Gonzo heads back to Kyoto in the days of the Shinsengumi and bring their talents to the realm of swordplay while mixing in a large dose of comedy.
What They Say:
For 15 year-old Tetsunosuke Ichimura, childhood innocence has given way to a blinding thirst for revenge. Haunted by the vicious slaying of his parents, Tetsu joins a group of elite swordsmen to hunt down the rebels who murdered his parents.
ADV Films released this show with a good bilingual presentation back in the day and that’s retained here as we get a Japanese stereo mix at 224kbps and an English 5.1 mix done at 448kbps. The series has a good sense of directionality across the forward soundstage with lots of wind style sounds being used for the swordplay moments as well as things such as leaves moving around during the stylish moments. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and there's some good placement to it. The English track has a 5.1 mix to it which comes across a bit louder and sharper but is essentially the same as the stereo mix from what we heard.
Originally airing in 2003, the transfer for this show is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The original release was done across seven volumes and this set thankfully compresses it down to a good five volumes with five episodes on each volume except the last which has four episodes. With the show taking place in older times, there's the standard color palette used for it and the colors in general are fairly muted and earthy. There aren't a lot of really vibrant moments and even things like the bloody scenes are done with dark reds and not bright shades. Some of the night time backgrounds, which use a bit of a softer set of blues to it, showed a bit of blocking in a couple of scenes but not too much that was distracting. The main problem that comes across with the transfer is inherent in the source with the amount of color gradation that's visible. It's not in every scene but there are a number of sequences where it shows strongly, particularly with the darkly colored kimonos. Colors in general look really good and cross coloration is blissfully absent as well as being very minimal in regards to aliasing.
This release is really nicely done with its packaging overall, leaving me with hardly any serious or minor complaint. The heavy chipboard box is well made with a lot of soft whites for the background that let the attention fall on the colorful – but not too outlandish – character designs. The pieces chosen are interesting as on one side they’re very emotional while the other is somewhat subdued and cool. Bloody and almost full of tears on one side while the other lets the bad guys have very dark and mysterious moments. It’s all tied together nicely and the logo is well presented, though mixing it with both Japanese and English continue to make this an awkward release.
Within the box we get three thinpak cases with the first two holding two DVDs and the third just the final volume. Each volume has some really nice illustration pieces of the lead characters, though I think the second is my favorite as it has more of a pencil rough feel to it in a way. The back covers are really appealing as they’re pencil sketches of the backgrounds of three different locations done to a standard vanishing point layout. The detail is really neat to see as is the generally rough nature of it. Episode numbers and titles for each disc is clearly listed and the remainder has the usual production and technical information. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design has a very minimal approach to it with a simple static piece that has an old parchment feel to it with blood splattered across. The menus are identical across each volume with the background that provides for a very moody piece that’s very violent in a subdued way. The show only brings that out a few times, but the menus certainly prepare you for it. The menus are very easy to navigate and easy to access with quick load times. I still wish there was a way to return directly to the main menu from the trailers though. The disc also correctly read our players language presets properly which is always a big plus.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When Peacemaker Kurogane first came out, I remember being somewhat burnt out on this particular time period in history. With the Rurouni Kenshin series being one that has sort of defined this era for me, seeing this one and a number of others that dealt in the same place at roughly the same time for US release had me not wanting to see all that much more. The studios sort of piled on with these kinds of shows and it wore thin quickly, especially with this one from Gonzo across seven volumes with fairly uninteresting character interpretations. So after a few years and seeing it previously across seven volumes, I was interested in approaching it again in this condensed form.
The series goes back to the older days in Kyoto when the Shinsengumi were the rising stars of sorts. Though the show opens with a quick bit of flashy animation that shows events later on in the series as our lead character is a full member there, it quickly changes direction. We're instead following young Tetsunosuke and his older brother Tatsunosuke as the younger heads towards the headquarters of the Shinsengumi on Kyoto. His brother has just been accepted into the ranks and he wants in himself and goes to extremes to try and get in. His demand meets nothing but laughter and then quickly meets the rushing footsteps of one of the groups units as they head out for an assignment. But his being trampled gets him noticed by an effeminate young man holding a pig.
