What They Say:
For citizens of the Ken Empire, justice is a myth. Lord Keiro, the deranged Shogun of the Imperial Army, blazes a trail of terror across the countryside in search of the sacred sword that will make him a god. Standing in his way is Taito, an omnipotent star reborn in human form – a young hero who vows to use his celestial strength to avenge those slaughtered by the villainous Shogun.
Taito’s mystical powers steer him toward a violent showdown with Keiro, and if used recklessly, his newfound abilities could shred the very fabric of his being. To master the art of control and become a heroic martial artist, Taito must seek the guidance of others like him: the seven star-born warriors with the strength to shatter a corrupt empire.
Contains episodes 14-26.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty straightforward as we get the original Japanese language in stereo encoded at 192kbps and the English adaptation in 5.1 encoded at 448kbps. The show in its original form is fairly standard with a solid stereo mix that allows it have a good feel to it but it never really stretches itself. The dialogue itself is all center channel based so there isn’t much in the way of placement or directionality to it. The action has a bit of a stronger feel to it but that’s not saying all that much. It has a bigger feel to it but it’s still working within the stereo confines. The music is similar in that it sounds better than just the basic dialogue but it’s not a noteworthy piece. The English mix takes things up a bit more with the clarity side of the dialogue but overall the mix just feels like it’s louder than anything else. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2007 into 2008, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The thirteen episodes here are spread across two discs with seven on the first and six on the second. The show has a pretty straightforward look to it that’s not heavily detailed or with any real sense of rich colors or design, owing more to a simple approach. The transfer looks good overall with just the usual bit of background noise to be had while avoiding cross coloration and significant line noise during panning sequences. Hero Tales isn’t a budget show but it’s one that doesn’t stretch itself all that much either. It has a decent look to it but not one that will stand out against others.
The packaging for this release pretty much mirrors the look of the limited edition one but with a thin slipcover to hold the two thinpak cases. The slipcover uses the same black background with the green framing that contains the stonework in which we have the logo and the black lines that gives it a hard feeling that’s rather appropriate for this very manly show. The front cover artwork here again goes for the hard look with the leads and the villain all being very stern faced which fits with the overall design really well. The back of the slipcover has a good look to it with just a single piece of character artwork dominating to the left of the plot summary. There’s a good breakdown of the discs extras here while the technical grid is kept small and to the bottom which is a touch hard to read with white on green.The two thinpak cases have a good simplicity to them The first case has the two main show discs while the second case has the disc that contains all the extras. Each volume does have a reversible cover that brings in more characters so if you have a favorite, you can have that one facing out while the respective back covers are the same as the primary covers.
The menu design for this release uses a lot of the same elements as the packaging as the background has gray borders with the red Xian style framework alongside it. Within the middle it has something of a rough sandstone look to it with the series title and navigation along the right side. The left side has character artwork, different pieces on each of the volumes, that looks good with a bit more detail than the show and some very good colors to it. The show discs have nothing on them outside of the show itself and some trailers on the second volume so navigation is simply and quick. The discs didn’t read our players’ language presets though and defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.
The third disc in the set contains all the extras and there’s again some welcome stuff here. The main one is the final isntallment of the “Star Battle” piece from the Japanese DVD release that has four of the voice actors answering questions and being silly together. We had two installments with the first set and this third one runs just under half an hour and has more of the same kind of silliness, like the opening question that has the four of them drawing a cat. Seriously. In addition to that we get a good collection of the original Japanese commercials, a trailer and the clean versions of the two opening songs and the one closing song.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first half of Hero Tales proved a little difficult to get through at times while playing to a very formulaic approach. The second half of the set is essentially more of the same in the end as you can see how they’re hitting each of the marks and making revelations in very bland ways. The show has a lot of key moments that it wants to be able to play up as people realize or are told their origin stories and how tied they are to everything only to have it happen in a matter of fact manner. Having the revelations in the previous set about Taito and his emperor brother certainly opens up a lot of potential for discussion when he goes back home to talk to his adoptive father.
