Ayakashi Samurai Horror Tales - Goblin Cat (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What They Say
Death has nine lives...

In the Edo era of Japan, as cultural arts, modern science, and technology flourished, so too did the practice of mystical arts, as humanity faced the perils of the supernatural!

In a village, at an old samurai residence, a young bride is mysteriously and brutally murdered right before her wedding ceremony, sending the family into a hysterical panic. An enigmatic medicine vendor determines that this is the work of "the goblin cat," but more bizarre incidents follow, as family members are killed off one-by-one by an unseen attacker. Only the medicine vendor knows how to stop the goblin cat, but in order to do so, he must uncover the connection between this creature and the samurai family's deeply hidden, scandalous past!

The Review!
The final arc of the series proves to be the most entertaining and balanced of the three in addition to be an episode shorter than the rest.

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 most sinister of the three covers, the final volume has a real sense of horror to it with the simple yet effective design of the goblin cat. The cover is saturated in shades of red which stand out wonderfully against the black that dominates the rest of it. This is the kind of cover and arc that needed to lead off the series. The back cover is well laid out with a shot of a dead woman along the top half which provides plenty of contrast with blacks and whites. 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 an illustration of the medicine peddler. 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 closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The ending arc of the series is one that really shows what the entire thing could have been. After the first two arcs left me rather disinterested, the final storyline provides an interesting visual design, a simple yet effective story and not much in the way of meandering filler. Yet, if it was at the start of the series, it would have left me thinking the other arcs just couldn't measure up. At the end, it takes the chance in that people likely would have been turned off after the first arc.

The story revolves around a nameless medicine peddler who arrives at a household in order to try selling his wares. As his luck would have it, or as fate would direct things, the household is in preparation for a bride to leave to her new home. The family has fallen on hard times due to the financial incompetence of the head of the household. Having the young lady off to marriage will transfer much of the debts to the wealthier family and thereby save them. Unfortunately, thirty minutes after the medicine peddler arrives, the young bride is brutally murdered right in front of everyone by an unknown assailant.

It's from there that the real mystery begins as there is far more going on than is obvious to the naked eye. The medicine peddler is immediately on guard as he realizes there is something supernatural to the events and tries to seal the series of rooms that everyone is in. Yet his recent arrival to the house has him in the position of being the most guilty and he's unable to do so. Piece by piece, the story is revealed about what it is that's actually terrorizing everyone and just how involved nearly every is in the acts that have created it. Though there isn't anything terribly original here, it's well spaced out among the three episodes in what would normally be a single episode in a standard occult based series.

Where the storyline succeeds is in the execution of the story along with the visuals. The mysteries are teased out in a timely fashion after it gets underway and the revelations come out like a gusher in the final one. The small teases we do get in the earlier episodes are interesting enough but most of the time is spent watching everyone deal with being in the "locked" rooms and having this mysterious medicine peddler trying to deal with the situation. The visual aspect of the story serves it quite well also, as there is a layer on top of the animation that gives it a wrinkled paper look. Backgrounds come across as more realistic in this manner while with character animation it gives a rather rich feeling of being old and timeless.

In Summary:
Ayakashi as a whole has left me rather unsatisfied however. This final arc was clearly the best of the three to me while the other two were almost unwatchable. The middle arc meandered far too much for a truly coherent tale while the first one just didn't appeal in style or design, never mind the flat look of the characters and backgrounds. Goblin Cat managed to nail just about everything right and provided an enjoyable experience that the others just couldn't achieve. There have been a few series of this nature that seem to make it out like clockwork every year both in Japan and the US but Ayakashi let me down. For my money, Requiem from the Darkness provides a lot more in both story and visuals for the length that it runs. The two are going after different things in a different way but for a series of enjoyable supernatural tales, only this last arc of Ayakashi pleases.

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

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: B+
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