Twelve Kingdoms Vol. #01: Shadow of the Moon, the Sea of Shadow - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Media Blasters
  • MSRP: 29.95
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Twelve Kingdoms

Twelve Kingdoms Vol. #01: Shadow of the Moon, the Sea of Shadow

By Chris Beveridge     July 25, 2003
Release Date: July 29, 2003


Twelve Kingdoms Vol. #01: Shadow of the Moon, the Sea of Shadow
© Media Blasters


What They Say
The legend begins when a mysterious blond stranger confronts a teenage girl Yuoko, and she is pulled into another world to face her destiny. Thus begins Youko’s perilous and mystic journey to the Kingdom of Kei on an epic road of espionage, terror, and betrayal.

Contains the first 5 episodes of the "Shadow of the Moon, the Sea of Shadow" Saga.

The Review!
One of the more anticipated shows of this year and one that’s still running in Japan as this first volume comes out in the US, Twelve Kingdoms is the kind of show that promises quite an epic adventure.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series has a very good stereo mix that lets the varying amounts of directionality flow nicely across the forward soundstage. Dialogue is clear and distortion free and we had no issues with dropouts. We listened briefly to the English track and had no issues during the areas we checked there.

Video:
Originally starting its broadcast run in early 2002, Twelve Kingdoms has a very good looking transfer here with very fresh materials. The main areas where things don’t look as good as one would hope is the opening sequence where there’s a bit of cross coloration pixilation going on. Once in the show proper, colors are excellent, with the vibrant areas such as the green eyes or the color of skin coming across in great layers. A lot of the backgrounds and look of the worlds is done in somewhat drab colors, going for the realism look (especially when you have everyone without colored hair). Aliasing is very minimal with only a few areas showing some during panning sequences.

Packaging:
This series has the potential to have some of the greatest looking covers of this year and next year in the bag. Taking the artwork from the first Japanese DVD release, shrinking it inside a window and then building a gorgeous border around it that enhances the original artwork, this comes out pretty much perfectly. The series logo is nicely done along the bottom with the subtitle of the opening arc storyline. The top of the border gets the volume/chapter listing. The character art inside is just fantastic. The back cover provides two stripes of shots from the show blended together really well, giving a nice feel to the flow of things. The summary is pretty brief and gives the basic premise of things. The discs special features are clearly listed but can be confusing. What’s listed on the back is actually what’s in the insert while the on-disc extra isn’t listed at all. The insert takes the front cover and essentially switches the wording from the top to bottom. The insert opens up to provide a translated map of the world ad a focus on the areas we visit on this volume. There’s a brief encyclopedia section that covers various terminology and their meanings. It’s all rounded out by the Youma list that provides a small shot of the critter and what it resembles. The back of the insert provides the chapter listings for the episodes.

Menu:
The menu layout is nicely done here with the front cover background used here as the background but swaying like water, since the static image over it is the non-text version of the world map while some of the nice instrumental music plays along. Movement is decent across the menu as each of the sections provides a selection, all of them invisible until you move over it. Access times are nice and fast and submenus load quickly.

Extras:
The only extra available on the disc is a textless opening sequence, which is definitely nice to have since there’s so much to see there without the obstruction of the credits.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Twelve Kingdoms, based on a series of novels by Ono Fuyumi and adapted into a planned 68 episode series by Sho Aikawa, kicks off here with one of the hardest jobs for just about every anime series. It has to provide the setup, introduce the characters and give enough of a hook to ensure you’ll stick it out for the entire ride. With it being based on novels, this becomes even tougher since with a book you’re hard pressed to put it down and walk away after just a few pages whereas with anime you can drop off from it fairly quickly.

Twelve Kingdoms is done as series of arcs, with the opening one having the great title of “Shadow of the Moon, the Sea of Shadow”. In this arc, we start off in present day Japan where we’re introduced to Youko Nakajima, a quiet high school girl. She’s set apart from her classmates partially due to her having red hair, something we hear her parents insist that she get dyed before she returns to school. She seems unhappy with things in general and trying to get by, almost like most teenagers are at one point or another. During her trip to school where she talks with her friend Asano, a guy she’s known for years and rather likes, about her intent to not be class president again this year.

And, of course, she’s selected as class president again. Her school life looks like one that she does not want, giving further feel to the vibe you get that she simply doesn’t belong here on some level. One of the other girls in the class, the dark looking Sugimoto, provides the third main character that we meet here. She’s the kind that you don’t see much in the high school shows, she’s unhappy about her life in this world as well but spends her time reading fantasy novels, wanting to be involved in a world like that… almost believing it’s her destiny.

