Samurai X Reflection Director's Cut (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Sunday, January 02, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, December 28, 2004
What They Say
Kenshin is a wanderer, a lost soul, cursed to seek atonement for his life in the bloody trade of the samurai, known throughout all Japan as the Hitokiri Battousai ("sword-bearing master assassin"). The peacetime after a long war to overthrow a corrupt government has brought no peace to Kenshin, despite a vow to draw his sword only for the protection of those in need. Now his wife Kaoru steadfastly awaits his return, mourning his absence as well as that of their son, Kenji. Will Kenshin return before she dies of grief? The past meets the present fifteen years since Kenshin left.
Experiencing the same kind of touch up as the original OVA series did, the two-part series gets some new footage and is presented as one feature length movie.
Having followed all of Kenshin’s adventures in Japanese so far, it’s only natural to continue with that here. The track is a solid and rather nicely immersive 5.1 mix that provides some good depth in many areas, such as the ocean sequence right at the start or during the swordplay scenes where you can hear the blades coming towards the screen. Dialogue is nice and clear throughout and we had no issues with dropouts or distortions.
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and encoded for anamorphic display, the transfer here looks very solid and avoids the problems of the first individual episode release which had a fair bit of shimmering during some of the still sequences. This is pretty much eliminated here and the transfer across the board just looks fantastic. There's a slight touch of grain that's noticeable in some scenes but I don't think that really detracts but instead adds to the presentation. Colors are vivid, cross coloration is non-existent and the depth of the blacks is fantastic. Most people will just love how this looks.
In a way, I know the packaging portion of this is going to sound petty, but it's something that ADV made a conscious choice with several years ago by wanting to separate their product from the TV series with the different name but still wanting to keep the fans happy. The cover art for this release is really nice with a pair of images against a really beautiful painted background; the top image has a tender moment between Kaoru and Kenshin while the bottom half has a shot of him in a stronger fighting pose. The back cover is mostly black but has a slash across it in blood red where underneath it you can see clips from the show and more of the painted cherry blossom trees. The summary covers the basics and the discs features are clearly listed though slightly different from what was originally solicited. The production information and basic technical information line the bottom. The insert has the fighting pose Kenshin imagery along with a shot of Jinchu and Kaoru on one side while the reverse side has a nearly smiling Kenshin set against the cherry blossom trees that also lists all the extras and scene selections.
So what's the petty part? Originally the release was solicited with a reversible cover which would work just like the previous releases of the OVAs and movies from ADV in that the reverse side would contain the Kenshin logo itself and usually a bit of different artwork. Sadly, no reverse cover is actually with this release and that's going to mess up a number of collections for people since they've reversed all their other covers and keep the OVAs and TV series releases together. Considering how anal fans are about covers that are slightly miss-cut and crooked, omitting a reversible cover on a series that really needed one and had a key history of having one after all the controversy a few years ago is just bad publicity and gives some an easy shot to make about it. As of this writing, we're still hoping that it's simply an oversight or replication issue and that dual-sided covers will be provided to those who request them or for people to be able to pick them up at conventions, much like was done when a print run on a previous release missed a chunk of them.
Using the action pose Kenshin image from the cover slight set to the right, the menu has some background motion animation going on in the red filter mixed with the blacks that gives it a lively yet somber feel with the instrumental music that plays along with it. It's a good looking menu and definitely better than some of their earlier Kenshin releases. Access times are nice and fast and the disc correctly read our players' language presets.
The extras section is nicely rounded out for this release. There’s about half a dozen interviews with the Japanese cast that was done on the two Japanese releases where each of the actors talks about reprising their roles or other aspects. They run varying lengths, but seem to average about five minutes each. The opening and ending sequence are provided in clean format and there's also a video gallery of production stills. Depending on your interest, the commentary track is fairly interesting but can be a challenge. It's done with the ADR director and the English voice actors for Kenshin, Sanosuke and Kaoru. Part of the challenge to it is that they try to be somewhat oblique to the TV series since they don't exactly want to be mentioning another company but they do want to talk about the series itself since so much of it is recreated in the show here. Thankfully the OVA really does stand alone as a single tale so it's not entirely necessary to talk much about the TV run, but bringing in the smaller elements from it in some of the plots and fights does help to jog your memory on some of the extra meanings that weren't kept in this telling of it. It's also very useful in that they tend to point out the new footage as they see it. There is some amusing commentary about the amount of depression in the show and how its reflected in the show, but if you're a big fan of Kenshin you'll not necessarily be wanting to correct what's being said but being frustrated in that they're not being as detailed as they could be in explaining the importance of some scenes.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Unlike the first OVA series, I wasn't against the idea of a "director's cut" theatrical version of this two part series, mostly because in creating it they didn't need to butcher a series of full frame episodes into a faux-widescreen form in order to give it that theatrical feel. With the show already in widescreen all that needed to be done was add in some bridging animation to make it seamless and they'd be fine. They did touch up a few other areas but otherwise it's relatively an easy transition from the two OVA episodes into this feature. And just like the OVA release, this one completely sucked me in right from the start with its somber tone and sad eyes.
