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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Otogi Zoshi Vol 1 - Legend of Magatama
Otogi Zoshi Vol 1 - Legend of Magatama
Media Blasters // Unrated // March 29, 2005
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted August 20, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Show:

One of my pet peeves is when people tell me that all anime is similar.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Take Otogi Zoshi for example.  This show does not have any giant robots or kids saving the world with the help of their favorite game.  Set in ancient Japan this is a historically accurate program that involves the political maneuvering of various people near the Emperor, and how a young girl gets caught in the middle.

The story takes place at the beginning of the Heian period in Japan, 972 AD.  The capital, Heian-Kyo (present day Kyoto), is suffering from famine and disease.  The Emperor is afflicted a debilitating illness that keeps him bed ridden, and he isn't expected to live long.  This has created political instability.

The Magatama, a sacred object that is supposed to have the power to "save people," has been stolen by the Tsuchigumo Clan, a group of thieves living in the caves of a far away mountains.  A year ago a troop of soldiers were sent to reclaim the Magatama, and they were never heard from again.  Now the Emperor has asked the loyal Minamoto clan to send their oldest son, Riakou, to reclaim this valuable object.

The only problem is that Riakou is also very ill, and cannot make the journey.  So that the clan with not loose face, Riakou's younger sister, Minamoto no Hikaru, dresses as her brother and goes on the quest with her retainer, Watanabe no Tsuna.

The journey is fraught with peril, as Hikaru and Tsuna are constantly attacked and ambushed by the Tsuchigumo.  When they finally reach the village near their goal, they are startled to find it filled with content people.  Even living under the tight rein of the bandits in the foothills, the villagers don't seem to mind the tributes the clan imposes on them.

While they try to discover the reason for this mystery, the pair befriends Usui mo Sadamitsu who soon becomes his ally.  He is the only survivor from the force that was sent the previous year, and he's also the only one who knows how to get into the Tsuchigumo stronghold unseen.

This series was a welcome change of pace from the usual anime show.  I really enjoyed it, though it is a little slow moving at times.  This show, like the better Gundam series, focuses on the political intrigue and maneuvering that goes on behind the scenes as much as it does battles and action.

There are a lot of factions in Japan at this time vying for power, which gives the show a lot to work with.  The Onmyo-ji are fortune tellers and their divinations of the future (often to their own advantage) had the most influence with the royal family.  The Nobles were next in line, trying to position themselves so that they would have the most power, often making aliances with other factions.

The warrior class was also powerful.  They were responsible for keeping the provincial areas in line, but the soldiers themselves were looked down upon, as little more than servants.  Their time of being in charge was still centuries away.

One aspect of the show that put this above the average program was that things are not always black and white.  There are shades of grey to everything.  The Tsuchigumo, painted as evil thugs in the early episodes, are shown later to have good reasons to fight the Emperor.  They could even be considered heros depending on your point of view.

The only real problem I had with the show was that it was hard to keep all of the various factions and people within those factions straight.  It was sometimes hard to remember which clan some minor character belonged to.  The long Japanese names didn't help the situation either.  Though there were some fine points that I was confused on, the main picture was easy to figure out.

Overall a nice series that has gotten off to a good start.

The DVD:

This volume of Otogi Zoshi includes five episodes from the series on a two disc set.  The first DVD has the program with the second DVD being reserved for the extras.  It comes is a single width keepcase that has a disc on each side of the case.  There is also an insert that contains some helpful liner notes on some of the terms and customs.


This disc offers the choice of the original Japanese soundtrack or an English dub, both in stereo and 5.1.  I alternated between the 5.1 Japanese and English tracks as I viewed the series, and I enjoyed both languages equally.  The actors on the English dub did a very good job, especially Taylor Henry who lent his voice to Watanabe.  He gives his character a strong voice that really helps the series.  Julie Ann Taylor also does well as Minanoto, being able to sound like a young male or a female as the situation warrants.

They make good use of the surround channels though I thought some of the music was mixed a little low in the rear channels.  This was a minor problem though, aside from that, the show sounds very good with a full range of sound.  There are no audio defects.


The show is presented with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio that I believe was it's original ratio.  The show uses a lot of dark colors, browns, greys, and blacks, and these shades are accurately reproduced.  The lines are sharp and the image has a very good amount of detail.  The only problem with the image was some minor aliasing that effected fine lines.  Aside from that the show looked very good.


There are some good extras that accompany this show, all on the second disc.

Group Discussion Parts One and Two: A 45-minute (total) informal meeting where director Mizuho Nishikubo, supervising animation director Kazuchika Kise, character designer Shou Tajima, and wrier Yoshiki Sakurai talk about the origin of the series, and how they each joined the project, the way the show is animated, the character desgins, and other topics related to the show.  This was interesting at the beginning but my interest waned after a while.  I thought it dragged on a little too long.

Tokyo University Heian Lecture: Dr. Kazuto Hongo, a historian from Tokyo University and consultant for the show, gives a 12 minute lecture on the historical accuracy of the series.  He points out small details that are accurate though they may seem fanciful.  (Such as the fact that Hikaru rides a horse and wields a bow instead fo a sword.) This was much more interesting than I thought it would be, and I enjoyed it very much.

A textless opening and closing are also included, as well as a series of trailers.

Final Thoughts:

This was an intriguing program.  The fact that everything wasn't clear cut made the show much more interesting.  The political intrigue and plots are nearly as exciting as the fight scenes.  Though there is a fair amount of action, the plot is slow in places and it can be hard to keep track of who's who, especially among the minor characters.  You'll have to work a little to understand this series, but it's worth it.  Recommended.

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