The time spent here is quite well done, providing the backdrop for these three people and how their daily lives are lived out. Naturally, it’s not going to last. Amusingly, it happens very quickly as we’re simply watching the school life go along in one of the classes during a break when all of a sudden there’s a tall pale man with striking blonde hair in a classical plain Chinese style outfit standing there. His quick insistences that Youko must come with him as he must protect her leads to much confusion. It also quickly leads to a lot of destruction as the windows shatter in and the class is thrown into disarray.

Youko is guided to the rooftop as the destruction seems to follow her, and once there she finds herself with Keiki, the blonde man whom she has accepted as her protector. Surprisingly, Sugimoto and Asano are up on the roof as well, hinting more at the possibility of a serious relationship between the two that Youko tries to digest while suddenly realizing that a massive bird-like beast is bearing down on them. Keiki provides her with a sword that only she can remove from its scabbard and tells her that she must fight it.

The reactions to this moment are priceless, as Keiki brings in his own beasts to right against the bird creature. Asano is halfway in shock about everything and Youko is practically at tears about what she’s being told, but Sugimoto is more alive than she’s likely been in some time. She sees the world she’s dreamed of come to life and though she keeps hearing how Youko is the key part to it all, she’s convinced that Keiki is mistaken and that she’s the one he’s really there for. So as the battle moves and heightens, Keiki finds himself having two more people with him than he intended and begins his spell that opens up a massive hole in the bay by the city, a portal that allows the beasts he conjured to take the three high school kids into another world.

All of that is the simple set up in the first episode that leads into the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, a place we see through a map as it focuses in on where the trio and the creatures with them land. The area they end up in is one of near ruin, a world that feels like the dark days of a feudal land where what few buildings you see are in near collapse, the people are almost soulless looking and the general feel is one of desperation. The trio ends up being separated, with Youko eventually wandering into a village where she’s captured. Sugiomoto finds herself saved by one of the creatures Keiki had created and eventually finds herself captured while Asano has the worst luck as he comes across a clearing where Keiki provides a surprising and grisly sequence.

Eventually, all three are brought together again and we learn that they aren’t the first to travel through from another world. Those that do are unable to return home and are often killed outright as they’re considered portents of bad news. Having three come through at once sets many of the more fearful people to panic, and so the trio is sent off out of the village. To make matters worse, Youko is the only one who can understand the language that’s being spoken. Sugimoto and Asano only hear gibberish, but to Youko it all sounds like Japanese.

Their trip is eventually cut short and the trio finds themselves on their own again, lost and confused and unsure of what to do. Youko and Asano are looking to go back while Sugimoto tries to think of ways to use this to her advantage, as she believes her true destiny is now calling. The stage is set for them to explore the world they’re now in and to find out what’s really in store for them. The five episodes here provide a lot of the groundwork and spend plenty of time letting the culture and settings really seep in. While there are a number of areas where things move quickly, especially in the last half of the first episode, the show meanders a bit in moving along the storyline, rather to let everything sink in. And there is a lot to adapt to, with the varying creatures, names and crafts that get talked about here.

The animation for the show is pretty nice, with the money shots coming across very nicely. There’s the usual shortcuts throughout that look a bit awkward, especially with the digital animation style used at times, but it’s quite good overall. The one area where I think the animators really failed was in the episode where after being separated, Sugimoto and Youko are brought back together but Sugimoto doesn’t recognize Youko, claiming she looks quite different. The only difference we were able to tell was her skin color now being darker, but visually she really didn’t look all that different, especially compared to how both Sugimoto and eventually Asano made it out to be.

Another aspect of the series that really captured me is the music, particular the opening song sequence that is entirely instrumental – a real rarity in general with anime. Building from a slow soft mood into a much more rousing piece, it plays out great against the backdrop of this alter-China world and the display of the worlds history to the viewer through the art of the world. The incidental music throughout the show is quite good as well and seemingly varied. The end song sequence is also rather enchanting, which has caused this series soundtracks to go up several notches on my list.

With five episodes, there’s a lot of setup here and a number of quiet moments. Part of what I think hindered my enjoyment of it is taking in all five episodes at once instead of letting it play out a little more slowly. This may be one of those shows that doesn’t benefit from taking in a lot of it very quickly, or it’s just a very slow starter that can get a bit aggravating at times as you wait for it to start moving forward. Early on, there are some interesting hints at what’s to come, but much of it so far feels like other shows that we’ve seen. I’m looking forward to seeing how it differentiates itself as it progresses however.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic DMR-E20 DVD Recorder, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.


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