Ever since I heard the phrase "There can be only one!" I have been in love with Highlander. From the original film starring Christopher Lambert to the TV series with Adrian Paul, I admit to seeing just about everything in the franchise. Heck, I even used to play the Highlander: Trading Card Game (MA State Champion by the way). When it was announced that Highlander was making the transition to anime you bet it was going to be something worth checking out if you were ever a fan.
Like every other Highlander spin-off or program (apart from The Raven) Search for Vengeance features a MacLeod at the helm. While I personally would have liked to see the film branch out to a more unique origin there is something positive about the familiarity at work here. That thick (and cheesy) Scottish accent and brazen lust for battle harkens back to days when Connor was clashing blades with The Kurgan.
The origins of Colin MacLeod may not be as unique as one would hope but Search for Vengeance spins things in a different direction than you'd expect. The main section of the story takes place in the future where the world has gone to hell in a hand basket. With a few too many political potshots the Highlander film does a soap box preachy routine where it states that we have brought about our own destruction with war and global warming. The point where they explain this feels a little out of place in regards to the film but it does set the backdrop for why the world is in the shape that it is.
With much of the globe decimated, decaying, and covered by water civilization is few and far between. Colin MacLeod travels this vast and harsh landscape looking for someone in particular and like many in this time period he takes upon the rogue-like act of collective heads for profit. Of course considering he's immortal there's a quickening in it for him too, assuming he takes down another immortal that is. Luckily for him the first prey we see him go after is a mutant with a chainsaw blade who happens to be more than mortal.
The mutant isn't the one he's looking for and he doesn't find it until he reaches what's left of New York City. With rundown skyscrapers and a ragtag pack of humans living beneath the city, the towering golden eyesore in the center of it all gives a hint that something is amiss. We quickly learn of a tyrant who lives there and a resistance movement that is underway. At first Colin wants no part in any of it but he warms up to the idea when he discovers who the tyrant is.
Thousands of years ago Colin was waging war against Rome and on the eve of battle his beloved was crucified before his eyes. Seeking revenge he tracked down the Romans and tried to kill their leader Marcus which proved to be something beyond his abilities. Marcus cleaved his skull practically in two but Colin's horse dragged him to Holy Land and he couldn't finish the job. Shortly thereafter Colin awoke and after a brief explanation by a druid ghost, he discovers that he's immortal.
Despite the gift that Colin had been given he chose to squander it on vengeance against Marcus rather than make something of himself. Over the centuries he has tracked the Roman down only to be met with defeat time and time again. It was only sheer luck that allowed him to escape with his head attached but when he sees Marcus' image in NYC he naturally becomes incensed. As the druid persists, Colin has a fetish for getting his ass kicked.
Realizing that assaulting the fortress alone would be folly (though not for a lack of trying) he teams up with the humans and gives them hope. He doesn't do it for the benevolence of it all; he does it for himself. You see, Colin is quite the anti-hero. Consumed with rage and self-pity he's a selfish character who wants nothing more than to see Marcus die thousands of years after he killed his lover. As fate would have it though, his lover's soul has appeared throughout the ages and has manifested itself as one of the rebels. Sure he was going to fight Marcus anyway but his motivation changes from mere vengeance to protection and revenge.
While there are many reasons to feel disconnected with Colin throughout the show, he's really not a bad guy. Through flashbacks we learn how tragic his past has been and how passionate he truly is. He's a hero who is worth pitying more than praising but throughout Search for Vengeance he develops into someone to cheer for. His relationship with the world and Marcus adds an amazing amount of depth to an otherwise rigid and unlikable character. Unfortunately this development takes a while to get going and at first you may not appreciate Colin for who he is.
The story stands up quite well and frankly it reinvigorates a franchise that has otherwise turned stagnant. A big part of this success is the involvement of director Yoshiaki Kawajiri who had his hands on anime such as Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D. In many ways Search for Vengeance feels like it falls into the same continuity as the likes of Ninja Scroll. With mutated devils walking around and character designs strongly resembling the work found in the classic anime movie, watching this was like visiting an old friend made new.
Highlander: The Search for Vengeance is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. With production for the film being supplied by Mad House (Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Trigun) you know from the start what kind of quality you can expect from the animation. From beginning to end this movie offers jaw-dropping action sequences and a very fluid style. Of course the look of a show is only part of the experience.
In regards to the transfer for this DVD things are mostly positive. The contrast is solid in most cases and purposely muted in others but the overall palette is quite breathtaking. Some film grain seeps into the image and a very light amount of compression can be spotted at times as well. There were also elements of aliasing that cropped up from time to time. Overall the video quality for this release is good but not great.
Despite the fact that Highlander: The Search for Vengeance was produced in Japan with a Japanese director this release receives an English language track as the only dub. This would have been fine if the quality of the dubbing was up to snuff but unfortunately that's not entirely the case. Some vocals provided by the likes of Jim Byrnes, Scott McNeil, and Alistair Abell are decent enough but there are many moments throughout that are awful. Fake Scottish accents and some weak dialogue do little to speak of the show's quality.
Technically speaking the provided 5.1 and 2.0 presentations are impressive enough. I particularly enjoyed the 5.1 surround offering thanks to the enhanced immersion during battle and some ambient noise. The music in The Search for Vengeance is good as well but it was a little too dominating on the soundstage. It often drowned out dialogue, though I suppose in some cases that could be a good thing.
A decent supply of bonus material makes its way onto this disc and it's worth taking a gander at. The first is a feature entitled East Meets West Part: Filmmakers Crossing Borders clocks in at just under 13 minutes. This featurette includes discussion from just about everybody that had a hand in the project, including the late William Panzer. It's an interesting look at the process of bringing this American franchise over to Japan and gives a good idea at what it took to see it through to completion. Along the same lines there is an interview with Director Yoshiaki Kawajiri where he talks about his experience with working on the picture.
Those two particular features are really the meat and potatoes of the extra menu. Other than those tidbits you'll find a teaser and trailer for the film and a gallery of still images and artwork.
As a lover of Highlander and anime The Search for Vengeance was more or less what I wanted it to be. The story may have started out slowly and the characters weren't entirely likeable at first but in both cases the quality increased as the movie progressed. In the end my only major complaint is the fact that this release does not have a Japanese dub (if one even exists). We are left with an English track that offers spotty quality with cringe-worthy dialogue at times.
Highlander: The Search for Vengeance is worth a look if you're even slightly interested in it. Many of you may wish to hold out for a Limited Edition but this release at least deserves checking out. Recommended
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