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Guin Saga Collection 2 DVD Review

11 min read

The journey of the twins, Guin and others weave into a larger narrative that inevitably moves towards confrontation on a grand scale.

What They Say:
Is Guin suffering under some curse? Or is the leopard-headed gladiator actually the human incarnation of the evil god Doal? Many rulers in this strange land of sorcerers and warriors have their ideas. From the scheming battle princess Lady Amnelis to the mysterious Duke Norisse, ruthless players move across the chess board of war to take over the Middle Country while Guin and his young friends are caught in the middle. But when Guin at last finds the strange young Shidoh, it seems all will be revealed. But neither Guin nor you will believe what horrible secret Shidoh is hiding inside.

Contains episodes 14-26.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release has a pair of solid stereo tracks encoded at 224kbps. Guin Saga is pretty straightforward with a lot of what it offers as there’s a fair bit of dialogue throughout it as the characters bring out the exposition and just talk about what to do but it’s well balanced with some rather good action sequences. Those sequences step things up a bit with placement and directionality of the mix since the swords clang well, horses rumble over the screen and other standard fantasy fare aspects. Both the Japanese and English tracks run about the same here with no really noticeable differences when it comes to the volume levels, though there is the perception that the English mix is a touch louder. Both tracks come across clean and clear and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2009, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The thirteen episodes are spread across two discs in a six/seven format with a third disc included that contains all the extras so they don’t impact the main program. Guin Saga has a really strong look to it with Satelight producing the animation as there’s a lot of detail, a lot of great colors and a fully realized world here which helps it all to be really distinctive. The transfer captures a lot of this though there are some minor issues to be had with it that will be more visible on some setups. Some of the backgrounds show off a fair bit of noise which can be distracting, especially in the darker scenes. Overall, there’s a lot to like with the show in how it looks but it’s the kind of show that needs more bits thrown at it and a high definition transfer.

Guin Saga comes in a standard sized black keepcase which holds the three discs with a white hinge inside. The front cover is a sideways cover, which feels strange after the first volume wasn’t, but it has a really good image with a good range of colors to it. The main trio of characters are here with Guin taking up a lot of space with his sword reaching out while behind him are larger shots of Rinda and Remus. It has a light forest scene behind it that’s rather serene and it works well. The whole thing is framed with a dark leathery feel to it that gives it a nice accent and does help to tie it all together. The back cover lightens things up with an almost parchment like look to it where there’s a strip along the top that uses similar style as the front for a shadowed Istavan while further down is another with several decent shots from the show. In between them is a brief summary of the basic plot, and there’s a lot of show here so being minimal is actually good, and sets up expectations pretty well. The bottom section has a good clean listing of the discs extras, though the font is rather small, and a solid listing of the production credits and technical grid that lists everything clearly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for this release is rather simple but effective as it goes with a static approach to it. The main menu has a split screen style applied to it where the left side has the episode numbers and titles running from top to bottom set against a reddish background while the very bottom has the submenu for language selection. The right side has a good piece of character artwork just below the logo where the first volume has Guin and the second has Rinda. With little to the discs outside of the show itself since the extras have their own disc, navigation is a breeze and easy to move around. Strangely, the first disc read our players’ language presets while the second defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.

The third disc that has all extras on it has some good stuff here that makes it very worthwhile. The basics are included with the clean opening and closing and we get a good trio of trailers that has the extended Japanese one, the regular one and the English language trailer. What makes this extras set so worthwhile is the interview segment with the original author, Kaoru Kuromoto. This piece runs just under an hour long and it’s not about the anime in particular most of the time as it covers her 30 year writing career for the Guin Saga in total. There’s a lot to learn in here, but it could be considered spoilers if you’re intending to look for the original works. She’s definitely an interesting person to watch go on about a work that dominated her life and to see how she feels about it, perceptions and the nuance of it all. Unlike a lot of creators who seem to hedge and not say much, she gets into things about her characters and works in a personable way that makes a lengthy interview like this a real treat to watch.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the kind of scale that the original work takes, with the length of time that it has run and the sheer amount of material with it, I wasn’t too surprised that the last few episodes of the first set proved to feel clunky. There’s a lot going on in this series over several different areas and trying to get ti all to move smoothly in this format, making sure enough happens in each episode across the various plot points and still tying it together in an engaging way, can’t be easy. Some of what made it difficult was that the leaps of logic it took felt odd with the way Guin and the others were moving to different places where it felt like there wasn’t exactly a real reason to do something. Instinct was moving Guin and was carrying along everyone else.

