Jyu-Oh-Sei is another of those shows where you really need to give it more than a few episodes to settle and start to impress, but once it gets going there's plenty to keep your attention with. Humanity's new home is turning out to be less of a paradise than expected, and young boy Thor is about to find that his place in the world is far from what he expected…
What They Say
In the distant future, humanity has migrated into space to settle in the Balkan System, leaving behind them a dying Earth. With the loss of their native home, the race has suffered. Safety is an illusion...
Their parents murdered and their easy life at an end, young twin brothers Thor and Rai find themselves jettisoned off-world and abandoned to their fate: Chimaera, a hostile planet where only the worst criminals are sent to die. With extreme temperatures and carnivorous plants, it is a world ruled by brutality, a place where mankind has been reduced to a savage state of survival. And the only hope of escape lies in conquering the planet and its peoples to rise above them all as The Beast King.
Boy must become man and man must become beast. Death is the only other option.
Audio is provided in Japanese 2.0 and English 5.1 surround version – as usual, I listened to the Japanese track for this review. Jyu-Oh-Sei places more emphasis on characters and dialogue than on set-piece action, so there isn't much opportunity to give the soundstage a workout, but there is decent use of placement made where the chance arises. Dialogue comes through clean and clear, and there were no apparent problems. A spot-check of the English track shows it to be similarly decent, with a little more use made of direction during the occasional battle scenes but otherwise not much to tell them apart.
Video is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and looks pretty good. There's plenty of detail to the animation and backgrounds, colours are bright, and there were no apparent encoding problems, despite the episodes being squeezed onto two discs (which now appears to be standard practice for sets coming from FUNimation).
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
Both discs sport the same menu – a static main screen, showing an orbital shot of the sun rising over Chimaera, and with options provided for Play All, Episodes, Audio and, on Disc One only, Trailers. With no transition animations, it's all quick and easy to use.
The only extra provided is a staff commentary track for episode 6, accessible from the Audio menu.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Mankind has spread to the stars. Thor and Rai, twin brothers, live on the space colony Juno, sited in the Balkan star system 50 light-years from mankind's home planet, Earth. Juno offers an extremely comfortable life for its inhabitants - but after finding their parents murdered, the twins are themselves captured and cast away on a planet where plants have gained the upper hand against the human inhabitants, most of whom have resorted to savagery in an attempt to survive. The planet is Chimaera, a prison planet for dangerous criminals, and there's only one way to leave.
As you'd expect, the key to getting off the planet is to fight - there are four Rings on the planet (a Ring being roughly equivalent to a tribe), with each Ring having a leader, or Top. Defeat the four Tops (I feel a song coming on), and you become the Beast King - a title and position that guarantees you safe passage off the planet. With Thor determined to find out why his parents were killed and why he and his brother were abandoned on Chimaera, his path is clear: become the Beast King. With the series covering a timespan of roughly five years, you can quickly figure out that it's not an easy task.
The series is split into two distinct parts. Episodes 1-5 deal with Thor and Rai's arrival on the planet, and Thor's rise to power as Top of one of Chimaera's Rings. There's then a gap in the story before we pick up again, years later, to cover the arrival on the scene of Zagi, the outbreak of war between the Rings, and the ascent of a new Beast King.
Thor and Rai are very different creatures - twin brothers on the surface, Thor is strong, dependable and confident, while Rai is weaker, and soon becomes a burden on Thor - he simply doesn't have the skills to survive on Chimaera's unforgiving surface. The planet is a wild jungle, with mobile, carnivorous plants a constant danger, and with a climate marked by days and nights of arctic length and severity. It's not a nice place to live, although Thor soon comes to appreciate its unusual beauty. After being accepted into the Ochre Ring, Thor soon makes friends with Tiz and the Ring's Third (whose real name isn't revealed until very near the end of the series). Tiz is a young girl who likes what she sees in Thor and, having decided she's going to have his children, makes sure that she's never far from him. She's got an infectious idealism that helps drive Thor towards becoming Top, but while the two become very close there are ways in which he treats her quite badly. Third is more of an enigma - un-named and with uncertain motivations, he spends his time working behind the scenes to strengthen Thor's position, but always comes across as someone who can't quite be trusted, despite his apparent loyalty.
Also featuring heavily is Zagi, who has his own sights set on becoming Beast King and is the one who begins the process of defeating the other Ring Tops. Cruel, fickle and thoroughly untrustworthy, Zagi has his own plans for Chimaera and is a dangerous character, but one who is more annoying to watch than threatening. He plays a necessary role, though, so you just have to get used to him.
So, Jyu-Oh-Sei has strong characters, an intriguing setting and a mystery to be solved. It has action, romance (the story has its roots in a shoujo manga), betrayal and a few surprises and twists. What's not to like? Well, first up it takes a while to get going - I first came across the series a few years ago and didn't make it past the first episode at that point, as the way the series goes about introducing its setting and characters makes it hard to quickly develop a liking for it. It takes a few episodes to really settle and draw you in - and with only 11 episodes to work with, that's a little too long. The mid-season "jump" of a few years also feels a little out of place, while the fight-to-the-top aspect of Thor's rise to power is also somewhat hackneyed. But the character interactions, Chimaera itself, and revelations later in the series about why Thor and Rai were thrust into this world easily outweight the downsides. The planet comes across as very much alive, at times an active adversary, at others a sleeping giant who's no imminment threat but who can't be forgotten - an neat little storytelling tool that scores points for being very unusual.
I have to admit to not expecting much from Jyu-Oh-Sei when I first started watching it, but it's surprised me by being far more enjoyable than reading the story outline would have you believe. It's still not quite a classic, but it's definitely intriguing, enjoyable, and well worth the asking price. Go get.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 5.1, English Subtitles, Commentary for Episode 6.
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.