I've had a love / hate relationship with Anime over the years and right now I'm lovin' it! There are many recent titles that have been knocking me out including - Paranoia Agent, Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. and Gantz to name just a few, and with Gatchaman (a.k.a. Battle Of The Planets), Robotech and Star Blazers all available in remastered editions, I am rediscovering a genre I loved growing up and haven't had much exposure to since. While I wasn't exactly bowled over by Maburaho Vol. 1: Bewitched and Bewildered, I would have been lost watching these later volumes which greatly improved upon the groundwork laid by that first set of four episodes.
Having skipped over volumes two and three, I can honestly say that I didn't miss out on too much of the storyline and was probably better off for it. Maburaho Vol. 4: Ghost of a Chance picks up right after our hard-luck hero Kazuki undergoes a major change. As you'll recall, Kazuki Shikimori lives in a world where magic is commonplace and he attends Aoi Academy, a school for young magicians. Unfortunately for Kazuki, while he's descended from the world's greatest wizards and witches, he only has limited abilities and must be careful not to exceed his spell limit or else he will be reduced to nothing but a pile of ash. His impressive lineage has made him the center of attention for all of the girls at Aoi, but none more so than Yuna, a pink haired angel from Kazuki's past who calls herself his wife, Rin, a stoic warrior who can't decide to kiss Kazuki or kill him and finally the blonde bombshell Kuriko, who wishes to improve her family's social standing by bearing the most powerful magician ever.
All this attention is too much for poor Kazuki, with Rin predestined to be with him and Kuriko in a never-ending quest to "snatch" his genes, leading him to distrust all the girls of Aoi Academy and even many of the boys who are jealous of his "popularity." Poor Yuna, who has been in love with Kuriko since they were children, cannot even get close to Kazuki because of his insecurities, but he does have genuine feelings for her as evidenced by his use of magic in order to save her life. Of course, as his magic use was limited he "died" in the process, but before you can even shed a tear he comes back as a ghost. Now whether or not his magical lineage has anything to do with his spirit continuing on, Yuna, Rin and Kuriko decide to do everything in their power to restore him to life in order to a) love him b) fulfill her destiny c) get his genes.
Complicating matters for both Kazuki and the girls is the introduction of a new character, Shino, who has her sights set on adding Kazuki's spirit to her growing collection of ghosts. Kazuki must be turned into a "whole" ghost before she can "collect" him and she tries several methods to trick and capture him, but is always thwarted by one or more of the girls who are hard at work protecting his ghostly genes. It's a good thing they're looking after him too, as Kazuki's incorporeal state has sunk him into a deep depression where Shino's offers don't sound half bad. As if that wasn't enough, Shino also happens to be the mysterious Dr. Akai's younger sister and will be working as his assistant at Aoi Academy, which spells trouble for Kazuki.
The three episodes included on this disc are:
Episode 113: "He Came Back...": Kazuki is dead, but his spirit lingers on. Depressed about his condition, Kazuki quickly falls under the spell of a mysterious woman who wants to add him to her growing collection of ghosts. Thankfully, Yuna, Rin and Kuriko are around to look after him, and his impressive genes, and are working on a spell to bring him back to the land of the living.
Episode 114: "We Were Trapped...": Kazuki once again encounters the mysterious "ghost collector," who lures him into a house of horrors. The girls follow, only to fall victim to the many tricks and traps set up throughout the building. Rin uses her magical blade to save them all and the woman revels herself to be Dr. Akai's sister, Shino, which will make things even more difficult at school.
Episode 115: "He Ascended...": After the revelations in the last episode, the show takes a surprising turn by focusing on Rin and her past. Her mentor Shunji, who also happens to be a werewolf, has returned to take her home so that Rin can take her rightful place as the leader of her clan. She and Kazuki pretend to be married in order to help her stay, but must still face Shunji in a deadly duel.
Picture: This DVD is presented in a 1.33:1 full screen presentation. The series originally ran from 2003-2004 and the quality is quite good with bold, bright colors and a crisp, clear picture.
Audio: There is a Dubbed English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Track and a Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo Track with optional English subtitles. I've been watching Anime with the English dub and the subtitles on and feel like I've been getting more out of the shows this way. Thankfully, the dubbing work is pretty good for this series, but the soundtrack is excellent and hearing it in 5.1 is a big plus. The Japanese 2.0 track sounds fine, but the music is much better in 5.1.
Extras: Maburaho Vol. 4: Ghost of a Chance comes with a nice assortment of Extra features including a commentary track by English voice actors Jessica Boone (Yuna) and Monica Rial (Shino), the Art of Maburaho, clean opening and closing animations and previews for additional ADV releases.
Conclusion: As is often the case with Anime, and something that separates it from many other genres, is that they're not afraid of changing the dynamics of their characters and will present them with seemingly insurmountable obstacles in order to see what happens. Maybe it's a touch of the sadist in me, but now that Kazuki's dead, I can't wait to see what happens in Maburaho Vol. 5: Surprises and Suspicions. I didn't touch on it much during my review, but the fan service is still intact although it seems to have been toned down in these three episodes, possibly due to their slightly more serious tone. Sadly, with Maburaho Vol. 4: Ghost of a Chance the number of episodes goes down from four to a measly three per volume which I cannot justify, even with my increased enjoyment of the series. Rent it.