Moribito plays things a little quietly for a few episodes as things settle into place and the world is explored a bit more.
What They Say
Balsa decides the best way to hide from the empire's Hunters is in plain sight. She creates a simple home for herself and Chagum in an old mill, and hopes to live with him in peace. The boy prince must learn to live among the commoners, but intelligence and sense of justice make him stand out. Balsas new start is halted when she asks a local sword smith to fix her damaged spear. He knows who she is, and the emperors Hunters are also his clients. Balsa and Chagum are locked in a back room as the smith meets with the Hunters just a few feet away.
Media Blasters has a pretty good selection of mixes here with four audio tracks, two of which are relatively unnecessary if DVD players are built properly. The Japanese and English language mixes are presented in both a 5.1 mix and a 2.0 mix to ensure the best overall playback. The stereo mixes are done in a standard minimal 192kbps encoding while the 5.1 mixes get the full 448kbps. The 5.1 mixes almost feel like overkill for a lot of this since it’s basic dialogue and little more for the bulk of the episodes. When the big action scenes do kick in, the mix comes across a bit more dynamic but not in a way where it’s really strong. The mix is used more for accent and clarity of placement more than overall impact. We only spent a little bit of time on the stereo mixes and they came across well, stronger with the forward soundstage, but there isn’t a huge world of difference between the two.
Originally airing throughout 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With very strong production values by Production I.G., the transfer for this is pretty disappointing in a lot of ways. The bitrate hovers in the sixes and sevens for a lot of it, but there’s a good deal of blocking and noise along the way that keeps it from looking clean and fluid. While some amount of noise is expected, it seems to be stronger than it should be and a lot of scenes come across poorly because of it. The ending sequence in particular, where it shifts from the dark blue to the lighter blue with the headshot of Chagum, really showcases a good deal of banding and blocking as it goes along. Colors look good in general and there isn’t any over saturation nor is there any visible cross coloration.
This release is another sideways piece from the company which looks great with its artwork of Balsa in the foreground while Shuga is behind her. The background setting of the landscape with the setting sun and the clouds is really well done and it has a darker and almost brooding feel to it. The downside is that they put it in a large jewel case that’s keepcase sized. Other than a few music releases in the US and a number of Japanese releases, you don’t see these kinds of cases often. They’re thinner than keepcases but the non-standard aspect is certainly going to annoy some, especially those that try to transition them to regular keepcases since they don’t fit in all that well. The back cover is nicely done with the background from the front cover extended here along with a few shots from the show. The summary runs through the predictable basics of what to expect and there’s a listing of the discs extras as well. The production information and technical grid is solid as always and comes across in a very easy to read fashion.
The front cover for this release doubles as the booklet as well. The interior opens up to several pieces of character concept design items. There’s nothing on the back of the panel though which keeps it from feeling like anything truly worthwhile. It’s not a bad booklet, but it’s very minimal overall.
The menu design was one that while basic could be quite serviceable if not for the poor look of it. The static image of Balsa and Shuga from the front cover is used here to goof effect overall and it avoids the fuzzy feeling that we had with the previous volume. The navigation strip is simple, especially as the sole extra is listed along the top level, and submenu navigation is easy. Language selection is awkward since once you make a selection, it doesn’t really show what’s selected in any way. The disc didn’t read our player presets and defaulted to English stereo with sign/song subtitles.
The extras for this installment ramp things up a tiny bit as we get a series of trailers for Moribito’s Japanese release which runs a couple of minutes. We also get one of the promo films made for the series which runs a couple of minutes as well and is welcome to see. I think this one was used by Geneon at one point to promote the series.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Moribito finally hits up to episode ten with its third volume and it certainly is like going back to the past with the episode and volume count. These episodes do slow things down a bit but it’s actually quite welcome at this point since there isn’t much running around and Chagum finally gets to show a bit more of what makes him who he is in a way that could blow up terribly in his face. The nature of the series is one that definitely continues to feel like Twelve Kingdoms in that it wants to slow down at the right time and really let the atmosphere of the world sink in and envelop you.
The three episodes here are all very distinct and actually take up a good deal of time for each installment in a way that you wouldn’t suspect. What made it all so engaging for me is that there isn’t any kind of swordplay or action to any of them, instead it wants to engage in dialogue and exploration of themes and characters The opening episode in particular is really fascinating as it has Balsa visiting a swordsmith to fix her spear. The man knows who she is and it puts him in an uncomfortable position because she’s technically dead and technically wanted for going against the court. At the same time she comes to him, several of those that were pursuing her have arrived to get their repaired swords and the elderly swordsmith plays their stories against each other to figure out whether he should help her or not. It’s really intriguing watching it play out and the episode, which runs fairly long overall, feels like it’s over in the blink of an eye when you realize what happened.
The weak episode for me was the middle one which focuses more on Shuga and the Star Readers and some of the internal politics that’s going on there. Shuga is so intent on figuring things out with the drought and other issues that are coming up as well as dealing with what has happened to Chagum that he runs up against one of the elders in a way that causes problems. So much so that he’s summoned before Sagum fearing that he’s going to be highly disciplined because of it. Instead, we get an intriguing story about the two brothers from when they were younger and how Shuga stood up to the Mikado in a way that really surprised Sagum and left a lasting impression on him. It helps to flesh out Sagum which is needed but also gives Shuga more of a backbone than I would have expected of him at this point. This episode does help to build up the background more and it was given the right amount of time to be told.
Balsa and Chagum do get some time to shine this volume outside of the first episode, more so for Chagum though. In an effort to get him to be more comfortable around others his age, she sends him out to play and to spend time with Toya when he comes back into contact with her. With Toya, he’s sent off to experience the city and get an understanding of how commoners live, which is what he is at this point. The two boys have some interesting mild adventures that feel realistic before they get caught up in a con artist game of chance. Chagum’s well educated so he figures out the ruse pretty quickly and calls them on it. With Balsa watching secretly from the side, he works on exposing them properly and holding his ground. It’s a great stand-up for yourself moment that he has and he plays it without too much arrogance and you come away liking him more than before. He’s showing more personality as time goes on, especially now that he’s not so completely on the run.
I like Moribito. The more I see the more I like it. But this release pattern as of this writing is horrible with the delays and the episode to volume count. This set of episodes is really quite engaging as it shows us the core cast of characters more in ways that aren’t being pushed by action or violence. This isn’t revolutionary, but it’s a rare series that does it and does it as well as this. With these episodes, Balsa has her background expanded upon, Shuga becomes a stronger figure in the scope of things and Sagum finally gets some good characterization. Chagum really gets to shine the most and even Toya manages to avoid being a complete one-trick pony. These are very good episodes overall and in some ways better than some entire series. It’s definitely worth checking out if you can handle the wait between releases and the low episode count as well as the awkward packaging design.
Japanese 2.0 Language, Japanese 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Original Trailers, Promo Film
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.