Labyrinth of Flames - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: C

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B-
  • Extras Rating: A
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Central Park Media
  • MSRP: 29.99
  • Running time: 60
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Labyrinth of Flames

Labyrinth of Flames

By Chris Beveridge     April 02, 2002
Release Date: February 12, 2002


Labyrinth of Flames
© Central Park Media


What They Say
Meet Galan, a spastic geek who'd do anything to be a real, live samurai. But that's just an impossible dream... or is it? When his Russian princess girlfriend gives him the gift of an ancient sword, strange events unfold, and even stranger people drop out of the sky to attack. Now Galan must overcome his ineptitude and join a bunch of beautiful women in a wacky romp through a kingdom that time forgot. Hey, what could be better?

The Review!
After doing Agent Aika, Nijishima felt somewhat burnt out and couldn't figure out what to do. The result was a historical drama that turned to a comedy and evolved into something... well, something that feels like a project that changed halfway and was forced to change along with it.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. Even though this is a very recent OVA series, there's nothing going to the rear channels and most of what's done across the forward soundstage has practically no real directionality to it. Other than that, dialogue is nice and clear throughout it and the music and sound effects are properly used.

Video:
On the plus side of being a recent production, the source material for this release is just about perfect and doesn't suffer from the one problem we had with Aika, cross coloration. Other than manybe one or two instances in some tight line work, there's none of it here in the first episode. The second episode has more noticeable instances of it however. Backgrounds feature some great solid blues, character animation is vibrant without any macroblocking and the overall look of the disc is one of the best I've seen so far in 2002.

Packaging:
The cover unfortunately finds half of itself taken up with the logo of the show while Galan, the "wannabe samurai" gets most of the bottom half and the girls get a small section. I'm not sure if it would be better to go for the obvious route and showcase the girls to sell the show, but I think it'd be like trying to sell Aika by showing the submarine that the villains used as the main draw. The back cover gives a couple of smaller character shots and a decent summary of the show. Features and technical information is all nice and clearly listed. The reverse side of this clear keepcase gives you the production credits, chapter listings and bilingual cast listings in black and white along with several more screenshots.

Menus:
The menus are pretty simple with selections along the bottom and some character animation moving along the top from the show. Music plays along with the main menu, but the submenus are quieter and feature static animation shots along with the selections. Access times are nice and fast and the layout in general is easy to use.

Extras:
CPM got some great original extras here which make the disc more enjoyable. While there's the usual things such as the art gallery and the character sketches, the text interview done with the director and character designer is very enlightening as to the shows origins and how they tried to avoid replicating Aika. The other really entertaining extra is a fifteen minute video on the madness behind the dub production. This kicks off with the naive CPM guy going into the true lair of darkness; Jessica Calvello's NY apartment. After a brief tour and a whirling fashion show, things move down to the dub studio where we meet a variety of the voice actors, the director and the casting director. There's a lot of fun stuff going on here and this production definitely seems more fun than some other ones I've seen in the past, but then again, it's just a fifteen minute piece. It's quite well done though and shows just how good an original extra can be - even to a sub fan.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In their eagerness to avoid replicating Aika, I think they failed to really make this show its own. In particular, the change in early production from a historical drama to a comedy based within various cultures while still keeping aspects of the historical is what hurts it. Instead of one nice cleanly presented world, things feel like a mishmash that just doesn't sit right.

This time around, our lead character is Galan, a "wannabe" samurai whose just fascinated with all things related. The introduction has him fighting off a feudal household in black and white which then shifts to show that it was him playing against a projection screen of a classic movie. The opening itself is done in a huge Russian choral sound (which is just beautiful!) with Galan running along and the images of the girls from the series fading in and out of the background. While you know it's not going to be serious from the intro, the opening sequence makes you wonder for a second or two.

We then get to meet Natsu, a college girl attending school and going to see Galan. She's being followed by Kasumi, apparently a servant of hers who goes way beyond the call of duty, especially for an anemic. When she spies a puddle of water ahead, she leaps over Natsu and lands hard on her face, so you see the blood all around and streaming down her face. And then she just pushes her butt up in the air and tells Natsu to grace her by walking over her and avoiding the puddle.

Much like Natsu, I was cringing at this and backing away. Kasumi does this continually throughout the show as she tries her best to serve and it's worth noting that she rarely has a normal expression on her face as she's always got something going on. This probably does fall into the double standard as we've seen male characters go through this before and laugh, but here it just seems almost mean to the character at times.

When we do get Natsu and Galan together, the two are pretty friendly but we can tell Natsu's got an ulterior motive. She takes advantage of his love of swords and gives him one from her househould because "we've got these things all over the place". No warning flags wave in front of Galan, but Kasumi does a spit-take when she realizes just what Natsu gave him. It's not hard to guess that the two are now engaged.

So Natsu takes him home with her to see the house and check out all the swords and other artifacts. Unfortunately for poor Galan, this means parachuting into the remote household and small amount of cultivated lands around it, as it seems that it was set aside for a fleeing warlord some time ago. So Natsu introduces Galan to everyone after being picked up by skilled swordsman Datenoshin and visiting American girl named Carrie. Carrie is definitely the steretypical cowgirl blonde with massive knockers with her own agenda. At the house, we meet Natsu's father and her aunt, both unique cahracters to be sure.

So you can expect all kinds of wackiness going on here in addition to there being two more women hidden in the background as part of all of this Russian mystique. I do have to admit, one of them dances really nicely. And then we learn that these Russians have some control over some bizarre looking stick demons that start attacking Galan to try and steal his sword.

So then I'm completely lost and we're still only in the first of two episodes. And the second episode only lets things wander all over the place more with the various relationships, the whipping of the father by the daughter and more things just make you boggle. If there's one thing that can be really hard to make mainstream, it's comedies, and this is just another one that I've found a hard time having fun laughing at.

I did find it however to be much more enjoyable listening to it in English. The dialogue is almost entirely the same but some of the jokes are slightly modified to flow better, but the delivery by the actors just strike me as more fitting for this type of humor. Carrie's southern accent sometimes comes across a little grating, but it's probably one of the better southern accents I've heard in a dub in general.

With it running only two episodes, you may find a quick burst of a comedy that tickles your fancy just right. For whatever reasons, things just didn't play well for me. If you're looking for the fanservice, you'll be mostly satisfied here, though there are fewer low-camera angle shots than in Aika, you still get plenty of those goods. Things are something of a mixed bag in the end though.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Art Gallery,Cast & Production Credits List,Textless Opening,Textless Ending,Character Sketches,Director & Character Desginer Text Interview,Behind the Scenes Madness

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.

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