Shadow Skill TV Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Brett Barkley
Review Date: Thursday, November 17, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, November 15, 2005



What They Say
The kingdom of Kuruda has known many warriors, but none greater than the Sevalle, an elite breed whose mastery of martial arts has made them legendary. But for the 59th Sevalle, Elle Ragu, a.k.a. Shadow Skill, being a legend is shaping up to be something of a drag. After all, adventure alone doesn't pay the rent, and living check to check takes its toll on even the fiercest warrior.

Strong as an ox and stubborn as a mule she may be, but it's drinking like a fish that usually gets Elle in trouble. And as she travels alongside her brother Gau, leaving property damage and unpaid bar-tabs in their wake, a new threat looms on the horizon: spies from the kingdom of Solfan have entered the picture, and Kuruda seems to be headed for war...

The Review!
Another contender in the martial arts/fantasy genre, but how well does this series stack up to the competition?

Audio:

In terms of audio options, Shadow Skill Vol. I offers English 2.0 and Japanese 2.0 with subtitles. Both audio tracks are fairly standard and are certainly clear without distortion. While definitely solid, the audio doesn’t really stand out as anything spectacular. While both audio options are very solid, I feel the humor comes across a bit better in the English dub.


Video:

Shadow Skill Vol. I is presented in the original 4:3 full frame aspect ratio. Originally airing in 1998, Shadow Skill looks clean, lacking notable scratches and dust. The blacks are primarily true and the colors, while definitely appearing muted, are consistent and solid throughout. I did note some jagged line edges and blurriness, but this was very minimal.


Packaging:

Shadow Skill Vol. I ships in a standard keep case and features the series leads, Elle Ragu and Gau Ban set prominently against a large moon on a midnight background. The Shadow Skill logo is featured across the top of the front cover, the title, “Fight for the Ones You Love” across the bottom. The cover image itself is a fairly standard action pose, but, unlike Gau who almost completely disappears against the night blue of the background, Elle, featured in the foreground, really pops, her uniform colors offering just enough contrast the darker background to stand out.

The reverse cover features a background somewhat akin to blood soaked granite and features a stylized version of the logo at the top of the case. Just below that is a brief synopsis of the series that, while offering insight in to the feel and creators of the series, gives no indication as to what transpires in the included episodes. A gritty horizontal montage of images from within marks the middle of the reverse cover. The four episode listings are clearly indicated just below this and disc and credits information occupies the lower quarter of the cover.

Shadow Skill Vol. I includes an insert featuring the cover image (sans the volume title along the bottom of the screen) on one side and some line art images on the reverse. Set against more of the blood-spattered background as found on the disc reverse, the line art features a number of the primary characters along the top, with two images (a full body and bust shot of Elle Ragu) occupying the majority of the insert. While having a nice look, the line art for these images, however, is reproduced in white, which makes it a bit difficult to separate from the busy background.


Menu:

While simple and primarily monochromatic, the Shadow Skill Vol 1 menu certainly has attitude. The menu opens with a side-scrolling effect as the logo, in text nearly as tall as the screen moves to center on the stylized image of Elle Ragu’s face. Slightly above this is the episode listing one through four and below are options for the second volume preview, language options, ADV previews and DVD credits. The entire image is primarily red, the only true blacks being the image of Elle and the disc options. The background is a pulsing red spatter effect echoing the look of blood-spattered granite from the disc reverse cover. A brief audio clip loops throughout. The menu is very easy to navigate and all options are distinct.


Extras:

Shadow Skill Vol. I offers only a preview of the second volume, disc credits, ADV previews and language options.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)

Shadow Skill is a martial arts fantasy based on the 1992 manga series created by Mugumu Okada and is a re-imagining of sorts of two OVAs (or four, as the last OVA was released as both a movie and three separate OVAs) from 1995 through 1996. This series, released in 1998, while retaining much the same characters and settings as the original OVAs, is a departure from what has come before in that it is distinctly more light-hearted tone.

Shadows Skill Vol. I follows Elle Ragu a.k.a. Shadow Skill and adopted brother Gau Ban and a small band on their adventures throughout the kingdom of Kuruda. This powerful is kingdom renowned and feared for its elite warrior cast, known as Sevalles. This class of warrior’s grasp of the martial arts elevates them beyond all others, making them alone capable of spectacularly devastating moves and techniques. In the kingdom’s history, there have been a number of prominent Sevalles. Elle Ragu, a young and headstrong girl is the fifty-ninth and most recent in the class. As prone to wild drunken binges and massive property damage as she is to glorious technique in combat, it is often the mistakes she makes in the former that drives her need to earn money in the latter. Her adopted brother Gau stands by her side and primarily serves as the clearer head and her conscience. While several years younger than Elle, Gau hopes to be a Sevalle one day as well and is a skilled fighter in his own right. The two are joined by Faurink Maya a.k.a. Folli, a Plasmatizer (or Energist depending on what audio track you’re listening to), which is something akin to a magic or talisman user, and Kyuo Lyu, the last member of the fallen Phantoms (an elite and highly regarded group of demon beast hunters of the Septias). Folli is older than the others and tags along in an attempt to both safeguard and shepherd the fifty-ninth Sevalle. Kyou has joined the ragtag group as she has nowhere else to go, no living family left. While older than Gau, she appears far more naïve.

