I must admit that I was excited when the first installment of Nabari no Ou was released by FUNimation a couple months ago. The series seemed to pop in just about every way and from the ground up I was totally engrossed by the tale of modern day ninjas living in our world. The story unfolded in a unique manner, the characters all truly stood out, and the action was very good as well. Yes, the first volume of Nabari no Ou was a resounding success, but sadly I can't say that I felt the same after watching the second half of the series.
In case you missed out on the first half, however, let me fill you in on some of the details. Nabari no Ou is a 26 episode series that revolves around the life of a young boy named Miharu. He's a rather interesting kid who is completely indifferent to the world and those around him. As an example of such indifference, when he discovers that he possesses an ancient ninja book within him that ninjas are coming to get, he basically shrugs his shoulders. He doesn't care about anything and seems to give less regards for his own life. Needless to say you don't see many protagonists with that particular outlook.
Joining Miharu are ninjas known as Raimei, Tobari, and Aizawa. They work to protect him from the clans of ninja that would do him harm, and are basically out to ensure he doesn't use the power deep within him. Called the Shinrabanshou, this feared ability that resides in Miharu has the capability of destroying the world. It essentially grants its user powerful wishes and can easily make him the king of the ninja world. Unfortunately until he learns to grasp his abilities the Shinrabanshou is essentially like having a giant bulls-eye painted on Miharu's forehead.
In the first volume of this show we got the introduction to the world and characters and found that the development was quite extensive. The character backgrounds run deep here and there are some strong relationships underway. In particular Miharu befriends a cold-hearted killer named Yoite, who has an ability known as Kira which essentially lets him kill indiscriminately at the cost of his own life. Miharu is blackmailed by Yoite into using his Shinrabanshou to erase him from the world, but things are much more complicated than they seem. Friends who are trying to help Miharu betray him, and those who were once enemies seem to make great allies. Everything was left up in the air in the first volume and the whole thing ended with an undercover attempt to capture a forbidden technique from a particular ninja clan.
This second part picks up halfway through that operation and sees its characters in a fight for their lives. As Miharu and Yoite are lead to the basement, Tobari, Aizawa, and ninja from the Kairoshu find their way around upstairs. In the case of Miharu and Yoite they come across a rather fearsome young girl who seems to be more than she appears and cuts them up pretty badly. In the case of Yoite this confrontation ends poorly, though I don't want to spoil much in that regard because it would reduce the tension felt during the fight.
Upstairs things get a little more interesting as Tobari's anti-killing nature winds up getting Aizawa shot in the back. Don't let that fool you though, Aizawa is apparently an immortal and cannot die. This is one of the more frustrating aspects about this series because the show more or less dangles that carrot in front of your face and never fully explains what it's all about. You're left thinking "Oh cool!" and then nothing really happens after that. The same can be said for Tobari's development as well, and though we get a little glimpse at why he is the way he is, it's wholly unsatisfying.
In fact, the only characters that do get any kind of focus or attention here is Miharu and Yoite. With regards to those characters the show gets the point across rather strongly that they love each other. It's a nice development and one you typically don't see in anime these days, but it still feels forced in some ways. The fact that there's no balance between character developments makes the show feel somewhat lopsided. It sort of causes the show to lose its sense of direction towards the end as the focus shifts almost entirely to the Shinrabanshou, Miharu, and Yoite.
Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed this second half quite a bit, but the lack of balance left me feeling underwhelmed somewhat. It's almost like they built up all these great ideas and interesting characters only to tease you by stripping the focus from them at the end. I definitely feel that another series would be in order to pick up the pieces and unanswered questions, but who knows if that's in the cards. As it stands Nabair no Ou is an entertaining and unique series about ninjas in our modern world, but it's not exactly the epic experience it seemed to be building to in the first half. The series as a whole is recommended.
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 to last 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's second half was kind of a let down after the first. The shift in focus didn't hold up quite as well as I thought it would and the mystery of the Shinrabanshou kind of fizzles. Still, as a whole this series was very entertaining and worth checking out for its unique nature, interesting characters, and mysterious story. I enjoyed it all, despite the first half being better than the second. Recommended