Tokyo Majin Part One: Dark Arts Chapter - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B-
  • Age Rating: 17 and Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
  • MSRP: 59.98
  • Running time: 350
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Tokyo Majin

Tokyo Majin Part One: Dark Arts Chapter

By Chris Beveridge     February 13, 2009
Release Date: December 09, 2008


Tokyo Majin Season 1 Part 1
© FUNimation Entertainment, LTD

Darkness descends on modern day Tokyo and the only ones to stave it off is a group of high school students.

What They Say
Tokyo. A wave of mysterious deaths ripples throughout the city. Corpses of the un-dead, controlled by monstrous creatures, scour the urban underworld at the bidding of their dark master, seeking a power that could bring about the final apocalypse. With the police helpless in the face of these unnamable horrors, the fate of the world hangs on five unlikely saviors - the students of Tokyo Majin!

Armed with their own incredible powers, they must battle an unholy swarm of evil beings - everything from Alchemists through Zombies! It's a deadly war fought in shadows, and they're completely outmatched except for one thing: they never learned when to say die! The back alleys of Japan's largest city are the site of the biggest supernatural rumble ever in Tokyo Majin!

Contains episodes 1-14.

The Review!
Audio:
The bilingual presentation of Tokyo Majin is quite good as both mixes play to their strengths. Both are encoded at 448 kbps and the background and action effects are solid throughout, though these aren't common since it's kept most to action sequences. Dialogue placement is used well in both mixes also with some throws to the rear channels which add to the overall atmosphere of the scenes. The original score has plenty of movement as well which brings it all to life while still coming across as unobtrusive. Dialogue placement and depth is good, but not above and beyond some other shows, but it is better than the majority of the seemingly standard stereo mixes that come out of Japan. In listening to both tracks, we didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally in 2007, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This set was originally released in a 5/4/4 format while this collection is done as a 7/7 format – which does mean one episode we didn’t get before. With the authoring basically being what ADV Films did, it’s pretty much comparable to what we saw before Tokyo Majin is one of those series that tries to rise above the standard action presentations and give the viewer something a bit grittier and a bit more detailed. The transfer for this show reflects the solid production values of the series and lets the quality of the work really shine. What surprised me the most was how well the few scenes with gradients worked out as it didn't devolve into a lot of noise or blocking. Additionally, the show has a very specific look, not as stark as some others, where it uses a very light kind of grain in order to add atmosphere. The end result is that the materials here look fantastic and it really provides for an engaging series of visuals.

Packaging:
This release is done in the standard format that FUNimation is doing all their half season sets in with a pair of thinpaks in a thin cardboard slipcase. The slipcase is nicely done with a heavy dark feeling surrounding it but with bright and appealing character artwork to draw you in. The characters have good looking designs that don’t feel like a typical show so they’re eye-catching from the start. The logo is kept to the lower right which is a little unusual but it looks good here and doesn’t dominate even with as much space as it takes up. The back of the slipcase adds a bit more red to the background to give it a bit more menace. With a decent summary of what to expect and a clear listing of how many episodes are here, it’s certainly presented as a good value. The shots from the show play up the supernatural side rather well and the discs special features are clearly listed. The technical grid is kept to the bottom though which isn’t a surprise but I’m not a fan of its placement there.

Inside, we get two thinpak cases that are a bit more vibrant and upbeat, though with that element of danger still there. The first cover has a cast shot of four of the regulars with a demon image behind them which is cast in a blue light while the second volume is darker as it has Hiyu and Kozunu facing off against each other in battle which is cast in a purple light. The back covers are laid out the same in that it’s a dark black piece that has the episode listings with numbers and titles running down them and a few shots from the show itself along the bottom. The reverse side of the covers features a pair of mystical symbols done in a brown, black and white shading that looks good when you open up the cases.

Menu:
The menu design is pretty par for the course for a collection like this as it utilizes the basic colors and structure from the original single disc editions. Each menu has a top level episode access point in which it lists the episode number and title set against the red, gray and black background. The first disc has the extras selectable from here as well while the only submenu is for the language selection. The second disc is the same except that it also offers a trailers submenu for other FUNimation shows. The layout is straightforward and easy to navigate and I do like having access to all the episodes easily like this, though I think there are better ways to design it so it doesn’t feel like a restaurant menu. Submenus load quickly and the discs correctly read our players’ language presets like all ADV Films authored discs do but FUNimation discs don’t.

