Shadow Skill TV Vol. #4 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B-
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: TV PG
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Shadow Skill

Shadow Skill TV Vol. #4

By Brett Barkley     May 22, 2006
Release Date: May 02, 2006


Shadow Skill TV Vol. #4
© ADV Films


What They Say
It was the ancient people of the Holy Nation of Ashlianna who first recognized the existence of a power which coursed through all matter. "Soma," they called it, residing in all worldly things, flowing freely through space and time like waves rolling in upon the shores of existence. To this day it continues to bestow the greatest concentration of its blessed energy upon the people of Ashlianna, descended from those very ancients who first gave it its name. But these days a shadow looms over Soma, and bad omens hang in the very winds which blow through the countryside. As the ancient ruins reveal their secrets, evidence suggests that these are the dark days prophesized in the hieroglyphs. Now, with the Apocalypse on the horizon, demons roam the streets of Kuruda, none more vicious than "G," the 58th Sevalle, back from a journey through madness and death, on a deranged vendetta against King Iba Sutra. Is this the spark with which Solfan will ignite the dreaded "annihilation of the holy nation"? And when the flames die down, and Kuruda lies in ruins, which of our heroes will lay dead? As new characters enter and exit the fray, you may be sure of one thing: from hereon out, nothing will ever be the same!


The Review!
Can Elle and her friends survive the rage of a foe who has returned from the grave seeking vengeance? Can Kuruda?


Audio:

In terms of audio options, Shadow Skill Vol. 4 offers English 2.0 and Japanese 2.0 with subtitles. Both audio tracks are fairly standard and are certainly clear without distortion. While definitely solid, the audio doesn't really stand out as anything spectacular. While both audio options are very solid, I feel the humor comes across a bit better in the English dub.


Video:

Shadow Skill Vol. 4 is presented in the original 4:3 full frame aspect ratio. Originally airing in 1998, Shadow Skill looks clean, lacking notable scratches and dust. The blacks are primarily true and the colors, while definitely appearing muted, are consistent and solid throughout. I did note some jagged line edges and blurriness, but this was very minimal.


Packaging:

Shadow Skill Vol. 4 ships in a standard keep case and prominently features four Sevalles (Elle, Kai Shink, Scarface, and "G") from this volume. The Shadow Skill logo is featured across the top of the front cover, the title, "The Fall" across the bottom. The cover image itself is a fairly standard in the way of group action poses, and is a little too static, lacking the dramatic depth warranted for the episodes found within.

The reverse cover features a background somewhat akin to blood soaked granite and showcases a stylized version of the logo at the top of the case. Just below this is a brief synopsis of the episodes. A gritty horizontal montage of images from within marks the middle of the reverse cover. The four episode listings are clearly indicated just below the images, and disc and credits information occupies the lower quarter of the cover.

Shadow Skill Vol. 4 includes an insert featuring the cover image (sans the volume title along the bottom of the screen) on one side and some line art images on the reverse. Set against more of the blood-spattered background as found on the disc reverse, the line art features a number of characters along the top (likely from Kyou's Septia group), with two line art images (a full body and bust shot of Kyou Lyu) occupying the majority of the insert. While having a nice look, the line art for these images, however, is reproduced in white, which makes it a bit difficult to separate from the busy background.


Menu:

Retaining the same basic and primarily monochromatic menu feel of the earlier volumes, the Shadow Skill Vol. 4 menu certainly has attitude. The menu opens with a side-scrolling effect as the logo, in text nearly as tall as the screen, moves to center on the stylized image of Elle Ragu's face. Slightly above this is the episode listing fourteen through seventeen and below are options for a preview of volume five, language options, and disk extras. When navigating through the menu, the cursor is a blood drop that changes per selection, which I found to be very imaginative. The entire image is primarily red, the only true blacks being the image of Elle and the text. The background is a pulsing red spatter effect echoing the look of blood-spattered granite from the disc reverse cover. A brief audio clip loops throughout. The menu is very easy to navigate and all options are distinct.


