Hakkenden Collection Vol. #2 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, February 14, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What They Say
Shino, Sosuke, Genpachi, Kobungo and Dosetsu finally reunite! However, the reunion turns violent due to Dosetsu's obsession to exact revenge on Sadamasa Uesugi for his father's death. The trap is sprung and the dog warriors are driven into a corner by Uesugi's troops. How will they escape this one?

The Review!
The middle section of the series brings us through more characters and binds the group together more but has that sort of muddled feel where it hasn't quite found its way just yet.

Hakkenden is an old show by current standards so the simple stereo mixes at 192kbps on both language tracks isn't a surprise. Everything has a very center channel feeling to it with little to note regarding directionality or placement. What we do get is pretty good though when put into context with its age and it serves the visual material well. It's easy to think of how much better it could be, but in the end it works well enough. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally starting its release in 1990, the transfer for this OVA series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Unfortunately, Hakkenden was never a great looking release to begin with. Even with the original laserdisc, you had a fair bit of grain and nicks and scratches. The five episodes here are the same as the disc that was released in the original release back in 2001 when it comes to the content itself. Colors look good, if a bit flat by design. Some scenes are a bit soft, but mostly this show looks as intended. But the main offense is really the nicks and scratches. The final episode is the only one that seems to contain any cross coloration, which is a bit of a shame as the rest of the episodes looked good without it. For what it's worth, these episodes overall fair much better than the poor release Pioneer Japan rushed out with their even worse off masters back in 1998. They both share some of the same problems, but that release has a noticeable amount of macroblocking.

The single volume release of the series doesn't fare much better than any of the previous incarnations but it at least has a slightly more appealing look to it. This installment presents us with one of the warriors in an action pose with his hair out wildly that doesn't look too terribly dated with its designs. Set against a dark background with some Japanese text, it has a look that will appeal to the segment of fans that it's meant to while potentially drawing in a few others. The back cover keeps the look of the show under wraps by not including any shots from the show and instead going for a large text summary across the top half. The episodes are clearly listed with numbers and titles and the disc features, what few there are, are next to it. The remainder is the standard production information and the small but solid technical grid. No insert is included but the reverse cover is quite nice as it uses the same character artwork but gives it a two panel spread with some good design additions.

The menu design for the release is new in comparison to the collected version which is a surprise. It's pretty minimal since there's nothing on here besides the show itself and the language selection section. The design is reminiscent of the cover art from the original three disc collection and really pushes a minimalist feel and effort. It's not bad overall but it's certainly not memorable, not even a few minutes after looking at it. The disc didn't read our players' language presets and defaulted to English language with no subtitles.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Revisiting Hakkenden after all this time once again has certainly been interesting, and it's reaffirmed my feelings about the show. The first volume was filled with a lot of nostalgia and very familiar scenes from when I played my lovely laserdiscs over and over again. But as the series progressed, it didn't exactly become less interesting but rather started to seem unfocused and a bit dull. With the cast as big as it is with the main warriors and then all the smaller subplots running through it, it gets ever more difficult to keep track of everything. And that's one advantage that the full collection has over these singles.

The four episodes on this volume help to move the show along by bringing in some of the newer members of the group that will form and following their stories as they discover what they really are. Some of the stories are more interesting than others, just like some of the characters are more interesting than others. One tale that was pleasantly interesting brings us back to Genpachi as he has a run in with Inuyama Dōsetsu. Dosetsu has been seeking revenge on a local lord who had his father killed and he's using a fake murasame sword to get noticed by them so that he can get closer with it. Genpachi and the others get wrapped up in it by sheer coincidence, but what's becoming an increasingly familiar theme is that all of these dog warriors are drawn together by fate more and more.

Some of the material just feels weak, mostly because the characters aren't all that interesting. Kobungo is that kind of character but he at least has an honest link to Genpachi and provides a reason for traveling with him. The little baby part that comes along in the story has me rolling my eyes a bit, but Kobungo really does fit the role of the strong silent type with a good head on his shoulders and a sense of true justice. He does have some great moments that surprisingly enough lighten the mood, such as when there's a crucifixion and he really just rips the post right out of the ground so that the person can be freed.

The best story on this volume however revolves around Kakutaro, the latest member to show up in the series. Kakutaro is the son of a village lord who is in love with his wife, a young woman named Hinagu. She's pregnant and there's a bright future for both of them, but they aren't aware that Kakutaro's father has actually been possessed by a cat spirit. That cat spirit has plans of its own as it needs the heart of a pregnant woman and a piece from the unborn baby in order to solidify itself in that host body. Others from the group stumble into the picture, but the focus is squarely on Kakutaro and his wife which leads to a wonderful climax where the cat spirit reveals itself. The cat spirit and the noises it makes are some of the best moments of this volume where the folklore and superstitions of the time come to life.

In Summary:
The good material has a hard time salvaging the show overall though simply because it's such a big piece of work now. With the way each of the warriors needs to be introduced, their backgrounds gone over and setting up their own revelation moment with the bead and their birthmark, Hakkenden just becomes a bit top heavy in a way. At its core there is still a fascinating story, but the minimal role played by Aboshi here and the way it seemingly detours from those first characters we were introduced to makes it easy to start drifting from the show. Hakkenden does still interest when it comes to the visuals, even when they go incredibly off model and in odd directions, simply because it almost feels experimental in design. That can throw off a lot of fans, but for me there is still some appeal in how they deal with it all.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

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: C+
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: C+
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 14.98
Running time: 120
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Hakkenden, Legend of the Dog Warriors