Extras:
The only extras are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences which are on the first disc.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This collection from FUNimation of one of the titles that was originally released by ADV Films through their partnership with Sojitz is done in a way where only those completely new to the show make out well. Honestly, everyone made a mistake with how this was brought out and if you were into the show before and picked up the first three volumes, you have a right to be angry. The series is split into two parts with this set making up the Dark Arts Chapter. This chapter runs fourteen episodes, which is what we get here. When ADV Films released the singles, they did the first three discs with the first thirteen episodes, treating it as a six disc series which makes complete sense. They don’t deal in half season sets in the past and don’t appear to now either. So when FUNimation picked this up, they’re in a quandary. Do they release it to mirror what came before so as to not annoy the couple thousand people that picked up the first three discs? Or do they put it out in a way that makes sense for them to push it as a new project with the first season by itself. In the end, I think everyone made a mistake in how the show was released.

So, looking at this set was rather problematic. It was only a few months ago, earlier in 2008, that I was watching the first half of the series and relatively enjoying it. Now I have this new set in, and if you were like I was, you’re basically paying to watch one episode. That’s not a bargain in the slightest. The show for me was still pretty fresh in my mind as well, so I’m admittedly going to cheat a bit and talk about the show as we did during the singles run and then focus on the one new episode that we get here. Skim down to that if you want or jump right to the summary!

Episodes 1-5:
Tokyo Majin, originally called Tokyo Majin Gakuen KenpuchĹ, is based on the PlayStation game of the same name which came out way back in 1998. The anime incarnation of the property, done by AIC Spirits which proves it still has some quality production value left in it, is interesting in that the two seasons that were done for it aren't quite as cleanly broken as we're used to. The first season, or Act, ran for fourteen episodes while the second season which kicked off a couple of months later ran for twelve episodes. That leads to a different kind of storytelling in terms of pacing since you want to have some things complete and closed out at the end of each act.

The story takes place in a modern day Tokyo which provides for a detailed, vivid yet dark backdrop for everything. A series of murders have been happening all over lately and the problem is only getting worse. What's unknown to most people is that the people that are dying are being reborn as the undead and coming back to bring more over to their side. The forces that are behind this, which are seen here and there but without much detail, have not had their motives revealed yet but seem to be working towards something more than just general mayhem. Through manipulations with people of their choosing, they cause a new outbreak to happen which in turn leads to more of the undead being born.

Where Tokyo Majin works well is in the group of characters that forms to battle these things. The show opens up with a storyline that throws the viewer right into the action with a big ugly monster that's clawing at people as a small army of undead are running about. It's big, loud and very lushly animated in its own way so it really draws you in while trying to make you figure out exactly what's going on. But after that episode it decides to go backwards several months in order to explain things more over the next few episodes. The arrival of a new transfer student at Magami High School named Tatsumi seems to herald things. His master has sent him there for his new phase of training and as soon as he gets there he hooks up almost instantly with another student named Kyouichi. The two aren't against each other but there's a sense that they're bonded in a way, which in turn causes some friction until they realize they work well together, almost as wolves. Kyouichi is the dark member of the group as he has a gang of his own, fits the delinquent characterization easily, and has quite a good deal of knowledge about how the real world works in a city like Tokyo.

Tatsuma's arrival also draws others to him, something through which all of the core group ends up together at a time in which the real danger to the world is revealed. The student council president, Aoi, fills the role of the quiet and somewhat weak type while she's constantly backed by Komaki, a strong willed and outgoing young woman who is in the archery club. Komaki has some strong feelings for Aoi but it's hard to tell whether it's really more than just a strong sisterly kind of bond. That's something that resident tough guy and wrestling club member Yuuya hopes for since he's very interested in Komaki in a romantic way. When all of these people are drawn to a place where the magic of the world seems to come out, they end up being gifted with powers that lets them fight the darkness that's starting to spread throughout the city.

The ability to cope with these powers, and with the darkness that's revealed, makes up a small part of the show though since events are moving fast for them. There's little time to sit down and take stock of things before someone else is on the move and causing more undead to be born, or another creature of some sort is getting involved in the human world. The event that caused their powers to manifest isn't limited to them either and this takes a couple of episodes worth of story as the show progresses back towards the present. While the big bad evil characters are kept to the sidelines, making comments here and there and watching events unfold, those they manipulate are front and center, as is a man named Kisaragi who knows Aoi quite well. An antique shop owner, he's quite aware of what kind of things lurk in this world and utilizes magic in order to deal with it. Though he tries to persuade Aoi and the others to drop their cause, he ends up involved with them as a member more than anything else.

