Shura no Toki Vol. #1 (of 6) (

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, December 23, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, November 16, 2004

What They Say
According to legend, there was a group of warriors known as the Mutsu clan who were a match for any samurai even though they fought without weapons. To keep a young nobleman safe, a passerby with the name of Yakumo Mutsu becomes his bodyguard. The young master soon realizes he has gained the protection of a legendary and invincible weaponless warrior.

The Review!
Centering on a much earlier period than normal, Shura no Toki focuses on some legends of the time and a man who fights without weapons.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix is nicely done for it with some noticeable directionality across the forward soundstage in some of the fight scenes, particularly where you can hear the kicks moving across it. Though there is some directionality here it isn't the bulk of the show and it goes by pretty fast but the dialogue and ambient effects come across well and the musical pieces are solid. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Being a very new show, the transfer is clean and pretty free of problems. The usual minor issues such as some cross coloration or aliasing aren't noticeable at all and the authoring is void of any noteworthy moments of blocking. Colors look good and are solid throughout while not being overly vibrant or problematic with gradient issues.

Using the same artwork as the Japanese cover but with a bit of modification to make it a bit darker looking, we get a decent looking piece with the two main characters that run through this volume in a standard pose with flames behind them. It's not the best artwork of the series but the rest of the Japanese covers aren't exactly the best out there either. The back cover continues the dark look and provides a number of shots from the show surrounding the shows premise summary. The discs features are clearly listed and the usual production information takes up some decent space. The technical information grid provides all the very useful information that makes a purchase even easier with its clear listings. The insert uses some of the artwork from the front cover and provides the chapter listings for all of the episodes while the reverse side is just boxart advertisements for other shows.

The menu uses the same artwork from the cover with the series logo taking up most of the screen while a small split along the left side allows for the actual selections. With not many extras expected for this series based off of the Japanese release, the extras are listed along the top level of the menu and quickly available. As is normal with most Media Blasters releases, language selection is accurate via presets but the menus don't indicate which language is chosen when you view it.

The only extras included in this release are the textless opening sequence and a set of production sketches.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Going back to the Heian era, some ten years or so after the famous battle at Sekigahara, Shura no Toki (Age of Chaos) plays around with a number of notable swordsmen of the day. With few series really going into much detail in this era that come over to this side of the ocean, there isn't quite the sense of familiarity or crowding that you get from other series where the settings and politics you could almost pass a college course based on it just from what you learn from the shows.

Shura no Toki's most obvious legend is that of Musashi Miyamoto, and we get to see him here moving around the country going from place to place as he looks for those worthy of fighting and challenging enough for his level of skill. His journeys take him all over the place but a chance encounter at a roadside brings him into contact with what's potentially his biggest challenge. While defending someone who was being ganged up upon, he gets a strong vibe from the happy looking man eating next to all of this that's barely paying attention. But he doesn't flinch as Miyamoto gets very close to him and even gets a little blood on his forehead. The sense of someone strong here just seeps out of him.

Miyamoto's defeat of the goons has the guardian of the young man that was being attacked begging him to take on the job of bodyguard as his uncle is trying to kill him to consolidate power within the family after his father was killed. Miyamoto refuses but suggests that they hire the other person. Not knowing anything about him or even seeing him perform, the simple recommendation from Miyamoto is all that they need. To both their surprise, the young man eating only wants his meal paid for and he'll take on the job. For five mon, he becomes a bodyguard and introduces himself as Yakumo Mutsu.

Yakumo is the kind of character that you can sense a relation to a number of other popular wandering heroes. He's got that smile about everything, he doesn't seek a fight but will gladly accept a challenge, food is his favorite thing since he often goes days without and he's pretty much one with nature, often enough so that he can even impress a monk. Yakumo's also something of a rarity in that he's a Mutsu, a clan that's had a particular style of fighting for a couple of hundred years now that is supposedly undefeated and uses no weapons, just the body itself. Unassuming as he is, most people don't believe it but then when the situation arises, he simply amazes.

This happens when the young master flees the compound for a bit and takes a dip in the nearby waterfall, which allows Yakumo to confirm something he said to him. But that gets put to the side when the young masters uncle's hired killers arrive, both in the form of some of his own warriors and a hired-out Yagyu clan member. The ninja observing everything tells the tale of the Mutsu clan but nobody really believes until Yakumo takes out nearly a dozen men in under a couple of seconds with simple lightning fast reflexes and perfect punches and kicks. It's a really fun thing to watch as it's very reminiscent of how you felt the first time you saw something like Kenshin using his skills after seeing him only wander around and talk like he did. Yakumo has a similar sense but it's definitely different enough that it has him walking a much different path.

From there things split as we watch the main characters all walking their different paths. Miyamoto continues in search of who he wants to challenge him, Yakumo goes about his wandering like the clouds and the young master returns to deal with the problems of his uncle. All of these paths slowly start to intermingle again but not until the ones not directly watching Yakumo play out a bit and we get to see more of what's out there. Miyamoto's tale follows him to Edo where he's trying to challenge the chief instructor of the Shogun, which would only cause innumerable problems since he's not seeking to take over that position, as well as meeting up with his young apprentice who is eager to follow him around on his journeys once more.

Shura no Toki is a really interesting show and one that by the descriptions and the cover I wouldn't have thought I'd enjoy it at all. The flow of the episodes is interesting in that a story you'd expect would run to the end of the episode to close out like most shows do instead ends halfway through and the shifts to something else. There are the usual clichés involved in the series though of this nature, from the spunky young apprentice that isn't really being trained to the princess that comes in out of nowhere and finds herself enthralled with Yakumo, even though you know the social situation wouldn't allow her to do hardly anything that she actually does with him. But these are the norms for the genre and the rest of the material lets it rise above some of this.

In Summary:
With a lead character that doesn't use weapons, other than a dumpling skewer on occasion, it's a nice change of pace for a series in this kind of setting. Similar to others, it's populated by very likeable characters, nicely choreographed action scenes and a sense of confidence to tell tale it wants at its own pace. The action is well done, the characters look good and have plenty of personality and there's a lot of potential here based off these first five episodes. I'm looking forward to seeing whether this series will be a continual surprise or a disappointment as it goes on.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening,Art Gallery

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, 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: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
MSRP: 29.95
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Shura no Toki