Shadow Skill TV Vol. #6 - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: B-
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: TV 14
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Shadow Skill

Shadow Skill TV Vol. #6

By Brett Barkley     January 02, 2007
Release Date: August 22, 2006


Shadow Skill TV Vol. #6
© ADV Films


What They Say
Since ancient days it's been said that Kuruda is a land which is easy to defend and impossible to attack. Its palace is situated on an island, surrounded by a jagged mountain range which keeps the fiercest of enemies from piercing the stronghold. And yet even now a massive army from neighboring Solfan prepares to launch an attack on Kuruda , seeking to put an end to its 2000 year history. In the midst of it all stands Len Fuma, a bloodthirsty madman versed in the mysterious and powerful "Ying" style. Responsible for the deaths of most of the holy nation's legendary warriors, Len now sets his sights on our gang of heroes. With Elle away on a suicide mission of her own, it falls on Gau to take the final step in his evolution to Sevalle: to embrace the purity of a beast. But with Diaz's death on his shoulders and a profound empathy for his enemy in his heart, can Gau ever truly shed his humanity? Or will the annihilation of the Holy Nation finally come true? It all comes to a thrilling conclusion in this final installment of Shadow Skill!

The Review!
Though at times it may seem like we have seen these fights before, we've never seen them like this.

Audio:

In terms of audio options, Shadow Skill Vol. 6 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. 6 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. 6 ships in a standard keep case with a very nicely designed cover featuring Gau with festoons of blood like flowing crimson scarves as Len Fuma looks on. The shadowy villain who has manipulated the major events of the series, apropos to his character remains in the shadows on the cover. The Shadow Skill logo is featured across the top of the front cover, the title, "Emergence of the Beast" across the bottom. The cover image is very nicely designed with a somewhat more traditional design sense.

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. 6 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, with two line art images (a full body and bust shot of Jin Sutra) 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. 6 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 twenty-two through twenty-six, and below are 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. 6 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 Greg Ayres (Gau), Blake Shepard (Len Fuma), and ADR Director John Swasey. While the rest of the extras are more common, I found the commentary to be fun, with a great deal of personality. It was also very informative, offering some great behind-the-scenes information on the show, as well as the more technical side of the show (particularly in the sound-mixing stage). While offering a little more information than I would have liked on John Swasey's intestinal issues, the three actors did share some deeper insights in to the characters and the story than found in previous volumes, which was fitting as this happens to be the last featured commentary and the final episode of the series.


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 twenty-two directly follows the shocking events of the previous episode, opening with an uncharacteristically tender eulogy offered by Elle for her fallen brother, Diaz. From there, things go from bad to worse for the Holy nation, as the Soma depletion has caused the Holy city of Julianess to begin collapsing. And while hope begins to fade that anything short of the return of Lunalis Umbra will right the Soma shortage, Elle and the others are similarly racked with the doubt and pain of their recent loss. Making matters worse, the Lunalis Umbra cannot be located, and beyond this, the nations of Likitoa, Felcia, and Kishlana have fallen for Len Fuma's ruse, and have issued a joint emergency action against Kuruda. As the three Devas of Likitoa, Felcia, and Kihlana approach Kuruda (a gesture tantamount to declaring war), the Princess holds an emergency proceeding on how best to settle the dispute between the nations before it escalates, as the Soma shortage pales in comparison to the threat of civil war. In an effort to end all hostilities, the Princess bestows the famed Sword of Ashlianna, a symbol of the Holy city's endorsement of Kuruda. As Gau grieves the loss of Diaz he loses the will to continue fighting, his spirit broken. And as things begin to truly look hopeless for Elle, Gau, and their friends, Lohengreen returns after a long absence, himself a changed man. The episode closes with some major reveals and plot twists, as all the pieces begin to fall in place for the series' conclusion.

Nearing the series conclusion, episode twenty-two is absolutely jam-packed with drama and plot development. Major things are definitely happening here. However, as a prelude to the series climax, character names and titles, many of which we've heard only once or twice and many episodes ago, fill the dialogue, lessening the impact of some of the plotlines. While I have no complaints regarding the episode, my issue is with the development of various plotlines throughout the series as they culminate here. Many of the characters emerging here as major players have had little real screen time and development. At times I felt I needed a scorecard to keep track of the various players, which tended to weaken the impact of this very dense episode.