Extras:

The extras found on Shadow Skill Vol. 4 are much like what we've seen in the most previous volumes. While offering the standard ADV Previews and clean opening and closing animations, this disk also offers a nice bonus of an episode commentary with Tiffany Grant, Kira Vincent Davis (Lai and Fais, respectively, from episode fourteen) and ADR Director John Swasey. While the rest of the extras are more common, I found the commentary to be a fun, if not wacky, look behind the scenes at one of the episodes. While not offering much information on the series itself, it was fun to hear the back-and-forth from the three as they watched the episode.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)

Shadow Skill is a martial arts fantasy based on the 1992 manga series created by Mugumu Okada and is a re-imagining of sorts of that manga, as well as two OVAs (or four, as the last OVA was released as both a movie and three separate OVAs) from 1995 through 1996. The series reviewed here, released in 1998, while retaining much the same characters and settings as the original manga and OVAs, is more of a departure from what has come before.

Episode fourteen is bit of a departure from the bulk of the series, as it serves to provide a backdrop for the history of Soma (the magic found in all things), and the reasons this source of magic has been disappearing throughout Ashlianna. Starring two new characters, youngsters named Lai and Fais, this episode focuses on their exploration of some ancient ruins which may hold the keys to the history of Soma, and those who have worshipped it. What the two discover in the ancient ruins may hold keys to the future of Ashlianna, and the world itself.

Though this episode did not largely feature any of the main cast, I enjoyed it all the same. Offering insights in to the history of Soma and perhaps what is to come for Ashlianna, I found the background established her to be intriguing, particularly in that it begins to further flesh-out this world. I further enjoyed the time-altering flashback sequences, which had an appropriately haunting feel.

With episode fifteen, things really begin to happen in the series, and it doesn't look good for the Holy Nation of Ashlianna. When the mutilated body of a skilled swordsman is discovered in the forest, Scarface and Kai Shink quickly recognize the murderous skill of a Sevalle, but the only man who could possibly have committed the atrocity has been dead for three years. Yet everything indicates the Sevalle who called himself, "G" (don't worry, the episode actually offers a decent explanation for the strange choice of nickname) is inexplicably alive and making his way toward Karuda. As Gau's power and reputation continues to grow, so do Kyou's feelings for him, and her fears that he will no longer have any interest in her once he becomes a Sevalle.

The characters begin to move in to place for a major confrontation with this episode, as Kain "G" Phalanx approaches, seeking to exact his revenge on King Iba Sutra (the Sevalle known as "Hawkeye"). Much of G's past is related in flashback, which are well handled and offer viewers a great idea of why G is to be feared, and how he died. This episode also explores a bit more of the Kyou and Gua characters. While the issues of self-doubt and his desire not to actually harm those he fights (as well as the recriminations he suffers for this from the other Sevalles), the exploration of Gau is nothing new. In fact, every episode feels as if Gau is getting a lecture on spirit and what it means to be a Sevalle. However, Kyou, on the other hand really hasn't been adequately explored to this point. The way she tends to and cares for Diaz, her fears of being abandoned by Gau, are all consistent with a character who has lost as much as she. I'm just disappointed it took so long to actually explore these aspects of her character. Additionally, the surprise revelation Kyou is in fact related to Hawkeye didn't really make much sense, and felt too easy as a means of resolving the largest aspect of her character to this point; the fact she is alone, having lost everyone she loved. I am curious, however, as to what this means for Kyou's future.

Episode sixteen opens with a flashback three years in prior, in which G sells his soul as a means of guaranteeing his return in the event he is killed in his pursuit to become the strongest of the fighters. However, his resurrection has come with limitations, namely the fact he has only three years of life remaining, and apparently, he is running dangerously close to the end of that period. As G finally arrives in Kuruda, the Sevalles gather as well, preparing for him. It also seems G is allied with a number of agents of Solfan. Together, though for very different reasons, they have planned the utter and fiery annihilation of Kuruda. While the agents create a furor with graffiti in public places announcing their intentions, these terrorists actually manage to scatter a number of very powerful explosives and decoys throughout the city. As Gau vows never to allow his emotions to overtake him, to cross the line G crossed years ago, Kyou stumbles onto the agents of Solfan, manages to restrain them, and attempts to save the city. However, she runs directly in to G. In order to try and spare Gau from fighting the madman ripping through the city, Kyou makes a bold (if not foolish) attempt to stop the fallen Sevalle. Elle, arriving too late, overcome with emotion after what has befallen her friend, G bats her away as if she were nothing to him. As the episode closes, Gau's discovery of what has happened to Kyou pushes him beyond the line he swore never to cross.

