Soul Taker Vol. #2 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, April 27, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, April 23, 2002
Soul Taker had me at first confused, then intrigued, then exhilarated. As the series lurches toward the halfway point I'm finding myself less and less interested.
The audio continues to shine. If anything, the audio has gotten a little more interesting, as the ambient sounds become more important to the mood of the story. The bass seems a little less aggressive than the first volume, but it's still a standout audio mix.
The video is excellent, though some of the same problems with blacks and color banding show up again. I still suspect that both of these problems are in the original masters and reflect the CG and post-production, rather than the DVD authoring.
I rated the first volume a little lower than I would have liked, simply because I didn't feel that the boldness of the image was well served by the reflective cover. On volume two, the image and effect work together nicely, and give the whole package a more satisfying look.
Included in the case was a glow-in-the-dark cling with an image of Kyosuke. This pack-in isn't nearly as cool as the clings included with their Dual: Parallel Trouble Adventure release, so if you didn't get one, you shouldn't fret too much. But I still have to take Pioneer to task for the extremely limited nature of these pack-ins. Based on my own shopping experiences, and reports from members on the forums, the only place that these pack-ins are reliably available is through Suncoast and other Musicland affiliates. Please, Pioneer, make your limited pack-ins available with all copies you ship on day one. Limited is one thing. Unavailable is another thing entirely.
The menu is identical to volume 1, and is another good Nightjar production. I rated the first volume a little low, simply because I had set my expectations too high. Seeing it again, it really is a nice menu. The animated transitions make it a little slow to navigate, though.
Extras include original Japanese trailers for Soul Taker, clean opening and closing animation, an art gallery of production drawings, and an advertisement for McFarlane Toys. But the big news is that this disc includes the first round of Pioneer trailers. While most of the trailers are merely episode opening animation for shows already released, at least there are a couple for new titles.
(Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers.)
"Last time, on Soul Taker..."
Okay, so the show doesn't start off with a recap of what has come before, but it really should. Soul Taker relies on an intentionally obtuse method of storytelling, never quite looking directly at the events of the story and their implications, but rather showing pieces of the whole through reflection and indirection. It's a bold technique, and works well with the impressive visual style. However, forcing the viewer to constantly forge his or her own connections to reassemble the story can easily become tiring. And in the case of Soul Taker, the plot and back story aren't really complex enough or have enough different interpretations for the exercise to be rewarding, like Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Therein lies the problem with Soul Taker volume 2 – more roundabout storytelling obscuring a rather simple story.
So, last time, on Soul Taker, Kyosuke Date had finally come to understand his destiny as a mutant and as the destined protector of his sister's fragmented soul. Joined by Shiro Mibu, a mysterious man with a hidden agenda and an understanding of Kyosuke's powers, they wander the Earth foiling the plots of the Kirihara Group and the Hospital, the two organizations who seem to be behind the mutants, and who are seeking to stop Kyosuke. Kyosuke has a twin sister, Runa, who he's never met. Runa possesses some form of power, and Kirihara and the Hospital are seeking her as well. To protect Runa, her soul was fragmented and divided up among a group of other girls, named Flickers, who serve as decoys to distract those who would capture Runa. Kyosuke, in addition to searching for his own hidden past, avenging his mother, and finding Runa, decides to protect these innocents from destruction.
This time around, he is joined by a new ally – Komugi, the crazy nurse who both helped and hindered Kyosuke in volume 1. Smitten with Kyosuke, she has left the hospital and joined up with him and Shiro. She provides some much-needed comic relief to the show, but her over-the-top performance and squeaky voice seem out of place amidst the dark, gothic mood of the rest of the show. At this point in the story, it is too early to tell if she is truly an ally, or if she will ultimately betray Kyosuke. (Just this week, a spin-off series focusing on Komugi was announced in Japan, so one can only assume that Komugi will remain a "good guy" for now.)
In addition, we finally meet the sinister Yui Kirihara, director of the Kirihara group face to face, and learn what she is scheming. We also finally meet Richard Vincent, director of the hospital and learn his terrible secret. Previously, both the Hospital and Kirihara appeared to be working together toward some common goal. Now we see that they are really enemies, both of which that view Kyosuke and the Soul Taker as an obstacle to their ultimate goals. Shibo's motivations and his connection to the Kirihara group are also revealed.
Once the ball gets rolling, there are some fabulous action scenes that keep the viewer interested. The excellent sound effects editing and moody music only serve to heighten the sense of tension. But as good as some of the show is, much of it is confusing, pointless, and outright boring. Many of the mysteries are revealed through exposition, rather than discovery – usually in the form of long dialogues illustrated by flashes of symbolic imagery. For those who remember the "System" episode in Key the Metal Idol (episode 14), the sensation is similar. Perhaps most damaging to the show is that we aren't quite halfway through it, and the show is already resorting to such tactics. I get the feeling that few real mysteries remain in Soul Taker, though that may be a reflection of my flagging interest. The secret behind Kyosuke's sister, Runa, may hold the key to understanding what this is all about, though I suspect that as the show wears on, it will become nothing more than mutants beating the crap out of each other.
His quest to protect the flickers and find his sister takes a back seat in this set of episodes. As the Flicker in the first episode on this disc is a student at an all-girl boarding school, Komugi assumes protection duties. The episode really gives Komugi a chance to shine, and she is shown as possessing a truly wonderful power that will inevitably prove to be useful to Kyosuke as his quest continues. The episode caused me quite a bit of confusion the first time through, as Kyosuke's part in the story seems detached from the action. However, one throwaway line of dialogue proves to be the key to understanding the story. The only advice I can give you is to pay close attention or you'll miss it. Fortunately, the episode is mostly filler, and contributes nothing more to the story than to introduce Komugi as an ally.
The next episode fills in a lot of the back story of Soul Taker and setting up the main conflict for the second half of the story. The episode is mainly just talking, though it does conclude with a surprisingly entertaining battle between Kyosuke and Richard Vincent. The final episode is another filler story, though it provides some details on the mutants Kyosuke has been fighting. The show features a flicker who is little more than a copy of Maya, the flicker from the very first episode who died before she could reach her potential as a character. The creepy identity crisis that the flickers are forced to endure is illustrated well here, though I always find it surprising that the show does not mine such intense, psychological territory more deeply.
At $30 for 3 episodes, and without any real narrative to speak of, this series is becoming harder and harder to recommend. The imagery is fabulous, and the audio and music are great, but is it all sound and fury signifying nothing?
Panasonic Panablack TV, Codefree Panasonic RP56 DVD player, Sony ProLogic receiver, Yamaha and Pioneer speakers, Monster cable. (Secondary equipment, Pioneer 105s DVD-ROM, ATi Rage Fury Pro, ViewSonic A90f, PowerDVD 3.0)
Mania Grade: B-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Soul Taker