The journey part of the story carries on here as it picks up with Guin and the group on the ship of pirates who aren’t exactly thrilled to discover what Guin is since it’s all bad luck in their eyes. With the group trying to make their way to the twin’s aunt and the kingdom she’s a part of, they have a significant amount of ground to cover and a lot of small trials and tribulations along the way. Dealing with pirates at sea may not seem small, but when you have Remus trying to recover his kingdom at the age of fifteen and having to distrust everyone out there, pirates aren’t all that big of a deal. The whole situation has an odd feel as it unfolds and everyone ends up on an island where we’re clued in that there’s something much larger involved in this world that indicates a strange blending of science and magic. It’s these little clues that make the journey worthwhile, though the whole pirate arc over the first couple of episodes feels strangely forced.

The story of Guin, Istavan and the twins is more about the twins than anything else for much of this half of the set and that works surprisingly well. The journey they’ve been on since being thrust out of the Crystal has definitely been hard and the two have found different ways to cope. I rather like the relationship that forms in an awkward way at the start between Istavan and Rinda, but it grows into something better along the way and pushes Istavan to really figure out what it is he wants. There’s some difficult choices to be had there for him with what he believes his destiny to be, but also feelings that surprise him with Rinda. And it’s a way for her to show she is growing up as well since she’s not denying her feelings and is accepting them since she doesn’t know how short her life could be because of this journey.

Similar in the way it unfolds is watching the changes in Remus since the adventure on board the ship. He knows how difficult his position is as there are many that want him dead, and those that should be allies are going to play their hand as close to the chest as possible since there are so many variables. Remus seems like he should be hard to read at this point, and in some ways he is, because he has such a dark and serious look about him as he starts to interact with various rulers and the like as the journey progresses, but he keeps going to Guin for guidance in sometimes subtle ways as he seems to have a subconscious desire to be pushed onto the path of the right. I rather liked the approach that was taken with him since he was a rather unsure and almost cowardly boy at first, but both he and Rinda have grown well during the course of this while Remus is striving to set things right, but trying at times to make sure that he is doing the right thing in the eyes of the precious few that he can trust.

While this group has a whole lot going on during their time, they’re not the sole focus of things. A good deal of time is spent with Norisse and all the plans he has in motion across different areas through his manipulations. Norisse is a hard one to get a handle on because he seems like he can do just about anything and has a contingency for just about anything as well. His wedding to Amnelis is one of those strange areas because he claims he’s truly fallen in love with her, and some of the things he does and says really makes it seem like it’s true, but he’s also playing a larger game and has no issue in forfeiting something like that in order to achieve it. He’s the kind of person that can play such a long range game with so many things involved that it really takes quite an intellect, but also a strong sense of controlled paranoia. I really enjoy Norisse’s storyline as it evolves and in turn becomes the large, epic battle storyline that feels like it must be a necessity in a story of this nature.

Like any good fantasy series, the ending has to deal with things of an epic proportion and Guin Saga is no different. While we do have movements through the individual character arcs, particularly with Guin as he has the revelations that he may be something very different, the bulk of it focuses on the war that’s happening as Norisse works the Parros formed army across the lands and works with Kumn and others in order to push back against Mongaul. While we don’t get the kind of massive battles you’d get from a Kurosawa movie, there’s a lot to like with it and the intrigue level is a good part of it as the various leaders work together while conspiring to achieve their own long term goals that will bleed into future stories (i.e. the novels).

What really sets the ending apart is how it deals with the things that Amnelis and Norisse have gone through. With them now on opposite sides, though she still has a deep love for him that’s riding parallel to her anger over the betrayal, she’s motivated by doing the best she can for her country. Mongaul started strongly in the series, but it’s gone through so much over the course of the second half with losses and the turning of the tide, that it’s mirrored through the personal struggles of Amnelis herself. Though she has a difficult role in this series, she’s the one that I found the most enjoyable to watch because her struggles are spread across so many different angles of attack against her that she’s constantly being bounced from problem and emotion to another problem and different emotion. That she ends as she does makes her a truly fascinating character.

In Summary:
Guin Saga as a whole is a really interesting series that has some pacing issues that likely stems from how the original novels were written during a different time. The production here does a really good job of bringing us a very interesting world and making it so detailed both in the animation and the make-up of it all. It’s the kind of series where you’d want to linger in each of the kingdoms and realms for years on end just to take in the flavor of it all. Tying it all together worked fairly well in an overall kind of way, but there are some pacing issues at the end of the first set that carries into here with the journey the twins are on that could have been handled better. With as many characters as there are, it’s not a surprise that it faltered, but it manages to bring everything together very well just before the halfway mark of this set and carried it right through to the end. Guin Saga left me feeling very satisfied with it at the end and wishing that more was made. Definitely worth spending the time and money on if you’re a fantasy fan and enjoy solid quality productions.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation, Interview with Original Creator Kaoru Kurimoto, Japanese Trailer Collection

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: May 31st, 2011
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.

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