Ayakashi Samurai Horror Tales - Goddess of the Dark Tower (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, May 14, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, May 01, 2007

What They Say
In the era of medieval Japan, cultural arts flourished, territorial wars were waged, and man and demon co-existed! While attempting to retrieve a lost falcon for his feudal lord, bird handler Zushonosuke encounters and becomes irresistably drawn to Tomihime, the supernatural inhabitant of a cursed castle. As a forbidden love between a mortal and a long-forgotten goddess begins to take hold, the horrifying existence of "Forgotten Gods" who feed on humans is soon revealed, inevitably leading to a deadly clash between the shogun's army and the clan of "Forgotten Gods." Amidst the escalating chaos, will Zushonosuke ultimately sacrifice his humanity for his love over Tomihime?

The Review!
A mysterious castle filled with ghosts of the past haunts a falconer who is drawn to one of the beautiful women within.

Geneon has provided this release with two language tracks, both of which are encoded at 192 kbps. Each of them comes across decently enough but with it mostly being dialogue based with little in the way of actual action effects and minimal music it simply doesn't have much of a presence. In listening to the Japanese track primarily, there's hardly anything worth noting in terms of directionality or placement. Both tracks do come across clean and clear however and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The source materials for this show look to be in good shape which is expected but those source materials just don't look all that good in general. The transfer is pretty solid with clean and solid looking colors that have little noise in the backgrounds for the most part. Character animation has some slight aliasing at times but nothing overwhelming. Colors have some vibrancy at times but for the most part are mildly soft which appears to be intentional. Cross coloration is thankfully absent and there's not much in the way to really criticize here in terms of how the show was authored.

The front cover has a good looking illustration to it with some nice style as it mixes a central image of Zushonosuke against some of the Forgotten Gods. The red hues work well to give it a slightly classic feel while bringing in some sharpness with the clawed nails. The back cover is well laid out with a shot of the rundown castle along the top half which is set against a sunset. The summary is there as well while below is a strip of shots from the show. Surprisingly, they list the Japanese voice cast for the main characters here as well as some of the production staff. The bottom portion is given over to a solid technical grid that's easily expandable with more information. An insert is included with the release which has the cover art on one side while the other provides the summary from the back cover as well as a set of chapter listings.

The menu design is very atmospheric as it takes some of the haunting piano instrumental music from the show and sets it with a gorgeous illustration of Tomihime. Various accents are around them such as cherry blossoms, lamps and screens which gives it a great feel and definitely sets the mood just right. The disc unfortunately did not read our player's language presets and default to English with sign/song subtitles. Access times are nice and fast though and the navigation layout fit in nicely with the theme overall.

The extras for this release are a bit minimal but it isn't too surprising. The opening has a clean version here and there's a glossary of terms. The glossary is well done as it talks about the original author a bit and the overall origins of the story before going into the various terms and phrases used in the series.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In the last twenty years or so I've managed to see a good number of classic Japanese horror stories in both manga and anime form. There is generally a lot of appeal for me in these kinds of shows as it deals with things that are very cultural and goes to the heart of superstitions that still exist. From some of the early manga I read in the late eighties to my first viewing of Vampire Princess Miyu, I've been drawn to the genre.

Ayakashi " Samurai Horror Tales is the latest show to make its way over here and does so in an interesting format. The series is divided into blocks where each one tells a different story. Rather than cramming in a dozen standalone tales we instead get three separate storylines that apparently have no real connection to each other. The first volume covers the four episode storyline called "Goddess of the Dark Tower." The storyline revolves around a seemingly abandoned and old castle that was built in the middle of nowhere ages ago. People from the neighboring town have kept their distance over the years due to strange occurrences there and other folktales that have been passed down.

Castle Shirasagi is the home of the Forgotten Gods, a group of women who have been lost to history and have much to fear in regards to humans. Should one of them fall in love with a man they will begin to lose their immortality and would eventually die powerless. There is also the threat that if the more powerful among them would fall that the rest would slowly fall as well into the same trap. With the wizened elder named Uba watching over them, the group has managed to have their nightly parties while draining away the life of any who should enter.

Not surprisingly there comes a man into the area that could potentially change things. A falconer for the local lord named Zushonosuke finds himself caught up in Castle Shirasagi's supernatural events when the falcon that he's been training for the daimyo ends up leaving him and taking up residence in the castle. As he searches for the falcon he's surprised to find a stunningly beautiful woman naked beside a lake. This chance meeting with the woman who does not talk draws him into coming back to find out more. As it turns out, the falcon has taken up residence in the castle and the woman, Tomihime, tells him that it will not return to the lord because of problems with him in the past. Zushonosuke is completely confused but he cannot leave without the falcon.

Before long he's drawn deeper into the mystery of the castle and the women within. Tomihime finds herself strangely attracted to him and breaking the rules that have been set forth for her and the other Forgotten Gods that live there. Zushonosuke is highly attracted to her even as he's going through his own wedding ceremony to another woman. Politics enters into the storyline as well when the local lord finds himself rebuffed by the daimyo and the blame goes to the lack of the falcon that was being groomed for the event. That forces Zushonosuke to work hard to bring it back and thereby placing him closer to Tomihime and increasing her temptation with him that can only lead to tragedy.

While not an unusual storyline nor one that hasn't been adapted into other series over the years to varying degrees, Ayakashi's first arc is one that left me feeling pretty bland about it. So much so that after the first episode I didn't return to the final three for almost a week. The storyline wasn't so much the aspect that drew me away from it, though it is longer than needed and paced poorly for animation, but rather the animation itself. Toei has done some good works over the years but their animation for this feels incredibly flat and uninspired. While backgrounds look good with detailed and attractive designs, the characters themselves have little detail to them and very little depth. Much of the time it felt like they were just there on top of the backgrounds rather than a part of the world we're watching. The CG animation that's mixed in feels awkward and the few vibrant moments here and there with the supernatural elements simply didn't blend well.

In Summary:
After such visually intriguing series as Requiem of Darkness and Demon Prince Enma, Ayakashi simply feels bland and outdated. A show like this may have looked sharper ten years ago but against more recent far of which it is part of it simply comes across weak. Combine that with a slow moving plot that has plenty of moments where you wonder why it's taking so long to progress or why certain scenes even matter and it's very problematic. With the design of each volume being self contained there is a lot to like but the material itself leaves a lot to be desired. I went into the show with plenty of interest based on years of similar material but this volume left me uninterested and unimpressed.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Glossary of Characters

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 19.98
Running time: 90
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Ayakashi Samurai Horror Tales