Mania Grade: A-
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- Audio Rating: B+
- Video Rating: B+
- Packaging Rating: B
- Menus Rating: B-
- Extras Rating: B
- Age Rating: 17 and Up
- Region: A - N. America, S. America, East Asia
- Released By: Sentai Filmworks
- MSRP: 69.98
- Running time: 325
- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
- Disc Resolution: 1080p
- Disc Encoding: VC-1
- Series: Legends of the Dark Kings: A Fist of the North Star Story
Legends of the Dark King Complete Collection
Legends of the Dark King Complete Collection Blu-ray Review
By Chris Beveridge
August 25, 2010
Release Date: July 20, 2010
Legends of the Dark King Complete Collection
© Sentai Filmworks
As Kenshiro's story plays out elsewhere, this series focuses on Raoh and his role in saving this foul and forsaken world from chaos.
What They Say
A nuclear holocaust has robbed the world of its order, and now warring factions fight for every square inch of desert, spilling buckets of blood to gain control. But legends tell of one great warrior who will become King, using his powerful fists and an awesome rage to rise to his rightful place. That warrior is Raoh, a giant hulking fighter with the ability to vanquish his enemies in the bloodiest way possible. But other warriors will not relinquish their kingdoms so easily. Because in this world, no one gives up without a fight!
The audio for this release is a real challenge in some ways because it could have been so much better overall. The big appeal here is that we get the English language dub that's new and it's presented using DTS-HD Master Audio for it's 5.1 lossless mix with variable bitrate. The opening sequence and much of the action and incidental sounds come across really well. Just listening to the wind in the background of the first episode alone shows you a much more immersive audio presentation and the rear speakers get a really good workout here with the music. Dialogue is naturally louder in general than what the Japanese would be, but it come across really well here with a pretty rich feeling. Where the release falters, and heavily, is that we get the Japanese 5.1 mix that we saw on the DVD release using Dolby Digital encoded at 640kbps lossy. In flipping between the two, taking out the differences in dialogue levels, it's night and day. Lossless Japanese tracks should be as much a standard as the English lossless tracks and continues to be a problem, one that I had hoped Sentai would avoid as it reduces the value of the release to give us low definition audio for a high definition release. This mix is essentially the same as what we got on the DVD, but it's weak in comparison to what the English dub fans get.
Originally airing in late 2008, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is in 1080p using the VC-1 codec. The show has an average bit rate in the low twenties but it has no issue spiking into the 30's as well, though not much higher than the low thirties at best. The release is done in a nine/four format, though the second disc has a thirty minute extra feature on it as well. Legends of the Dark King has a fairly earthy tone to it with lots of browns and quite a lot of gray throughout it. The DVD edition has a lot of noise to it because of the colors used and you can see it here as well, but it's generally very reduced and not as murky as the DVD edition felt. There's some edge noise to certain parts of characters at times and some gradients are visible, such as when we get a close-up of the horse king early on, but these gradients tend to blend fairly well. The vibrant moments tend to show up in the amount of blood in any given scene and in a few key items here and there. Depending on your setup and the size of it, and how much the noise bothered you with the DVD release, will influence whether this is worth the upgrade. The larger the set, the better this release looks compared to the DVD. If you never bought that, this is a no-brainer choice.
Legends of the Dark King is a bit of a hard sell for anyone seeing it on the shelf and could even fly under the radar of those in the know since it doesn’t emphasize that it’s a Fist of the North Star story all that much. The front cover is a dark piece with a heavy red background, what little you can see of it, that’s dominated by a large headshot image of Raoh in his full garb looking all ominous with black space to his right. Keeping it to black and red gives it a very distinct look, reminiscent of Sin City to me, but it isn't one that will grab too many casual people that would browse the covers. The back cover uses the artwork from the DVD edition of Raoh in the background with those who followed him in the foreground in full color while Raoh is in blacks and reds only. The summary is pretty meager overall but they do a nice job of pushing the dub, episode count and disc count. The discs features are clearly and prominently listed and a good chunk is given over to the production credits. The technical grid is weak in terms of content though as it doesn't break down the language options clearly (English DTS, Japanese 5.1 are all it says, which doesn't really list what's here) and it doesn't designate if this is an upscale or native HD presentation, something that I find is a must for inclusion as a point of honesty by the company. Similar to the DVD release, there are no show related inserts nor is there anything on the reverse side.
