Kyo Kara Maoh! Season 2 Vol. #1 (also w/Disc Book) (of 9) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, September 02, 2008



What They Say
The action continues with Kyo Kara Maoh! Season 2!

Soon after locating ""Hells Fire on Frozen Tundra"", one of the Four Forbidden Boxes, in Francia, Yuri and his team are captured by Big Cimaron's army?lead by none other than Conrad! Yuri is deeply hurt by this betrayal, but to make matters worse, King Belar of the Big Cimaron suddenly shows up, ordering Conrad to execute Yuri. With Yuri out of the picture, Belar can easily conquer the Great Demon Kingdom and control the whole world. Conrad must make a decision - but it may cost his own life!

The Review!
Starting the "second season" of the show, it's an incredibly awkward jumping on point but an area that resolves a few things and relaxes before the next big arc.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this series in its original language of Japanese. The show has a fairly standard TV action mix which provides some decent directionality during action scenes and occasionally with some of the dialogue. There's a fair amount of action so we do get to have both speakers work out nicely and the dialogue has a number of good distinct moments. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The transfer for this show is essentially problem free and looks great both at standard display level and upconverted to 1080i. The digital nature of the show comes across really well here with vivid and solid colors that are free of gradient problems, backdrops that are free of blocking and no visible cross coloration. This is simply a very smooth looking piece that's pleasing on the eyes through and through.

Packaging:
While keeping roughly to the same look as before, the design elements have changed a bit in how the background looks. The front cover is done with a deep brown background and is framed with some intricate artwork to give it a few polished feel. Within the frame, the title is along the top (along with a Season II tag) which gives the character artwork plenty of room to look good. This one provides a fairly full cast shot of the primary characters that have been here since the beginning. The back cover is done in a similar style but with a different border that holds the basic summary and numerous pieces of artwork and shots from the show. The discs episode numbers and titles are clearly listed next to the discs features and extras while the bottom is filled out with the production credits and one very different change, a technical grid within which all the information is kept. It's great to see yet another title finally adopt this format. The insert for the release replicates the front cover artwork with a few less logos while the reverse side lists the episodes and a look at the tentative months for the remaining volumes (through March 2008!).

Menu:
Eschewing the design from the previous season, this volume takes a very different and almost somber turn as a bit of flickering light plays over a very worn down book that has the series logo and navigation strip on it. Set to a light bit of instrumental music, it's very relaxing and mellow while looking very well done. The way the light plays on it is simple but it adds a lot to the atmosphere of it. I particularly like the way going to submenus has it paging through them. Access times are decent and getting around is easy enough though the disc keeps to its own language preferences (English only) and ignores player presets.

Extras:
The extras to kick off this season is a clean version of the opening sequence as well as the winners and honorable mentions from the fan art contest that they ran.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The release of Kyo Kara Maoh! has been an awkward thing just because of the it's been split up. I believe initially only the first thirty-nine episodes were licensed and the series plotted out for its nine volume release. It then did well enough, probably when the book came out to hold the first season, to cause them to exercise the option on the second half. That's all behind the scenes stuff that doesn't impact things much. Where it does impact is that the break between the two sets of thirty-nine episodes is simply awkward. But marketing and reality says, it's easier to sell two nine volume series to someone instead of an eighteen volume series.

The start of this season has us at the end game point of the big storyline from the last volume where the confrontations are coming down hard between Yuri and Conrart. The issue of the boxes has been shifting back and forth for a bit now in terms of who has possession of them and it just reaches a crescendo here within the first pair of episodes. The boxes aspect of it is an area that's actually fairly weak as it plays out and almost a background issue for a good portion of it. The focus is given over more to the problem of Conrart working for the Big Cimarron side and the desire to know what's going on. Conrart has been quite silent on the matter since he walked into the arena a volume or two ago and it's now got everyone on edge.

When all is said and done, there is a nice moment or two where things reach a level that gets you completely glued to the screen but it quickly falls to the side as the storyline wraps itself up. This is where my main problem with Kyo Kara Maoh! comes in, in that it's highly enjoyable while watching it but it is essentially a very light fantasy adventure without too much really serious meat to it. The good parts come in when we start to learn more about this world or the various characters, such as Yuri's best friend actually being something of a reincarnation. They've managed to balance having a decent sized cast by not trying to have them all in each episode, though some of them are given a bit more of the short end of the stick than some may care for.

When the show does revelations, it does them in a highly amusing way. One episode on this volume is given over to flashback almost entirely as we see Yuri as a very young boy with his mother and older brother at a time when his father visited. Everyone being who they are, it has a fairly significant amount of importance to it as they talk about the handing over of power between members when the time comes. But it has a great deal of levity to it as we see that young Yuri is completely lost when it comes to his mother as she really wanted a girl and dressed him up thusly " complete with pigtails. This gets brought up again a bit more in another episode and it's just a hilarious visual. One that also helps to reinforce some of his feminine side that plays into the relationship with Wolfram.

The balance of stories in this particular volume is fine if it was anywhere else in the count, but as the first volume of a "second season," it's just awkward. The main storyline wraps up in the first couple of episodes, another is given over to explaining some of Yuri's heritage and then we get a pair of cute standalone stories that help expand the cast yet again and provide a bit more silliness. Previous volumes have played out in such a manner but if anyone picks this up to see what the show is like, I suspect they'll be quite lost.

In Summary:
Kyo Kara Maoh! is quite a lot of fun and it's a show that you can easily qualify as a guilty pleasure. So much of it works so well, especially in how it shifts between each world, but there's still something about it that keeps it from being a truly great show. This volume shows us a few technical and presentation changes when it comes to the disc itself but the show is very much continuing on with what works. Not many shows hit as many episodes as this one did so it obviously did something right and kept its audience. It may not be the best looking show or most technically wondrous, but even at its weakest it leaves me with a smile and several solid laugh out loud moments. This is a world that you want to play in and experience.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Fan Art Gallery

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: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 24.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Kyo Kara Maoh!