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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Otogi Zoshi Vol 2:Enemy Shores
Otogi Zoshi Vol 2:Enemy Shores
Media Blasters // Unrated // May 10, 2005
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted August 21, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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The Show:

The second volume of Otogi Zoshi suffers a bit from the sophomore slump, a common anime malady where the second volume of a series falls short of the standards that the first one set.  While the story is still pretty good, it didn't have the solid grounding in reality that the first set of shows had.  It was a little harder to suspend my disbelief and to swallow some of the plot developments.

The story takes place at the beginning of the Heian period in Japan, 972 AD.  The capital, Heian-Kyo (present day Kyoto), is suffering from famine and disease.  The Emperor is afflicted a debilitating illness that keeps him bed ridden, and he isn't expected to live long.  This has created political instability.

There are a lot of factions in Japan at this time vying for power, which gives the show a lot to work with.  The Onmyo-ji are fortune tellers and their divinations of the future (often to their own advantage) had the most influence with the royal family.  The blind Lord Abe no Seimei is the most powerful of the Onmyo-ji and he is plotting to ensure that he keeps his position at the apex of the influence pyramid.

Two of the five Magatama, sacred objects that are supposed to have the power to "save people," have been stolen.  It is widely thought that this is the reason for the plague and failed crops that have plagued the capital.  The Emperor has asked the loyal Minamoto clan to send their oldest son, Riakou, to reclaim these valuable objects.

The only problem is that Riakou has recently died.  So that the clan does not loose face, Riakou's younger sister, Minamoto no Hikaru, dresses as her brother and goes on the quest with her retainer, Watanabe no Tsuna.  Joining the pair are Usui mo Sadamitsu, the warrior they allied with in the last volume, and  Urabe, a member of the Onmyo-ji that Seimei has assigned to accompany them.

As this volume opens the quartet is nearing the stronghold where the Magatama of water is being held.  There is only four of them, but surprise is on their side so they storm the pirate base.  They have a good amount of success and manage to snag the Magatama only to be trapped on the way out.  The pirate leader confronts Hikaru, and informs him that the Magatama was never stolen from the capital.  Since the object has only brought sadness to his land, he lets the group take it.

That leaves only one Magatama to recover: The Magatama of Fire.  It is being held in the Kumaso clan who are lead by Lord Shuten Doji.  As Hikaru and her companions are heading toward the clan's stronghold they run across some trouble, including a young orphan, Kintaro.  This rascal is always hungry, but good in a fight so they take him along with them.

As they near the Kumaso stronghold they make a disturbing discovery: the clan has gunpowder.  This technological advantage will make it nearly impossible to storm the castle with only five people, but that's never stopped Hikaru and her group before.  It's too bad that Lord Doji is one step ahead of them.

I didn't like this volume as much as the previous one.  The first volume was grounded in reality, but this one started to loose this grounding.  The third time this small group storms a castle, it gets a little hard to believe.

That wasn't the only time I found it hard to suspend my disbelief.   I thought Urabe's character was used as a Deus ex Machina too often.  She has a powder or potion for every situation, and she was able to make gunpowder with components she finds laying around an island.  After all, she read about it once.  How she discovered the secret of gunpowder while living in the capital while no one else does is never explained.

Kintaro was a character I could have done without too.  He's the comic relief, but also a young boy with nearly superhuman strength.  He's able to pick up a fully grown man in battle armor with little trouble, something most 10 year old's aren't able to do.

The show started to pick up in the last episode though.  The political intrigue that I enjoyed so much in the first volume returned in the final show, and the series seemed to be more 'real' and solid.

The DVD:


This volume of Otogi Zoshi includes four episodes from the series on a two disc set.  The first DVD has the program with the second DVD being reserved for the extras.  It comes is a single width keepcase that has a disc on each side of the case.  There is also an insert that contains some helpful liner notes on some of the terms and customs.

Audio:

This disc offers the choice of the original Japanese soundtrack or an English dub, both in stereo and 5.1.  I alternated between the 5.1 Japanese and English tracks as I viewed the series, and I enjoyed both languages equally.  The actors on the English dub did a very good job, especially Taylor Henry who lent his voice to Watanabe.  He gives his character a strong voice that really helps the series.  Julie Ann Taylor also does well as Minanoto, being able to sound like a young male or a female as the situation warrants.

They make good use of the surround channels though I thought some of the music was mixed a little low in the rear channels.  This was a minor problem though, aside from that, the show sounds very good with a full range of sound.  There are no audio defects.

Video:

The show is presented with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio that I believe was it's original ratio.  The show uses a lot of dark colors, browns, greys, and blacks, and these shades are accurately reproduced.  The lines are sharp and the image has a very good amount of detail.  The only problem with the image was some minor aliasing that effected fine lines.  Aside from that the show looked very good.

Extras:

There are some good extras that accompany this show, all on the second disc.

Group Discussion Part Three: A 23-minute informal meeting where director Mizuho Nishikubo, supervising animation director Kazuchika Kise, character designer Shou Tajima, and wrier Yoshiki Sakurai talk about the show.  This time they working with a 4:3 ratio as opposed to 16:9, Korean imports, and Karoke among other things.  Like with the first installments, this was interesting at the beginning but my interest waned after a while.  I thought it dragged on a little too long.

Tokyo University Heian Lecture: Dr. Kazuto Hongo, a historian from Tokyo University and consultant for the show, gives a lecture on the historical accuracy of the series.  He talks about the technology of the time as well as the social customs of the times.  He points out small details that the show got right, and points out some of the things they got wrong.  (Such as the fact that the show has gunpowder introduced to Japan about 350 years early.  This was much more interesting than I thought it would be, and I enjoyed it very much.

There is also a music video that's didn't do too much for me, and some original promo spots.

An insert is included with the DVDs that contains some helpful liner notes on some of the terms and customs.

Final Thoughts:

This disc isn't as engaging as the first volume, but that is mainly due to a couple of plot points that I didn't like.  The fact that Urabe can do just about anything up to and including making gunpowder shells, when none of the warriors had even heard of the weapon, was a little hard to swallow.  Storming three strongholds with only 4-5 people and not suffering a wound is stretching it a little too.  Still, by the end of the volume the series started to pick up again and things became really interesting.  I'm chalking this one up to the usual sophomore slump and predict that the next volume will be much better.  This disc still gets a Recommended rating.

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