Basilisk Vol. #1 (Viridian Collection) (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, July 28, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, October 30, 2007
What They Say
When honor means nothing and power is everything, can love survive? A legendary pair of rival ninja clans battle to end years of slaughter as a forbidden love struggles to prevail. Fate will decide if the ultimate declaration must be made: To the one I love... prepare to die.
Contains episodes 1-4:
The Onslaught of War
The Horned Owl
When the pact that keeps two ninja clans from fighting is ended, a war between masterful killers gets underway just as peace was about to become a true reality.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The included stereo mix is pretty solid with a fair amount of directionality across the forward soundstage both in action effects and dialogue as there is a lot of movement by the characters all over the screen. The mix deals with the content well and between that and the opening and closing songs it's pretty strong. The English mix is done both in stereo and a 5.1 mix which manages to provide a touch more clarity and oomph to things overall. We had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback on either language track.
Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Being of such a recent vintage and filled with a lot of lush colors and plenty of dark sequences, I had good hopes for this release but found a lot of key scenes to be pretty disappointing. Several of the episodes feature a black and white sequence that highlights some of the past involved with the show and ends with a mixture of blood red in it and these scenes are blocky and filled with movement when there should be none. This also happens during a number of dark blue sky sequences and some of the foggier scenes have less than a smooth feeling to them because of the blocking. In general, the colors look good and some of the vibrant pieces are gorgeous and some of the blacks hold up well and the scenes with elements such as the water are gorgeous, but some parts of the blocking seem to mingle into a lot of it. Characters tend to look good though and maintain a mostly solid feel but there's a touch of mosquito noise to a lot of it. Bringing the resolution down to 480p reduced the blocking throughout the show but not by a lot, leaving it very noticeable and distracting.
The menu layout for the release is very slick as it incorporates a lot of good looking traditional artwork into it in a banded fashion, almost like faux letterboxing, with lots of purples and lilacs in the flowers and designs. The menu for this volume has a good shot of Gennosuke from the animation itself as he holds his blade out in its scabbard while the selections are lined along the left of him while a brief bit of instrumental music plays along to it. Access times are nice and fast and the layout is very easy to navigate and in-theme. The disc didn't read our players' language presets though which seems to be a norm for FUNimation discs, in that they can't handle some very basic DVD authoring tricks, and defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.
There are a good set of extras included with this first volume. The first one on the list is the English language cast auditions which has the director for the show talking about how he brought in the cast for it and then their performances. The way they present it though is extremely annoying however. There are no chapters so chapter skipping doesn't work but they also locked out fast forwarding. So if you wanted to skim ahead to a particular piece, you're out of luck; you have to listen to the whole thing. They do it nice in that the director talks about the role and then what's presumably the audition piece but it would have worked far better with video of them actually doing it. I enjoy these kinds of extras but this one is just put together technically in a poor way. A multi-page history of the ninja text piece is included that goes into the background of ninjutsu and the regions. I'll leave it to those far more familiar with the origins than I to tell if it's historically accurate or not. The opening and closing sequences are done in the standard textless song formats and one of the episodes has a commentary track with it by the English language director and some of the actors.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One of the more anticipated series to come out this year, Basilisk is one of the titles that comes out in any new season of Gonzo shows that people point to as the "quality" title as opposed to the generally mainstream and flashy pieces. With its origins in the manga and novel of the same names, Basilisk is a story that has long earned its classic status and while it is rather simple in its overall premise, it's one that entices and draws you in the more you see it.
In the early 1600s, Ieyasu found himself in the unenviable position of being at the age where he has to choose his successor from his sons. Takechiyo and Kunichiyo are both biting at the bit to become the next most powerful man in all of Japan but they had a problem in that while Kunichiyo would mostly be ideal for it because of his cleverness, he wasn't the first born. Takechiyo held that position but he is unfortunately not the smartest of the sons and could potentially be disastrous for the nation. Ieyasu was left with a choice that could lead to war no matter what decision he made so he opted for something a bit more creative.
In meeting with the leaders of the Iga and Kouga ninja families, he watched a performance of two of their better fighters and was suitably impressed by how strong each of them are. The two clans are at an interesting time in their history right now. Up until some fifty or so years prior, the two clans had lived in competition with each other and had a wild and varied history of violence that got caught up in some of the biggest moments of history, such as when Nobunaga ended up wrecking much havoc throughout the lands. It was at this time that through the Hanzo Hattori family that a pact was agreed to that put the two clans in a state of peace, but not before a member of each family was close to bringing peace in another way by marriage. The violence had flared and led to them being forced into an uneasy peace.
In the present, that peace has been sustained but it's had problems of course, but it's on a path to really getting settled in that the leader of the Kouga clan, a young powerful man named Gennosuke, and the "princess" of the Iga clan who is without ninja skills, Oboro, have been spending much time together and are promised to each other in marriage. They make what one would consider a classic traditional pairing both in the way they honor and respect each other but also in their mannerisms, looks and their devotion to their family. With their marriage, they would finally end a certain chapter to the Iga/Kouga history and start it all down a new road that would have some real trust.
But similar to the relationship in the past, all of that seems doomed now that Ieyasu has decided to annul the pact between the two clans and have them fight it out. Each clan will be responsible for one side in the quest for Ieyasu's position in that each of them represents one of his sons. The two elders of the clans are allowed to draw up a list of ten warriors from each side that are forced to participate, without their knowledge at first, and the one that eliminates all of their opponents first will allow that son to ascend the throne. It's from there that the show shifts into a heavy series of attacks, feints and twists as the forces work against each other, initially to ensure one side doesn't even get their list and then to deal with the problem of Gennosuke being inside the heart of the Iga compound with Oboro who they want to keep unaware of the entire situation.
Basilisk is a fairly fast moving show once it gets past the initial setup, much of which is covered in the first episode as it deals with the past and present. The setup is fairly standard and seen in many other shows, which isn't a surprised considering the book is a launching point for many similarly themed shows, but its execution here is very strong from the start. The emotional points of the characters, from Gennosuke and Oboro to the two leaders who have a really tragic and stirring past, helps to connect the viewer very quickly to the leads. One of the things that can take down similar shows is that while the action is solid there isn't a real connection to the characters since they're left with little more than ciphers.
Where the show fails me in a way is in how the fighters are presented. Admittedly, it's no different than other shows such as Ninja Scroll, but I long for the day when a tale like this can be told and the ninjas that are fighting don't have any supernatural powers, appearances or quirks that are beyond the norm. I would love to see top level fighters going at it with their skills and luck in just as bloody a fashion but kept in the realm of the realistic. Basilisk is quite enjoyable as it is with the fighters that are weird, such as one that mimics a spider, another that is little more than a torso and a head or the creepy one that can turn himself into goo, but in its own way I think it detracts from the premise a bit considering how strongly we connect to the realism from the 1500's time period and the close relationship between Gennosuke and Oboro.
While Basilisk may not be wholly original, it's a beautifully executed show here in its first four episodes that launches the new war between the Kouga and the Iga ninja clans. With its mixture of tragedy, romance, violence with wild abandon and a slew of creatively designed fighters with unique powers and styles, it's set to be a show that will appeal to those looking for something more violent than the norm but also with a certain sense of style and beauty to it. This volume opens on a very strong note as it delves into the past and how things seemingly tie together before it moves into the present to really get the story underway. With the gorgeous box designed around the release and all the goodies here otherwise, it's a real treat and a show that's certainly going to earn its fans.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,History of the Ninja,Cast Auditions,Actor/Director Commentary,Textless Songs
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Samsung BD-P1000 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: N/A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: TV MA
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2