What if I were to tell you that there was an anime show about elemental users locked in battle against opposing forces? I suppose you would think, "Ok, what show is that again?" In all fairness this set up has been done countless times before. So many shows have been released over the years to feature users of elemental powers that in all honesty they tend to run together. Kaze no Stigma is the latest example of this.
Produced by Gonzo, Kaze no Stigma originally aired in 2007 and lasted for 24 episodes. The show was inspired from a light novel from five years prior and the franchise also has a manga that goes by the same name. I wouldn't necessarily say that the show was a breakout success, but there are some elements to it that make it worthwhile enough to check out if you're looking for a new action series. FUNimation has garnered the rights to release the series here in the States, so with that in mind let's take a look at the first twelve episodes of the show and see what we've got.
The series takes place in an alternate world of sorts where aforementioned element users roam the land. Powerful families rise to the top with their magical abilities, and it's basically a world for the haves, not the have-nots. With that in mind the series starts out by introducing us to a have-not. Well, that's not entirely true. Kazuma is a member of the Kannagi Clan, a family that wields fire like nobody's business. Unfortunately for Kazuma he doesn't quite cut the mustard and he loses to a younger cousin who is a real chip off the old cinderblock. This event disgraces him in the eyes of the higher ups in the Kannagi Clan and they decide to trim his branch of the family tree. He's exiled and the doors are shut behind him, so naturally he's a little miffed.
Some years later he returns to Japan with a new last name and some new powers. Rather than being a moderate fire wielder, he has entered a contract with a wind spirit and has gained tremendous powers. His new abilities quickly impress, but soon enough after his arrival there's a murder within the Kannagi Clan that is perpetrated by a wind element user. It doesn't take much to put two and two together, so naturally all of the Kannagi think that Kazuma had something to do with it. Ironically enough, he didn't. It's someone else with a grudge against the family and soon enough he clears his name.
Joining Kazuma in the show are his younger brother, Ren, and the aforementioned cousin who whupped his butt some years ago, Ayano. Ren plays more of a sidekick role and tends to get into more trouble than he's worth, but Ayano is portrayed mainly as Kazuma's equal in many ways. Considering she's higher up in the Kannagi food chain it's only natural that she has something to do with Kazuma, especially since he helps the family out from time to time.
As far as what happens in the series beyond the basic introduction of the characters that I just gave you? Not a lot really. Kaze no Stigma takes a couple of episodes before it asserts itself and gets going, but even then there's really not a massively cohesive plot. The show is relatively episodic in nature, but events from some episodes do carry over into others. For instance there's a girl named Misao who is looking for revenge against Kazuma and she shows up every now and then, but her character does little for the overall story. Basically the series just takes Kazuma, Ayano, and Ren from one conflict to another. What you'll have is a whole mess of relatively pointless and straightforward dialogue followed by a big fight. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
The show isn't outright bad, but it's not exactly great either. I liked the premise enough and for what it's worth the series pulled it off nicely, but the entire thing feels lackluster somehow. It lacks inspiration and the characters aren't developed well enough and feel shallow. In terms of animation this is a far cry from what we'd expect from a Gonzo production. It's sloppy, lazy, and there are many cut corners throughout the show. You get the feeling that it was done on a budget, and after experiencing the first twelve episodes I can honestly say the series most likely should have been made into a short season. However, things are what they are and because of that Kaze no Stigma suffers. This is a solid rental all the way.
Kaze no Stigma is presented on DVD with an 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As mentioned the show was recently produced by Gonzo and as you'd expect there are some takeaway benefits from that. The art design is pretty good and the show is quite vibrant with its dynamic use of colors. Unfortunately the animation isn't quite up to par and leads one to believe there were budget constraints. As far as the transfer is concerned the quality is decent with a slight amount of grain in darker scenes and the presence of some interlacing now and then. These flaws are relatively small, but noticeable enough to mention.
The English language track for Kaze no Stigma comes with a 5.1 Dolby Digital presentation, while the original Japanese track his our shores with a 2.0 stereo offering. The dubbing quality for both is pretty good, though in this case I felt the Japanese language was by far the better of the two. Technically speaking the quality was decent all around with the English track offering more bravado on the soundstage and a good use of the rear channels at times. The Japanese track felt a little flatter by comparison, though the overall sound clarity was perfectly fine.
Some trailers and textless songs are available on the disc, but there's also a feature called "Ayano's House Call: All-You-Can-Eat Cakes". This feature follows three of the show's Japanese voice actresses as they basically goof around before some events and show us around China Town in Kobe. It's entertaining enough and the stars are quite fun to watch, but it has little to do with the show itself and really just feels like a fluff piece that was tacked on as an afterthought.
Kaze no Stigma isn't exactly up to par with what we'd expect from a Gonzo series. The show's animation is of poor quality and the fact is that the series just isn't that unique or interesting. There are some highlights to it such as some of the fighting and some intrigue about the character's back story, but otherwise you really need to just shut your brain off at the door in order to enjoy it at all. The characters are shallow, the story is rather dry, and the pacing can be kind of erratic. In the end I'd say you should rent this to see if it's your thing.
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