them together into a movie with some extra continuity animation added, they went beyond the limit (in my mind) by then matting the full screen show to make it faux-widescreen. Now mind you, this is what the Japanese did, not ADV, so no calls about editing and so forth. This show is being released just as it was in Japan.

And as much as I love the show, I had a hell of a time watching this version. So much of it just seemed unnatural in composition. You could feel the cameras restriction in what it was trying to capture by the way its matted. Some areas come off nicely, but for the bulk of the show, felt like I was watching a 2.35:1 movie on a network channel – where you can see where they added the extra panning movements in and it makes you more conscious to that instead of the show. Heck, that panning makes some people dizzy. From what I can tell, there’s none or very little panning here, rather just a simple matting that gives the picture a more cramped feel.

The show itself?

I’ll let my content summary from the first OVA volume talk about that.

“The story starts out with Kenshin as a young boy named Shinta. He's being brought to a village to be sold further into slavery but the group happens upon bandits. They make quick work of everyone though the women plead for Shinta's life as they fall under the bandit’s blades.

Just as it was Shinta's turn to be killed, Hiko shows up. Little is revealed about Hiko in the storyline, but after killing all the bandits with little effort, he eventually takes Shinta under his wing to teach him his fighting style. From there the tale begins a multiple split across time, between Kenshin's training years as he grows, his joining up with Katsura to bring about a new world order and to his later time as a master assassin for Katsura.

There's two real storylines working here that are intertwined. You have the main one, which is the history of how Kenshin made is mark on the world as Japan changed. The second is the more intrigue-laden story of the changing of Japan through another of their turbulent times. As mentioned at the beginning of the show, it's fiction based within historical fact. The main arc takes place in 1864. When you look at what's going on there at this time, and contrast it with your own countries history at that time (for me, the US), there's such a striking distance in everything that you can almost romanticize how it was there, though fraught with danger.

That's one of the things that attract me to shows like this. As with anything like this, you take it with a grain of salt, but there's usually enough in there that you can get a feel for how it was.

This was a very high profile and high budget release for Sony and you can see the money on the screen at almost all times. The character designs, though different than the TV designs, are gorgeous. There's a depth to the skin coloring that's really striking. There's naturally a lot of darker colors in this, with many of the assignations taking place at night and in darkened quarters, but there are a number of standout scenes outside of there.

Early on you have a really powerful sequence with Shinta and Hiko standing in the graveyard dug by Shinta. The deep reds and yellows of the setting sun contrasted with the black shadow outlines of the two characters are very memorable. Scenes later with the training of Kenshin by the waterfall standout as well as Takasugi showing Kenshin off to Katsura in training with the purplish glow of the sword slicing through the wood.

There's a wonderful fast paced fluidity to the Kyoto fight sequences between Kenshin and whoever his target is at the time. The action moves fast, but without the quick editing that mainstream Hollywood movies are subjected to. We're allowed to pause at the brutality he causes, though we're awed by the simplicity and beauty of it. But it's not long before we're thrust into it again and the blood continues to flow.”

The Directors Cut release of the OVAs is really just for completists or those looking to save a few bucks and not caring that the visuals have essentially been butchered. I can’t recommend the disc myself, and rather recommend picking up the original two OVA’s. Not only do you get the entire show with that release, you get more cover artwork and some interesting extras as well.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: See Below
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 17 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 120
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Rurouni Kenshin (aka Samurai X)