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Shadow Skill, Vol. 4: The Fall
Even though Shadow Skill the series originally came out in 1998, it hadn't found its way onto DVD until recently. The show is based off of a few OVA from 1995 and 1996, but essentially follows the same characters and core concept. The tone has been changed a little bit to offer up a more lighthearted affair, but fans of the various OVA will appreciate the similarities between the two. All of this of course got its start as a manga, which was created by Mugumu Okada.
In case you aren't familiar with the show as of yet you should know that it takes place in a fantasy world and could be compared to Rune Soldier quite easily enough. There's plenty of comedy; both physical and spoken, lots of action, and a party of characters that build a relationship as the show moves forward. The series focuses on a fiery woman named Elle Ragu (not the spaghetti sauce) who is a revered warrior known as the 59th Sevalle.
The Sevalle are an honored rank among the Karuda people thanks to their prowess in combat and manner in which they represent themselves. Unfortunately Elle doesn't do herself any favors while she's traversing the countryside. Her penchant for drinking and getting into trouble has damaged her wallet and on more than one occasion she and her brother had to recoup some financial losses. Other companions get roped into their plight along the way including the demon hunter named Kyuo and a mysterious woman known as Folli.
In the third volume things took on a more serious tone as Elle's ceremony of peace didn't go quite as planned at the holy city. At the end of the event things were all well and good, that is until the Solfan's launched an assault against Karuda. At the center of the attack was Diaz Ragu but lucky for him Gau stepped in and single handedly stalled the massive army. After all was said and done things in the show went back to the more light-hearted fare we have become accustomed to.
This time around things start off on a different note. Instead of focusing on Elle and her friends the first episode follows the exploits of a pair of archeologists. Well, that is an archeologist and her body guard. The whole point of this adventure is the exploration of an ancient ruin to discover what's been going on in the world today. It's not until the end of the episode when Elle pops in to say hi, though overall this tale fit into the mythos of Shadow Skill despite its lack of forefront characters.
Things get back to normal in the next episode which features familiar faces getting comfortable with life after the event in Solfan. Gau's reputation is growing, Kyuo is falling more in love with him, and Elle tells us what it takes for a Sevalle to be a Sevalle. In the meantime a long-thought-to-be-dead Sevalle comes back with a vengeance and a chip on his shoulder. The warrior known as G sets events in motion that will bring down the Karuda and things start to get interesting.
This particular plotline continues for the rest of the volume as G and a band of misfits work to achieve their desires. Kyou gets in their way and pays the price for her transgression. This is something that pushes Gau over the edge and fills him with rage like he has never felt before. In the meantime G moves forward with the rest of his plan and before long all of Karuda is in flames. The volume ends on a climactic note that will leave fans dying for the fifth installment.
This volume of Shadow Skill moved the series back towards darker territory and crafted a story that both drew me to the edge of my seat and made me want more. Sure the first episode here is a little funny and pointless in the grand scheme of things, but what follows is some great anime. So far the series as a whole has been kind of a rollercoaster in terms of quality. There are some really high highs, but some very low lows. Your enjoyment of the material will depend on your appreciation of the genre and of ten year old anime.
With production of the show being done in the late 90s, the quality is obviously not going to be as strong as a title put together now-a-days. The DVD is presented with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio, which is fine, but the image suffers from several artifact flaws. There is quite a bit of grain, speckle, aliasing, cross coloration and some blur to be found in the picture. The color palette for the show appears to have been washed out over the years since most of the image features a faded appearance. The series almost looks as if the production predates the time that it was actually put together and it's not a look that is really beneficial.
Both soundtracks available on Shadow Skill are presented with 2.0 stereo, so if you were hoping for a 5.1 English dubbing, you're going to be left out in the cold. As it stands the voiceovers are very good for both tracks though the English selection offered a couple of poor dubs. I also preferred the original Japanese language, because at times the English sounded like it was coming from a tin can. The quality is decent for a 2.0 audio presentation, but even so there's little to no directionality and everything comes across at the same volume.
The fourth volume of Shadow Skill features standard stuff like textless animation sequences and some previews to peruse. The treat here for fans is the inclusion of a commentary with Tiffany Grant, Kira Vincent Davis, and John Swasey. Like most other anime commentaries with the English cast this one is a hilarious take on the series though not entirely informational. It's more like something to watch when you want a laugh instead of wanting to learn something.
I was a little concerned for the show when the first volume started up here and had nothing to do with anything. Luckily that all changed by the subsequent episode when G showed up and started bringing the empire of Karuda to its knees. Gau's character gets the most attention in these episodes and even though the series is named after his older sister I can't help but feel that he's the main persona. If the next volume is as strong as this one was things look like they're headed in the right direction.