After the end of the TV series, I wasn’t sure if I could get back into the Kenshin world again after experiencing that much of it. I had seen the first of these OVA’s raw back when it came out in Japan and just marveled at the visuals. With the knowledge now of the end of the TV series and having a translated version here, I’ve found myself to truly look at this volume as the proper end of the Kenshin mythos.
The two OVA’s, produced some three years after everything else had been completed, brings us to a different point in time in the lives of the cast we know so well. It’s well over fifteen years later, as Kenshin and Kaoru are now married and they have a fifteen year old son named Kenji. But the life from where we left off didn’t go in the happily ever after road that most people hope stories do.
We learn through flashbacks that even after all these years, the Meiji government still relies on Kenshin. Coming to him again, they ask him to go the continent to help out with the war there. So many of the soldiers of the day grew up in a relatively peaceful country that they don’t know quite what to do, so they need the leadership of one of the most violent men from one of the most violent times. Kenshin agrees to go, as he knows he’s needed and it’s another chance for atonement, but he goes not to wage war but to help others.
Kenshin’s left a lot over the years, as we learn again and again through the flashbacks. Kaoru waits for him patiently each time, and finds herself at the docks whenever a new ship arrives. But this time is different, as Kenshin has been lost at sea for quite some time, especially as we see him falling under in the first minute of the show. But Kaoru waits, as the two have a bond and a promise to each other. But as Kaoru waits, she begins to fall ill, an illness that Kenshin also has as the two have shared their burdens over the course of their marriage.
Through her illness, we take a trip back in time to when she first tried to hunt him down and through the Kyoto arc. We see Jin’e kidnap her and the events that follow that. A good portion of the two episodes in places are flashbacks to things we’ve seen in the series but done up in the OVA character design style, giving it a new freshness. They also expand the dialogue for these scenes, providing new bits before and after that help flesh out the inner turmoil of Kenshin and the understanding nature of Kaoru. The depth of their unspoken relationship at this stage becomes all the more apparent through her eyes.
There are plenty of new bits of course. The Jin’e section provides some extremely gorgeous visuals as the two fight it out. And the big draw is the Jinchu piece where Enishi kidnaps Kaoru to draw Kenshin out over a blood vengeance he’s sworn for many years. It’s entirely too short and you know it’s missing a lot of valuable information, but it still plays out beautifully here for its short time. But in the end, the focus here isn’t really on the battles Kenshin has fought, but on the relationship between him and Kaoru. During the last large segment of the second episode, as you know the world is changing around everyone and Japan is continuing to enter another age, you almost can’t help but to get emotional over the very simple romance of Kenshin and Kaoru and just how connected they are. It’s this connection that needed to be much more visible during parts of the series to bring it up even more.
Rurouni Kenshin: Reflection is both exciting and sad. While the emotions don’t run quite as high as the original OVA series with Kenshin and Tomoe, the interconnectedness of it all and the drawing of the curtain on this particular tale helps to bring it up above quite a number of OVA series out there. I still hope for the remaining epics to be animated, but I am also quite content to see this as the final close. While it doesn't reflect the mood of the series, the way you can interpret how it's being told can account for much of that. In a way, the OVA series and subsequent director's cuts aren't intended to continue or explain the TV series but rather to complement it while standing alone. Having much of the TV series covered here in this different design and more serious style of storytelling almost has you wanting to see various arcs from the series re-animated in this form and with this kind of style to it. This release in terms of content and technical is just great and if it wasn't for such a silly and petty thing as a bad cover, would have been one of the best ways ADV could have ended 2004.
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Interviews with the original Japanese vocal cast, Clean opening and closing animation, Production sketches (video), Commentary with J Shanon Weaver (Kenshin) Gray Haddock (Sanosuke) & Katherine Catmull (Kaoru),
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: A
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+/F
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 17 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
Running time: 98
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Rurouni Kenshin (aka Samurai X)