A lot of companies are still floundering when it comes to their Blu-ray menus for a variety of reasons. Sentai's only had one movie they've worked with before this for Blu-ray so I was curious to see how they'd handle a TV series. The results are alright at best but a bit weak in actual execution. The general layout has the navigation along the bottom with a series of red and black splotched sheets of metal where two of them have the actual navigation. All that's actually listed here is Episodes and Languages. Languages didn't default to my player presets, which is unfortunate since Sentai's DVDs do that so reliably. The episode section mirrors how they do their DVDs in that we get the full listing of them in a pop-up here. So if you want to start watching, you go in and select the first episode. It does a play-all from there, but from an intuitive standpoint there should have just been a play button along the bottom as well. It is nice that they added a little flair to it in that everything else in the menu goes gray when you select one of the navigation points and I like that browsing the episode numbers also reveals the episode titles. Everything is fast and response and the pop-up menu utilizes just the navigation section. The top section is pretty decent as it has a great shot of Raoh in his full garb with a layer of grain effect over it that makes it look very earthy while having a greal deal of vibrancy in the reds that are used. It's just lacking... a logo. The lack of music isn't a surprise, many Sentai menus are like that, but it looks a bit out of place without a logo.
The second disc has the expected extras in a clean version of the opening and closing sequence. A welcome carryover from the DVD release is a behind the scenes feature from a Japanese broadcast special, though this is the re-edited version that appeared on DVD in Japan, not that I expect much to be lost from it. Running nearly thirty minutes, it’s an entirely goofy piece dealing in the 25th anniversary of the Fist of the North Star franchise. The cover a range of material here, from a brief tour at Coamix to having a voice over recording, displaying various character design elements and more. It’s a goofy piece at times because they have the silly girlish interviewer doing all of this tour, but it’s always neat to see the people behind the production talking about their works.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the five volume seinen manga series done by Youkow Osada under guidance from the original creators, Legends of the Dark Kings is a thirteen episode series that tells the tale of Raoh. For better or worse, my experience with the Fist of the North Star world is pretty haphazard, but I’ve come to appreciate it quite a lot after the far too few volumes we saw of the Raijin release earlier this decade. My appreciation of the show is far different from my derision of it back in the early nineties when I was first exposed to it as it had a lot of what I wasn’t looking for in animation or anime at that time, especially without the context of the original work.
Legends of the Dark King brings us to that period before the original TV series to show us how Raoh began his rise to power and built his kingdom. The structure of the “family” that has grown under Ryuken is certainly confusing at times, but essentially several adopted brothers have undertaken various paths to become the successor, the savior that will be the true Fist of the North Star. To reach that, each has to find the right path to it that will give them what they need. For Raoh, he’s intent on bringing this violent and uncontrolled world to peace through force and fear as he believes that this age needs a demon. Years after the nuclear fallout has devastated so much, he finds himself in the position to truly begin achieving this goal along with the help of the brother/sister combination of Souga and Reina.
Across the thirteen episodes of this series, Raoh moves throughout the lands and conquers petty king after petty king, acquiring new lands and gaining new allies. Or subjects, depending on your point of view. His path takes him first to a Demon Castle where he establishes himself as the King of the Fist after dispatching the weakling that was there. With this as his base of operations, he uses Souga’s master strategies to pick off each threat in the area and expand his influence. Raoh also takes over an impregnable fortress called Cassandra which he then turns into a prison system for those he wants to keep alive but out of the way. And creatively, he takes one of the worst members within the system currently and uses him as the new Warden of Hell for it. From there, it seems like almost each episode brings us a new King or region that becomes conquered under his growing reign of fear.
