Twelve Kingdoms Vol. #09: Atonement -

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Mania Grade: A+

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: N/A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Media Blasters
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Twelve Kingdoms

Twelve Kingdoms Vol. #09: Atonement

By Chris Beveridge     December 26, 2004
Release Date: December 28, 2004

Twelve Kingdoms Vol. #09: Atonement
© Media Blasters

What They Say
In times of crisis, the metal of leaders are tested and the principles of kingdoms are forged. The corrupt minister, Shoko, mistreats the people and controls a web of bribed officials. To stop him, Youko teams up with a group of rebels only to find that one of her closest friends is lending a lethal hand to the evil administrator. But how can Youko bring her kingdom to peace if she is forced to wage a civil war against her own court?

The Review!
Everything starts to really pull together through the first half of the volume as all that's come before reaches a critical stage.

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 previous volumes, the artwork for this continues to look amazing. The beautiful illustration of Youko riding atop Keiki in his transformed state as the battle rages below is a great piece and is just so richly detailed like the past ones. 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 and simply amusing since it's just scene access and interactive menus. I really wish people would stop calling them special features. The insert takes the shots from the back cover and lines the chapter marks between them while the reverse side is just boxart advertisements.

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. Unfortunately the players' language presets were ignored by the disc.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Twelve Kingdoms continues to be a show that simply draws you in so completely that watching it play out is like watching parts of your life come together. When it does come together, it's a beautiful thing. When it's close to it, it's exciting and there is so much going on in such a short space of time that it's one of the few shows that you really have no clue how it will play out. And even when it does finally play out, it's often so drastic that it sets a lot of other things into motion.

With only ten episodes left in the series, the five episodes here cover a lot of ground. With Shoukou making his plans and continuing to do what he does to defy the heavens and prove that they don't really punish anyone, his manipulations with Gahou have led to a number of small resistance attacks in various parts of the province. Those that are attacking are doing it in an interesting and effective way, causing trouble in one area, distracting the soldiers in another and then striking elsewhere. Some of the towns are still completely left in fear not only of Shoukou but also what would replace him since they believe it would be more of the same or worse. So while others around them start to rebel, some towns are just hiding in their homes and not coming out until it's all over.

The movements made by the groups are quite fun to watch, since Youko aka Youshi is doing her best to try and guide things to a way she's able to control the outcome of. Having learned so much during her time out in the real country and dealing with its people, she's determined to not let what happened in the castle happen again. She had been so easily manipulated there into doing what others want that she's ensuring a much more hands on approach this time around. She's insistent on controlling her own destiny and making things right by her own hands. Granted, she's doing it with the help of a thousand or two people that are fighting back against her own mistakes, as well as a couple of unseen helpers that are decimating the troops, but it's her force of will that's the strongest here.

There are some profoundly powerful moments throughout these episodes, though most really come after the battles have been fought. When Keiki comes onto the scene in his transformed state and Youko rides him to deal with the uprising within the ranks of her own military, there's an amazing sense of real power on display there and its ripple effect throughout the ranks from the top to the bottom is evident. Her time spent with the citizenry has given her the new perspective on how to properly talk to and deal with them as a whole, which is then reflected in how she deals with those she fought by during the rebellion against Shoukou. Though they're all deferential to her once they realize just who she is, she continues to deal with them on a one on one basis and is able to get past the ranks and such to get to the person and draw them out to say what they really want.

As much fun as the big epic moments are in battle and in their resolution, what makes this series just so engaging to me is those exchanges of dialogue and even the speeches. The epilogue section of this volume brings about so much change, so fast and so effectively, that when you sit back to take it all in you realize just how important it is and you go back to rewatch it. Youko's first true ordinance as the Queen of Kei is, much like said by another ruler, an attempt to truly heal the soul of a kingdom that is in dire need of it. It's such a radical change and one that's needed to set things straight, giving the populace a chance to almost reinvent themselves that it's only something that she could comprehend after he time spent out in the real world away from the rulers and those of status. When she gives that speech after rearranging her court, I'll say that it almost had me feeling a bit weepy because of just how powerful the scene and the words are.

In Summary:
Twelve Kingdoms covers so much ground in just one episode that when looking over five episodes on a volume, there's so much that just isn't talked about in a piece like this. Series like this are truly rare and are gems to be treasured. This volume, much like others that are at the end of arcs or major moments, has so many high moments that it could fill a dozen other series and still have plenty left over to make it a beautiful piece. Beautiful storytelling, intriguing characters and a complex world and series of plots makes this one of the best shows of recent years and this volume is one of the best of the best. Highly recommended.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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