I've had a love / hate relationship with Anime over the years, but 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 found Maburaho Vol. 4: Ghost of a Chance much more to my liking and even though the number of episodes dropped from four to three per disc, I was still eager to see what transpired in Maburaho Vol. 5: Surprises and Suspicions.
As I mentioned before, after my lukewarm response to the first volume in this series, I skipped volumes two and three and picked up with Maburaho Vol. 4: Ghost of a Chance, right after our "hero" Kazuki and the series 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. He is descended from the world's greatest wizards and witches and his impressive lineage has made him the center of attention for the girls at Aoi, but none more so than Yuna, a pink haired angel who thinks of herself as Kazuki's 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 getting Kazuki's genes and bearing the most powerful magician ever.
Poor Yuna has loved Kuriko since they were kids, but she can't even get close to Kazuki anymore because he distrusts the girls and even most of the boys at Aoi Academy who are jealous of his "popularity." However, he does truly have feelings for her and uses the last of his magic in order to save her life. While Kazuki's descended from the world's greatest magicians, his abilities are limited and he "dies," reduced to nothing but a pile of ash in the process. Of course, before you can even shed a tear he comes back as a ghost. Now whether or not his 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) really marry him b) fulfill her destiny c) get his genes.
Complicating matters further is the introduction of Dr. Akai's younger sister, and amateur "Ghost Collector," Shino. It appears that Shino will stop at nothing in order to add Kazuki's spirit to her ever growing collection and it will take the talents of each of the three girls (and even the young ghost Elizabeth) in order to keep Kazuki safe. With Kazuki in his spirit form, he often takes a backseat in most of these episodes in order to allow the supporting characters time to shine, which I'm happy to say makes for some really entertaining stories. The show's humor feels more natural and less forced and I even found myself feeling affection for the supporting cast, especially characters who felt one dimensional, like Rin and Yuna, in the earlier episodes.
The three episodes included on this disc are:
Episode 116: "We Snooped...": Kazuki, Yuna, Rin and the young ghost Elizabeth are suspicious of Kuriko's behavior. After watching her meet with a strange man and accept money from him they suspect the worse. After following them to a park, they watch as the man proposes to Kuriko… and she accepts. However, all is not as it seems and the group tries to warn Kuriko before it's too late.
Episode 117: "They Decided...": A new round of "testing" reveals that Kazuki's "friend" Nakamura, and not Kazuki, actually possesses the most powerful magical genes at Aoi Academy. This takes the attention away from Kazuki for a change, but leads Nakamura to declare himself "King" of class 2-B where all the girls are made to dress as "bunnies" and wait on him hand and foot.
Episode 118: "They Set It Up... Ya See": A class trip to Kyoto is the perfect opportunity for the students to try and make a few bucks by conning the locals. It's revealed that fellow student Sayumi is a member of the Morisaki family, rivals to Rin's Kamishiro clan. Upon learning of the girl's rivalry, Nakamura gets the idea to pit them against one another, delivering tons of fan service in the process.
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. 5: Surprises and Suspicions comes with a nice assortment of Extra features including an interview with ADV graphic artist Fumiko Chino, the Art of Maburaho, clean opening and closing animations and previews for additional ADV releases.
Conclusion: I already mentioned that I've really been enjoying this batch of episodes, Maburaho Vol. 5: Surprises and Suspicions in particular. By relegating the annoying and useless Kazuki to the background and focusing on the rich cast of supporting characters, the show has only gotten better. After the more somber tone of the last volume, due in part to the drastic change in the main character and setting up the future threat which Shino Akai poses, these three episodes are much lighter and are actually quite humorous. I'm also happy to report that the fan service which the show promised in its initial four episodes has returned and, judging from the preview for the next installment, looks to move even further into the ecchi realm exemplified by the Mouse series. With an interesting cliffhanger to cap things off, I'm now hooked on this series and will definitely be getting the next installment. I still feel slighted by the cost to episode ratio of these recent volumes, but Maburaho Vol. 5: Surprises and Suspicions is Recommended.