Ayakashi Samurai Horror Tales - Yotsuya Ghost Story (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, July 03, 2007
What They Say
Curses never die, but people do.
In the Edo era of Japan, when cultural arts flourished and the samurai code of "bushido" emerged, humanity's fear of the supernatural was very real! Desiring to wed Lady Oiwa, an ambitious and calculating ronin named Iemon murders her father, who had opposed the marriage due to Iemon's treacherous past.
As a masterless samurai, Iemon soon grows weary and resentful of his ailing wife Oiwa and their impoverished stature; however, when he is presented with an offer to marry a wealthy neighbor's beautiful granddaughter, Oiwa is duped into drinking a poison that horribly cripples her. The revelation of Iemon's betrayal as well as the painful disfigurement causes Oiwa to kill herself, setting into motion a nightmarish curse carried out by a terrifying, vengeful spirit seeking retribution!
A story within a story that takes quite some time to get to the supernatural aspect manages to play out better than the first release.
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 artwork for the cover fits well with a good looking shot of Lady Oiwa In her deformed state as various crows fly in front of her. Combined with the dark red background and the look of the logo it sets things nicely for that horror tale that's within. 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 side provides the 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 Oiwa. 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. Also included are the clean versions of each of the four closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the first less than thrilling volume of the series, which was actually not the first group of episodes in the broadcast run, Ayakashi's second tale is a fair bit more interesting but still falls short in some ways of becoming an engaging storyline.
Set as a tale within a tale, Yotsuya Ghost Story is told from the view of a man who is actually writing a ghost story, something that will be long remembered as his days are numbered. Each episode provides some shifts in scene to showcase the author with scenes playing out in front of him and he provides bookend commentary on what's going on as well as key explanations during the finale. The tale that he's created, cobbled together from rumors and stories at the time, focuses around the well known tale of Lady Oiwa and the travesty she suffered while giving it all a supernatural horror bent.
The tale is fairly convoluted at first as it takes place nearly two hundred years ago and introduces a number of players across different families and very different agendas. The central focus is on the relationship between a samurai named Iemon and his intended bride Oiwa. Circumstances have turned their planned marriage into a travesty as Oiwa's father has lost face through his own issues and the family is ruined as he's reduced to becoming a beggar. Iemon is still intent on marrying Oiwa but her father won't have any of it. At the same time, a story plays out about a man named Naosuke who has a serious interest in Oiwa's adopted sister Osode who has fallen into a brothel in order to help out with the family.
Naosuke's intent to continue having Osode leads him to a confrontation with Osode's fiancée, a man named Yoshimichi. Both stories intersect as Naosuke is intent on killing Yoshimichi just as Iemon is intent on killing Oiwa and Osode's father Samon. The acts that each of them partakes in causes a sort of bond between the two men as they utilize the situation to help each other out in getting what they want. Able to fool the women and convince them to marry each of them in order to take on the quest for revenge, the two men get exactly what they want only to realize in different ways how wrong it actually is. Iemon falls into the trap of disinterest once his son is born while Naosuke has far darker reasons to hate himself after he learns the truth about Osode.
Across the four episodes that the story meanders, we see how the relationships change and what kind of evil men some of them truly are. Iemon in particular is plainly the villain of the series but even then he's often just being taken advantage of by others, including in how things go badly with Oiwa. The show has a poor sense of setting the passage of time so it becomes unclear how long the situations have been going on once the murderous acts occur and that makes it difficult to see how the relationships have or haven't grown since then. At the same time, things move so slowly in the relationship front that the supernatural horror events don't begin until the third episode. There is plenty of room for pacing things so that it doesn't happen all at once but for a horror story it takes a long time for it to eventually get there.
Before then and even after then there isn't much to really capture and hold the viewers attention either. None of the characters are really likable for what little we get to know any of them. There's a fair number of characters in the main story as well as secondary ones introduced throughout that it gets fairly crowded and most of them have little to offer. The character designs are definitely better than what was in the first tale that was released and the animation overall is smoother and more contemporary looking but that isn't enough to save a storyline that could have been better paced in two or even three episodes.
It's shows like these where I wish the capital I character had a top and bottom to it so that the lead male characters name didn't look like it was "lemon" instead of "Iemon." That didn't affect the show but it certainly distracted at first. The tale within this set of episodes is decent enough though it is longer than it should be and slower than the first tale in a lot of ways. Unlike the first tale which had a small cast, this one is larger but it doesn't help things along. Based on a famous tale with some twists to it, Yotsuya Ghost Story has some potential to it but Chiaki Konaka's screenplay just doesn't resonate with either the characters, situations or pacing.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closings,Glossary of Terms
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.
Running time: 90
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Ayakashi Samurai Horror Tales