Movie: One of the things anime does well is provide a breeding ground for fertile ideas that might otherwise never see the light of day. In Japan, anime is just another way to tell a story with fewer of the social stigmas attached as they tend to be here (people often associate anime as being cartoons for kids, based on little more exposure than Pokemon or other series targeted towards kids). With a large adult audience helping fuel the number of series released in Japan, is it any wonder that shows with mature themes and skillful writing are far more plentiful there than here? Anyway, much like Mobile Suit Gundam deals intelligently with war themes, Kaze no Yojimbo: Unveiled Mystery, centered on a murder mystery in a small Japanese town.
The DVD was the sixth, and last, volume of episodes from the popular show in Japan a few years back. The title refers to the lead character, George Kodama, a mysterious detective/bodyguard who seems to come and go like the wind; much to the chagrin of those he faces. I didn't see the entire series so take the following with a grain or ten of salt but as someone who researched the show enough last year to end up buying a Ginza Strip slot machine based on the series, I feel comfortable discussing the DVD but you'll want to get the show in order since it builds up over time rather than hands you eye candy like far too many shows do these days.
The story is thematically similar to the Kurosawa film Yojimbo, with Kodama coming to a small town where two factions vie for control of the populace. Since this is essentially an update of the movie, or at very least a tribute to it in many ways, the use of the working man detective seems a natural progression (contrary to popular belief, Samurai's as Westerner's know them aren't common in modern day Japan) and the Japanese mythos of the skilled detective is even more ingrained into their culture than our own (and who can't name a half dozen or more super sleuths off the top of their head?).
So Kodama comes into the town, hires on with each faction in earlier episodes and eventually reveals why he has taken such an interest in the town to begin with. The mystery itself centered on a stash of stolen gold and murder from 15 years prior but until these final episodes, the viewer is left to wonder why Kodama continually risks his neck to uncover what took place. I'm not going to tell you except to say that this is a series requiring a lot more patience than usual and this volume is only a small part of the greater whole (watch the entire 6 volumes to see why your patience will pay off).
I found the series interesting on several levels, not the least of which was the fact that no one had super powers, the level of science used was contemporary without the fancy gizmos seen in most anime, and the level of writing wasn't set at a kid's level (least common denominator). While I can enjoy those too, they are candy whereas this was deliberately paced and written with an adult in mind. The characters don't have blue or green hair and the people are all written as real people, a step up from a lot of mainstream releases that fall into the same trap of trying to give away too much, too soon.
I'm going to rate the series as a whole Highly Recommended but keep in mind that seeing this volume first is akin to reading the last chapter of a murder mystery novel and I'd be cheating you if I said too much more about the story. If you enjoy seeing something more grown up than most of what passes for entertainment out of Hollywood, check this series out, especially fans of murder mystery shows. While the stylish presentation may bother a few of you, it may also open the eyes of others whose preconceived notions of what constitutes anime in general.
Picture: Kaze No Yojimbo 6 was presented in the usual 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as originally made. The colors were accurate, the stylish presentation exceptionally interesting in its use of shadow and composition, and the darker scenery of many shots not marred by the grain or video noise many other series have. The animation style itself was sometimes a bit minimalist for my tastes but it was well suited for the show and the manner in which the slowly unfolding drama came about.
Sound: The audio was presented in the usual 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo with the standard choice of the original Japanese soundtrack or the newer English language dub, each with the option of English subtitles. Unlike many other 2.0 presentations, the audio track was given a lot of care and the separation between the channels wasn't limited to just the gunfights or other special events. This held true for each version of the audio track too although I thought the dub had a stronger bass and slightly higher level in general, the effects and well done music were solid throughout. Do yourselves a favor and listen to the entire show wearing headphones or in a quiet room; but listen to both tracks as the cast did a good job in both cases.
Extras: While the extras weren't extensive, they were pretty good compared to most releases these days. There was a collectible cell in the box and a paper insert that detailed each episode very nicely (guess where other reviews of the DVD seemed to come from…) as well as a few trailers. I would've liked more but this being an anime release not fully appreciated for its mainstream appeal, I can see why the extra expense was passed up.
Final Thoughts: Kaze No Yojimbo 6 was much like the other few volumes I've watched (bought and paid for with my own hard earned money at that) in how it took time to craft the story. The plot threads were all tied up here and I really hope some of you will give this series a look; just don't expect to "get it" after a few episodes since that would be akin to thinking you knew everything that would happen from the start (and haven't we all watched shows like that far too frequently?). The writing, style, and general quality of the audio tracks all contributed to making this a Highly Recommended series for fans of anime but also fans of mysteries and drama alike.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article!