Rurouni Kenshin OVA Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: A

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: A+
  • Menus Rating: A
  • Extras Rating: A+
  • Age Rating: 17 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.99
  • Running time: 60
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Rurouni Kenshin (aka Samurai X)

Rurouni Kenshin OVA Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     February 15, 2002
Release Date: October 10, 2000


Rurouni Kenshin OVA Vol. #1
© ADV Films


What They Say
Nineteenth century Japan: a land torn by warfare and rebellion where small bands of soldiers seek to overthrow the tyrannical Tokugawa Shogunate. Enter Kenshin, a young orphan whose fighting skills were honed by the great swordsman Hiko. But Kenshin’s soul is embattled much like the killing fields of Japan, his hopes for a new world peace at odds with his life of blood and killing. His world is thrown into further confusion by the arrival of a mysterious woman named Tomoe. Her kindness and attention show him a kind of life he didn’t know existed. Can she help the assassin become a real man? Or does she hide a secret that could destroy everything he has come to depend on? Join the battle and discover the enemy within.

The Review!
Two words sum up the majority of this disc; stunningly beautiful.

This first volume presents the first two OVA's out of the four that compromise this prequel of sorts to the TV series. There's some debate about whether seeing the prequel will affect how you view the TV series, but after watching them, I can't imagine waiting until the completion of the TV series to watch this.

The disc is presented in the standard bilingual format. It's an above average stereo soundtrack, for the Japanese language portion at least. Listening to it on our main theater setup, it sounded quite wonderful and full. The incidental music and the action sequence music are beautifully orchestrated and create a big impact on the scene. During the selected fight sequences, the clash of swords and the grunts and gasps of the men is distinct and strong. The English track sounds good, though we only listened to it on our smaller TV speakers later on.

The video side was a real challenge to rate. During the first episode, there were two minor sequences where I saw some very noticeable compression artifacts. The first being during the darkened blue night sky, which seemed rather shifty for the few seconds it was visible. The other was a short bit later with the woman who was pleading for Shinta, where her face seemed to be somewhat blocky.

Throughout both episodes there are some very minor spots of line noise, mostly in the buildings and a couple of small rainbows that were almost unnoticeable. The compression artifacts are what made the drop in the rating down, because otherwise this is simply a beautiful disc. There are a lot of very fluid action sequences in these OVA's. The vibrancy of the colors during the outdoor daytime exteriors, the clash of swords in the darkened alley where we noticed almost no real breakup in the video. The red blood simply flows wonderfully. The second episode isn't as rich in the background colors and variations, but it holds up equally as well. The first episode simply has so many beautifully animated scenes that it stands out strongly.

While not as stylishly done as the Gasaraki menus, there's a striking quality to the menus on this disc. They're fairly straightforward and without a lot of depth, but there's a good use of bright vibrant colors and perfectly executed transition animations. I also like the language selections that they've done here (English, Japanese, Japanese with English Subtitles, English with English Subtitles). A couple less things to select overall. And the language selection chose my preferred DVD player defaults.

One thing a lot of people wanted to know about was the packaging. How do you reconcile two completely different VHS release styles into one DVD package? You've got the Samurai X dub version and you've got the Rurouni Kenshin sub version. ADV had a few different options open to them and took one of the more obvious (and smart) ones by doing a reversible cover. The primary cover is Samurai X with the same artwork from the dub VHS tape. The reverse side has the same art as the sub VHS cover with the pouring rain over Kenshin and Tomoe. It also has the large original logo for the OVA's with an English plain text translation below it with the discs title (Trust). The plus side to the Kenshin side of the insert is on the back cover side where the disc summary is. On the bottom where there's normally credits and creative information, they've left this blank so you get a bit more of the art to see clearly. The insert has the Samurai X cover art on one side and the chapter selections on the other. The disc itself is the usual gray etched style, though there's a slight cast image of an "X" over it.

So no, you won't be completely free of the Samurai X logo.

In terms of extras, there's some really nice ones on here and one that merits the A+ rating all by itself. The first attraction is a sizeable character introduction page. Selecting the name gives you a brief piece on the character as well as who voiced the character in both languages. It's also got a "clip" function so you can check out a particular scene with that character that's in both languages and subtitled. Very nice and better than force-feeding English only.

The other real extra is the historical background on the era. This is a fairly lengthy piece of scrolling text that goes into some detail the history that led up to the time of the show and the reasons behind it all. With as few liner notes produced by ADV over the years, seeing something like this and the bits on the Gasaraki disc are showing a change that I really like.

Having only seen a smattering of the TV series I'd been told to hold off on watching the OVA's since they'd make less sense or possibly spoil something later in the TV series. Well, that obviously wasn't going to happen.

The story starts out with Kenshin as a young boy named Shinta. He's being brought to a village to be sold further into slavery but the group happens upon bandits. They make quick work of everyone though the women plead for Shinta's life as they fall under the bandits blades.

Just as it was Shinta's turn to be killed, Hiko shows up. Little is revealed about Hiko in the storyline, but after killing all the bandits with little effort, he eventually takes Shinta under his wing to teach him his fighting style. From there the tale begins a multiple split across time, between Kenshin's training years as he grows, his joining up with Katsura to bring about a new world order and to his later time as a master assassin for Katsura.

There's two real storylines working here that are intertwined. You have the main one which is the history of how Kenshin made is mark on the world as Japan changed. The second is the more intrigue laden story of the changing of Japan through another of their turbulent times. As mentioned at the beginning of the show, it's fiction based within historical fact. The main arc takes place in 1864. When you look at what's going on there at this time, and contrast it with your own countries history at that time (for me, the US), there's such a striking distance in everything that you can almost romanticize how it was there, though fraught with danger.

That's one of the things that attract me to shows like this. As with anything like this, you take it with a grain of salt, but there's usually enough in there that you can get a feel for how it was.

This was a very high profile and high budget release for Sony and you can see the money on the screen at almost all times. The character designs, though different than the TV designs, are gorgeous. There's a depth to the skin coloring that's really striking. There's naturally a lot of darker colors in this, with many of the assinations taking place at night and in darkened quarters, but there are a number of standout scenes outside of there.

Early on you have a really powerful sequence with Shinta and Hiko standing in the graveyard dug by Shinta. The deep reds and yellows of the setting sun contrasted with the black shadow outlines of the two characters is very memorable. Scenes later with the training of Kenshin by the waterfall standout as well as Takasugi showing Kenshin off to Katsura in training with the purplish glow of the sword slicing through the wood.

There's a wonderful fast paced fluidity to the Kyoto fight sequences between Kenshin and whomever his target is at the time. The action moves fast, but without the quick editing that mainstream Hollywood movies are subjected to. We're allowed to pause at the brutality he causes, though we're awed by the simplcity and beauty of it. But it's not long before we're thrust into it again and the blood continues to flow.

The first episode left me breathless in admiration of it. After watching the second one, I finally understand the enthusiasm of those who've seen the Japanese DVD releases. This is good stuff.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,ADV Samurai X Trailer,Character Introductions,Historical Background

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Pioneer 414 codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, gold plated Monster component cables and Sony speakers.

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