Tokyo Majin's story is a bit awkward in how it's told at first but it's one where the pacing and script compels you to watch more. Working hand in hand with that are the terrific visuals which helps to elevate the show beyond a typical action series. The character designs are terrific in that they're more angular in features and you certainly can't mistake any of the characters for anyone else. This is the first series where Jun Nakai is listed as the actual character designer but they're involvement in key animation and direction over the years shows the evolution of the designs, be it from Argento Soma to Haibane Renmei and Ouran Host Club. These designs do a great deal to give the show a kind of vitality as the diversity in the core group of characters is great. While Aoi may be the standard soft character, she's got a bit of an edge to her underneath that's apparent. Even Yuuya with his muscled body doesn't come across as the standard muscleman. Well, except for the scenes where all the outlandish characters from his wrestling club are running behind him.

Episodes 6-9:
When it comes to the larger storyline of the series, the focus is still primarily kept on Tendo Kozunu as he works his little manipulations on people in order to ferret out what he’s looking for. His quest for the Bodhisattva Eye isn’t exactly all dominating or driving him to do things badly but at the same time he doesn’t exactly seem to have a real way of finding it. He’s acquired a lot of other nasty things along the way and is certainly powerful enough, and a bit cracked in the head, but he pales next to his constant companion of Marie Claire. Her general disinterest in things is amusing enough in itself but when she’s accidentally drawn into one of Kozunu’s encounters with the gang, she ends up showing just how over the top she can be with her powers. In a way, the method through which she does this is one of the charms of the show as it’s done in an almost lightly comical way that has a very classic feel to it without having the absurdity level go through the roof as we’ve seen with a lot of other shows in recent years.

While Kozunu and his shenanigans do have their impact here, the majority of the volume deals with the lead cast of characters trying to figure out exactly how they fit into all of this. Depending on which characters you like, this is either a good or a bad thing, and that’s just something that happens with any ensemble show. The show spends a good bit of time initially in dealing with Aoi and Hisui since she’s out of commission due to a battle. This allows for some nice flashback material to when the two of them were kids and were introduced to each other. These scenes are a bit unsettling as it shows some rather strict parenting, especially for Hisui, but it also produces some of the creepiest looking character designs. Aoi in particular looks decidedly scary in this form and really throws me off every time I see her or any of the other characters in this particular age form. Taking the time to go back to this period helps to solidify the relationship between the two of them and that works well in the current storyline.

The impact of what everyone is actually involved in is another partial focus of these episodes, again with Aoi as something of the moral center of it all. With so many kids getting caught up in the various attacks and being twisted by the demonic horde, she provides a good place to start and is in a lot of ways the real lead character of the show. She’s the one that everyone seems to really find as the glue of the group. But even then, there are some that have much more interesting relationships that are slowly progressing. The one between Daigo and Komaki is probably my favorite one so far because it plays in that realm of believable due to him being so interested in her and her not really realizing it in some ways. Daigo plays up the role of the big strong guy with a real heart pretty well and having him go through some tender scenes with her helps to strengthen the budding potential that’s there for them. The heart that they bring to it, albeit slowly, is an area that looks to be pretty interesting if they utilize it as it goes on.

Visually, Tokyo Majin continues to be a show that’s a lot of fun to watch and appeals to those who don’t like standard school character designs. Everyone feels like they’re older teenagers rather than fresh faced plucky kids and that goes a long way towards making this show stand out. There’s an edge to a lot of them, like Hisui, Tatsumi and Kyoichi, but even characters like Aoi and Komaki don’t feel too girly and soft. This is quite appealing and helps to push that more serious edge that the show is trying to achieve. Even when you have someone that’s meant to be cute like Marie Claire, there’s a certain menace to her. And when the show goes into its comedic elements, that kind of serious nature just accents the comedy even more. It’s exaggerated but it doesn’t feel out of place.

Episodes 10-13:
The first act of the series nearly draws to a close here with four more episodes taking us up through number thirteen. The storyline reaches a rather solid crescendo here as the first act dealing with Kozunu and his plans for Aoi and the world in general reach fruition. It also works well in that it doesn’t feel like we’re getting a mid show kind of epic moment but rather a good near ending to the first storyline. Tokyo Majin does still have its rather unusual pacing at times however which lets things slow down just a bit too much.