This was a great episode. It featured plenty of action, and the suspense was very well handled, and will likely pique viewer interest, particularly regarding Kyou's fate. The final scene with Kyou and Elle trying to stop G was nicely handled, as were the characters' reactions to their friend's terrible injuries. G is handled in way that makes him appear totally invincible, more like a force of nature than a man, and is a great antagonist for the series' heroes. It has been some time since anything other than faceless foes have threatened the heroes, so this strong character development in a villain was very much welcome.

In episode seventeen, King Iba Sutra is secured in the safety of the Chamber of Hades, as a number of powerful warriors (Scarface, Kai Sink, Darkness, and Diaz) prepare to do whatever is necessary to defend him. As G continues to wade through the Kurudan soldiers and citizenry without breaking a sweat, Folli attempts to do whatever she can to revive Kyou. As Kyou's injuries are far too grievous to be addressed by any doctor, Folli makes the long trek with the injured girl back to the inn. Gau searches throughout the city for G, but it is Elle, Diaz, Scarface, Kai Shink and Darkness that first discover the maniac. In a truly dramatic scene, the greatest Kurudan warriors join together to end the menace once and for all. However, before they can attack him, as the Solfan agents' plans to set Kuruda ablaze are fulfilled. G manages to make his escape while the five warriors are caught off-guard. Recognizing G is headed for the Chamber of Hades to finish what he started with King Iba Sutra three years ago, as a means of further testing the boy's abilities and spirit, he sends Gau to stop him. As the city burns, G breaks through the Chamber of Hades. Running very short on his borrowed time, he prepares to confront the King, when Gau appears. Filled with rage, Gau plans to engage the man responsible for Kyou's injuries.

This episode did a fantastic job of building off the suspense and power of the previous, and as this is the last episode on this disk, really finishes with an ending that is bound to have viewers returning. I particularly enjoyed the scenes in which the Kurudan warriors were united against their incredibly powerful and malevolent foe. The final scene is very nicely done, as a number of elements converge, and the warriors of Kuruda must determine what they will do; find and stop G, or attempt to save the city. I was slightly disappointed, however, in that the viewer is basically cheated out of seeing G take on Kuruda's best. Unfortunately, this appears to be almost the standard for Shadow Skill. I would have really enjoyed seeing a major all-out confrontation across the rooftops as the city burns. Unfortunately, this becomes another missed opportunity.

In Summary:

Featuring a fair amount of action and a high level of drama and suspense, Shadow Skill Vol. 4 did a great job of keeping me interested. I greatly enjoyed the way in which the threat of "G" Kain Phalanx was handled by the creators, in that he represents an apparently unbeatable foe whose rage is powerful enough to consume all of Kuruda. I also liked the parallels drawn between he and Gau, as the Sevalles continue to push the boy ever closer to the edge, while Diaz struggles to prevent Gau from becoming a soulless killing machine. But I particularly liked that volume four presented some much-needed background on the Soma, as well as exploration of Kyou's identity and fears. However, there are a number of points I found slightly disappointing, not the least of which is the missed opportunity for a great fight scene at the close of the final episode. Further, while Gau is caught between opposing forces, it often feels like he's repeatedly getting the same lectures, the same rhetoric from Scarface and, most prominently, his sister. There's a decent story here, with enough characterization to keep a viewer interested, if he or she does not mind wading through the frequent and overly-florid speeches on fighting spirit.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Commentary track with Tiffany Grant (Lai) Kira Vincent Davis (Fais) and John Swasey (ADR Director),Clean opening animation, Clean closing animation

Review Equipment
34" Sony FD Trinitron Wega HDTV KD-34XBR910 and Sony Dav-FR9 progressive scan Home Theatre System with 114 watts per channel to each speaker and 115 watts to each of the subwoofer's two woofers.

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