King of Bandit Jing Vol. #4 (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, November 14, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, November 25, 2003



What They Say
Jing and Kir have scoured the world for unique treasures, always one step ahead of the law and meddlers, but will they still come out on top once they meet some fierce competition?

"The Masquerade Ball of ZaZa (Part 1)"
The mysterious Warrior of the Rising Son is vying for the throne of Zaza, a city in need of a ruler. Jing has to prove his strength when he is thrown into a tournament to win the championship and the throne.

"The Masquerade Ball of ZaZa (Part 2)"
When Jing and Kir come to steal the heir's prize, the Vintage Smile, the whole city goes on alert! Jing finds himself in the middle of a battle to the death not just in the tournament, but between Madame Earl and her rebellious young daughter Stir!

"The Masquerade Ball of ZaZa (Part 3)"
With the help of the fighter Ginjou and a lackey named Angostura, Jing and Kir may yet escape this misadventure with their lives! But when Jing is wrongfully accused of a treacherous crime, will he elude his pursuers long enough to find true love in all this turmoil?

The Review!
Come and gone before I knew it, four volumes of this series have been released now and it's been one of the best surprise series this year.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series sports a solid stereo mix that does a rather good job at times of creating a sense of depth and directionality, particularly for some of the background characters and noises. Dialogue throughout the show is nice and clear and we had no issues with dropouts or distortions on either language track.

Video:
Originally airing in 2002, Jing's transfer is extremely clean looking. With a vibrant color palette used mixed with some really dark and rough colors, the bright points really stand out strongly here. The backgrounds are also creatively used to provide a sense of depth but thankfully manage to avoid creating any problems with aliasing. Cross coloration is pretty much non-existent, leaving this to be a great looking release. The only reason for the slight downgrade with this release is due to some digital panning in few scenes that caused some combination aliasing and cross coloration. The bulk of the show looks great, but there are some standout bad areas for cross coloration.

Packaging:
With a three-part storyline set for the final volume, all the elements are in place here and once again Jing takes the center and manages to anchor the image nicely with the other characters ringed around him. The logo is definitely off-placed to the center right of the cover, but it's also done up in silver foil, adding a bit more of a visual catch. The back cover is quite busy, with lots of animation shots along two strips as well as some of it done up in a collage underneath. There's a simple premise summary and then a quick couple of lines about each of the episodes. The discs features and technical information is all nicely listed as well as the basic production information. The insert replicates the front cover but without the logo while the reverse side lists the discs extras set against a backdrop from one of the episodes. Also included is a four panel foldout poster that has that old "Wanted" feel to it but has line artwork of various women from the series on it. It's a nice touch to round out the release.

Menu:
The main menu is a simple static piece that takes the Jing character artwork from the front cover and uses that as the focal point here with some of the cityscape artwork behind him. There's little to the disc along this menu outside of individual episode selection and the languages and extras section. Access times are nice and fast and menus load quick. The only downside is that since all the submenus use the same bit of music, if you make selections quickly you hear the same first couple of beats repeatedly.

Extras:
The extras pretty much mimic the previous volumes, which is the textless opening and ending sequence and a video gallery of conceptual artwork that runs just over a minute.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While we've had a mix of standalone stories a couple of two-part tales in the previous volumes, the last set here goes for a three-part storyline to bring the series to its conclusion. Well, it brings this particular story to a conclusion since there's no overarching plot going on, the series can easily pick up again should they decide to make more. And unlike some other series when they end, there are no cliffhangers here at all. For that reason along, Jing manages to climb above a fair amount of the competition.

The storyline opens with Jing and Kir arriving on the beach of the seaside city of Zaza, once a hugely popular and lively port of call that has since dropped off considerably. These days, it seems to be much less fun, though the pair has arrived in time for the Masquerade Ball. Tossing on a small cat face mask since it looks like everyone in the town is always wearing a mask, Jing and Kir make their way to the Ball only to find out that it's not quite what it seems. While it was indeed a Masquerade Ball several years ago, the event now is something of a tournament.

The wife of the dead Earl of the city has the contest every year to find a warrior strong enough to survive the combat with other highly skilled warriors so that one would receive the title of Earl and take over the city. The Madame Earl, having lost her husband to war and her only son to an assassination by family members, has only her teenaged daughter left to her. Since the death of her son though, she's become withdrawn, so much so that she has to change what her mask looks like to express her emotions. Her donning of the masks brought the rest of the city into the tradition, something they've done for over eight years now.

Entering himself into the tournament, Jing ends up facing down a variety of overly powerful opponents in cute and comical ways at times but there are also some serious fights. As he continues to work up in the ranks, with his mind set on acquiring the Vintage Smile, a mask of the Madame's that is worth a small fortune, Jing and Kir also hit the city streets to soak up some of the atmosphere. There are naturally run ins with various local thugs and those who have their own eye on the title of Earl that feel they deserve it more, so various smaller plots and conspiracies slowly unfold.

All the while, Jing simply goes on his way to fight whoever he has to deal with and smile as he does it. Elements of the background are teased out as it goes along and some of the family issues between the Madame Earl and her daughter Stir come to light that brings more depth to the storyline as well as making you wonder about relationships. If it wasn't for the fact that it was pretty much necessary for Jing to go through a fair number of fights to help flesh out the opponents, this storyline could have been done much shorter and still had a good impact. But as it is, it's interesting to see how they handled writing a longer and somewhat more involved plot all while keeping it as fresh and fun as the standalone episodes.

In Summary:
As mentioned in past reviews, though there's a fair bit of formula to the episodes, there's just something that really clicks with this series that lets it work for us much better than similar ones. The addition of some very striking production designs and a kick-ass music score helps it rise up even higher. I'd almost term this one a guilty pleasure if it wasn't for the fact that I don't feel guilty watching it. If you passed up this series, I definitely recommend checking it out if you want something that's got both flash and substance and sets out to have a good time in the end. Very recommended.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean opening and closing animation,Art Gallery

Review Equipment
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: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: King of Bandit Jing