Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit Vol. #2 - Mania.com



Anime/Manga Review

Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: C
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B-
  • Age Rating: 13+
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Media Blasters
  • MSRP: 24.98
  • Running time: 75
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (Mixed/Unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit Vol. #2

By Chris Beveridge     December 23, 2008
Release Date: November 04, 2008


Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit Vol. #2
© Media Blasters

This title has not yet been reviewed. With a massive manhunt underway, Balsa uses her wits and experience to evade capture with Chagum.

What They Say:
Cornered prey may turn vicious. A cornered hunter may turn the tables.

 Prince Chagum is hunted by his own father, who believes he is possessed by an evil spirit. Under the protection of a master spear woman named Balsa and her friends, he wonders if his strange powers are in truth a blessing or a curse. The empire's strongest warriors have been sent after them, a team called the Hunters who answer only to the throne. Not only are they seasoned warriors, but they have the resources of the empire behind them. Escaping the town with a careful trick, Balsa's only chance is to take Chagum with her on a perilous ride over the mountains to reach her home kingdom. Wounded from an encounter with the Hunters, Balsa takes off on the desperate crossing. It's a journey she would be hard-pressed to complete safely, even unhurt and without killers on her trail.

What We Say:
Audio:
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.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
Media Blasters has always tried different things with their package designs and Moribito is no exception – unfortunately. This release is another sideways piece from the company which looks great with its artwork of Balsa and a pair of the Hunters set against a cloudy moonlight night. The character artwork is strong and the background is highly appealing with its colors, especially with the lengthy layout. 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.

Menu:
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 the two hunters set against the moonlight sky with all the clouds around it, but the artwork looks fuzzy and noisy along the edges in a way that is rather unappealing. Instead of crisp clean line work, it comes across as jagged and rough. 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.

Extras:
The only extra included here is a clean version of the ending sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Media Blasters has unfortunately made this an eight volume series so that means the bulk of the remaining discs will be three episodes each. With a story that’s as slow and careful in its presentation as it is, Moribito doesn’t feel like it covers much ground here. And that’s meant in a literal sense as well as Balsa employs the technique of “hide in plain sight” in her efforts to keep the young prince safe and alive.

The three episodes that run across this volume are again rather mild when it comes to the progression of the story. There’s only one series of moments where it significantly picks up the pace as to what it wants to do. With Balsa wounded after her fight with several of the hunters, she’s managed to make her way back to Tanda’s hut where she’s now recuperating. That allows her to get some much needed downtime – out of the rain as well – through which she can start to figure out how to get Chagum out of the area safely. Her word is her bond to be sure and she’s intent on making sure Chagum stays alive for as long as she’s alive. It’s almost amusing when she says it with the nod towards the idea that she’s becoming a mother figure of sorts.

The wrinkle in everything comes in the form of Togari, a shriveled old mystic lady who is spending much of her time trying to communicate with the Water Folk in an effort to alleviate the drought that’s plaguing the land. Her arrival at Tanda’s hut is fortuitous as she realizes that there’s something very different about Chagum. Her search for the “egg” ends rather quickly when she discovers that it’s inside him. Her discovery is very amusing as she literally phases herself into his body to see what’s going on in there. This sets off some confusing talk, even to the characters, about what the egg is and the meaning of it all. The importance of it is clear though in that Chagum is key to what’s going on since he was implanted with this egg back in the spring and Togari is intent on staying with him for the time being.

Where Moribito gets intriguing is in how Balsa uses her knowledge and experience to get away from the pursuers that the King has decided to send after her. With the ruse and belief that Chagum is dead because of the fire, the hunters are intent on bringing him back so they can perform the ceremony that’s required. The grief of his father is certainly palpable and the games being played throughout this by various people is certainly intriguing, if a little overly complex at times because of the growing scope of it. Balsa’s past experiences are used rather well as she pays off someone she’s worked against in the past, a slave trader, in order to free a couple dozen people who will throw off pursuit surprisingly easily. In Yogo, apparently all foreigners look alike.

While there’s a great deal of dialogue to this, as well as the simple quiet moments as the plans are hatched and events play out, there is also a brief moment of really enjoyable action as well. Balsa’s attempts to get Chagum away have her working a rather convoluted idea with Togari who is insisting on accompanying them. The hunters that are in pursuit, outside of the massive manhunt, are continuously impressed with Balsa based on their interactions with her. Each of them has had a different experience overall, but they keep coming back to the way she managed to disarm and neutralize them without killing them. That speaks volumes to them and even when they’re in strong pursuit of her it’s something that is at the front of their minds as it colors how they view her actions.

In Summary:
Moribito continues to be an engaging show, but this is one series that needed to have these first eight episodes released together as one set, and certainly not split in a 4/3 format that we did get (even if we did get a bundle). The series is one that really does work to capture you with its engaging visuals and the carefully plotted and surprisingly quiet moments where you feel the characters are thinking rather than simply reacting. There is a certain scope to the story that is still being laid out and it’s one that hasn’t had all that much truly revealed yet. As Yogo is shown more, the scale of the city and its place in the world is becoming all the more apparent as well. Moribito has a lot to offer, but it’s still very much in that slow phase where it’s doing a wonderful job of adapting the novel but it’s not something that grabs you by the collar and drags you easily into it. It’s a show that requires some patience and a deriving of pleasure from seeing things unfold slowly.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Ending

Review Equipment:

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.

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