Flame of Recca Vol. #01 - Mania.com

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B-
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Viz Media
  • MSRP: 24.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Flame of Recca

Flame of Recca Vol. #01

By Chris Beveridge     November 02, 2004
Release Date: October 26, 2004

Flame of Recca Vol. #01
© Viz Media

What They Say
Meet Recca Hanabishi. He's an average teenager with the not-so-average goal of becoming a ninja. After pledging to protect the lovely Yanagi Sakoshita, he meets the mysterious Kagehoshi, who vows to kill Recca unless he summons his hidden power to produce flame. Does Recca have the strength to unleash his flames or will he go up in smoke?

The Review!
One of my favorite series from a number of years ago finally arrives and it rekindles the love once more.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix is decent but like a number of other shows from around this time the bulk of it is pretty much a full sounding mix that doesn't have too much in the way of strong directionality across the forward soundstage. It's a good sounding mix overall but it doesn't have any huge punch or oomph to it. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems during regular playback with either language track.

Originally airing in 1997, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The print and materials for this show are decent but there are some things to note. First, there's some noticeable print damage throughout but much more noticeable during the first two episodes where you can see some dirt, dust and scratches. The second is that this isn't a high quality show to begin with. The series has always looked like it was done on a budget and it's visible during a lot of scenes, particularly mid-range character shots where there's practically no detail to their faces; some shots even have completely blank faces. The coloring style used, especially for the blacks that shade things like Recca's school uniform, are just drenched on and without detail. This is the kind of show where they never expected it to have to show as much detail as it is now and it doesn't translate well a lot of times. It's definitely accurate to the source materials however but this is a show that in some ways probably looked better on VHS.

The cover art for the first volume is really good and nicely detailed. This cover has a pairing of Recca and Yanagi together with a heavy black background while using the same logo as their manga release which gives it a nice continuity. The character artwork is nicely detailed and I like the way they have Yanagi leaning against him from behind with her eyes closed as the wind shifts their hair. The cover even has the volume number on both the spine and the front cover. The back cover provides a fiery backdrop and more black that has a very brief premise of the series. The discs features and episode numbers and titles are listed as well. Viz releases typically have very little in the way of technical information and this release isn't much different, especially since what little there is is spread out. The insert lists the episode numbers and titles as well as the chapter sections and a list of the extras. The reverse side has a piece of production artwork showing off Recca's gauntlet.

The menu layout for this release has its pluses and negatives. The main menu is nicely done with a close-up shot of Recca in his full ninja garb but with his face exposed while a mixture of flame animation and other artwork from the show plays behind him. This is set to some of the instrumental music from the show. The selections are all the basic ones and easy to navigate about. On the plus side, the chapter selection menu has to be one of the best I've seen as it gives you instant access to any chapter on the disc for any episode without having to go through numerous submenus. The downside to the menus is that there's a bit of transitional animation of both a bit of the flame as well as piece from the show itself, which has Recca pouring out some of his flame. We're no fans of transitional animations in general but this one even uses a bit of the English version of Recca grunting to produce his flame. Otherwise, the menus are pretty good here overall even if they didn't read our players' language presets correctly.

Not too many extras are here but the basics are covered in the opening volume. A small but decent production sketch section of about twenty-one pieces is included and we also get the clean versions of both the opening sequence and the closing sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Flame of Recca is one of those rarities for us in that through a friend we managed to see the entirety of this series several years ago. It was one of the few that we actually watched a few times and it was also the kind that proved that for every rule there's an exception. At the time we were very much against most of the fighting shows we'd seen but when we got to Flame of Recca, the characters won us over and the series was like a drug in that we needed more episodes as quickly as possible. But at the same time, we know that it's not exactly a standout series and it's a flawed one at that. But sometimes those rough gems can be the best gems.

Flame of Recca is a very simple show at its heart but its heart is what's attracted us to it. Things focus on high school student Recca Hanabishi, a wiry young man who has lived his life with the mindset of always wanting to be a ninja. It's been such a strong desire in him that he's read plenty about it and acts it out and has basically trained as one over the years. During that time he's made the pledge that anyone who can defeat him he will serve them as their faithful ninja. This has resulted in a few opponents who have stood the test of time and keep challenging him but never quite winning. Domon is the tall bulky guy with the Mohawk and nose ring that just can't seem to take him down while Fuko is the attractive tomboy who wants to have Recca bow down before her. Their years of back and forth have actually made them rather good fighters and quite adept at different situations.

