Family politics is always problematic when it comes to old families, but when you add in families who master the spirit arts, you’re asking for even more trouble.
What They Say
When the family business is fire, and you can't handle the heat, it's time to look for a new line of work - and maybe a new family, too.
Kazuma is a descendent of an ancient clan skilled in the magical Fire Arts. Unfortunately for him, the gift seems to have skipped a generation. Defeated by his younger, female cousin, Ayano, in a battle to become the clan's successor, Kazuma is exiled with only the smoldering burn of failure to keep him company. But now he's back, risen from the ashes and armed with a powerful new mojo that's sure to fan the flames of the family rivalry. The cooler he gets, the hotter she burns, and when Wind and Fire collide, Tokyo is caught in the eye of the storm.
FUNimation has given Kaze no Stigma a very good release when it comes to the audio as the series has a fair bit of action to it. The original Japanese language track is presented in its stereo format encoded at a meager 192kbps while the English language mix is in 5.1 at 448kbps. Both tracks are solid enough when it comes to the basics and what we get out of the Japanese track is essentially a solid forward soundstage mix that’s at times fairly center oriented. The English mix with its 5.1 bump up adds a bit more bass to the whole experience as well as generally raising the volume level a bit. I liked the English presentation overall as it does have more oomph and impact to it, but I’m drawn more to the way the Japanese presentation comes across simply because of my preference of the language itself and the flow of it. Both are good tracks however that are problem free.
Originally airing in 2007, Kaze no Stigma is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is really strangely laid out as it’s a twenty four episode show and this set contains the first twelve episodes. While I expected a six/six two disc format, I got a seven/five two disc format instead. The extras on the second volume do take up a small bit of space, but nowhere near enough to require this kind of layout. The release looks really good overall as Gonzo has created a work with lots of vibrant colors that stand out well. In some ways, it doesn’t feel like a Gonzo series and some of that comes from the visual design of it. The transfer is similar to a lot of what FUNimation has been putting out in that there is some noise to be found in some of the darker scenes, but by and large the majority of people will be pleased by how it looks. Colors are generally solid, cross coloration is blissfully absent and line noise is very minimal when looking at the twelve episodes in total.
Kaze no Stigma really surprised me with its packaging as it avoided the traditional FUNimation half season model. Instead of the slipcover and the two thinpak cases, we get a single sized clear keepcase with two discs inside on one side. I prefer the other method as we get something that feels a bit weightier and it allows for more artwork and design options. This release has a good looking cover with the main trio of characters in full length shots where they all have serious expressions to them as the wind blows around them. The background colors are a bit drab but it allows for the character artwork to really stand out and draw you in. The back cover uses the same kind of background but with a full length shot of Kazuma in the middle that has the standard material on top of him. The summary covers the main story elements quite well in the space allotted and there are a few very small pictures from the show just above it that don’t help it too much. The extras are clearly listed and the remainder is given over to standard production and technical information. There’s a lot of open space here which I think works well instead of feeling too empty. The release does provide for some reverse side artwork that’s really nice as it has both Kazuma and Ayano together with their weapons of choice floating around them as they look very serious. Other than the choice of the keepcase over the thinpaks, I really like how this release looks.
The menu design is done using the same elements as the front cover in a really nice way. The background is kept the same for both volumes and the little side tab is shifted to the bottom where the menu navigation selections are just above it. The cover art for the characters is split up though so that the first volume has just Kazuma by himself, which looks quite imposing, and the second volume features Ren and Ayano together but moved closer together. They’re very simple menus similar to the way the cover is laid out and it’s very appealing as it gives it a serious feel. Submenus load quickly and the navigation is quick and easy. The discs don’t read our players’ language presets though which continues to disappoint me after all these years.
The extras section has some cute pieces to it, though it does feel a bit like “voice actresses gone wild” except for the fact that it pales next to what I’ve seen some US voice actresses do at conventions. The first extra is broken up into three parts where it essentially follows three of the Japanese voice actresses as they do an event prior to the DVD release and then two of them off exploring Kobe. The second and third entries in this little series are all from a camcorder and it feels like a fluff piece that wasn’t edited down where the women are just very friendly with each other. It’s cute but entirely pointless. Also included in the release on the second volume is the clean version of the opening sequence and the two closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I swear I didn’t realize it was a Gonzo series.
