Following the tales of the Sevalle known as Shadow Skill, the series serves as the first book in a lengthy series of stories surrounding the woman known as Elle Ragu and her companions.
What They Say
The kingdom of Kuruda has known many warriors, none greater than the Sevalle, an elite breed whose mastery of martial arts has made them legendary. But for the 59th Sevalle, Elle Ragu, a.k.a. Shadow Skill, being a legend is shaping up to be something of a drag. After all, adventure alone doesn't pay the rent, and living check to check takes its toll on even the fiercest warrior.
Strong as an ox and stubborn as a mule she may be, but it's drinking like a fish that usually gets Elle in trouble. And as she travels alongside her brother Gau, leaving property damage and unpaid bar-tabs in their wake, a new threat looms on the horizon: spies from the kingdom of Solfan have entered the picture, and Kuruda seems to be headed for war...
Contains all 26 episodes!
Owing to its age, the audio selections for this release are somewhat typical in that both languages are presented in stereo mixes. Each of them are encoded at 224 kbps and have a decent amount of punch to them during some of the bigger fight scenes but not the kind of impact that you'd get if it was animated and worked on today. Though the action is a big part of the show there is a good deal of regular dialogue and that's done a standard center based mix. Dialogue is well placed when needed but often we're getting single characters on the screen at a time talking or other pieces that don't require any placement. Dialogue is clean and clear however and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 1998, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Shadow Skill has something of a rather standard look to it for a series of this time but it does break out of its shell on occasion. Some of the animation, particularly towards the end, gets to OVA level for that period and the transfer tends to shine a lot more then. Across the twenty-six episodes however there are some consistent problems. The backgrounds tend to look decent for the most part but some of them are more noise filled than others, especially when it comes to night time skies. There is also a fair bit of cross coloration when you look at the set in total, though it's often not more than a couple of instances per episode. Add in the usual line noise that you'll find in most traditionally animated shows and you end up with a good but average looking transfer.
This collected edition of the series is like several other recent ones from ADV Films that does annoy me, though I understand why they’re releasing it this way. The single oversized keepcase has the single hub inside that holds all six DVDs, though this time they did include some foam to keep it all in place which makes it feel even cheaper in my opinion. The front cover artwork is quite good though as it has the two leads, well detailed and looking serious, set against a black background with the moon in the distance. It has a certain feel that really sets the mood of the show quite well. The back cover is a bit more indistinct with its background but it has a lot of text covering the premise of the show and it treats it all fairly seriously which is nice. There’s a few shots from the show included in the center and they make good note of the episode and disc count. The remainder is given over to the production credits and a clean technical grid that lays it all out very clearly.
The menu design for the series is simple and the same across the volumes as it features the logo for the series with Elle's face in between the W and S of Shadow Skill. It's set to a red filter which gives it a lot of impact with the black artwork and the fun upbeat opening song. Episode selection is kept to the top of each volume while the bottom is set for language options and any on-disc extras that may be available. Navigation is pretty straightforward and I was pleased to find that each volume read our players' language presets without any issue.
Unlike a lot of collections from ADV Films, this one has retained its original extras. These are fairly mild when taken in total, especially if you're not a fan of dubs. The original opening sequence is included as is a clean version of the ending. There are several commentary tracks with the actors across these volumes as well as a fun if short video interview piece with the background voice actors as they talk about their particular trade that nets them free meals.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the slowly progressing manga series by Megumu Okada, Shadow Skill is a twenty-six episode series that is at its core a fighting show. Many standard shonen clichés apply but over the course of it, the series really feels like it's playing to another tune while being trapped in a few of the usual concepts. This franchise was originally seen in an OVA that was released by Manga Entertainment though it took several years for the TV series to come out. While the OVA left a bad taste in my mouth, I've come away with a bit better of an impression of the franchise from this series.