Recca's life has been pretty consistent for years, living with just his father who is a fireworks maker, which means that Recca's become fairly adept at gunpowder and tricks associated with it. He keeps a handful of the small smoke explosive balls in his pocket and uses them to help escape situations that go wrong or just to throw off an enemy in a fight. His life takes a fairly drastic change though one afternoon when he sees an attractive girl in the park and ends up following her and the kids in her charge outside of the park. Before anyone realizes it, a crane drops a ton of girders down and Recca saves them but at the cost of his own life, or just about.

When everyone panics, the young woman named Yanagi leans over Recca and suddenly she's giving off a power that begins to heal him, causing him to wake quickly and run off almost embarrassed by the entire situation. When she catches up with him, we learn that she's in his school but usually not the type to be noticed, much like the power she's kept hidden all these years. The two quickly take well to each other and Recca wants to show off for her (as if saving her life wasn't enough) and takes her to an abandoned warehouse where inside he shows off with some of the fireworks he's kept with him. This is a really nice brief scene that shows a budding romance of sorts but it's quickly turned sour by the arrival of a mysterious woman named Kagehoshi.

Literally moving in from the shadows, she challenges Recca to produce a flame from his hands and threatens to kill Yanagi if he doesn't do it. Though she remains a mystery, Kagehoshi's arrival and her claims of Recca's ability ends up causing him to actually do just that and in the heat of battle against her as she tries to kill him he lets loose with a flame from his right arm. This achieved, Kagehoshi tells him to expect more challenges and for him to be prepared to really get into fighting. Over the course of the next three episodes, Recca finds himself fighting both his friend Fuko who Kagehoshi gifts with a device that allows her to manipulate the wind as well as a stranger named Mikigami who has a sword made of water that he can control. All of this is orchestrated by Kagehoshi so that she can force Recca to use his flame, to expand his control of it and what he can do with it.

Smaller hints of the larger story is given with a mysterious group who catch a glimpse of the powers that Yanagi has and the small group that starts to form around her of people with powers. This isn't given much time but it's central to the progress of the show coming up. What the struggle becomes as you watch these initial episodes is the one between Kagehoshi trying to get Recca to a place where he can defend himself as she talks about the arrival of another flame wielder and the coming together of a group of fighters. While we initially see the conflicts between the main trio of Recca, Domon and Fuko, it all takes on a different edge once Recca pledges himself to Yanagi even though she hasn't defeated him. Domon is stunned by it but Fuko takes it personally and finds herself manipulated easily by Kagehoshi to deal with it. But what they all end up experiencing together brings them closer together.

One of the aspects of this show that I like a lot is the music and the use of it. While there's a good opening song and a lot of good instrumental pieces for when the fights start picking up in intensity and often when they go into the final moments, it's the lack of music at times that's really key. During Recca's fight with Mikigami, there are some brutal moments between the two and there's no music at all to help move the sequence along; instead you get the smack of their sneakers hitting the floor and the thud of fists against the mirrors or the wall. Without the music it takes on a heavier and more foreboding feel as they just start smacking against each other. This kind of move isn't done too often but I found it particularly noteworthy and added much to the scenes.

As for the shows look, it's one that I've mentioned earlier that it simply isn't a bright and shiny show. It's definitely done on the cheap and you can see a number of scenes where they cut some corners. But it mixes in some great scenes as well during the key fight moments where the payoff is. The look and feel of the show is definitely in the traditional animation realm and it's showing its age. The other part that I think really affects things here is that the masters that are used are probably the same as the ones that were used for the Japanese home video release and it's worth noting that there is no Japanese DVD release. So there wasn't any clean-up or remastering done on these for a Japanese release prior to the US one. While the show doesn't look fantastic it doesn't look horrible either. It's just not going to look as slick as some of today's shows but I think it has its own charm, but I go into this show as a fan of it already.

And yes, my obligatory complaint is that once again, Viz has not subtitled the opening or closing songs. The opening logo for the show has the original Japanese logo which had the subtitle translation in English already.

In Summary:
I'll say it up front that I and my wife are most definitely what you would consider big fans of this show. But we're also both the first to admit that this is a flawed show in a number of ways, from the on the cheap animation style to the way that it only covers something like half of the manga series and therefore doesn't have a full real ending. It is a series however whose characters captured us early and quickly, watching each of them master their abilities and watching them grow, Recca in particular as revelations are made about his power. There's a good sense of comedy and action mixed into this show that works well and is reminiscent at times of Yu Yu Hakusho, which is one of the few other fighting tournament shows that have won us over in recent years. I think Recca will gain a small but faithful following here. Viz's release is pretty solid overall with just a few flaws but with a good number of episodes for the price. I'm anxiously awaiting more episodes already.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Production Gallery,Clean Opening,Clean Ending

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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