Twelve Kingdoms Vol. #03: Coup (of 10) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, November 27, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, November 18, 2003
What They Say
The first book of the 12 Kingdoms thunders to a close as Youko confronts her destiny. Though her path is blocked by her former friend, Sugimoto, and the jealous King of Ko, Youko is no longer one to be taken lightly, and she’s ready to take up Sugimoto’s challenge one final time!
As the first chapter in the story ends, many revelations and details about characters and their pasts are brought to light as certain elements are given closure.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series has a very good stereo mix that lets the varying amounts of directionality flow nicely across the forward soundstage. Dialogue is clear and distortion free and we had no issues with dropouts. We listened briefly to the English track and had no issues during the areas we checked there.
Originally starting its broadcast run in early 2002, Twelve Kingdoms has a very good-looking transfer here with very fresh materials. The main areas where things don’t look as good as one would hope is the opening sequence where there’s a bit of cross coloration pixilation going on. Once in the show proper, colors are excellent, with the vibrant areas such as the green eyes or the color of skin coming across in great layers. A lot of the backgrounds and look of the worlds is done in somewhat drab colors, going for the realism look (especially when you have everyone without colored hair). Aliasing is very minimal with only a few areas showing some during panning sequences.
Using the same style as previous volumes, the cover art here is simply gorgeous and very eye-catching. Taking the artwork from the Japanese DVD release, shrinking it inside a window and then building a gorgeous border around it that enhances the original artwork, this comes out perfectly with the look of Shouryuu and Enki together against the paterns. The series logo is nicely done along the bottom with the subtitle of the opening arc storyline. The top of the border gets the volume/chapter listing. The character art inside is just fantastic. The back cover provides two stripes of shots from the show blended together really well, giving a nice feel to the flow of things. The summary is pretty brief and gives the basic premise of things. The discs special features are clearly listed but can be confusing. What’s listed on the back is actually what’s in the insert. The insert takes the front cover and essentially switches the wording from the top to bottom. The insert opens up to provide a translated map of the world ad a focus on the areas we visit on this volume. There’s a brief encyclopedia section that covers various terminology and their meanings. It’s all rounded out by the Youma list that provides a small shot of the critter and what it resembles and a brief bit on the translation. The back of the insert provides the chapter listings for the episodes.
The menu layout is nicely done here with the front cover background used here as the background but swaying like water, since the static image over it is the non-text version of the world map while some of the nice instrumental music plays along. Movement is decent across the menu as each of the sections provides a selection, all of them invisible until you move over it. Access times are nice and fast and submenus load quickly.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the four episodes on this volume, the first chapter is closed and the arrival of Youko and all that it encompasses is brought to bear. What’s interesting about it, in that she knows she must take on the role of Queen of the lands that have fallen into disrepair, is that it’s given such a small role all told. Much more time is spent on other characters, but characters that help enhance her thoughts and position.
While in the previous volume we got some basic information on Shouryuu and his time in Japan before he came across into the realm of the Twelve Kingdoms, we get more glimpses of it here but through another’s eyes. The story shifts focus onto the young looking Enki. Revealing that he’s actually a taika, one of those who is immortal but born outside of the Twelve Kingdoms, we see his life early on in Japan 500 years prior to today, where Kyoto has fallen in battle and parents are forced to make horrible choices over family members, children included. Enki is weakened and practically dead, little more than skin and bones. But with him being immortal, he cannot die. Through luck though, he’s brought across into the Twelve Kingdoms where he’s raised on Mt. Hou as the Taiho of En.
His time spent on Mt. Hou is interesting in how they raised him and have been guiding him towards his goal of selecting the new King of En, as that is his destiny and duty. But his previous time in Japan and seeing the failing of the rulers there makes him incredibly wary of being one to choose someone to rule over En. Things become so desperate for him to choose as En descends deeper into chaos that he ends up triggering an effect that allows him to shift across back to Japan. His appearance shifts back to the ragged child he’s always looked as opposed to the golden haired lad he was when he went to the Kingdoms and now travels Japan, undying.
But his tale intersects with Shouryuu’s as well, as he ends up in the lands where Shouryuu is the son of the leader and inherits the mantle when his father dies and he has to protect his people against the raiders trying to seize their lands. When Enki finally gets a good look at Shouryuu, he realizes that he’s the one that he’s been searching for all this time to lead En as their King. Their destinies become intertwined through what they face here and eventually what they face together as they have to try and bring En out of the near ruin that it is and to bring it to the prosperous level we see it as today.
This tale, as told to Youko and Rakushun by Shouryuu’s main aide, helps greatly in letting Youko understand what Shouryuu had to face once he came to realize what was required of him. En had fallen so far after the abuses of the previous king, abuses that ended with him killing his own kirin, which dooms him since the two lives are fully connected. With the tales of what the kingdom of Kei is like under the abusive rule of Johei, and having seen what madness descended onto her elder sister before she resigned the throne and her own life, agrees that she must ask the favor of Shouryuu in helping her to reclaim Kei from them.
But there’s still the deep seated fear about taking on the role of ruler. Partially because she’s grown enough to realize the mistakes she made at her home and the desire to fix them, but also because if she does take on the role it means she can never return to Japan. The pros and cons of each choice is strong, but there is much riding on her decision which is reflected in the interesting advice she ends up receiving.
There are a lot of levels of dialogue and plot going on during these three episodes as we learn the past, see how it parallels the present and how Youko herself must deal with it differently than Shouryuu had to deal with it. Choices for characters are simply given to them to be made, and while there is some angst over it, Youko continues to be different than she was at the start of the series by making them – even reluctantly. There’s so much going on in fact that this continues to be one of the very few series where I wish a real guide book was being published at the same time.
If there’s any downside to this volume it’s that the last episode is basically a recap. This isn’t bad in and of itself since so much has gone on, it helps to re-view portions of earlier episodes and dialogue to see how it all fits together. There’s some scattered bits of new animation and dialogue throughout in the form of Rakushun and Youko talking about the paths their lives are about to take, but that’s it. Since this disc only has four episodes, one of which can easily be skipped, it’s unfortunate that the first chapter didn’t get a 5/4/5 release to let this last volume feel like it had more content.
With all of this behind us, but still being the first chapter, I’m very curious as to where the show will go from here. It took some time to really hook us, nearly halfway through the first thirteen episodes, once it firmly established that it wasn’t going to follow in the same footsteps of other certain series of a similar nature. This is a richly layered fantasy show with connections to the “real world” that’s much more fleshed out than many other shows are in their entirety. I only hope that it continues to go up in quality of the storyline.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable 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: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Twelve Kingdoms