As the series progresses, the cast grows as well. The initial trio is really what works the best as both Reina and Souga are completely bonded to Raoh and his goals. Reina acknowledges that she won’t capture his heart, so she works hard to be the best captain that she can be for him while Souga succeeds well as the strategist, though he feels as if he’s being replaced at one point. The worrisome addition comes in Sakuya, a fortuneteller of sorts who is also quite the strategist that seems to have ties elsewhere, though Raoh keeps her very close. Where it gets more complicated is in the various brothers of Raoh’s the filter into the show, often going against what he has planned because of the things they’ve experienced or their own belief in who will be the proper savior of mankind in the future.
There are two things worth noting about the show as it progresses. One is that it does introduce a character that I like, but hate to admit I like, and that’s the Black King. The story that introduces him is awkward and the character himself is awkward because he’s basically a horse with the mindset and abilities of those like Raoh. The two become quick partners after they face off, and I admit fully that it works in the context of this world setting, but it made me grimace a little at first. The other thing worth noting is that while Kenshiro is a big part of the motivating factors behind a lot of what goes on here, he’s not just a background presence that’s talked about. We see him more in the second half, on his long journey, walking and walking and walking. He never talks but there are more references to him as time goes on and more ties to events that are familiar from other sources. Considering they could have easily made him off limits entirely, I was glad to see that they did tie him with the series in a very forward if coy manner.
If there’s one thing a Fist of the North Star story must have, it’s violence. And Legends of the Dark King certainly has that, though it feels a touch tame at times simply because of how the times themselves have changed. Raoh brings in plenty of bloody violence, with the Black King stomping his hooves down on people, bodies ripped apart, limbs flying everywhere and even a few minor head explosions. But the problem we run into is that we have seen a good deal of this in the past – and in the somewhat recent Fist of the North Star OVA series – and violence in anime has come a long way since this first came out. There’s a lot to like here with this audience, but what at one time was striking and new now feels admittedly a little mundane and predictable. It’s well done, but because this style was the one that others imitated, it has a hard time competing by doing the same thing. Thankfully, the violence isn’t the focus but rather the accent through which Raoh ascends.
While my interest in this release was primarily to see how it looked in high definition, I ended up watching it in the new English language dub. I'm not much for a character by character breakdown, but overall I liked how it came across. It impressed me from the start as they avoided doing something most dubs do; in the opening narration where nobody is actually talking on screen, just the narrator, they didn't do any changes to what was being said in the subtitles to the dub. Often you get extensive changes or different phrases to say the same thing, but here they kept it true. And a lot of the dialogue is the same way, though exceptions are to be found due to lip flap and timing issues. It's a pretty faithful adaptation overall and it left me pleased on that front. A lot of characters come and go in the series, death is frequent, but those that are here for a good chunk of it get into it as it goes along. Part of the problem is that early on, most of them are fairly restrained. But the actors for Reina and Souga manage to emote more as it progresses. My main problem and concern came with Raoh. Andrew Love does a decent job with him and he doesn't come across as corny with his short phrases and tenor of voice, but I continually felt that his voice needed to be deeper and with a bit more gravel to it to give it more impact. I liked it well enough, but it could have been a good bit more to make him feel truly threatening.
Legends of the Dark King really hit just about everything right when it came to the story. I wanted to see Raoh working towards becoming the demon that would try to use force and fear to bring peace. I wanted to see the early conquests, the people he worked with and those whose bodies he stepped on and over. And I got that in spades here with practically each episode moving him to some new obstacle that needed to be dealt with. No huge multi episode arcs here with a singular foe. This show was surprisingly engaging and really makes me wish that everything else would get animated (again) and brought out. If there’s a show that could use an update, some cleaning up and a closer adaptation to the original, I’d love to see it be Fist of the North Star for this generation. My views on the franchise have changed hugely in the last twenty years since I first saw some of it and now I just want more and more of it. This is almost like a tease, but a wonderful tease that’s quite well done. Fans of the franchise will be very pleased and those who wanted a dub will enjoy this a lot I suspect. Sentai did a good job with the video side of the show and part of the audio, but for whatever reason they couldn't pull off the audio as well as they should unfortunately, and that's the only real down point to the release.
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Behind the Scenes Feature
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.