Balsa begins to talk of the past in detail and she becomes a far more engaging character, as does Chagum.
What They Say
Escaping into the wilderness, Chagum, Balsa, Tanda and Madam Togarai reach a remote hideaway built into a cave. There, they plan to hole up for the winter and prepare for spring, when Rarunga will arrive to tear the egg from Chagum. Balsa finally reveals her past to Chagum, the story of Jiguro, master spear-wielder of Kanbal. The story of Jiguro is the story of Balsa growing up, and the secret behind the eight deaths that weigh on her shoulders. With Balsa's sorrow on his mind, Chagum is determined to learn all he can before the spring comes, including how to fight. But can Chagum the boy become a man in time to face the power of Rarunga?
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, and unlike some of the earlier discs, there’s far less blockiness and noise to be found here. While some amount of noise is expected, it seems to be stronger than it should be in some scenes and 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 and the eight warriors behind her, or at least some of them that we’ve gotten to know, with all of it set in front of a gorgeous snow covered mountainside. There’s a lot of detail here and a very strong defined look that eludes many other shows. 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 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 insert, 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 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 only extra on here is the full version of the promotional video which runs just under five minutes.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As Moribito moves ever closer to its ending, and the inevitable action that will follow, the series finds itself at the point where it must finalize the changes of some characters and expand on others. While there is a very good setup for the final run of episodes at the end here where the stakes start to get raised, it is all the material prior to that which makes this volume so much fun to watch and so simply engaging. There’s been a lot that has brought the show to this point but the focus for much of this is on the core trio of characters that we now have and the past of one of them.
Balsa has been a curious character from the start, especially with the mission upon which she’s given herself and the real reasons why she helped Chagum in the end. She’s been aloof at times but has slowly warmed up a bit to Chagum as their journey continued and even more so since dealing with Tanda and Torogai. As the winter has started to set in, but before things really become problematic for traveling, the four have holed up in Hunters Hole in the mountains where they’re spending time laying low after all that has happened. And it’s a very good opportunity for discussion, or at least exposition, as Balsa has decided that it’s time for her to talk to Chagum about her past and how it’s led to her protecting him.
Balsa’s story is one that would make for a good show all on its own, as we see her at the age of six where her father is fairly important in the land they’re from. Through coercion by others within the ranks of nobles and the like that served the king, her father was put to poisoning him slowly. He didn’t want to do it but had no choice and now he fears only for his young daughter. His only hope for her salvation is with his best friend, a young man named Jiguro who has become the youngest member ever of the King’s Spears, the best of the best of the spear fighters in the kingdom. He’s completely subservient to his king and cannot agree to this, especially now that he knows that the man he serves is about to die.
But honor and duty are tricky things for some and Jiguro cannot leave Balsa to her fate. Even though it means giving up all his position and essentially conceding that the master plotter, Logsam, will essentially win and take over the kingdom, he does his duty to his friend and secrets Balsa away. Now they’re being hunted by those he once served with and has to deal with them without holding back. The young Balsa realized it differently as time went on, but she suspected he had a real thrill from all of it as he was finally able to test his skills at long last. The journey the two take over the next ten years together and how their relationship evolves and from when Balsa began to learn from him is really well done and it covers about an episode and a half worth of time here.
Some time is given over to Shuga and the developments being dealt with there with the history of Shing-Yogo and what they’ve learned, but the general idea is that the tablets have told them that what Balsa is doing is right and Chagum may well turn out to be the savior of everything. The two sides must eventually come into contact with each other but they each have to grapple with different things. While Shuga has to move in the direction of protecting Chagum, Chagum himself must begin to understand his role and work towards becoming more of a man. With several months ahead of them in the Hunter’s Hole for the duration of winter, Chagum makes some serious decisions about who he wants to be and how he intends to stand for himself in life. The story of Jiguro has given Chagum something he needed and watching him change, seeing his transformation, is really quite something as it’s subtle but strong.
Moribito’s episode count is still the most confounding thing about this series as every volume leaves you wanting more of it right then and there, even when they’re filled with slow episodes that are a bit too heavy on the exposition. This volume covers a lot of ground with Balsa and her past and it also positions everything for where the show is going to go in its final few episodes. There’s a whole lot to like here and it manages to give everyone’s personality a little more of a nudge to make you like them even more and feel much more connected and sympathetic to them. This continue to be a really good series that’s just not having a very good release at all.
Japanese 2.0 Language, Japanese 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Promotional Video
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.