And in a way, I almost feel dirty since I’ve been so hit or miss with them in the last few years. Kaze no Stigma is a twenty-four episode series that’s based off of a series of light novels by Takahiro Yamato that started off back in 2002 and are still slowly being published to this day. While Kaze no Stigma does play in familiar territory with what it’s about, the series makes out better than some other ones because the pacing is different since it’s adapting from the novel form as opposed to from a manga. Manga to anime adaptations play by a different set of rules and the novel adaptations have a flow to them that I continue to find appealing since it works with larger arcs.
Kaze no Stigma takes place in the present day world but one where it’s sort of hazy about how the general population is aware of what’s going on. Taking place in Japan, there are several families that operate under the leadership of the Kannagi family where it seems like most families operate with a particular spirit power. The Kannagi family prides itself on its fire spirit power and they bring up through the ranks the next leader by the family member with the most impressive power. Four years ago, the intended heir apparent, Kazuma failed in his fight against a twelve year old girl named Ayano and he found himself thrown out of the household. His fire abilities were weak at best and he disappeared, no longer truly a member of the family.
Kazuma has returned to Japan now and he comes at a time when the Kannagi leadership is about to be challenged in a number of ways. No longer a part of the family, he’s taken a new name and has gained some impressive abilities in the realm of the wind. What’s surprising to others that catch up with him is that he’s become something called a Contractor, someone who has signed a deal with a particular Spirit King, in this case wind, and has immense powers granted to him from that particular ken. Kazuma has the ability to call on all the powers of the wind, but only for a limited time. It’s an impressive ability, as is his ability to help those of the fire skills in pushing them in new directions. Kazuma takes on the role of a “contractor” of a different sort to the Kannagi family as it allows him to make a really good living and potentially serving some other plans he may have in the background.
Kazuma has some amusing experiences when he meets up with the current leader of the Kannagi family as he’s not trying to sway him back into the family for a variety of reasons. Instead, with almost a touch of humor, he’s more intent on utilizing Kazuma to help watch over Kazuma’s younger brother Ren and the heir apparent in the form of the beautiful and spunky Ayano. Ayano and Kazuma are like oil and water since Ayano was the one who defeated him, but mostly because Kazuma has such a superior attitude around her that it drives her nuts. At the same time, he is very good at what he does that she can’t help but admire it at times because he is someone who does do the right thing, even if he plays it all with such large self interest. Ayano has her own issues that come up slowly throughout this since she’s nowhere near ready to ascend to any real power, but she’s at that awkward stage where she has to really start getting serious about it.
What really surprised me about the relationship side of the series is that of Ren. Ren is the kind of character that when you see him, you expect the whiny child or the one who gets caught up in things beyond his control and is regularly kidnapped. Instead, with him as a future leader of the Kannagi family, he’s fairly self assured and confident in his skills and in doing what’s right. He loves his older brother who has now come back into his life and he’s intent on making sure that he sticks around and that they get closer, but in a really good way. It’s a very refreshing change in the relationship dynamic from what you normally get and it’s something that left a very positive impression on me. The character of Ren is often so poorly done in anime that having a well done one for this first half of the series, one where he’s really his own character and not dependent on others to define him, that you want to see more of him.
Kaze no Stigma runs through a few stories with this set of twelve episodes, though only a couple of them are “standalone” tales that I could have mostly done without. They’re pleasant enough pieces that help to break up the bigger stories, but the bigger stories are quite engaging here. The opening tale deals with a wind user that’s mysteriously killing members of the Kannagi family and that blame is being placed on Kazuma since he just returned to town. The story allows us to get a feel for the family politics and some of those who lead the various factions. Another storyline deals with a series of murders that cast doubt on another of the families and we see a young woman there named Misao manipulated into causing trouble by someone who is likely to be involved later in the series. The really nice thing about this story and the manipulation of Misao is that it’s built on top of what the first storyline provided with regards to those who gave their lives during it.
With good looking character designs, some really solid animation overall with a sense of vibrancy and fluidity and a fun series of stories with engaging characters, Kaze no Stigma rally surprised me. I really didn’t go in with a lot of expectations since there hasn’t been much said about the series but it gave me a great deal of enjoyment. The structure of the show avoids the typical episode of the week kind of movement of the plot and instead deals with larger scale stories, stories that are spread out but not done in a way where it feels like it’s being dragged out. For some reason, this really doesn’t feel like a Gonzo show, at least in comparison to some of the other shows I’ve seen of theirs in the last year. Kaze no Stigma was a real pleasure to watch, and not a guilty one. It’s one that I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing the next installment as quickly as possible to see where it goes. Definitely recommended for a solid action/adventure piece.
Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Ayano's House Call: All-You-Can-Eat Cakes Parts 1-3, Textless Songs
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.