Though the stories all connect with smaller threads, the series takes on a slightly disjointed and less than even flow with this volume.
What They Say
Amidst the apparitions and spirits of dead people running rampant in the middle of the city, Masahiro finds the ghost of a border guard wandering about. When he tries to put him to rest, Masahiro ends up getting possessed instead. Meanwhile, Mokkun has been acting strange and the timing couldn't be worse since the demon Mokkun had failed to capture kidnaps Masahiro's niece!
Shonen Onmyouji is presented with two stereo language tracks which are both encoded at 192 kbps. While there is a good full feeling to the mixes as it spreads out across the two channels, there isn't a lot of real directionality to it. The full mix works well in the action sequences as it has some nice impact to it but during the various dialogue scenes the characters are generally front and center anyway so placement isn't much of an issue. In listening to this disc with both language tracks, we didn't have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The source materials for the series are in great shape considering how recent it is and it shows throughout here. Colors are rich and vibrant with no visible bleeding or break-up in them. Some backgrounds, such as dark blue night skies and the occasional brown wall, do show some movement to them but it's fairly minimal. The reds in the color palette tend to look the best, particularly when Masahiro is in his full robes. With no noticeable cross coloration and only a small amount of aliasing during panning sequences, the release looks quite solid.
The original Japanese artwork again provides for a very striking cover both in the overall detail of the character design but also the overall layout. The background is a bit muted but it lets the attention focus squarely on character artwork. The back cover uses the same kind of background to provide the summary of the show and list through the discs features and extras. It also uses it to cover the remainder of the items such as the production information and the usual array of logos. There's a strip along the left that features a number of non-cropped shots from the show which look good. No technical grid is here unfortunately. The cover is reversible here with a great illustration of Kazane looking serious as the feathers of the crow fall around her while the back cover is laid out the same but with a different set of shots from the show. The insert uses a smaller version of the front cover artwork along with a breakdown of what months the remaining volumes will be release while the other side has a full version of the reverse cover artwork of Kazane.
The menu layout isn't a surprise in that it utilizes the same artwork from the cover to good effect as it comes across as all the more striking in this form. While the character illustration is fantastic, the background is just a dull grey piece that reminds me of concrete. The series logo and navigation strip is along the left which is quick and easy to use though it doesn't provide individual top level episode access. Similar to a couple of other new shows from Geneon, there isn't any background music playing to the imagery. With no real animations to the menus, everything is fast to load and problem free. The disc did not read our players' language presets though and defaulted to English with no subtitles.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After getting back into the swing of things, albeit a bit roughly, with the third volume, everything feels a whole lot smoother with the fourth installment. The renewed familiarity helps immensely considering the break between the second and third volumes which means it’s easier to get back into the flow of things. On the flip side, because of this essentially being a thirteen episode arc in total, the story does move somewhat slowly and disjointedly as they’re laying the groundwork for the actual larger story that’s being told. It almost feels episodic but there are smaller threads being woven here that hint at the larger things coming into play.
The Kazane arc is one that definitely feels like it has some very good potential to it because it’s providing a way for the characters to visibly grow and change. The central nature of Masahiro to the storyline means that his actions and growth is paramount here, and he’s going along pretty well. The main problem that’s started to come up for him is in that he has to continue to hide what he’s doing from everyone since it could expose a lot of big problems. That makes for some awkward times here and there, mostly in dealing with certain people, but by and large it’s not something that he thinks about often. Masahiro is generally focused on solving the problems that face him and getting it taken care of.
The nature of these episodes is that the stories aren’t ones that carry across as larger pieces. It doesn’t exactly feel episodic, but they’re smaller stories that are building to something bigger in how everyone handles it. The continuation and conclusion of the story revolving around the spirit of Mononao who has come to gain revenge for past grievances is actually worked through relatively quickly and without much in the way of serious problems. It does get elevated a bit when Kazane becomes involved in it as she’s doing the bidding of her mysterious master, but even that is more of an outside influence rather than a serious direct influence in events. When it’s revealed who Kazane is and what’s going on, that’s what sends the ripple effect.
With Masahiro’s skills growing, and the way Abe no Seimei is pushing him to take on more and more complex challenges, Masahiro is gaining a good deal of confidence about himself but he hasn’t really gotten cocky. When new things come up, such as when Kohime is being targeted by the hihi creatures, he’s simply putting himself to the task of protecting his brother and his family without much thought about the danger. He’s not rushing in foolishly, though he could use a bit more appraisal with every situation, but he’s intent on making sure nobody suffers. He’s rather admirable in all of this and comes across as a good if rather basic character. That’s unfortunately the main downside to Masahiro as there isn’t anything truly compelling about him outside of his heritage and abilities. He’s a good guy that’s managing a situation rather well.
It’s the rest of the characters that offer the most fun in the end. While the general population around him that’s human isn’t all that much, even Akiko is sidelined for a lot of this, the shikigami that continue to appear and interact with Masahiro are a lot of fun. With their expanded life spans, and essentially being a lower order of gods, they have a very different view on things. When one of them talks about events with Abe no Seimei from years gone by, it really is like yesterday to them when it’s been fifty odd years for everyone else. The view of life that they have because of this has to be odd and it can certainly account for the way they do interact with everyone.
Their life spans are what’s also offering some of the more interesting angles that are being explored as things from the past are coming up in the present. Carefully worded talk about someone who was believed killed years ago comes up as someone who is manipulating things in the present. This sets off some anxiety among a few of the shikigami because of what it represents, which is easy enough to figure out as they telegraph a few key pieces here and there. It doesn’t diminish anything because you know Masahiro is going to have to face down all of it, but it does strengthen what is one of the best parts of the show. And that’s the relationship that Masahiro shares with Mokkun. With so much of this shaping up to center on the things that Mokkun failed with in the past, and with a few flashbacks of importance to when he was babysitting Masahiro, it’s very easy to see how Masahiro will be the bridge that heals Mokkun in the future.
Shonen Omnyouji is still quite a fun show but it’s one that is somewhat hard to pin down at this point. A lot of this comes from the way we’re in the early stages of the second lengthy arc, an arc that covered like four light novels when it was originally written. Taking material from the books, it’s moving in a fashion where it’s bringing out various pieces of the past since the basic character setup was done in the first arc. This arc is giving us an idea of the bigger picture and exposing Masahiro to more things. It’s fun, not too terribly deep and predictable in a few ways. But it’s nicely polished, easily accessible and is the kind of show that you can use to really relax and enjoy without feeling like you’re taking on a huge commitment. At the same time, it avoids the chapter by chapter feel of a manga to anime adaptation and that alone is a big plus for a lot of people, myself included. This isn’t the kind of show you rave about but rather the kind that you enjoy a lot and have fond memories of, but rarely really talk about with anyone.
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.