Otogi Zoshi Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, April 11, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, March 29, 2005
What They Say
At the peak of the Heian Era, famine and disease tear the country apart, deadly assassins fill the court, and wild bandits infest the countryside. The legendary samurai Minamoto is sent on an Imperial quest for an artifact that can restore the world. But his skill with the bow cannot save him from illness, and his young sister is forced to take his place.
Hikaru Minamoto and her companions embark on a quest to find the Magatama to bring new life to Japan. Her survival in the emperor's court depends on one thing — she must keep her true identity hidden.
Set in the Heian period, Hikaru must dress up as her brother in order to search for the Magatama's that will keep their capital city safe.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese and in the 5.1 mix that was provided. Production I.G. shows have been quite good in recent memory for being able to provide a 5.1 mix along with the stereo one (which is included) and they've done some good work with those mixes. This series is fairly mellow however so it's not a terribly active mix throughout it but it does have some really good moments with directionality. Where this mix really shines is in the subwoofer aspect of it as dialogue, songs and action sequences all utilize it to one extent or another and make good use of it. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions.
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. With it being set so far back in time and during a very dark period of the country, the color palette for the series is very dark and earthy in nature, even when it uses the few vibrant colors it does. A lot of the show is a mixture of grays and blacks that's handled well and mostly maintain a very good solid feel to them. A few areas crop up here and there were you can see some blocking going on but it's rare for a large black field to really remain consistently solid from what I've seen. Colors maintain a good feel throughout this and avoid looking like it's really digitally painted and the show is free from aliasing or cross coloration as well.
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release but with a darker background to it, we get a good looking image of Hikaru in both her regular form via a face shot as well as her dress up mode when she tries to look like a man as she's pulling her bow for action. It's a nice combination of images to highlight the duality of the character while rounding it with some symbolism and text. The back cover is fairly subdued as well with a few shots from the show in circles as well as the brief summary of the shows premise. The discs features are clearly listed above the production information while the technical information is very handy to have here considering the language choices and more. The insert is a mostly black piece that has the seies name and symbol near the top of it and it opens up to provide some liner notes and helpful word translations that covers these episodes across three panels. With there being two discs in this release, the keepcase doesn't have a flippy but each side has a place to hold the disc, though it makes it so that the insert pops about when it opens up.
The main menu is a nice piece that has an animated version of Hikaru in her full kimono playing her brothers flute softly while the backgrounds shift colors and images between various locations, colors and text. It's a very soft and mellow piece, much like the show itself is once it gets underway, and it fits well with it. Access times are nice and fast and with nothing but the show and trailers on the main feature disc it's easy to navigate. The disc also correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.
With a second disc filled with extras, there's some really good stuff here that people who enjoy Production I.G.'s works will enjoy, especially since it does open something of a curtain to their world. The two big ones are the length discussion sequences with the people behind the show as they talk about how it came about, what they were working on at the time and how it all evolved from the original twenty-six episodes down to the final thirteen and a lot more. It's fun to watch these guys chain-smoke and talk about their experiences as there is such a familiarity between them and a level of comfort to say what they want. Another interesting section that shows just how much detail went into the series is a video segment with a professor at Tokyo University who specializes in this time period and was a consultant on the show to make sure they got things like clothing, weapons and more done accurately. So little is really known from this period and so little has been written and said about the common class from then that it's hard to really draw upon a lot of resources for something like this. Rounding out the extras we also get a textless version of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When it comes to the historical action/dramas that anime tends to enjoy doing, they often stay in more safe territory where there is a lot of reference material easily available, much more detailed histories and simply much more known in general so that they aren't spending a lot of time trying to figure out how things work. Otogi Zoshi puts in the hard work and goes back to the year 972, a time in the Heian era where the capital is in near ruins, the common folk are almost completely an unknown and those in power continue to play their games.
This is an interesting time period and those who are living in it are among the ones we seem to know the least about at times but have some familiarity. Within the capital that will be known as Kyoto one day, there reside many of the omyoji that serve as spiritual advisors and use their influence in the court to their own ends. They match wits with the ministers and others in the government to sway events to their own way and with the powerful backing of Abe no Seimei, this is a time where the religious side holds great power over the course of the country.
As these people play their games for power, much of the citizenry of Heian-Kyo below them are impoverished, dying in their sleep and needing aid. To help them, and more so to restore Heian-Kyo to its former glory, the Minamoto clan is given the assignment of finding the Magatama that will help bring everything back to balance. Unfortunately for the clan, the eldest brother has caught seriously ill and cannot go on the journey. Before they could lose face for this, the daughter Hikaru puts her hair up under a layered hat and binds her breasts down so that she can pass as a man and search out what her family needs. With the aid of Tsuna, a hardened older warrior, the two begin their search for the Magatama as well as the Tsuchigumo clan that is apparently causing much trouble for the various villages outside of Heian-Kyo.
The search for one Matagana then leads into a greater search for the missing two as once the first is retrieved it is truly believed that they could actually restore the city. The series follows Hikaru and Tsuna as they team up with those who come willingly with them and those who were ordered to provide services to them as they journey where the Magatama's may be. Their success in obtaining the first one through very dangerous odds in dealing with the underground camp where the Tushigumo have set up has elevated what they've done but much of it is kept secret from the majority of the people. Hikaru had hoped to return home to care for her brother back into health but instead forced to retreat to the journey so that she can avoid the problems at home and elsewhere that will plague her otherwise.
Otogi Zoshi is a very slow moving show that's about the atmosphere and mood that it conveys along the journey as the characters see how the world is outside of the capital and how people are coping with it. I'm actually surprised it's as slow and mellow as it is because it was apparently planned for twice its length at first and then brought down to just the thirteen episodes. If it was the full twenty-six I could definitely see this being one of the most laid back series out there. That's not to say there isn't action; it opens with a neat chase sequence that's layered in different mediums that really starts things off nicely and Tsuna is used often to do some of the really bloody bits of action that keeps things flowing. But it really is a road trip that's designed around finding the Magatama's and the people who end up working with them on this along the way.
With the first five episodes here, it's hard to really get a grasp on the series. I really liked the character designs and the setting since there are completely new ways of looking at things with the designs, the setting and the outlook of the characters. Their outfits are creative and the lay of the land is different from what we're used to. There are some neat historical characters kept to things and some are familiar from other series which only makes it more interesting to see a new take on them. The plot is pretty basic even with the gender issue but the lackadaisical way it moves about isn't something that's really managed to grab me yet. What's here is really creative and you can see the effort and money is right there on the screen but it's just not made that leap to really interesting yet.
Japanese 2.0 Language,Japanese 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Group Discussion 1,Group Discussion 2,Tokyo University Heian Lecture,Textless Opening,Textless Ending
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: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Otogi Zoshi