Yeah, a pig.
Before Tetsu knows it, he's being shown around the compound and he talks a bit about wanting to join up and show a couple of people just how good he is. There's some fun little bits throughout this as Tetsu suddenly finds himself having to back up his words and we get to see some of what he's made of and the spunky/scrappy nature that's going to be the defining characteristic about him as he tries to get into this group. It's not any shocker that he makes it in of course, since the cover has him wearing the outfit, and through his own ways of dealing with things and putting all of himself out there, Tetsu reaches through to the right people and gets accepted into the Shinsengumi.
But not quite as he wanted for now since he's brought in as a page to the group's commander and finds himself doing things like serving tea, doing the laundry and so forth. This isn't too unexpected and Tatsu is glad to see that he's not only joined but that he's being forced to do the things that any new recruit would have to do at that level. Tetsu bristles against much of it though and attempts to use as much time as possible there to get to know what's really going on. He and his brother both have their own agenda in the form of wanting vengeance on the man that killed their parents not that long ago. Their only course of action was to be able to get stronger and learn the skills they need to do it, hence their joining up here. Of course, the Shinsengumi are dealing with their own agendas and everyone has their own way to things so much conflict is ready to ensue.
Early into the series, within the first volume, we get some of the basics introduced and just a hint of a larger plot dealing with a group of extremists called the Choshu that are causing trouble in the city and in the country in general. It doesn't make up much of things early on but there are enough seeds planted to start getting the interest of those wanting to see what the shows going to be about. A good amount of the focus early on here is the personality of Tetsu and the way he just gets into literally everything. While this is a bad trait since it causes him to hear things he shouldn't and annoy others, it's a typical way of getting him to meet a variety of characters. It's got the trademarked moments of the young pup meeting up with some of the groups more notorious fighters and through just his personality he's able to befriend them, such as Hajime Saito, Souji Okita and others.
Tetsu can be a bit much to take at times though and his personality, which is a draw at times, works against him as well. The number of things he gets away with in these first episodes make you wonder why Hijikata hasn't simply sliced his head off. Sneaking around, listening in on reports from their spies and so forth just isn't the kind of thing that you get away with. These scenes work well enough within themselves but when you then shift to some of these gorgeously animated and disturbing fight sequences where the bodies are cut in half and the blood flies, the show doesn't take on two lives but there's a disparity that they're trying to play a middle of the road style with that doesn't always work. When Tetsu sees firsthand a really bloody moment and is shaken by it, it doesn't really change anything with him at all in the long run. This may change later on when he's actively getting into the fights and has to draw blood himself and based on his mock fights with others he should have an interesting approach to it, but right now it just seems a bit off.
Similar to my first experience with the show, made worse by the fact that it was spread out across the seven volumes with low episode counts, you realize even in this compact form that the bulk of the show is really about small episodic adventures with little merit. There are things to be found in here that are decent and I can plainly see that they’re used to showcase the incremental growth that Tetsu is going through, but it’s the kind of very slow series that almost feels too lazy at times. Some of the adventures are fun and silly, such as the tournament that the group puts on to try and be friendlier with the locals. The introduction of Satainya was pretty welcome as well since he’s a bit of a “straight shooter” with his gun in hand and adds a bit of charm that isn’t there in the other characters. But so much of Peacemaker seems to be unmemorable because so little really happens of note that it’s all the more apparent in this format since we watched the series over two days time. It was visible when we saw the singles but since the release was spread out it didn’t feel as overwhelmingly obvious.
When the series does focus on the end storyline, which was difficult to do at the time because the manga was still ongoing then, it falls into the problem of just what kind of real ending can it provide. With the last three episodes of the twenty-four episode series, the focus that's been given to Tetsunosuke is just as strong as always but not working on the back of the rest of the Shinsengumi as they mete out some serious damage and retribution for the death of Ayu.