Hero Tales opens with a bit of a change though as the events of the first half have left Taito and the gang feeling depressed because they lost Ryuko in the escape. It’s a rattling moment for Taito in particular since he’s made a good friend of him since the two first challenged each other at the start of the series. Taito’s ready to go back and find him which gives us a good clue once again about how Taito really doesn’t think things through. He wants to repay Ryuko’s sacrifice of his life in saving them by giving his life in trying to find him. Thankfully, everyone pulls him back and the series spends the next several episodes kind of limping around as they return to the place where things began as Taito reconnects with his adoptive father.
During this downtime we do get some clarity to events as Soei explains to Taito about how he used to be a key member of the guard in the capital that was tasked with the job of spiriting away the young boy at the age of four. Soei explains all of this in such a bland way that it kills just about all the interest in it since it’s all just sort of rambled on about. The explanation of why Taito was removed makes sense since he has the mark of the Alkaid on him and having twins as potential heirs is something that can make for a really bad series of succession issues. With Taito having that additional problem of the pattern on his shoulder, it made sense to get him out and to make up a story about him dying. It’s a tragic thing to do, and a difficult thing to put Soei through, but the whole thing ends up bringing the two even closer together since Taito is such a nice and easygoing guy.
At the same time, we see events progressing further at the capital where Keiro’s plans are even further in motion now. With the revelation that his daughter isn’t his daughter but rather his aide’s daughter, Keiro has managed to get Taki close to the emperor and the two of them are now engaged. With this path now open, Keiro will become a member of the royal family and that will get him bonded even more closely with them so that his plans for a full on power grab will become real. We do get an extended look at his past that shows the kinds of tragedies he’s had to deal with, since we know that his real child is Ryuko who was lost to him at a young age. There’s a chance that’s offered through his past that could show that his real plans for taking over the empire has a real secret meaning to it, but it simply comes down to the fact that Keiro has simply had his heart twisted and he simply seeks the end of all living things in the world. Nothing like some serious issues in your background.
Hero Tales starts to bring things around towards the end of the first disc though as the various forces start to take shape and Keiro begins to really make his move in taking over the capital with Shimei pulling the strings, though his fate is strangely appropriate as he gets caught up in the events. The coming together of the various Dipper Warriors is all rather predictable as Taito has built up relationships over the course of it. With power in the country residing in the ability to wield a particular sword, having that unfold in the middle of this that allows Keiro to move even further into the role, the country turns to chaos. That has him ready to bring it to ruin, firing on his own people to create more dead so the undead can rise, and even losing what little faith his son had in him. Conversely, with all the bonds that Taito has made, it’s exactly what he needed to have a support group to bring him to the capital to fight, to protect his brother and to do right by the country.
It’s all very by the numbers and very frustrating because it doesn’t really stand out all that much. We’ve seen this story told in many ways over the years, often through a shoujo filter with women playing around the overall idea rather than directly, and as frustrating as those kinds of stories are this one is even more so. Much of what does this show in is that it lacks real emotion and characters to drive home the points. When characters die, it’s just a blip on the radar rather than something powerful. Key revelations about characters pasts and connections are almost flippant off the cuff remarks rather than proper sit down moments between people. A lot of what holds it back though is that Taito as a lead character never really becomes more than what we saw at the start. He’s stronger and more powerful, but just as naïve overall and that simply proves frustrating.
Hero Tales has a lot going for it with the people behind the original manga but it comes across as such a mediocre at best effort with the story and rather bland animation to back it up. Everything has a by the numbers feel to it and nothing stands out as really exciting. The character designs are decent though they lack any serious detail to them and we’re stuck with the same outfits for the most part throughout. The characters have very little in the way of depth but at least the action has some decent fun to it. Hero Tales works with plenty of familiar elements from Chinese style series but it isn’t able to get past that and become its own work. I went into the show with little knowledge or expectations but it quickly became a show that felt more like a chore than a work that brought something new and interesting as it progresses.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Star Battle Segment, Japanese Commercials, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: April 5th, 2011
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.