Peacemaker Vol. #5 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, May 24, 2005



What They Say
A web of treachery awaits the men of the Shinsengumi. Spun by an Onmyou mystic in the charge of a fallen and unbalanced lord, it threatens to destroy the Shinsengumi altogether. At the same time, a man posing as Okita has begun cutting down Shogunate patrols, while a band of Choshu ronin make a brazen assault in broad daylight! But the Shinsengumi have their own web-weavers – and they send a spy straight into the heart of the Choshu clan. As the trap closes its jaws, who is hunter and who is prey?


The Review!
After all the fun and hijinks of the first half of the series, things now turn serious as the forces aligned to destroy the Shinsengumi and the city start to make their moves.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The Japanese side of the show contains a straightforward and solid sounding stereo mix. The series has a good sense of directionality across the forward soundstage with lots of wind style sounds being used for the swordplay moments as well as things such as leaves moving around during the stylish moments. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and there's some good placement to it. The English track has a 5.1 mix to it which comes across a bit louder and sharper but is essentially the same as the stereo mix from what we heard.

Video:
Originally airing in 2003, the transfer for this show is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. With the show taking place in older times, there's the standard color palette used for it and the colors in general are fairly muted and earthy. There aren't a lot of really vibrant moments and even things like the bloody scenes are done with dark reds and not bright shades. Some of the night time backgrounds, which use a bit of a softer set of blues to it, showed a bit of blocking in a couple of scenes but not too much that was distracting. The main problem that comes across with the transfer is inherent in the source with the amount of color gradation that's visible. It's not in every scene but there are a number of sequences where it shows strongly, particularly with the darkly colored kimono's. Colors in general look really good and cross coloration is blissfully absent as well as being very minimal in regards to aliasing.

Packaging:
Using the same artwork and even the same logo as the Japanese release, the cover features a solid looking picture of what I'm presuming is Suzu since the hair color is off with him laying on the ground in his outfit and looking calm and peacefu. The colors and expansive white section really makes everything stand out nicely here. The back cover continues to the white feel but is a bit darker and has a bloodied strip collage of shots from the show along the top. There are a couple paragraphs of a decent summary next to the list of the discs extras. The rest is filled out by the thick section of production credits and the very lovely technical grid that holds all the important information. The cover is also reversible with that side providing the Japanese cover art of a gorgeous illustration of a pair of the adult women from the show. This artwork is also the front of the included booklet. The booklet folds out into several pages and has quite a bit of information, from text interviews with the staff, side stories and a few full color character design sketches.

Menu:
The menu layout is nicely done for the most part and definitely sets it up right for the show. Using the same kind of look as the box artwork with the mix of off-whites and blood trails, the foreground gets set with the sword from the first volume cover and adds in some falling cherry blossoms while underneath the splotches you get some very obscured bits of animation playing through. The only downside to the menu is that it feels like the clip of music used is so short and abrupt when it ends that it's going faster than it should. It's not a menu you can leave on for any length of time without getting frustrated by it. The menus are very easy to navigate and easy to access with quick load times. I still wish there was a way to return directly to the main menu from the trailers though. The disc also correctly read our players language presets properly which is always a big plus.

Extras:
There's a good selection of extras here that should please both sides of the fence that mirrors the previous volume quite a bit. The opening and ending sequence are presented again in their clean format and a new array of production sketches is available in video form. The Character Collection continues with this volume and this time it's for several of the secondary members of the Shinsengumi as well as Yamanami. Like the previous ones, it's a video piece that runs just under two minutes or so and sort of gives you a quick feel for the characters. It's in Japanese only but it is subtitled. Unlike past volumes, no commentary track was done for this release.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With another volume of three episodes, Peacemaker actually makes out fairly decently with the small arc that's included here since it does a good job of following up on the setup of previous volumes and advancing things nicely and leaving you hanging just right before ending things out.

There's a couple of paths that this volume follows with the tales it tells and between the character bits and the overall story arc, it's good to finally see things coming together for the latter. In terms of characters, the real focus is fairly minimal but Tetsu gets some really good time across these episodes and it's time without him for the most part acting like an overactive and hyper idiot. We see from the start that the time he does spend outside of his chores is being focused on learning with the sword and he's starting to not only be able to hold his own against some of his sparring partners but able to surprise them on occasion as well. His talent is finally starting to show through. But at the same time, some of his inner demons are showing through as well and we see this via his dreams where the ghastly images torment him. Tetsu takes a back seat for most of this volume but when we do see him, he has seemingly visibly matured.

The other path that's followed is that the attacks on the Shinsengumi in general are finally heightened, and as Hijikata comments at one point after an attack, they aren't being threatened by the country bumpkin samurai that used to hit them but rather some very well trained people that give some challenge to the group. Two different sides continue to push against the Shinsengumi in the form of Yoshida with what he's working on with Suzu as well as the (unnamed?) gentleman that employs an Onmyou. The latter is where things get interesting but also just annoying with this volume in that they bring in a strong assassin type to cause trouble for the Shinsengumi.

The new player is a young man named Kichisaburo who for all intents and purposes is an exact duplicate of Okita except for the way they wear their hair across the face. From mannerisms, poise and dialogue, the two are evenly matched. Kichisaburo is even able to fool one of the young women who has a crush on Okita into believing that he's really him if not for some of the things he goes on about, such as his love of killing. Using Kichisaburo, they're able to spread dissent and disgust as he starts killing the local police types and others in the area and he's able to cast suspicion and distrust on the Shinsengumi over it. But he does take it too far at times and even invades their compound where Hijikata is able to sense him out and realize just how powerful he is.

The increase in the action is a welcome change here as the series has darkened up considerably in these three episodes, especially since it shifts the focus onto the "adult" characters of the show, places the action outdoors and in a rainy environment and doesn't pull back from the bloody violence of swordplay. The mingling of the various plots is nicely done here in between the action, and there's even a great bit where we have Sakamoto being brought in to talk with Yoshida about things. Sakamoto continues to be my favorite character in this show, from the tunes he whistles to the way he simply struts around and looks with his cowboy hat. He also manages to provide some good words of advice to Tatsu since the two always seem to end up together, which is awkward considering all that's gone on with them in the past but it certainly does make things interesting.

In Summary:
Peacemaker manages to provide a concise and small arc within the larger arc that we get for the second and ending half of the series so even while it is over quick, it does bring most things to a resolution that matter while the overall storyline still continues on. The show has some fun with mystics and Onmyou here as well as expanding the swordplay outside of the training halls. This is the kind of material I wish we had seen ten episodes ago but that isn't the story they wanted to tell just yet. This volume proved to be much more enjoyable for a number of reasons and has me actively looking forward to the next two volumes to see how they wrap things up.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Clean open and ending animation,Production sketches, Character Collection 5: Shinpachi Nagakura; Sanosuke Harada & Heisuke Todo,Character Collection 6: Keisuke Yamanami

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, 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: 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: Peacemaker