In the ironically named Heian period, when wars, famine and plague ravaged the land, court wizards struggle with the warrior class for political dominance. One girl seeks to find balance and bring peace and health back to her people.
What They Say
Karma dictates that souls will be reincarnated to right the wrongs of history. Driven by a need to complete what was left unfinished, 17-year-old Hikaru is joined by the freelance writer Tsuna. They travel across modern Japan and stumble across strangely familiar personalities from a long-forgotten era in their search for Hikaru's missing brother. As past and present collide, the enigmatic, black-coated man known as Mansairaku may once again tip the scales of destiny.
The Japanese 5.1 track sounds nice and clear, Japanese 2.0 sounds louder, but lacks complexity. Not so for the English language track - English 5.1 sounds muddled and English 2.0 was barely audible even turned up rather high. I'm not sure if that was at least in part because the actors all mumbled or it was just general sound issues. The inability of English Voice Actors to correctly pronounce Japanese names is a lingering thorn in this reviewer's paw.
The video is crisp and clean, as one would expect from Studio IG. The video is presented at aspect ratio 1.33:1, and works nicely for this TV series with backgrounds which are drawn to look flat, like Heian artwork. The art is subject to personal taste, however - the faces are somewhat distracting with high shadowing, and weird eyes. This series was originally released in 2004, and the quality is consistent with Studio IG work at the time. For a series that is now 5 years old, the video quality stands up to any current work.
Nicely packaged as a single case box set with six discs. Three of the discs contain the actual 13-episode anime, the remaining three discs contain extras for the series. Initially, it seems a bit overkill to have separate extra discs, but with the rich content on the extra discs, it becomes apparent that it was not overkill at all.
The menu for the anime itself -is simple, neat, not too long a lead in and visually appealing, capturing the theme of Hikaru playing her flute and the magic of the Magatama. The menu for the extra discs is even simpler, with a simple ink wash drawing of Hikaru and the list of Special Features for that disc.
Typical of AnimeWorks, they have included all the original Japanese video extras. Interviews with Japanese production staff, Textless Opening/Ending, Tokyo University Heian Lectures, "Zen" Music Video, Original Promotion Trailers. Behind the Scenes, "Wish Upon A Star" Discussion.
Staff discussion with the Director, Nishikubo Mizuho, Character Designer/Supervising Animation Director Kazuchika Kise, Original Character Designer Shou Tajima, and Chief Writer Yoshiki Sakurai provides insight to artistic decisions and characters. The Tokyo lectures discuss the historical accuracy or lack thereof in context; covering detail of weaponry, clothes, and daily life. The series is not particularly historically accurate, since much has been changed "for visual impact," but the discussion of those changes was extremely interesting.
Content (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
In the Heian capitol, political struggle has overtaken the noble house of Minamoto. Eldest son, Minamoto no Raikou is entrusted with the task of recovering the Magatama, the gem of power, which is said to be able to bring peace and prosperity back to the capitol. Before he can accomplish this task, Raikou is stuck down with a mysterious illness. His younger sister Hikaru disguises herself as Raikou and, accompanied only by a devoted retainer, Watanabe no Tsuna, sets out into the wilderness to defeat the Tsuchigumo clan and reclaim the Magatama.
While Hikaru seeks to find a means to gain the Magatama, she and Tsuna clash with a arrogant young warrior, Usui no Sadamitsu. Eventually they befriend the young man, and learn that he is the only survivor of an advance army sent from the capitol some time ago. Sadamitsu offers his knowledge and skills to the young general, as he calls "Raikou" and, with his help, they are able to defeat the upstart Tsuchigumo leader and restore leadership of the clan to the true heir. Hikaru and her companions hurry back to the capitol only to learn that they are too late - Raikou is dead. Hikaru, still disguised as her brother, is chastised for bringing back only one of *five* Magatama that are needed for the ritual.
Devastated by the loss of her brother, Hikaru visits the Rashomon, the gate beyond which is nothing but death and destruction. There she meets the beautiful, mysterious court dancer, Mansairaku. Hikaru plays her flute in a dirge for her brother, while Mansairaku dances his homage.