The show revolves around the land of Ashlianna, a Holy Nation in which there are four city states that make it up. Each of them has their pluses and minuses, but the bulk of its focus is on the city state of Kuruda. Kuruda has a long and strong history where it's never been defeated by anyone due to its capital city being surrounded by water in the middle of some very steep mountains. It's very easily defended yet a place that's not easy to live. That aspect has given rise to some very powerful warriors over the years. Each nation has its own warrior that is considered the best of the best, and in Kuruda it's currently a woman known as Elle Ragu, the Shadow Skill. She is the 59th Sevalle that has earned the title and she's probably the most difficult of them all since she doesn't play it the way all the men have prior to her.
In terms of training and skill she has certainly earned the title but she's something of a drunk and has quite a lot of debt to her name. That keeps her traveling and performing odd jobs to get money to pay it off, at least until she drinks up a lot more and has more debts. Add in plenty of collateral damage along the way and she's a force to be reckoned with. What helps to temper things for her are those she travels with. Her main companion is a younger man called Gau Ban. His village and family were killed years prior and she basically adopted him as a younger brother and the two train together while they travel. Though there doesn't appear to be any sort of romantic interest there, the two are very close with each other because of the way they get so intense in their training and how their lives are lived.
Elle also travels with a woman named Folli who is a Sui Rem, someone who uses magical talismans based on the power of a force called Soma. She provides some of the conscience of the group but also a bit of antagonism as she and Elle have a history that has been twisted over the years. First enemies and then friends of a sort, their history is actually dealt with surprisingly early in the show. The same can be said for the other companion that is introduced after the first couple of episodes, a young woman named Kyou. Part of a demon-beast hunting group, she winds up in Elle's care after her party is destroyed and she's rescued by Elle who wants her to work off her debt to her. Kyou provides something of a romantic angle for Gau as the series progresses but he, like Elle, are blissfully oblivious to all of this which gives rise to her frustration as it goes along.
While the character interactions are a good part of the series, the bulk of it is all about the fighting. There are some tournament moments to be sure, but the way it plays out is more aimed towards personal growth, overcoming fear and becoming the best that you can in order to not only protect others but to protect your own beliefs. Previous Sevalle's are abound, including one of them as the King of Kuruda, which introduces some fun interplay between them. The "Elder Statesmen" members of the Sevalle have their own views on how their members should behave which is something that Elle doesn't fit into. The stories range from dealing with them to personal issues that the characters have with themselves and each other.
Along the way there is a larger story playing out that deals with the invading nation of Solfan. A weak and poor nation, they've been manipulated by someone – who is still unknown even at the end of the series – into believing that if they take down the Holy Nation of Ashlianna then they will get their chance to rise up in prosperity. With everything around them crushing them, they have nothing else to latch onto so this makes perfect sense to them. Over the course of the series it plays out in different ways, from small incursions here and there to larger conflicts between armies and nations. But it also brings in some very strong hitters from their side that are intent on crushing Ashlianna and the Kurudan Sevalle for numerous reasons. It's in these scenes that the show gains a lot of its power as Elle and Gau really have to live up to their ideals and they don't always do so.
Going into the show was a bit difficult since I only had the bad memories of the OVA series. It also gave me pause when I found that Megumi Hayashibara was voicing the lead character. I certainly enjoy her work over the years but in this period of time she seemed to be hitting up several very similarly themed shows. There's something of a Slayers effect to it in that her performances always remind me of Lina in one way or another and that's even true here, mostly in terms of how the mild comedy is introduced into the show. The wild takes that are used give her a chance to be silly and act out which helps to lighten the mood in what is otherwise a very strong testosterone oriented show.
Shadow Skill was a series that I wasn't looking forward to back during its release in 2005 that I didn't even go with the singles. Now a few years later I'm almost regretting that as it turned out to be a rather enjoyable romp with fun characters, even if they are fairly one-note in their design. In watching the entire thirteen hours of it over the course of three days, it showed rather well how it all ties together while avoiding having a single ultimate villain becoming the big bad at the end. There is certainly enough material for another season to be had here and at the end of it I'll admit that I'd be interested in seeing more. This is relatively self contained though, inasmuch as a first book in a bigger series usually is, and I find myself coming away with mostly positive things to say about it. It's certainly not for everyone and they do avoid going into much detail about numerous aspects of how the world works, but as a character piece involving the strongest of the strongest, it's quite good.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
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.