Soul Taker Vol. #1 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B+

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  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: C+
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
  • MSRP: 29.99
  • Running time: 75
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Soul Taker

Soul Taker Vol. #1

By Paul Grisham     February 05, 2002
Release Date: February 26, 2002

The Review!
A sumptuous visual experience, Soul Taker is the closest thing I've ever seen to an animated version of a DC Vertigo comic book.

The first time through these episodes, I listened to the Japanese-language track, a very crisp Dolby 2-channel stereo affair. Stereo effects are used primarily during action scenes, and ambient sounds coming from the surround channels are effective. I spot-checked the 2-channel English-language audio track throughout the first two episodes, and found it comparable to the Japanese track. In both versions, the bass during the action scenes isn't very aggressive.

Soul Taker is presented in anamorphic widescreen. The show, like many new anime shows, is digitally colored, so the transfer is very clean. Specks and nicks during the OP are for intentional dramatic visual effect. The video isn't perfect, however. For one thing, it's interlaced. As nice as this show looks, it is a shame they didn't make it fully progressive. Also, some of the CG coloring, especially black and red, has serious color banding. Blacks don't quite seem as dark as they should, but it gives the whole show a softer film-stock look, rather than a harsher digital video look. Par for the course, signs are hard-subtitled, occasionally obscuring the signs they are translating.

Pioneer delivers another reflective chrome cover, similar to the ones used on Vandread. Depending on how the light strikes it, the cover is either going to be too dark or eerily effective. The cluttered back cover is where this disc loses points. Soul Taker is one of the most visually impressive anime programs I've ever seen, and it has 12 photos from the show on the back. Unfortunately, with so many pictures, these come off as nothing more than thumbnails and don't capture the beauty of the show. The Hollywood style production credits at the bottom are a nice touch. The keepcase is a Scanavo, which is a turn-off for some.

Though menu design is by Nightjar, producer of some of the best DVD menus, this is a by-the-numbers affair. The main menu has a static image with animated effects and looping audio. Transitions are animated, but quick. All secondary menus are static and silent. Everything is fast and intuitive, but nothing special. Considering the back advertises "Cutting-Edge Motion Menu", I felt a little let down.

Extras include a clean version of the OP and ED used in the second and third episodes. There is no clean version of the ED used in the first episode. Also included is an art gallery, which is really just a handful of production line drawings. These are standard extras, and I want them included on every anime DVD, but like the menus, the extras for Soul Taker are strictly by-the-numbers.

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

In a darkened cathedral, Kyosuke Date discovers his mother bleeding to death on the floor. With her dying breaths, she calls him near to her. Once he is within reach, she pulls out a knife and stabs him through the heart. When he awakens, he finds himself in a young woman's apartment, recovering from a chest wound that seems less than fatal. As soon as he is strong enough, he returns to the cemetery where his mother were buried, only to be attacked by a deranged doctor claiming that the young woman, Maya Misaki, is really Kyosuke's long, lost sister, a claim Kyosuke cannot believe. A stranger, Shiro Mibu, arrives and rescues Kyosuke, telling him the doctor works for the Hospital, a mysterious organization associated with the Kirihara Corporation. Returning to Maya's apartment, they discover that she's been kidnapped by Kirihara. You see, Kirihara is looking for Kyosuke's real sister, Runa, but Maya shares a part of her soul with Runa - a fact that makes her valuable for Kirihara's research. Feeling some connection with Maya, Kyosuke (along with help from Shiro) decides to rescue her. But upon arriving at the Kirihara's base, Kyosuke is shot and killed. And that's just the first half of the first episode!

Now, if I've made that seem pretty straightforward, you've missed half the fun of the show - it's visual flair. There are gloomy cathedrals, backlit by stained glass, and gothic cemeteries aplenty. There is enough creative visual imagery here to please fans of the Utena movie and Noir. The show uses hand-drawn cels mixed with CG animation and coloring to bold effect. Unlike some shows which use computers to create images more cheaply, Soul Taker uses computers to make everything richer and more enveloping. Even during the expository scenes, everything moves, backgrounds, smoke, lights. And scenes frequently move into the third dimension, a technique difficult to accomplish with traditional hand-drawn techniques. The animation direction is confident and bold. The opening half of the first episode described above, plays out as one continuous conversation, with the action and imagery acting as a kind of visual soundtrack punctuating the dialogue and discovery.

But what is the Soul Taker? With the mission to rescue Maya in shambles, the defeated body of Kyosuke begins to arise and change. Unbeknownst to anyone, Kyosuke is a mutant, capable of transforming, in times of extreme duress, into the Soul Taker, a winged demon of vengeful fury, with the power and strength to execute Kyosuke's latent rage.

It was when the Soul Taker made its first appearance in the show that I made a strange discovery. When the Soul Taker starts kicking ass at the Kirihara base, the soundtrack kicks in with some really classy (read: cheesy) 80s-era heavy metal music, complete with the chorus refrain, "Soul Taker!" It was when Kyosuke, finishing off his enemy for the first episode, called his attack ("Lightning Breaker") that I realized, that Soul Taker, for all of its 21st Century graphics, was really just an old-school anime in a flashy new package. The show starts with such suspense and moves so confidently that for a while, it's difficult to make the connection. This is a classic, reluctant superhero anime is flashy new clothes. Before this disc is over, Kyosuke, through Soul Taker, will fight a variety of evil, from giant Samurai robots to his own internal reluctance to fight, and he will embark on a long quest to protect his sister, uncover his mother's murderer, and learn about his destiny. Not very innovative stuff, to be sure, but the presentation is thrilling none-the-less. And I'm curious about this mysterious Kirihara group and their diabolical research, and who is this Shiro Mibu, and why is he so eager to help Kyosuke?

When I realized I would be reviewing this title, I debated whether or not I should listen to the English dub. I rarely listen to them as my tolerance for English dubs is low, but there is a need for information on the quality of the English dub. (After all, it's a foregone conclusion that the Japanese acting is excellent, right? Right?) Sitting through the credits my first time through the episodes, I noticed that the dub was produced by the Ocean Group. My experience with Ocean was limited to stilted WordFit productions. I was about to change my mind and skip the dub, when I realized that I hadn't seen any WordFit credits. After watching the first episode, I must admit, this production is actually well done. All of the English actors capture the spirit of the characters as performed by their Japanese counterparts, and conversation is fluid and natural. My only (admittedly minor) problems, were that Kyosuke seems a bit too earnest and Maya lacks the sexually playful edge her Japanese voice offers.

Demonstrating that emphasizing style over substance isn't always a bad thing, Soul Taker offers viewers a thrilling trip through a gothic, sci-fi comic book. I only hope that the visual style and animation quality remains consistent for the remainder of the show. I don't know that I care very much about the plot or the characters, but I do know I want to see more.

Review Equipment
Panasonic Panablack TV, Panasonic RP56 DVD player, Sony ProLogic receiver, Yamaha and Pioneer speakers, Monster cable. (Secondary equipment, Pioneer 105s DVD-ROM, ATi Rage Fury Pro, ViewSonic A90f, PowerDVD 3.0)


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