The retribution scenes, which play out like many other shows that contain the Shinsengumi, has them arriving at the Ikedaya and with just four of them going in, it's a brutal sequence. The commander is brilliant at long last in taking an strong stand and leading the charge with Okita just behind him. So many of the exclusionists are gathered in this inn that they're caught completely unawares as the four make their way to cover all the exists and deal with the few guards that are around. The way this is all filmed is done in a way that I know they like to do with a mixture of the CG style backgrounds that allow for full camera movement while the characters are done in the more traditional manner. This is a method that only gets better and better each year and works to great effect here. Watching the characters jump, dodge and swing as the camera moves around them in the hallways and in the confined rooms' just works beautifully here.
Paralleling this is the last discussion that the vice commander has with Tetsu who is still somewhat shell shocked from what Susumu told him and then having his brother come in and raise a bit of hell. Tetsu takes the story and analogy that the vice commander offers him, but what he really realizes is the important thing and he heads off to the Ikedaya so that he can help out and stand with his friends. The growth of Tetsu has been the big thing with this series and this has really been his arc in terms of growing up and dealing with what happened to his father two years prior, especially now that he knows it was Yoshida. He's grappled hard with the idea of killing and doesn't want to do it, particularly with what Saya has said to him as well, but this final challenge is what he needs to make that final leap.
Not surprisingly, most of what the first two episodes here is pretty much all action. It's very well done and beautifully choreographed as it progresses throughout the Ikedaya inn. The fight boils down to just Yoshida against the rest of them and it's exciting to watch since it's a chance for all of them to go all out, Okita included. The other battle that goes on is with Susumu and the foreign ninja and it mirrors the inn battle in a lot of ways except it takes place on the rooftops. The animation is just gorgeous throughout this and it has that high quality level that you haven't seen in most of the earlier episodes. That's not to say the previous episodes didn't look good, but it just gets so much better here that it reaches a new level at times.
The last episode gives the cast a bit of a chance to reflect on things and look back at where they came from so it's a very light and calm episode, though not without it's sad and ominous moments as well. Looking at the series in a long view, Peacemaker has been interesting to watch but I still find that a lot of the early episodes were very uneven. With this tale being essentially Tetsu's arc in what's presumably a larger story in the manga, what you want to see in the end is that he is a different person and that he's changed. That is definitely what happens here so in looking back at the earlier episodes where you establish the character, you can see a bit better in what they were trying to do. I think they missed it a number of times and Tetsu for a good part of the first half of the series simply wasn't a character that you could really root for. Not because he was a bit whiny or anything, but because his goals were really very vague in general. When he realizes it at the end here, he becomes much more interesting and you want to see where he'll go and what choices he'll make.
The character designs for the show are definitely very male heavy and actually surprising because of that, look great. Though most of them wear little more than the traditional outfits with dark solid colors, there's a roughness and angular nature to many of their faces and hair designs that push the older age of many of these characters. Tetsu is obviously the youngest and there's one or two others that come young as well in design, a lot of these guys look like they've actually lived some hardness in their lives but haven't let it overtake them. There are so many shows today where they're filled with young pups running around that even a shift like this is a welcome change. Okita's probably the most amusing of the bunch since he's so effeminate at times but that's a standard character type that always gets played up and he works it well here both when he's flighty and serious.
Peacemaker's a very stylish series that has the folks at Gonzo trying some interesting and amusing things with a pretty varied property about something that's been covered many, many… many times. I found the elements that I liked were underused and the ones I didn't care for being used much more. When I finished the series the first time, I felt that it would likely play out better in a collection form without the wait and without the low episode counts. Sadly, I found the series to be roughly the same overall when looked at again. At times, Peacemaker Kurogane doesn’t seem like it knows what it wants to be and doesn’t balance the humor and the violence well. But mostly, it’s a series that felt like it was a whole lot of nothing. There’s an interesting storyline with Yoshida and Suzu there and the plans that Yoshida has, but it serves as the background storyline for so long that when you finally get to it, it’s lost its appeal. The violence is well done and the final episodes are engaging, but as a whole I still find it to be a weak effort.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
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.