Kozunu’s plans have been in the works since the beginning, so seeing them starting to really gel together is certainly enjoyable. Realizing just who he has to deal with throughout all of this, he’s started to manipulate things so that he can get the key people separated from each other in a way that uses their strengths as a weakness. The most interesting one, and the slowest one unfortunately, involves what he does with Tatsuma. The two of them have a long history that gets explored later in this set of episodes, but the focus early on is with Tatsuma and Hirasaka. After the loss of her family in the previous fights, Tatsuma feels obligated in helping her get to her uncle’s place out of the city where she’s now going to live. The two are very quiet with each other but there’s a certain kind of appreciation she has for what he’s doing, but also the possibility of more. That isn’t a surprise considering what she’s been through, but when you learn how she’s really manipulating Tatsuma you end up feeling even more for her. The situation that Hirasaka is placed in is one that’s not easy to fault and it makes for some compelling moments as she gets directly involved in the fight that spawns between Tatsuma and Kozunu.

The other main manipulation that Kozunu has been working through is his deal with Aoi. She’s been feeling a bit off in recent episodes but isn’t sure quite why, so when Kozunu begins to offer suggestions to her as to why, she hates it but she knows it feels right. The discovery that she is the vessel for the Bodhisattva Eye means that she’s filled with incredible power that can subjugate the world. It’s a power that she finds to be too much, especially since she knows how people like Kozunu will try to and use her for it. There isn’t a death wish mentality going on here, but she’s incredibly conflicted about it considering the promise she and the others have made about protecting everyone. Knowing what she may be able to do and keeping it a secret for the moment only adds more weight to the guilt she feels which makes her all the more susceptible to Kozunu.

The first half of the volume deals in these two stories as they play out at the same time. Tatsuma’s story is the more engaging of the two since you have to wonder when he’ll discover what Hirasaka’s deal is and the small revelations we get along the way as Anko figures it all out. Aoi’s story is quite good as well since we learn more of the Bodhisattva Eye and its history with Kisaragi’s family. With the way that Aoi and Kisaragi have gone back for so long, seeing his earlier memories with his grandfather explaining what must be done when he discovers who contains the eye is only more striking. With his personality, it isn’t a surprise that he’s conflicted about it but still intends to kill her since he understands the situation. But this all goes back to the core idea of the group in that they’ll do what it takes to protect everyone and this adds in plenty of conflict among them.

When Kozunu actually makes his move while using Aoi, the show really does strike the feeling as if it’s the end of the series/season. It doesn’t come across as that weak halfway story idea that’s used to make things seem bigger than they are, even if it is. The use of the Bodhisattva Eye as a way for Kozunu to have his revenge works well and the two episodes where the storyline is front and center are very strong pieces. Kozunu’s reasons are certainly selfish but understandable, and it opens up some interesting ideas to the past. From when we first see the ties that bind both him and Tatsuma, Tokyo Majin starts to show some of its longer reach that will hopefully be further explored. As an action piece, these last two episodes up the ante nicely for an already attractive looking show as there are some great visuals that are kept within the dark framing and colors that the series has been using to date. There are so few bright moments here that when we get even a hint of daylight now it feels very unusual.

Episode 14:
The last episode of the first season of the series really does work mostly as an epilogue piece. After all the events that have unfolded, culminating in the final battle with Kozunu, this one moves us ahead a few weeks to where we see everyone looking towards their futures. With the cast being in their last year of high school, they’re all starting to get a bit more serious about where they want their lives to go. Even more so now since it seems like the battle is over and the various mystical items of importance have been retrieved and sealed. It’s a very mellow episode overall, dealing with some light moments such as meeting Hiyu’s foster parents, but it does end on a bit of a high note with some action as the last remnant of the previous battle claws its way back. This episode does serve very well as a piece of closure, enough so that you can imagine people not expecting more to be made with how it seemingly ties a lot of loose ends up.

In Summary:
Much like at the end of the viewing of the single disc editions, I’m still not entirely sure what to make of Tokyo Majin. The show has a lot of appealing factors, from the character designs, the darkness level of it and the way it has a very different feel from a typical show of this genre. It feels a bit more mature even though it is dealing with high school kids. But at least they’re seniors and they’re showing some progress towards moving on with their lives. The pacing of the show is problematic still however, particularly during the first half of it and the way that they open the series. It takes a bit of time to really get into it, but it’s one that I have the feeling is worthwhile. Revisiting the first half so soon after seeing it didn’t alter my perceptions of it in the slightest, but I did enjoy the epilogue episode in which things are tied up a bit and the stage is set for the future. If you’ve never bought the singles, this is the best way to go. If you have bought the singles, I can imagine you’re ready to just write off the show for good based on what happened, and justifiably so.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Review Equipment
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.

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