Otogi Zoshi Vol. #4 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, September 01, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, September 13, 2005

What They Say
Across time and space, the power of karma dictates that old souls will be reincarnated to right the wrongs of history. Hikaru is a 17-year old high school student who has inherited the apartment complex Minamoto Heights. Driven by a need to complete what was left unfinished, she is joined by Tsuna, a freelance writer. Together they meet Urabe, a fortuneteller, and Sadamitsu, a questionable manager of women who has taken in the orphan Kintaro. They travel across modern Japan, searching for clues about Hikaru's missing brother, Raiko.

The Review!
Shifting into the second arc of the story that moves ahead over a thousand years, Otogi Zoshi plays out an interesting angle that's usually just done as an epilogue.

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 in modern day, the color palette used for the series is completely different from the first half and unsurprisingly they do an excellent job with it. The more varied and real world style backgrounds look great and the shift to the different clothing style is handled well but kept at a level just less than overly vibrant so it's not glaring or something that takes you out of the scene. 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.

With the shift to the present, it's not surprising to see the reincarnation of Mansairaku to be in a trench coat and looking plain malevolent with the pale skin and red hair to complement it. Hikaru gets a large face shot here with a blend into Mansairaku that also showcases the modern city it just looks neat. The back cover provides a few shots from the show that highlight the changes in the characters and setting while providing a brief summary of the new premise. The discs features are clear and easy to find while the technical features fit in nicely in the technical grid along the bottom. No insert is included in this two-disc release.

The main menu is a very relaxing piece that showcases black and white sketches of the chracters moving across the screen to various locations in the present day while a very mellow instrumental piece plays along. 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.

Much like the previous volumes, a second disc is here with plenty of extras. The group discussions get two more installments here which again takes place at the bar and covers the show and the growth of the characters over time. Combined, both of these run close to fifty minutes which is full of lots of interesting information. A new music video is also present on this volume from The Hitman that deals with the new opening sequence. It's a mix of live action moments with the group and animation from the new arc. And to go with the new time period, the Tokyo University lecture shifts gears to talk about Tokyo itself this time.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
It doesn't happen too often but every now and then you get a series that ends and in their epilogue they do a flash forward to the future when things are radically different. One of my first experiences with that in anime form was the Gall Force series and it's something that's always piqued my interest since I loved that kind of shift in novels where it's much more common. So I was surprised when Otogi Zoshi wrapped up its storyline in the third volume and the previews for the next episode have the cast "reborn" in the present day of Tokyo. Surprised and excited.

With this new arc, it's definitely too early to tell exactly what's in store which is what we found with the previous one as well since how it started surely didn't give an idea as to how that would have ended. Taking place in modern day Tokyo, we're introduced to Hikaru, a late teenage girl still attending school who also happens to be something of a landlady for a small group of apartments. The block is where her older brother Raikou apparently owned or at least managed in some sense but he disappeared a year ago into the city doing some sort of mysterious research and left Hikaru in charge. Even though she's in charge, he left his friend Tsuna to watch out for her and help her when needed.

The two of them do all sorts of various jobs that come in as Tsuna is something of a writer and wants to do articles of substance but instead gets all kinds of weird little things that are paranormal related or something else. One of those stories takes him and Hikaru to one of the Yamanote crossover areas where supposedly a ghost train goes by after the line has stopped for the night. This is a very eerie sequence with the two of them watching the rails at one in the morning at the same time that Tokyo institutes a series of nightly rolling blackouts to compensate for all the heat and power usage. To Hikaru's surprise, a train does indeed go by and she's shocked to see that it's her brother inside of it. Tsuna doesn't see it and doesn't believe her story though.

The sight of her brother starts her on a path to trying to figure out exactly what he was doing when he disappeared and trying to follow his path. A bit of luck leads her to a series of photos that don't make much sense, such as the train she saw at one of the long abandoned stations, another of the city under water and others that just don't reflect reality. But reality is starting to falter around Hikaru at times and the city looks to be undergoing a lot of stress itself. As Hikaru investigates and the others that she knows as tenants, such as Urabe, Sadamitsu and Kintaro all begin to get involved in it.

One particularly telling sequence has her following a secret passageway under the city that her brother knew about. Down there she comes across the red haired man that she saw at the abandoned station that has warned her from searching for her brother. When he leaves suddenly, she gives chase but the tunnel starts filling with water along the way and she loses track of him. The strange part is that she's the only one that sees the water as everyone else is on dry concrete. But water is key to what's going on as engineers in the city are growing increasingly worried about portions that seem to be flowing into the subway system and elsewhere. With Urabe playing the updated role of a fortune teller and more, she provides the background information on the dragon chi lines throughout the city and what the various nodes have meant in the past.

The opening set of episodes for this arc really take a slow approach to getting to the story it wants to tell since it's unraveling a mystery similar to what we got in the first arc but without it being something of a traveling show. The other difference is that the characters seemingly all know each other this time around from the start, which is a real plus, so we don't have to go through the entire first meeting aspect that we got in the Heian arc. With the closer relationships right from the start and our own familiarity with their past selves, it's a little surreal at times to see them in this form, particularly Tsuna since he's got two working eyes, but it's worth it to have Urabe dressing as she does.

In Summary:
It's hard to really say much about this arc yet but I'm enjoying the way it's shifted the characters forward while retaining their designs and putting them in the present day settings. The character designs have been a plus from the start and the slight changes that they've made are working well here. The story itself is a slow building one but it has ties to the past that are obvious and being built upon. The way it's being explored is going in a slow manner but it's interesting to watch how it plays out and I'm enjoying it for the most part since I like the characters and want to see whether the Production IG folks can pull this off.

Japanese 2.0 Language,Japanese 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Tokyo University Lectures,Roundtable discussion with creators,Music video by The Hitman

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: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Otogi Zoshi