Zatch Bell Vol. #01 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: C+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: N/A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Viz Media
  • MSRP: 24.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Zatch Bell

Zatch Bell Vol. #01

By Chris Beveridge     November 20, 2005
Release Date: November 08, 2005


Zatch Bell Vol. #01
© Viz Media


What They Say
Kiyo, a genius but introverted middle school student, hates going to school and has trouble making friends… until one day Zatch comes crashing through his bedroom window! Zatch is a present form Kiyo’s father, who saved the little tot on an archeological dig, and hopes that Zatch will help motivate Kiyo to go to school and make friends. What is Kiyo going to do with this kid Zatch, who suddenly sticks to him like glue?

The Review!
Zatch Bell is the latest popular boys series to makes its transition to the west in an attempt to capture a very wide market.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its English language adaptation. No Japanese language track is included with the release (contrary to some of the initial solicitation information received by retailers) so we only have the new English track to it. The series has had its music changed as well so the original opening and closing songs are no longer there. The English track throughout is a pretty solid stereo mix that makes good use of the stereo channels for action sound effects and some dialogue, giving it a very full feel during the big action sequences and even some of the quieter times. The dialogue track is clean and clear throughout and we had no issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2003, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The source materials for this look quite good as the show had a fair budget to it and uses characters with a mostly clean and simple design with bold striking colors and a straightforward bright feeling palette. The result is that visually the show is definitely appealing looking – particularly when compared against its broadcast run in the US which just looks horrible on our analog channel – and it shines very well with this transfer. Colors are bright and solid, avoiding any real major blocking issues as well as a lack of cross coloration and only a few tiny moments of aliasing during some fast action sequences.

Packaging:
The front cover for this release starts things off with the basics but overall juts right by showcasing the two lead characters with a grim determined look on their faces and it’ll jibe well with people who’ve seen the same kinds of shots on the manga or other publishing pieces where the characters have shown up. It’s fairly bland in terms of background and setting but the focus on the characters is decent and not altogether unexpected early on. The back cover provides a nice mix of things with shots from the show along the right side and an action shot of Zatch on the left with lightning striking against a black background. The center section provides a rundown of the four episodes by title and summaries while the remainder of the bottom area is a mix of production information and basic technical information. Viz continues to be one of the few companies left that doesn’t do up a proper technical grid so figuring out some of the basics can take a little time but they do clearly list along the bottom that this is the North American Edited TV Version.

Menu:
The menu layout replicates the front cover artwork nicely along one side while providing a listing of the navigation selections along the left. The same kind of blandish red/yellow backgrounds are used here but there is a small sampling of music that plays through the standard under 30 second loop. The menus are basic overall and are quick and easy to use but they lack any real pizzazz to them. Access times are nice and fast and our players’ language presets were a complete non-issue due to the lack of multiple language tracks or any subtitle tracks. Close Captions are included but I truly wish that they’d include them on the disc so that in order to see them I didn’t have to deal with the big black background close captions that my TV generates. Including CC subtitles on the DVD itself is a big plus in user friendliness.

Extras:
None. What’s included in the extras section is advertisements for other Zatch Bell products.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Zatch Bell is the latest in a long line of boys themed series that come out of the Shonen Jump formula that seem to play well to the continually turning over readership as they grow into the magazine looking for something that’s new to them. If you’ve been watching anime or reading manga for a long time, odds are you have an old favorite or two from this kind of genre as well as maybe a current running one but for the most part you can see the formula easy enough, admire how slick they get every year but otherwise pay little attention to the bulk of them.

Zatch Bell takes a familiar approach as we’re introduced to teenage student Kiyomaro. At age fourteen he’s probably not only the smartest in his class but also his entire school. He’s not exactly arrogant about it but he has an attitude of why bother with school that unsettles the other students and has left him without friends for a long time. The teachers dislike him as well since when they put up the most complex of questions or equations, he’s able to just rattle off the answer with an indifference. While it’s unclear whether he’s been abused by other students in the past, he’s definitely at odds with them and hearing their thoughts at one points it’s easy to understand why he avoids going to school in general, something that his mother rails against him with.

He soon finds a reason to go to school though with the arrival of Zatch, a pint-sized lad that his father has sent to him (via giant carrier eagle it appears) so that Kiyo can take care of him. His father is off in some distant land doing research and he’s come across this boy with big eyes and strange attire that he thinks his son can help with, particularly because Zatch has a big red book of an unknown language. Looking into the book, Kiyo is able to understand some passages from it and it turns out that they’re spells that he’s able to invoke that Zatch himself can use as attacks. The two of them are generally at odds with each other at first just due to the poor introductions but as both of them find others with books coming to destroy them, they both find that the fights help them grow in strength and that allows Kiyo to understand more spells.

Throughout the first four episodes we get to learn a surprisingly good deal about what’s going on in terms of the basics. Zatch is something called a Mamodo and there are others out there basically involved in a big game of Highlander – there can be only one. They’ve all come to Earth from another dimension and the one that survives is the one that’s able to go back and basically win, presumably ruling that dimension. The only way to destroy another Mamodo is to destroy their book, such is seen during an accident with an early fight that Zatch and Kiyo end up in. The Mamodo’s also pick up on there masters moods and typically emphasize their traits so if someone less than scrupulous gets one, the Mamodo has a dark tinge to him as well. The pint sized creatures have some similar basics to them but just like any good fighting minion, they’re all different in vast and creative ways.

The animation for the show has a decent budget around it with lots of good backgrounds, fast paced clean action sequences and a generally solid look about it. This doesn’t feel like it’s the kind of show that was rushed too fast and with little effort put into it as it does replicate the look and feel of the manga pretty well. The dub does make some changes along the way of course and we get characters with odd changes such as Suzume being renamed to Susie but then Kiyo stays the same. They don’t make an effort to hide the shows origins which is a plus but there are a number of overlays throughout for various important signs and other pieces of text. Having not seen the original, this doesn’t feel like it’s been toned down terribly but there are obvious signs of change.

In Summary:
Zatch Bell in its first four episodes feels like harmless fun and comes across pretty well and can reach across the genders easily enough that it attracted both of my girls to watching it. With a basis on TV it’s obvious that the show should sell fairly well and reach its target market but it’s very unfortunate that they couldn’t produce a bilingual release since it would have allowed for even more people to get into it. The show is formulaic but well executed and it has a lot of things that are open to possibilities but there is enough done to the English language adaptation that it will push people like me away from it. For fans of the show it’s an easy purchase if you want to have what you’re seeing on TV without commercials and on demand but if you’re a fan of the original, there may be too much here that will have you cringing and wishing your show wasn’t the latest sacrifice to the mainstream media.

Features
English 2.0 Language

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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