As the first four episodes of the Shadow Skill series are aimed primarily at establishing characters and bringing together the small group of four, much of the screen time is dedicated to character interaction. And to this extent, the viewer gets a fairly clear understanding of Elle and Gau, and a number of insights in to their relationship, as well as back story on how Kyou came to join their group. At this point in the series, the main focus of the group is on finding money to repay Elle’s debts as they move from town to town and job to job. The story does offer some foreshadowing of lingering threat from neighboring nations in the form of spies and assassination attempts on the Sevalle, but this is only groundwork, as no clear antagonist has been established. In fact, Elle and crew have handily defeated all who have even attempted to challenge them.

Though I did find Shadow Skill Vol. I to be a bit slow in terms of establishing an overarching plot (why these characters have come together, what they’ll be called to do, who they will be called to fight, etc.), there are a number of aspects the series does well. Action sequences are done nicely, albeit traditionally, with characters calling out moves and talismans revealing their powers vocally before unleashing on the enemy. The action flows quickly and there are a number of interesting moves and techniques employed. There was a very kinetic/high attitude feel to the battle cry/pre-battle scenes, featuring bold text stamped across the screen and coloration drastically more vibrant than found throughout the rest of the episodes. This worked both for and against the series, however, as I wish the battle sequences themselves would have benefited from this same high-impact coloration, as they would have likely felt even more energetic. But again, in these four episodes, the fighting wasn’t as much the emphasis as was the character building.

Another of the series’ strongest aspect can be found in the strong character-building dialogue. The sibling-esque relationship between Elle and Gau is probably the most interesting as it endears the viewer to both characters, while also allowing a fairly clear perspective on their personalities. Toward this end, I feel the English dub works probably the best in relaying the more humorous aspects of the character interactions and features some great acting, particularly on the parts of Luci Christian and Greg Ayres in their roles as Elle and Gau respectively.

The art and animation found in Shadow Skill Vol. I is definitely acceptable. For the most part, the art is solid and attractive, particularly in regard to many of the designs of the primary characters. The series employs a number of painted backgrounds, and while they appear a little too static (in scenes with fire and smoke in the distance, for instance), they are nicely done nonetheless. The coloring, aside from a select few instances, appears muted and maybe a bit flat, which makes the episodes feel a bit aged, but works for the series setting.

For the most part, the designs of the primary cast are interesting and unique. Elle is one of the most muscular female fighting characters I can recall from recent memory. However, the creators manage to make her at once formidable and powerful in appearance, but also attractive. Her outfit, while certainly giving her the appearance of a warrior, also enhances her femininity. Gau, while similarly dressed appears smaller and lither. Both of the costumes place emphasis on the fighting aspect of the series, separating these characters in design from the others. Folli, in contrast, utilizes a slightly more traditional design as a magic user. Kyuo is perhaps the most disappointing with an outfit more akin to something from an 80s music video than a martial arts fantasy. Whereas the other characters have designs echoing their roles or classes in Kurudan society, Kyuo doesn’t fit quite as well. I do think some more attention paid in design of the demon beasts and even some of the foes and secondary characters would have been nice, but it doesn’t detract from the series.

In Summary:

Shadow Skill Vol. I has a number of things going for it. While there’s a fair amount of martial arts action, which is done nicely, the four episodes featured on this disc go to greater lengths to define character and form the group. To this extent, the interaction between characters is done quite well, particularly Elle and Gau. I also enjoyed the slightly humorous aspect of the series and the creators manage to endearingly render Elle as a buffoonish slacker warrior while managing to prevent her character appearing too cliché.

However, this same emphasis on developing character and relationships may discourage some looking for massive amounts of martial arts mayhem. Again, while the action is certainly there, and the series has established some potential conflict and foes for later, the primary emphasis in this volume is placed on establishing characters. Additionally, the coloration for the series is a little muted, which tends to give the series a flat or dull feel. The inclusion of brighter, more vibrant coloration in the battle cry scenes makes me wish maybe the battles themselves would have been colored similarly. For the most part (with the exception of Kyuo), the designs of the primary characters are unique and interesting. I would have liked to have seen more effort put in to the demon beasts and other enemies they encounter, but this is really a minor consideration.

Shadow Skill Vol. I is slightly difficult to recommend based solely on this disc for a number of reasons. First, I have no idea where, exactly, this series is going. While some potential enemies have been established, these have only been hinted at, with no apparent antagonist making an appearance. Second, while the action is interesting, and certainly makes use of the hallmarks of the fighting genre, it takes a backseat to the establishment of the primary characters in this volume. In this regard, it would be difficult for me to recommend this series outright for fans of the martial arts anime. Finally, considering what I understand to be a fairly significant departure in tone from the previous OVA, I would have some difficulty recommending this series to fans of the Shadow Skill OVA. At this point, I can only mildly recommend this series until I’ve had an opportunity to see where it goes in the second volume.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
34” Sony FD Trinitron Wega HDTV KD-34XBR910 and Sony Dav-FR9 progressive scan Home Theatre System with 114 watts per channel to each speaker and 115 watts to each of the subwoofer's two woofers.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: TV 14
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Shadow Skill