As a prelude to the Solfan invasion, episode twenty-three opens with a voice-over narrative detailing the formidable geography of Kuruda, and how this has served to protect the nation throughout history. While this could have felt tacked-on as a simple plot device to inform viewers of something not previously covered in the series, it actually manages to build the tension of the oncoming invasion. As the four friends join together, preparing to meet the 50,000 man Solfan army, Scarface, Kai Shink, and the princess begin a last-ditch effort to replenish the depleted Soma. Elle, supported by the Kurudan army, stands in the way of the Solfan invasion. As the two forces stand in preparation for what promises to be a massive battle, Gau manages to sneak behind the enemy lines, preparing for what is almost certainly a suicide mission, as he is to attack the entire Solfan army from the rear. At the last moment, Gau is met by Lynn Garukitos, the former commander of the Solfan army, who abandoned his post shortly after the battle at Blorohan. Having traveled through many nations since leaving the Solfan army seeking to understand the events driving his own country toward war with the Holy nation, as well as those manipulating these events, he pleads with Gau to trust him and to help him bring a halt to what will certainly be a devastating battle for both nations. However, as Gau hesitates, Len Fuma interrupts and shows just how formidable his mastery of Kurudan annihilation techniques truly is. Effortlessly, he takes control of the Solfan army and storms the main gate of Kuruda. The episode closes as Elle destroys the single gate of entry for Kuruda, leaving Gau stranded outside.

As the tremendous forces of Solfan close in, the floating Holy city of Julianess begins to drift ominously toward the war-torn Kuruda, threatening to crash into the city. Meanwhile, at the heart of the conflict, an enraged Elle does her best to hold back the endless tide of soldiers. Meanwhile, Kai Shink and company attempt to summon the Lunalis Umbra in order to save Julianess, as Elle battles Len Fuma and his Ying-style Kurudan Annihilation techniques. As the city approaches, King Iba Sutra issues a city-wide decree that all citizens must evacuate Kuruda. However, the looming threat of Julianess crashing to earth upon their heads does nothing to halt the battle between Elle and Len Fuma (though in this episode their battle is more one of words than of fist). By the episode's conclusion, the summoning is successful and Julianess' collision course with Kuruda is averted, however, a large piece of the bedrock of Julianess is dislodged and heading directly for Kuruda. In the turmoil, Gau manages to rejoin his friends, once again appearing to be greatly changed by his experiences behind enemy lines.

This episode feels as if the creators have thrown everything in the bag at us. There is the drama found in the siege of Kuruda and the devastating fall of Julianess (referred to in this episode as, "The Hammer of God", which appears to be a somewhat out of place homage to Arthur C. Clarke's science fiction work by the same name). This is somewhat balanced by the humorous war of words between Len Fuma and Elle (though I must admit disappointment with the "battle" in general), and the summoning of the Lunalis Umbra, which felt very over-the-top, maybe even wacky. However, the largest problem with this episode is how scripted it feels at times. As one disaster appears, another replaces it, and still another replaces that. As a result, the intended chaos feels diminished. slightly diminishes the intended chaotic effect. However, this episode does establish some great foreshadowing, as Elle appears set to take down this "Hammer of God" herself, leaving Gau and the others to take care of Len Fuma's threat, but also manages to sneak in a few surprises about Elle's true feelings for Gau.

The Solfan invasion from last episode averted, episode twenty-five with the new deep-impact-type catastrophe facing the city. As Elle rushes off to fight the falling chunk of debris, Gau is left to face Len Fuma as Lohengreen and King Iba Sutra impotently plead and order the fighting over until after the evacuation. Once again, as with his battle with "G" Kain Phallanx, Gau is soundly trounced for the better part of the episode, though he does put up a decent fight, battling with more spirit than we've seen him previously. In what would have to be the bloodiest fight yet in the series (in which Gau loses enough blood for twenty men), Gau shows he can truly take more abuse than anyone else. And as Elle, like a raging bull, charges at the incoming projectile (which is roughly the size of the city itself), and giving it her all, actually manages knock the rock off its course, saving many lives. As the episode closes, with only one remaining in the series, there are many questions as to who of their number will survive the series of catastrophes that have beset Kuruda.

This episode features a new art style, one I actually wish had been employed throughout the entire series. This new style is incredibly dynamic and fluid, using a great deal of blacks to enhance contrast, and is most notable in the fight scenes (which it tremendously enhances). I did have some issues with the new art style, with character faces in general, and with Lohengreen in specific, often mistaking him for a completely different character. However, I was more engaged by this episode than by any yet in the series, giving credit in large part to the new art direction, which handles this type of fighting action beautifully. While this new series of threat to Kuruda certainly increased the intensity of the overall plot, the story itself is really no different than Gau's battle with "G" Kain Phallanx while Elle and the others fought to save the burning Kuruda. Comparing these two episodes, while very similar in terms of plot, truly reveal the difference artistic style and energy can bring to a series.

