Kai Doh Maru - Mania.com

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Mania Grade: C+

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  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B-
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 15 & Up
  • Region: 2 - Europe
  • Released By: Manga UK
  • MSRP: £19.99
  • Running time: 46
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen Letterbox
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Kaidohmaru

Kai Doh Maru

By Dani Moure     March 25, 2004
Release Date: September 22, 2003

Kai Doh Maru
© Manga UK

What They Say
The battle for the Capital city of Kyo rages as warring political factions vie for power against hereditary rulers. After the murder of her parents at the hands of her seditious uncle, a young girl names Kintoko flees to the mountains to lead a harsh life; she is renamed Kai Doh Maru by the local villagers. Rescued by Raiko, the Captain of 'The Four Knights' - honorable defenders who protect the peace of the city - she is raised within their group as a boy...

The Review!
Kai Doh Maru is one of the more interesting OVA releases of the past few years. Co-produced by Manga and Production IG, the show takes place in a historical setting, but utilizes numerous different art styles to showcase some fine animation. But the story doesn't quite reach its potential.

The audio on this disc is excellent. Including 5.1 mixes for both tracks is always a nice, and the Japanese 5.1 mix, which I listened to for my review, is a nice track with some good directionality and a very immersive feel. I spot-checked the English 5.1 track, too, and noticed no problems on either. The English dub didn't sound bad, but did sound quite stiff and forced at times.

Presented in letterbox format, the video looks very nice here, with no noticeable artifacting. Colours come across extremely well, which is definitely a very good thing given the palette used, and I noticed no cross-colouration. It's extremely crisp and clean, and I noticed no faults during playback.

The front of the cover has an illustration of part of Kintoki's face, and with its yellow-gray tone it fits the show very well. The logo is nicely placed towards the bottom of the cover, with the yang symbol behind the text. Like many recent Manga releases, this disc comes packaged in a slipcover, which showcases the same illustration of Kintoki, but shifted to the left so we get a full-face view. This image then wraps around to the back of the slipcover. The slipcover and keepcase cover both have three different screenshots, buy the text is the same. There's a lot of it, describing some of the show's history and its roots. Extra features are clear, but they're strangely described so when you first view the extras menu you may be looking for things that aren't there (like a "Production report", which is actually made up of the stills and CG sections).

My biggest gripe with the packaging is that the runtime is listed as approximately 80 minutes. This runtime includes extras, but even with everything included it doesn't even scrape 75 minutes. The show itself runs for 46 including credits, which is very misleading for a show like this. It certainly implies you're getting more show than you are, and is why the grade is lowered for packaging despite the gorgeous artwork.

The main menu is a still image of Kintoki, zoomed in from the cover so that only a small portion of her face is showing, but her eyes glare through. There's a filmstrip effect going on which adds a bit of movement, otherwise it's fairly standard fair with a decent clip from the soundtrack playing. Sub-menus are much the same, with nice artwork on show, but all static. It all fits in nicely with the tone of the show, and access times are fast throughout.

Several extras fill out the disc a little, start with a staff roundtable. It's interesting to hear a few clips with the creators talking about how the project came about, what they thought it ended up saying and how they felt about the finished product. It's nice to know that they thought it could've done with more time too! It's a nice piece but fairly short.

The Character Boards section showcases some line art of the character designs, while the profiles present some text information on each character along with pictures of their character models, and a clip of their "best scenes". The CG models section is great, taking us through some of the many 3D models of the locations, panning around each, with a bit of text explaining how it came about at the end. In all, the extras are pretty nice and can help with understanding certain aspects of the show.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Kai Doh Maru opens in black and white, with several men on horses arriving to kill Kaidohmaru. But the "young prince", Kintoki, refuses to leave when pressed by his mother. The uncle, leading the attackers, has Kintoki's mother killed, but he manages to escape on horseback when his allies arrive. After the credits, we see Princess Ohni, who was originally going to serve as Kintoki's wife (they are cousins). In a flashback, we see that Kintoki's father decided that his brother should not become head of the Sakata family, but instead that should fall to his child, Kintoki, but regardless Ohni pledges her support to Kintoki.

