Kaze No Yojimbo Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Sunday, March 21, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, April 27, 2004

What They Say
Based on Academy Award ® Winner Akira Kurosawa's 1961 masterpiece, Yojimbo - George Kodama is a pretty intelligent tough guy investigating an incident that occurred in the small town of Kimujuku over 15 years ago. However, the local town folk have been feeling a bit uneasy since the arrival of this wandering stranger.

George is soon caught up in the middle of a bloody gang fight as both groups fight for overall control of the town. Amidst the fighting, shootings, and deadly alliances, will George find the clues to his mystery or will he find himself face down in a body-bag?

The Review!
While it's not subtle, the samurai drama format that's been popular for so long on Japanese TV takes another spin in anime form in a modern format.

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 features a lot of small moments of directionality with both voices and ambient sound effects that help enhance the mood and pacing of the show. It's not terribly strong and can be difficult to discern a lot of it if there's other noise in the room, but there are some very enjoyable small moments. Dialogue throughout is clean and clear and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions on either track during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2001, the transfer for Kaze no Yojimbo is very good looking throughout the bulk of the print. Colors are solid and provide a good mixture of subtle earthy tones and a number of very vibrant areas. The darks are very well done, particularly one scene where it shows the night sky in the distance but you can still make out the darker shadow of the tree and mountain line along the horizon, though the two nearly blend. There's some cross coloration showing up in a few parts of the episodes but it's pretty minor. Where it's most noticeable is in the episode title cards that are after each opening sequence where the character artwork is pretty much full of rainbows. Other than that, this is a very good looking transfer.

Paying homage to its roots, the cover here with the original series name combined with the color palette of an almost sepia feel gives an impression of an old movie poster from something quite some time ago. The more solid and striking colors of George's outfit help to offset that but it only provides the background to really stand out even more in contrast with him. The back cover is a bit more traditional looking with a number of screenshots set up as a collage across the middle as well as a few other places. There's a brief summary of the premise that lets everything grow from there and a rundown of the basic features, including listing the episodes by number and title. The insert replicates the front cover artwork and opens to a two-page spread that has individual summaries for each of the episodes with faded out shots from the episodes as well as a shot of George from an illustration piece. The back of the insert has the main rundown of production information including fully credited bilingual cast listings. A limited mini-cel is also included with the first round of releases, which is basically a flimsy pencil board that has an image of George in one of his relaxed demeanors.

Done in a letterbox mode using some of the animation from where it was done like that in the beginning of the series, the menus here are simple yet feel like they're missing something since the extras section isn't here. With the black and white feel combined with almost upbeat opening song playing along, it just has a weird vibe to it that doesn't quite seem to fit with the show. The menus are technically solid and have good access times, uses my players preset preferences and highlights which languages are selected as well.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While I haven't seen many samurai dramas in my lifetime, I've seen a fair share of the more popular live action movies. And while it may make a number of anime fans cringe, the majority of them are no different than the majority of westerns made in the 50's and on as each side was working through some of the similar themes and emotions. So while a familiarity with the samurai drama methodology of storytelling may be of some use in taking in this show, if you've seen any number of westerns over the years you'll see many of the same elements falling right into place.

The tale is one of mystery, where elements are slowly teased out as the episodes progress. The mystery is given right away, in a series of black and white scenes where a train station in the middle of winter has a train pulling in and people looking for a car that's seems to be missing. The contents of it are unknown, but scattered images of the people who are dealing with it are show before we move forward fifteen years to see a young man riding the train to the town of Kimujuku. Along the way, he ends up in a small moment of meeting with a young schoolgirl named Miyuki. Some idle conversation ensues, but it's not long before the man heads off into the town, only to stumble right into trouble.

The man, George Kodama, has come to this strange little town in search of someone named Genzo Araki. Kimujuku is one of those rail towns that has grown strangely over the years. At one point, it had been growing only on one side of the rails and it has the older red brick style of the Edo period houses and commercial properties. But after some time, the other side began to expand and took on the more modern white feel as it grew. Each side ended up being part of the same town but each feels like a different world, both in how it looks visually and how the people who live there perceive things. To George, he finds it amusing as he makes it a connection with the "White Day" holiday/festival.

George's search for Araki proves to be troublesome, partially due to Araki being such a common name in this town and there are quite a few people with it. Like anyone searching, he hits up the local areas like the police box, the local old-timer bar and eventually a hotel where he can plan his next move. Each of these places provide unique characters and situations that expand outward and start to provide teases into what's going on. In the bar, he runs up against a group of ruffians who he manages to verbally outwit and outmaster. The master of the bar is someone that he manages to win over surprisingly quickly, but not completely as the two men exchange information over ramen. His time in the hotel brings him to another Araki and with her as the hotel manager, she brings some interesting revelations to light, including the fact that she knows where Genzo is and supplies him with the address in Sendai.

While all of this goes on, there's a feel of wariness over George's arrival in the town. Kimjuku is the kind of place where you get the feel that there's nothing there for anyone unless you actually live there, so visitors are very rare and practically unwanted. George's search and his questions brings him into contact with both sides of the darker elements that seemingly control large aspects of the town, elements that want to get rid of him while at the same time evaluate him as someone they may want to bring on board their own organization. And with all of that, George uses each of them to further his search both for Genzo and information about what happened in the past that relates to the incident with the train in the winter.

All of this is played out in a slow methodical way with some very specific pacing and planning going on. While this plays out slowly, it plays itself out in such a teasing manner that once you start it really starts drawing you in. Like George, you find yourself paying attention to the details of a scene much more closely than normal and trying to piece it all together as well. Each bit is teased out in such interesting ways as he goes exploring through the town or continues to meet different people, particularly the growing number of ones who want to hire him since he's not really connected to anyone there. There's something dark and sinister going on in the town, but there's such a light feel to it that it burns all the more in wanting to know what it is.

In Summary:
We went into this show knowing absolutely nothing about it but found it to be one of the more intriguing and suspenseful shows we've seen in some time. There's the potential for so much to happen and we're barely into the show that it's just ripe for greatness. Normally mysteries like this are given over to an episode, two at the most, in most other series as part of a filler set or evolution to something bigger. Getting an entire series based around this style is fascinating to watch and the way things are so deliberately set here make it all the more interesting. This won't be for everyone, but this is something that's not like everything else out there on the shelf and that alone gets me much more interested.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles

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: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:!
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Kaze No Yojimbo