Twelve Kingdoms Vol. #02: Empress -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B+

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  • 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. #02: Empress

By Chris Beveridge     October 24, 2003
Release Date: September 30, 2003

Twelve Kingdoms Vol. #02: Empress
© Media Blasters

What They Say
With the kind half-beast Rakushun as her only remaining companion, Youko is still hunted by her former friend, Sugimoto. In order to survive, she must confront the demons within and learn to live for herself!

The Review!
While the opening volume played with a few interesting ideas and a number of clichés, the second volume actually hits its stride and progresses smoothly and much more engaging than the first.

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.

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.

Using the same style as the first volume, the cover art here is simply gorgeous and very eye-catching. Taking the artwork from the third Japanese DVD release, shrinking it inside a window and then building a gorgeous border around it that enhances the original artwork, this comes out 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 outside of the textless ending. 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.

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.

The only extra available on the disc is a textless ending sequence, a sequence that is really great to listen to and watch without all the text so you can see everything without distraction..

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the first volume of the series, we found some interesting aspects to it but didn’t care for some of the clichés found in it, which combined with the general distaste for the fantasy oriented anime that deals with a land similar to China but not China, the end feeling was somewhat mixed. Most of what I had heard was the typical “wait for episode ‘x’ and you’ll be hooked.” For Twelve Kingdoms, the make or break episode is definitely episode six.

With the first episode here being episode six, the series takes a turn from the run and cower that had been going on since the trio had made their way to this world and have eventually split up during. Without having to really focus on multiple storylines, this episode is mostly given over to Youko as she awakens in a bed having been tended for since washing up on the river. What’s surprising about her caretaker is that he’s a large rat! Rakushun had found her and has taken care of her for the past three days while she recovers.

Her arrival in the house is full of distrust and she plans to simply use him as long as she can before moving on and trying to adjust to her new life. Her frame of mind is that she simply has to survive to win and that’s the only goal she’s working with. The level of distrust towards everyone is strong and Rakushun is no exception, especially since she’s unsure of this whole rat perspective. She does stay there for some time though and Rakushun is an excellent conversationalist, bringing her and the viewer up to speed on a number of items relevant to understanding the basic concepts of this world.

And what a strange world indeed. With the arrival of Rakushun’s mother, a human woman, she learns such oddities as children being born from trees and are plucked by their parents. Rakushun is a hanjyuu, which means beast of some sort. These poor creatures are sometimes accidentally born on the wrong worlds, including Earth in a place Rakushun knows as China and other places as well. Rakushun’s mother raised him as the proper child she wanted, but the problem lays in the kingdom they live in. King Kou doesn’t like anything that’s not normal so hanjyuu are restricted in their movements and what they can do.

Rakushun also details much of the world and how the various kingdoms work after explaining how King Kou is. He goes on at length about how she should head off to the city of En which is far more liberal about kakyaiku and won’t hunt her down and try to kill her. With it being a fairly long journey as well as having his own interest in visiting there for some time as hanjyuu aren’t looked down upon in the same way either, he offers his services as a guide and the two eventually head off on their journey.

Naturally, there are a lot of things that occur on the journey. They run into a group of what’s essentially gypsies who end up hiring Youko on as a guard after seeing the way she went after several Youma that were seeking her out prior to entering one of the cities. The journey provides more information on the world that Youko now lives in as well as vast amounts of new information when she actually reaches the city port of En and finds many unexpected things there.

While Asano is essentially ignored for these five episodes, we do get to see Sugimoto some and wonder at her fate. Having tried to align herself with King Kou, she finds that his version of kindness is not what she expected. While she thinks of herself as having saved the world from the dangers found in the earlier episodes, King Kou treats her with a kind hand by exiling her to estates at the extreme of the country where nothing lives and nothing grows, saving her from execution. She doesn’t understand that however and rails against it. Her position does change later on and she becomes an interesting new player in this great game that’s slowly becoming apparent.

With there being five episodes here and as much information as given on it as they travel through the various cities and groups, so much of it is built upon what comes before. The China aspect of it starts to fade and any similarities to Fushigi Yugi disappear as well. Youko firmly establishes herself as her own woman and in control of her destiny, regardless of what others try to impose on her. As she ascends to various levels of power over these few episodes, it’s fascinating watching her take it in as well as how Rakushun becomes involved and gradually deferent as aspects of whom she really is comes to light.

I’m definitely in the camp that will agree that episode six is a make or break episode for those that are dangling on the fence whether they’ll enjoy this series. It’s the one that provides the most information and really fleshes things out, taking the time to sit down and just map it all out. If that information becomes interesting and sets a stage where you wonder how it’ll play out, you’ll love the episodes after it on this volume.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Ending

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.


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