Rurouni Kenshin Vol. #01: Legendary Swordsman (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, February 18, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000
I've heard lots of good things about Rurouni Kenshin - one of my schoolmates has all of it fansubbed, but they weren't very good quality. When the Sony fiasco occurred, I was worried that the fansubs were as good as it was going to get, but thankfully the TV dub producers passed over this incredible series (really stupid move for them, but BIG plus for us Anime fans!) and instead we get Media Blasters' simultaneous VHS and DVD release of this title. BIG props to Media Blasters for this (hey Chris, think about changing their heart to a thumping one ^_^). I also own the Magic Knight Rayearth box set from Media Blasters, which I didn't think was a very good dub, so I was a little afraid that the Kenshin dub wouldn't live up to the Japanese original. As most of you know, I'm NOT a fan of dubs, but this one truly satisfied me. But first the technical details!
The Audio is bilingual with both Japanese and English tracks. Just like in Magic Knight Rayearth, seamless branching is used to re-use the opening sequence and avoid reproducing it 4 times on the same disc, as well as to give you different ending credits based on your language preferences! As opposed to ADV's lame-ass Alternate Angle feature, this really impressed me and it is definitely a useful feature. The audio tracks themselves are Dolby Stereo and have decent directionality and good clarity. The good grade comes from both the technical and artistic quality of both tracks, which I'll get to in the content section.
The Video is the only semi-low point of this disc. The video's pretty good for a TV show, but it's not up to the same standards as Cowboy Bebop, Lain, or even Nazca. There are a few rainbow artifacts here and there, but overall it's a good transfer, just not great. The seamless branching was a very nice touch and didn't seem to interrupt playback at all. While it's a good transfer, there is room for improvement in future volumes.
The Packaging of this disc is very unique in terms of its artistic qualities. Unlike most Anime DVD's which try to chose some striking shot which tries to draw your attention with either 1) action, 2) sex, or 3) both, this disc has a sort of pastel shot of Kenshin on the front surrounded by autumn-colored leaves on a purple and blue backdrop with Japanese characters running down it. It really surprised me, but I really like it and it stands out much more than most other DVD's, despite its mellow tone. The back contains quick summaries of the four episodes and some nice shots from the series, as well as a listing of special features (which are very nice and will be analyzed in a moment) and region information.
The Menus on this are a mixed bag. They're static pictures of Kenshin in more of a manga style, but no music. However, there's a good amount of extras on this disc that are hiding within this seemingly simple menu. Not only can you choose which of the four episodes you want right from the front screen, but you can click setup and choose both language and subtitles with a single selection (something I like), or click extras and find one of the many neat features on this disc. There's a very nice Art Gallery with some nice stills, but they aren't of the highest quality, it seems to me. I've seen other Art Galleries which have sharper images, but they still look good. There's Scene Access, which is to be expected, but I like Media Blasters' choices for Chapter Breaks FAR more than ADV's, as they actually put them in logical places. Then we get the two best extras. First the easy one to explain, the creditless opening sequence. Here we get the opening from the show without any English or Japanese credits. When I first saw this I was hoping it wouldn't be like Magic Knight Rayearth's creditless opening where they still stick that god-forsaken English logo on top of the very cool animation from the Japanese version of the sword spearing the Earth behind the name in Japanese. But Media Blasters has repented and indeed they do leave the intro totally intact, and instead of putting their own Rurouni Kenshin: Wandering Samurai logo at the end, they leave the original Japanese one! Finally, there's the VERY helpful Liner Notes. I assume these were written by Rika Takahashi (the excellent translator for this series and MANY others) and they explain all of the Japanese words used in the subtitling and dub track, as well as different choices she made in terms of her translation. These were very nice to have, although I don't see why they couldn't do like CPM does and put the Liner Notes on the back of the cover on the outside.
Then we get to the show itself, which so far is really fun. I watched the four episodes all the way through on the Japanese language track with subtitles and I was very impressed by both the quality of the Japanese voice acting and the translation in the subtitles. The creators chose to use a female voice for Kenshin, which at first seems very odd and out of place, but it helps to define the character and really grows on you. The hilarious noises Kenshin makes in many situations (the "Oro?" had me laughing out loud at several points) really add to the comedy aspect of the show. Also, Kenshin adds these little endings to his sentences, which Rika chose to translate as sort of repetitions of part of the sentence. It's very similar, to Chichiri's "no da?" which he sticks on the ends of sentences, as Rika explains in her Liner Notes. =)
I would have written this review an hour ago, but instead of just spot checking the English track or watching a single episode, I really liked the dub! The English voice actors really do a good job, although there's still a few instances of strained speech, although those mostly happen in the first episode (the sort of stuff where you can tell they're reading from a piece of paper). The voice actor they chose for Kenshin didn't retain the same feminine voice that the Japanese character had, however he manages to do all of the weird noises very well. ^_^ I still laughed a lot during the English track, which goes to show what a good translation job it is. Also, I _THINK_ the voice actress which plays Kaoru (the female lead) also played Sailor Mars in the NA Dub of Sailor Moon, but I don't have a listing of the actresses from the SM dub handy so I can't verify that. Anyways, whoever she is did a good job, too. =) There's only one problem - I'll have to watch all the DVD's twice all the way through!
Anyways, I highly recommend this disc to any Anime fan. So far the series itself is VERY interesting and original, and the technical and artistic quality of the disc is very high. Whether you're a sub or dub fan, if you have a DVD player there's no reason to go buy the VHS of this series. Big thumbs up on this disc, and I'll be eagerly awaiting future volumes!
RealMagic Hollywood+ DVD Decoder card w/Cambridge Soundworks DTT2500 Desktop Theater 5.1 Surround Sound speakers
Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Rurouni Kenshin (aka Samurai X)