Hikaru, once again taking the place of her brother, sets out to obtain two more Magatama. The Magatama of Water is held on Noroijima, the cursed island. Once again hindered by the local villagers, who are more worried about their relationship - and dependence upon - the pirates, Hikaru meets Urabe no Suetake, a fortune-teller and alchemist. She assists them to gain access to the island, and to find and obtain the Magatama. Urabe joins their group, as they set out to find the next jewel - the Magatama of Fire. As they leave the island, a tsunami hits their boat and separates the four travelers.
Ultimately all five unite and head into the territory of the Kumaso and with Kintaro's unusual strength and resiliance added to their group, they defeat the Kumaso warriors they meet in the forest.
The Magatama of Fire is possessed by the leader of the Kumaso clan, Shuten Doji, a warrior with a mind warped by dreams of power. Hikaru's group infiltrates Shuten Doji's fortress to find no one there but, one lone Russian and the women of the stronghold. They learn that Shuten Doji has set off with the Magatama of Fire to attack the capitol. Hikaru and the others rush back to warn the leaders that an army is on the way but, instead of being hailed as a savior, "Raikou" is ignored and sentenced to house arrest.
Hikaru runs off to the Rashomon, where she is joined by Mansairaku, who felt her calling to him. In the pouring rain, as Shuten Doji and his forces draw near to the capitol, they acknowledge their feelings for one another. Tsuna and Hikaru discover that the poem her brother left her has a hidden message, that the chief Onmyouji, Abe no Seimei, is pulling the strings in this play.
Shuten Doji launches his attack. "Raikou" and the others infiltrate Shuten's base, learning that Shuten's planis complete destruction of the capitol and that Abe no Seimei has organized the whole affair. But Shuten Doji has gone mad and cannot be controlled, so Hikaru and the others attack him, attempting to wrest the Magatama of Fire from him by brute force. Shuten overdoses on the drink he has used to augment his power, attack his own men and Hikaru's group indiscriminately. Ultimately, it is one of his own followers who defeats him - she gives them the Magatama with the injunction to never let Seimei have it. Urabe meets them in the woods. Apologizing for her betrayal, she takes the Magatama and runs off to Seimei.
Confronted with Seimei's plan to put the Magatama's powers in conflict with one another, bringing total destruction, Urabe ifs forced to make a hard decision and pays the ultimate price.
Seimei puts the final Magatama in its place, and the sacred beasts appear to destroy the capitol. Hikaru and her companions race to defeat Seimei. Finally confronting the Onmyouji, Hikaru finds that her enemy is actually Mansairaku! Hikaru plays her flute one last time, drawing in all the power of the Magatamas to herself. Mansairaku runs to save her - they are immolated embracing one another, restoring the balance of energy, bringing an end to the this terrible chapter in the capitol city.
The story ends with a montage of scenes from the series, showing Hikaru and her team during their quest, and the appearance of Kintaro and Sadamitsu, still alive in the rubble. Sadamitsu wishes for them all to be reincarnated together, and the sound of modern 20th-century traffic in the background closes the book on this chapter.
It had been some time since I had watched this series - I was pleasantly surprised at how much I had missed the first time around and how much complexity there was in both characters and art. The load of extras hits me in the right place Staff discussion and academic lectures? I'm there! This set is excellent value for the $29.99 cover price, and let's face it, it's not too hard to get it for less. Fans of historical dramas, tales of magic, chambara (which is actually Edo period, but there is no Heian equivalent word) cross-dressing girls or pretty boys will definitely want to give this series some consideration.
Japanese 2.0 Language, Japanese 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Slates, 3 discs of Extras Textless Opening/Ending, Tokyo University Heian Lectures, "Zen" Music Video, Original Promotion Trailers. Behind the Scenes, "Wish Upon A Star" Discussion.
RCA F32648 33" TV, Phillips DVP140/37 DIVx Ultra DVD player, no additional sound system.