Episode twenty-six opens immediately following the events in the last episode, opening with a quick but brutally decisive battle between Len Fuma and just about every surviving cast member. The bulk of this episode again features Gau getting beaten to a pulp, while his friends struggle to remain standing. On the verge of death, Gau is visited by Darkness and his mind is opened to the ways of the beast. Caught in that moment before Len Fuma delivers his killing blow, the bulk of this episode follows Gau as his mind wanders on a spiritual journey through the final stage in his process of transforming in to the pure beast, the true warrior. With the surprise reappearance of an old foe that became a friend, and an adoptive brother who became a guardian angel, Gau musters everything he has and more to put down the evil Len Fuma. And as the series ends, a new Sevalle is born.

Again featuring a different art style, this one more a merging of the previous two in to a slightly more subdued, yet just as beautiful style. As the last style worked incredibly well for that bloody, action-packed episode, so too does this new style fit the more wandering narrative of this episode. And what an episode. In all fairness the last several episodes fit together almost like a film, but of them all, the final is perhaps the strongest. Featuring beautiful animated sequences that truly strike at the heart of the story and simply must be seen, the final episode truly makes the series. I'm disappointed, however, the previous episodes failed to muster this level of intensity.

Shadow Skill vol. 6 is the final in the series, leaving me with a number of mixed feelings. As is evidenced by the successively higher grades each volume has received, the series certainly got stronger as it progressed. By the final volume, the series was generally firing on all cylinders, as the intensity ratcheted-up, aided largely by an overhauled art style, as well as a renewed vigor on the part of the voice actors (as evidenced by, among a number of things, the more adult-oriented language found here as compared to earlier volumes). Throughout the series, I was very impressed with the work done by Luci Christian and Greg Ayres in general. However, as the series progressed, it was Ayres' work I found to be truly spectacular. As this series is largely about the growth of Gau as a warrior, it was only natural that this growth be expressed in the voice-acting. Ayres did a masterful job expressing the subtleties of Gau's internal battle with his own lack of confidence and his emerging warrior spirit. As Gau matures as a warrior, his voice echoes that change. By the series' conclusion, Gau's voice is stronger, more self-assured than it began. Regarding the series' voice-acting, I would also like to applaud the character the ADV brought to what could have been very stiff dialogue. Often deviating from the original Japanese, the work of the English-dub cast brought a richness and depth (with more than a little humor) to the characters and dialogue that I found lacking in the original translation.

However, while this volume ended the series on a high-note, there remained a number of problems. By the series' conclusion, a number of plotlines were completely disregarded. The shadowy villain behind the attacks, the mastermind behind Len Fuma's actions, was never revealed, nor were his motivations. In this regard, the series ending leaves just enough undiscovered such that it feels almost as if a second season were intended, though to my knowledge this was never explored. If this were to be explored, and the series could maintain the intensity of the episodes on this disk, I would certainly be interested. As it remains, many of the plot threads thoroughly established in the bulk of the series are left unexplored by the series' end.

The largest issue, however, plaguing the Shadow Skill series is found in the pacing and repetition of plot devices. Obviously, this is a fighting series, so there will be fights (and the fights throughout the Shadow Skill series are, for the most part, well done), but it is the overt repetition of the plot structure to these fights, and their impact particularly on Gau I found to be the most disappointing. As the series progresses, the focus shifts from Elle to Gau. However, despite Greg Ayres' tremendous work to resolve this, the plot demands Gau stay caught in the same loop as he faces a threat, finds inspiration typically through is friends/family, gets soundly trounced, manages to do what no one else can and pull it out in the end against overwhelming odds, only to default to the same, naïve character with confidence issues in the next episode. In this regard, again with the exception of Greg Ayres' excellent work in maturing Gau's speech, it doesn't feel as if the character ever really changes. While his fights certainly get tougher (and definitely bloodier), by following this formula throughout the series, even his final victory, which apparently leads to his transcendence to the true spirit of the warrior, feels like just another, much larger version of the same fight in the same ongoing process.


In Summary:

With volume 6 of Shadow Skill, the series comes to a tremendously strong close. The bulk of this disk feels just like an extra-long episode, the action from one cliffhanger episode ending, carried over seamlessly to the next. A surprising and very action-oriented art change in the final two episodes emphasized this extra intensity and definitely improved the fight scenes. While this series started out slowly for me, by the final episode I was glued to my set. The series ending in episode twenty-six does feel a bit unresolved. But it leaves open the possibility of a second season, which is something I would definitely be interested in.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Commentary track with Greg Ayres (Gau); Blake Shepard (Len) & 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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