Mirage of Blaze: Rebels of the River Edge (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, September 02, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, August 30, 2005

What They Say
Takaya, a young man who is possessed by the spirit of an ancient warlord named Kagetora, now fights evil spirits in modern day Japan. Separated from his vassal Naoe because of their feelings for each other, he goes to high school like any other boy his age. Then, he hears of an assassination attempt carried out by a mysterious new Possessor with the power of fire. All paths lead to his friend Ayako, a male Possessor in a female body. But she had her own forbidden romance that was keeping her from revealing the secrets of the past.

The Review!
After a chaotic but enjoyable TV series, Mirage of Blaze returns for a much tighter self contained three part OVA story.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix for the show does a good job in terms of directionality and depth when it comes to the action sequences and has a number of really good moments overall while the dialogue itself is pretty well contained to a very fairly standard stereo mix. The opening and closing songs in particular come across very nicely here. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions.

Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this OVA series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. While the TV series was fairly dark and murky during a lot of it, the transition to the higher budget OVA series eliminates some of that grainy feel and leaves us with a very smooth and clean print that has wonderful looking black and blue scenes at night and some very vibrant colors mixed into it. When various characters are fighting in the middle of the night and the flames or blue shields appear, they're so visually striking and stand out so strong that it shows just how good the black levels are. With this being such a recent OVA and done with a good budget, the quality shines through with this transfer.

Using the artwork from one of the Japanese OVA releases, the pairing of the two lead characters in embrace here with the shattered glass breaking the image up, though you still get to see plenty of Takaya's bare chest, looks really good against the bold blood red background. The designs are nicely detailed and really play up the look that the fangirls love of these guys. The back cover is done in a cross format with pictures from the show laid out around it that are really eye-catching with the way they're filtered while the center strip has the brief summary and feature list. The discs technical information is clean and easy to read, even though the aspect ratio is wrong. It's listed as 1.33:1 and full screen while the image for it is 16:9 as are the clips shown on the package. No insert was included with this release.

This is one of the first discs with the new Anime Works logo that I've seen on it, so gone were the opening pieces with the star filled Media Blasters logo and their rental company advertisement as well. This leaves a very quick loading menu now that gets right to the point which has the image used from the third Japanese release of Takaya being embraced by Tachibana from behind set against a splotchy red background. The menu selections are lined along a cross shape pattern next to them and a bit of music plays along as well. Access times are nice and fast and navigation is quick and simple but unfortunately our player's language presets were not picked up and it defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.

This release has a nice selection of extras included with it. There's a fifteen minute interview with Toshiko Seki as he talks about his experiences in the role of Takaya and the show in general while Show Hayami does the same about his role as Naoe in a ten minute interview. There's also a group interview session that's done after the final episode ADR Session is shown that's fun to watch which includes the voice actress for Haruie. Rounding out the extras is a clean version of the opening and closing sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Mirage of Blaze TV series was a fun show that played with the idea of feudal warriors from the past that have survived in a slightly different form for centuries and possess bodies or reincarnate in the present and use their memories and abilities to try and create a new kingdom in the feudal underworld. The TV series focused on a couple of stories that led up to a naturally large closing piece but it also had to deal with revealing who everyone was in past lives and the lead characters dealing with it.

With the three episodes here, we get a much tighter show that does some of what the TV series had to do but is scripted with much more focus to it. There isn't much in the way of introductions of the characters as the show starts up. Takaya has been spending a lot of his time working as an exorcist around the country and while he isn't weary from it, he's resigned to it being a busy life for awhile and just getting on with it. There's little time with him spent at school again before he's sent off to Kyoto to deal with the latest. This matches the timing of a surprising change from the TV series as we see Tachibana isn't quite as close to Takaya as he once was and is currently working as a secretary for a businessman that's dealing with some issues personally and with his company.

The businessman apparently retained Tachibana's services due to what's going on with his dreams and other spiritual related issues as he's been haunted by the image of a woman. Tachibana provided a talisman that's helped but he's also there due to some of the death threats he's received. When the person whose been making them shows up and displays the powers of a Possessor, Tachibana's able to learn more about what's really going on from him and forces the issue. Apparently some time ago he came into possession of an old Mandala that was related to his own heritage but now someone wants to buy it from him and he's intent on doing it to save his company. But the woman in his dreams is trying to get him to protect it.

The Mandala is an interesting and fairly creepy piece this time around. While normally a mat that's used for prayer, this one in particular has been made from the hair of members of the Araki clan back in the past and it has such strong ties to them. As it turns out, a new movement is underway in the feudal underworld now where members of the Ikko Sect and others are combining with remnants of the Araki to make a power play. Two brothers are coordinating a lot of this and in order to control things properly, they need that Mandala to be able to pull it off.

It's with this that the background is drawn up as Tachibana starts looking into what's going on while Takaya and Haruie are on their way to try and help out. There is of course some interesting character issues that come into play when along the way Haruie reveals some of her past to Takaya from when she was Kyoto some two hundred years prior and had fallen in love with someone. So it's not surprise when we see someone who looks identical to him and is apparently his reincarnated version and Haruie finds herself drawn to him and unable to do what she needs to do on the spot. Takaya has less of this problem during their first encounter and it provides for some interesting fight moments.

With three episodes to the show, it's hard to go into too much detail about what makes it work so well because it reveals too many plot points as it progresses and there are some nice feints along the way and the revelations are fun to watch as it goes along. The show does suffer from some of what made the TV series difficult to watch in that there are so many names and groups, presumably with some historical significance, that as a casual viewer it can be difficult to keep up with at times. By the third episode with so many characters running around and references to past events and personas, it can start to just to seem like a blur.

This is a rather good mini arc however and it plays out well with being just three episodes so it avoids a lot of pointless fluff or filler. The animation itself is very slick looking and the already great looking designs look even better here with the higher budget. They play out some of the yaoi aspects of the characters relationship in one surprisingly blunt scene but even that is used to provoke something in the plot to move things forward and nudge some good character development out of it. What continues to impress me the most as I rewatch it is just how good the action scenes are in the visuals department. The first fight that Takaya gets in is great to watch with the way the shadows fall from his powers and the bigger fight at the end with the Tengu Goblins launching was eerie but fascinating to watch.

In Summary:
As a standalone piece, this OVA isn't too friendly to new folks in explaining a lot of the premise as it just goes right into the story. For fans of the original series who wanted to see more, this is definitely something that will please on a lot of levels. The mixture of drama, action and the exploration of the relationship between Takaya and Tachibana is handled well. The animation for the series is lavish at times and maintains a solid level of quality that really puts the TV series to shame. Having enjoyed the TV series but knowing its flaws, the OVA is a solid follow-up and one that will surely please its fans.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Toshihiko Seki Interview,Show Hayami Interview,Group Interview,Textles Opening,Textless Ending

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, 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: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
MSRP: 29.95
Running time: 90
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Mirage of Blaze