Lord Raiko seems to take responsibility for Kintoki as such, along with Sadamitsu, Tsuna and Suetake, They are all Knights in the Defence Ministry, and are becoming concerned at the epidemics spreading throughout, and rumours of groups of demons using magic wandering around leaving an ominous feeling in the air of the capital. Ohni seems to hold a grudge from a few years prior, and as the evil Shuten-Dohji, she is now banding together groups to try and kill Kintoki, who is still part of the Fujiwara clan, and everyone around her. Yes, her. Because it turns out that Kintoki is actually a girl that Raiko has raised as a soldier. She also clearly has feelings for him that she hasn't expressed.

With the addition of the likes of Ibaragi (who works with Shuten-Dohji) to the fold, the violence continues to spread with threats on the Emperor's defence, and the evil forces at work up the ante with attempts of destruction leading to the inevitable showdown.

Visually, Kai Doh Maru is both beautiful and frustrating. The main art styles look gorgeous, especially the watercolour scenes. Yet at the same time it all comes off as a little too self-indulgent, and the occasional changes seem a little needless. It doesn't help that in a few places there seems to be no distinctive transitional point, instead it seems to be a change for the sake of a change. The insert proclaims that you can "witness seasonal transformation of plants and trees" if you pay close attention, but it would seem that I wasn't watching closely enough, because I didn't really notice. Like I say, it does look gorgeous, and sometimes the attention to detail in the backgrounds does look stunning. There's no denying that, in a lot of ways, Kai Doh Maru is unique and quite beautiful. But the superficiality of the styles is what hinders the movie at times, too, as it sometimes gets to the point where it's really quite distracting and begins to overshadow the plot.

Which is extremely unfortunate, since the plot is fairly simple in itself, but is made quite hard to follow due to the length of the piece. The story is very abrupt, with scenes chopping and changing quite quickly, meaning that often you might be left feeling that you just haven't been given even the minimal amount of information to follow it, as I did. At times it can seem as though it's little more than a steady stream of unimportant conversations with some violence thrown in for good measure. There's definitely some interesting snippets scattered throughout, that hint at larger things and some unique and interesting relationships are suggested, but it's hard to get too involved because there's simply not enough time for it.

As someone who always looks for some kind of connection with characters when I'm watching anything on TV, I was left disappointed by Kai Doh Maru. It's just hard to sympathise with or feel for any of the characters really. Some shorter pieces manage to set up emotional attachments extremely well with a condensed runtime, but unfortunately that isn't the case here. Because it's as if what we're given in Kai Doh Maru is a small piece of a much, much larger puzzle, a lot is glossed over or taken for granted. It just means that when a character is killed or betrayed (which happens an awful lot), there's little to feel for.

While Kintoki is a fairly sympathetic character, a girl raised in the manner a boy would traditionally be, as a soldier, her relationship with Raiko is relatively obvious but quite well done, yet it's just too under-developed to really be that involving. The rest of the Knights are just under-served, and while in the short amount of screen time both Ohni and Ibaragi are shown to be suitably evil, it's all a bit one-dimensional given how little time they have. The snippets of the history between Ohni and Kintoki are interesting, and help a lot in many respects; again it just underdeveloped because there's not enough time to be spent exploring their feelings and characteristics.

In the end, a lot of Kai Doh Maru's flaws can be attributed to the short running time. With about 5 minutes of end credits, plus an opening sequence, the show clocks in at less than 40 minutes (and that includes the short epilogue at the end), which is just too short for a show like this. If it was setting up something bigger, then it'd fit much better and could potentially lead to something quite good. But taken as a whole it's just a little too ambitious, and hard to get too excited about.

In Summary:
Kai Doh Maru is a unique and decent experiment, that just tries a little too hard to do a bit of everything, and gets a bit too indulgent with its experimentation at times. It's probably worth watching once, but I wouldn't recommend more than a rental for most people, as I don't find myself itching to watch it. The disc itself is nicely presented, with some good extras, but given the quite high price, it makes it hard to justify it as a disc to own.

Japanese Language (5.1 and 2.0),English Language (5.1 and 2.0),Round Table Discussion with the Creators,Character Boards,Character Profiles,CG Models,Original Trailer

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.


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