Moon Phase Vol. #2 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, November 28, 2006



What They Say
The young vampire Hazuki has found herself a new life - Kouhei's. Enchanted not by any supernatural wiles, but rather by her natural grace and charm, the photographer's family has grown quite protective of their new charge. As the dark forces of the Count Kinkel stretch across nations to draw Hazuki back into their dire embrace, the Mido clan risk life and limb to save the petite fanged.

But mystery leads to enigma and deception flies thick in the night sky. The truth could be one that none dare to face. When the Master is foresworn, so shall be the servant. Some riddles are best left unsolved...

Contains episodes 6-10:
Hearth Throbs in Kyoto
Well, I Wanted It...
Mother Came to See Me! Happy!
Save Me from This Dream
You're My Slave and I Won't Forgive You

The Review!
Hazuki starts to adjust to being in the outside world which includes her understanding more of what being human is all about.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The included stereo mix is pretty good and very useful throughout as there is a lot of well placed dialogue in quiet scenes that add to the overall eerie ambience that the show promotes. The more active scenes have a fuller feel to them though it's really just the end sequence that has a strong overall feeling with its music. The show isn't terribly heavy on action so it mixes in some dramatic musical cues to the dialogue and it works well. We sampled parts of the English mixes, presented in 2.0 and 5.1 tracks, and among all three of them we didn't notice any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Overall this looks to be a rather good show and the quality pretty strong but similar to other recent releases from FUNimation like Speed Grapher, there's a feeling of softness and fuzziness to the end result. This may be intentional in some areas due to the nature of the show, but there are scenes where the colors are so strong against each other, such as the greens and blacks, that they tend to shift a bit too much. This seems to hit mid-range shots more but is noticeable in some close-ups as well. The other part that is hard to pin down is that some of the blacks don't seem to be all that dark and tend to have more of a dark gray look to them. There are a lot of good looking deep black areas but there is more emphasis on a lighter and softer look. Thankfully, the transfer is free of problems such as cross coloration and aliasing.

Packaging:
While not as strong as the first cover, this installment is a solid piece that brings us visions of Hazuki and Elfriede set against a few buildings in the background. The character designs are what sells it " though I dislike the quote on the front cover. Similar to the first volume, the logo looks really good with the inclusion of the silver foil. The back cover works a very simple but strong approach as it keeps to a black background with the elegant writing here and there. While the technical information continues to be too small and out of the way, the rest of the cover is very well laid out with a look at the summary, the episode numbers and titles, and several good looking shots. It's very nicely done with a bit of restraint I think. The included booklet, though short, is packed of great material, such as rundowns on the episodes on this volume and interviews with some of the voice actors and key creative staff. Add in some gorgeous artwork and a good paper stock and it's a good read. Also included with the this volume is a handful of postcards featuring gorgeous illustrations of Hazuki in outfits and positions that may have you questioning yourself.

Menu:
The menu layout is simple but nicely effective with a close-up shot of Elfriede along the right side while behind her is a mixture of different kinds of buildings during the daytime. Combined with the really nice logo and design for the Phase portion of it, the navigation strip looks really good and keeps to the overall theme of the show. Add in a really nice bit of haunting instrumental music and you wish that the loop was smoother so that you could leave it on for awhile without realizing it. Access times are nice and fast and the disc had no problems in reading our audio playback preset; due to the subtitle tracks not being properly labeled, they did not play and needed to be turned on manually.

Extras:
The extras are pretty basic as we get only the textless songs section for the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When we first were exposed to Moon Phase, it was a surprise that the show managed to keep as dark an atmosphere to it considering how Hazuki is often portrayed. The series could easily sway far and hard into the comical side which would remove much of the mood that the show has. With the first five episodes, it managed to move in some rather strange ways to present the introduction of Hauzki into Kouhei's family.

With this volume, we get another five episodes and similar to the first volume it almost feels like too much. The show isn't necessarily dark and oppressive, but prolonged exposure seems like it can create that feeling. The storyline that runs through it is interesting enough but it comes across better in smaller batches. This round of episodes goes through the inevitable by adding some new characters to it but they also manage to dole out a good bit of character growth for the only person that truly needs it " Hazuki. Her time spent as something of a prisoner has left her socially inept and unaware of how to deal with others. It's cute to see her trying to boss around Kouhei since her powers don't work on him, but when she does it to Hiromi it doesn't feel right. To her credit, Hazuki does start to come to understand this as revelations to her manage to induce some guilty feelings.

Hazuki as a character is more than enough for this show, but Haiji becomes more of a player in her small doll-like form as well as when she's in cat mode. Bringing in a pair of young women betrothed to Kouhei and Seiji early on though just feels like a pointless expansion of the cast in order to have more cute girls and priestesses at that. This material is good for expanding on the relationship that this family has with each other when they travel to Kyoto though. But every time I go through this episode, regardless of the language, the two younger priestess girls just feel like they're incredibly annoying.

Moon Phase does want to play with its plot though and it only takes a few episodes before it returns to the idea of Hazuki finding her mother with Kouhei's help. The pair think they've made some progress at one point when they sense her in the area around the house. To their surprise, they can see a visage of her mother which draws Hazuki very close. With her mother being such a lure, it's an obvious trap but Hazuki is simply unable to really grasp a lot of simple things because of her confinement. With the aid of Elfriede, a mysterious man named Kinkel is able to draw Hazuki into his trap that requires Kouhei to undo. This provides the challenge that Hazuki needs to face about how she is considerably different than humans and even that of vampires like Elfriede.

Kouhei's still something of a cipher in the series though we do get to know a bit more about him. Like a lot of lead male characters in similar roles, it's hard to understand why he does what he does for Hazuki. She's so completely selfish early on here that even when she does start to break out of that you can't really feel for her. The way she abused her relationship with Hiromi would be a deal breaker for a lot of people right there. Kouhei's more of a mentor for her about how humanity works but he's such a bland example of it that it's hard to get behind him. Hazuki often has the same kind of feeling about her, though the sequence with her trying on a number of outfits was exceedingly cute and fun.

In Summary:
Moon Phase certainly has a plot to it and it's touched upon regularly in the more stand alone episodes here but also heavily in the big plot episodes. Those moments are when the series is interesting and engaging to watch since it focuses on the bigger picture. When it shifts to the smaller character moments, the two leads make it hard to really connect with. Haiji in her cat form and Kouhei's grandfather provide more interesting characters to watch as they act and react to other things going on. The series moodiness and atmosphere continues to be the big draw as is the way it so deftly manages to the comedy side of it. Where it needs to work more, at least for me, is in making the two lead characters be characters I want to follow for the full run.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Songs

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, 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: B-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: TV PG
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Moon Phase