Movie: Japan is known to us Westerners for a great many things. Be it technological advances like the computer you're reading this review on, the dvd player you watch your movies with, and the TV player you watch your movies on, or the wonderfully interesting past the country had, including a culture lasting thousands of years old, Japan is an integral part of our lives. One aspect of Japan that combined technological advance and old style Japan was the samurai warrior.
Such warriors were equipped with swords that even today are marvels of technology and ingenuity. They are built using a technique that is as much an art as a science which is befitting the noble warrior poets that were the samurai. A samurai, in purest form, had a code that he lived, and died, by and was not as one dimensional as most historical figures. They embraced artistic endeavors, culture and were philosophers more often than not. With that in mind, I turn my review's eye to an anime release, Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal (Director's Cut).
The show is set during a period of civil unrest in Japan, in 1864. Different factions vie for power and the ruling government is known for harsh laws. Various rebellions take place and bandits roam the countryside, taking advantage of the wars. During an attack, a young boy is saved by a samurai and taken on a path that will ultimately lead the boy to become the protagonist of the show. He is renamed Kenshin Rurouni and taught by the samurai a special fighting technique. The main thrust of the story follows Kenshin as he leaves to fight the good fight, to the dismay of his mentor. Along the road to this path of death, he learns about trust...and betrayal (hence the title).
I liked the story as it was detailed enough to appreciate with my full attention and the voice acting, in both languages, was solid. The music complimented the beautiful animation style which both added a lot to the plot. This was no Saturday morning cartoon and ADV rates it as a 17+ due to the extreme violence. Thankfully, the violence was an integral part of the show and not gratuitous like far too many shows use.
The movie is a director's cut, editing the 4 episodes of the OVA series into a single coherent show. A few minutes of footage was added to improve continuity and the credits of the middle episodes are cut out to improve the flow. In a bold move, the original aspect ratio was altered from full frame to widescreen and some of the music was edited out. Purists will rail at this but having seen both, I'm of the opinion that these moves worked well to make the OVA seem more professional. By this, I mean that it seems more like a movie that stands alone, rather than just the precursor to a long lasting series (to be fair, the show came after the series).
My biggest complaint is that the cool extras, ones that gave some deeper background to the show in the original releases, were missing. The dvd transfer was improved a bit so I think the reason might've been to use the disc's space solely for the show (and a couple of trailers) which is an acceptable reason. Further, by combining the 2 dvds on the original release, this show gets you the story cheaper. Like all tradeoffs, some will be happy and others won't. I think that in this case, I lean in favor of ADV's decision to release this as it was (and they didn't do the editing, it was truly a director's cut from Japan). With the pricing, you also get more "cut for your buck" so I'm rating this one as Highly Recommended.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio widescreen color and it looked very crisp and clear. I noticed no problems with the picture and the anime style very appropriate to the subject matter. The dvd transfer was also well done.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either English or Japanese with English subtitles in Dolby Digital stereo. The vocals and musical score were both very clear as well as fitting to the plot. While I preferred the Japanese audio, the English dub, one which I heard so much about in newsgroups, was also good (contrary to what's been suggested by so called purists).
Extras: Sadly, this is one area where the dvd falters. The only extras were some trailers and a paper insert to the dvd case. There was also a double sided dvd cover for those who enjoy the artwork though.
Final Thoughts: While not perfect, the show was very entertaining with plenty of replay value. Fans of action oriented anime will have as much to enjoy as those of us who also appreciate the subtle nuances of the material between fights, including various metaphors and word play. It'd have been nice to have some of the cultural production notes other shows have been including, either on the dvd itself or as part of an insert but the overall package is well worth checking out and I do Highly Recommend this dvd.