Everyone loves ninjas, right? I know I do anyway. Generally speaking I go out of my way to check out anime that falls into the category of dealing with nijitsu, samurai, or some variation in between. From Naruto to Basilisk, and even the likes of Ninja Nonsense, I've watched quite a few. When Nabari no Ou came out in Japan last year I was stoked and couldn't wait for it to hit our shores.
FUNimation has obtained the license, which really isn't a surprise, and they have just released the first half of the show in a two disc boxed set. With the first 13 episodes out of 26 total, Nabari no Ou's release is something to celebrate. The show is pretty damn good so far and it's one of the most unique ninja-themed shows I've seen in quite some time.
The show takes place in current day Japan, but there's kind of a twist. The world is split between the ordinary world and that of the Nabari, or shinobi. It's a world where ruling houses of ninja orchestrate things behind the scenes and there's plenty of mysticism and ninja magic tossed around. One of the biggest pieces of ninja lore comes in the form of something called the Shinrabanshou, which is basically a powerful magic book that resides in the body of an unknown individual. It bestows enough power to make someone the king of all ninjas, but using it while being unprepared could result in the death of the wielder or the destruction of the world. Needless to say the different clans in the Nabari world each hold this power to a different standard. Some want to destroy it, some want to take it for their own purposes, and others just want it to be possessed but unused. When the power comes to a young boy named Miharu, he's naturally not too thrilled about it.
Miharu is quickly thrust into the spotlight. He's an apathetic kid who doesn't give much of a care about the ordinary world or the Nabari one for that matter. Soon after the show begins we see him introduced to a fellow student and new teacher. They are actually shinobi and are out to protect him from those who would cause him harm. After some time a new member of their club comes along named Raimei. She's a spunky blonde with a sword out looking for her brother whom she believes murdered their entire family. Together they set out to find a clan known as the Fuma that may have the power to seal up Miharu's Shinrabanshou permanently and prevent the cycle of death from continuing. There seems to be more afoot than is initially let on though.
After arrival at the Fuma village they are attacked by a group of ninja known as the Kairoshu. Their goal seems to be to collect forbidden techniques from each village and use them to extract the Shinrabanshou from Miharu. The Kairoshu are played as the bad guys in Nabari no Ou, though in all fairness you can never really tell who is out to do good or evil. Motives seem to be hidden well and there are many betrayals, misunderstandings, and changed opinions in this first box set. People who were once enemies become formidable allies and those who seem to be friends have darker elements to them and may be working against Miharu. Whatever the case may be, everyone wants to use the kid and his powers for their own gain. At this point it would seem that poor Miharu only has a couple of people he can actually trust and that's definitely one of the things that keeps you coming back to the show.
Nabari no Ou is extremely well-written and planned out. At first the show seems kind of generic; I mean it's about a chosen one with some power who gets pulled into a hidden world. That's not exactly the freshest concept on the market. What sets this show apart from the others is the characters. Miharu is an incredible protagonist and the support cast plays off his personality quite nicely. Granted that's something that grows with the show as it progresses. At first his aloof personality and nonchalant attitude really seem off-putting. It's when he finally discovers that there's something worth fighting for and that he really cares about his friends that things become interesting. In addition to that, the story is rather engrossing and the accompanying action fits the ninja bill just enough. The only thing that I felt didn't completely jive for the show was the sense of humor as some of the jokes just seemed kind of out of place. For instance Miharu puts on this coy cute-ish face that makes older men blush and succumb to his will. It's, well, awkward to say the least.
Occasionally peculiar homoerotic humor aside, Nabari no Ou is an awesome show that entertains. The first 13 episodes will hook you and you'll crave the second batch of episodes almost immediately after you finish watching the set. Nearly everything about this show impresses and we're lucky that FUNimation brought it over. Consider it highly recommended, especially if you like ninjas. Honestly, who doesn't like ninjas? Aside from pirates that is...
Nabari no Ou is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and has been enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show looks really good with clean, crisp lines, solid colors, and a picture quality that hardly waivers throughout both discs. The image holds up very well to scrutiny and the only thing worth mentioning is a fine layer of grain that appears over darker, misty areas and some light blocking in some shadows. These elements are extremely faint though, and you really have to keep your eyes pealed to see them. Otherwise there's no aliasing or interlacing and the overall quality is quite pleasing.
As far as sound quality is concerned, the show is presented with English 5.1 surround sound and Japanese 2.0 stereo. I felt that both dubbing casts did an excellent job with the material in all honesty I didn't prefer one crew over the other. With that being said the 5.1's slightly better presence on the soundstage won me over. The sense of immersion isn't too amazing, but during fights and bits of action it was definitely noticeable.
Some trailers, clean animations, and a commentary for the second episode are included here. The commentary is fairly decent and lets you in on some information about the show and cast, but all together it's not the most fascinating or informative inclusion we could have received.
Nabari no Ou is a show that marches the beat of a different drummer. The core story may be nothing too interesting, but the manner with which the show develops and how the characters all come together is handled very well. The addition of some fine action and a great sense of mystery help add to the experience. While the first couple of episodes didn't leave me feeling too impressed, the rest of the box set drew me in as the layers began to unfold. I'd highly recommend this one, though you may want to hold off until the second part is released just to see if the whole trip is worth the cost of a ticket.