I've said it before, and I'll say it again; thank God for FUNimation!
When fellow publishers Geneon and ADV lost their licenses, FUNimation picked many of them up to rescue them from obscurity. Because of them so many titles that would have been lost and forgotten have seen the light of day once again here in the States. While many of their releases from these defunct licenses have been simple re-issues, there are a few instances where they took over distribution of the series entirely and completed what was once only part of a whole. The latest example of that is Shonen Onmyouji.
Shonen Onmyouji was under the Geneon publishing brand and the DVD line only made it to volume two with them. FUNimation swooped in and helped distribute the rest of the show and more recently all 26 episodes were gathered and them into a six DVD boxed set.
Originally released in 2006, Shonen Onmyouji was produced by Studio Deen and took viewers all the way back to the Heian era from Japanese history. There's a great deal of mysticism and fantasy elements pulled straight form Japanese fairytales. It's very reminiscent of Tactics or Ghost Slayers Ayashi in some ways, but to be fair those connections are really only due to the setting. Shonen Onmyouji is definitely it's own entity, though it's fair to say if you appreciate shows in this time period you'll enjoy this one largely because of that.
The series focuses on the adventures of a young boy named Abe no Masahiro, who happens to be the grandson of Abe no Seimei. Living in his grandfather's shadow, Masahiro aspires to nothing less than greatness and wants to surpass his grandfather in every way. The only problem is that Masahiro lacks some special skills and an innate, such as a sixth sense that allows him to sense spirits and the like. One day that all changes. A fox spirit named Guren comes down from the sky and bestows upon Masahiro powers that help him become an Onmyouji in training. Convenient, huh?
Soon enough Masahiro's abilities are put to the test and he does things he never thought possible before. On the verge of his thirteenth birthday he had all by given up on becoming an Onmyouji, but now that a door has opened he plans on taking full advantage of it. Right off the bat he's put in harms way as a protector and exorcist of demons. In the second episode he meets a princess named Akiko, and rescues her from spirit who attacked their compound. From there the show slides into a somewhat episode pattern with a spirit of the week, but in all fairness there is a bit of continuity that flows through the show as well.
The 26 episode series is really broken up into two different arcs. The first half of the show follows a demon named Kyuuki. This beast comes from China and represents a great threat to Japan, and it's up to Masahiro and his fox spirit to team up with other characters such as Rikugou, and Seiryuu in order to bring him down. The second half of the show focuses on another spirit named Kazane, who is also up to no good and is after Seimei. Despite these overarching plotlines, Shonen Onmyouji is really about Masahiro, and how he comes of age. His relationships with Guren and Akiko grow stronger and the show really capitalizes on the involvement of the viewers in this regard. Expect to have your heartstrings tugged at later in the show.
From start to finish Shonen Onmyouji is a unique and fascinating adventure. I will say that it starts out kind of slow and it meanders about at some point in the middle, but the meat surrounding those bits is quite tasty. I will say that despite how unique the show feels, I do get the impression that many of its elements were borrowed from other shows. This isn't an outwardly bad thing per say, but it does lend itself to a déjà vu sensation as you watch it. However, despite any misgivings regarding the show I'm still going to recommend it because the experience as a whole easily outweighs any of its weaker points.
Shonen Onmyouji is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The series looks very good with this presentation and the transfer is identical to what we saw with Geneon's release (these are a re-issue for all intents and purposes). What that means is you can expect to find some grain, light compression artifacts, and some hints of aliasing from time to time. None of these flaws truly stand out as distracting, but they are easily identifiable and can't be missed. Despite that, the animation is fluid, the colors are vibrant, and by and large the show has a very attractive, artistic look.
English and Japanese 2.0 stereo tracks are what you're going to find on this release. While the quality of both dubs is very good, I felt the original Japanese ousted the English in that regard. This is also a series with a lot of dialogue, but I can imagine a 5.1 would have been able to create a greater sense of immersion what with all the spiritual activity and all. Alas the 2.0 feels someone restricting. Thankfully the quality of the audio is clear and the presentation is about as good as one would expect from a stereo track.
Clean animations and trailers are all you're going to find here. There weren't any bonus features included on the original release either, so it's not like you're really missing much with this re-issue.
I only saw one volume of Shonen Onmyouji back when Geneon originally released the series. It intrigued me enough to want to check out the rest, but it wasn't a rush-out-and-see-the-whole-thing-now kind of feeling. Now that I have seen all 26 episodes I can honestly say that the picture as a whole is much better than in tiny segments. The story and characters really need time to grow here, and the show nicely matures by the end. Recommended!
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