What They Say :
In the shadows of this modern world, ninjas fight for control of an ancient technique which holds untold strength. This coveted power dwells within apathetic Miharu, a fact the guy really couldn’t care less about – until the clashing rival clans bring their battle to him. Now Miharu struggles to understand the mystery buried in his soul, and must choose a side if he hopes to survive. But when conflict is waged in secret, and lethal ninjas hide in plain sight, friend and foe prove difficult to tell apart.
As this was a two disc release, I watched the first disc in English and the second disc in Japanese – the English release comes in a very high powered 5.1 Dolby Track whilst the Japanese has a stand alone 2.0 Stereo track. It is very good in both languages; you definitely feel the effects from the first episode with the gritty atmosphere, which continues as the series goes along with some great battle scenes and effects. It’s a very good release overall with no noticeable lag between audio, subtitles and transition.
The video likewise had no problems, they were no glitches or slowdown, and linked in well with the Japanese subtitles, there are no transition problems and works very well in both widescreen and full screen format. No problems with the subtitles in correlation to the audio, and the animation with this combination of screen effects without any disturbances I noticed make it for a top quality release. It’s also got one of the better coalitions with CGI I’ve seen in quite a while, especially as the animation can turn from bright to dark in a flash, the effects were certainly not noticeable regarding water colouring or any other defects, making this visibly and verbally one of the better releases I’ve seen in a while from Manga Entertainment.
No packaging was brought with this test disc.
The menu is very basic in comparison, with the set up being with play all, episodes, extras and set up, with a picture of Miharu looking his apathetic self, whilst the episode selection has no scene selection. Fairly standard, but easy to navigate.
There are a couple of extras on these discs. The second disc has the standard clean opening and ending which is almost a pre-requisite on most releases.
The first disc has the main extra, a commentary on episode 2 featuring the American Voice Actors Chris Burnett (Koichi) and Eric Vale (Tobari). It’s definitely more of the getting to know each other style of commentary more than about the show (they even mention they only just met) – they discuss other roles like Chris as Romeo in Romeo X Juliet…although it’s fun when director Monica Rial is basically prodding them to talk more about the show. There is one fun moment where Chris apparently accidentally says a spoiler so they cut a bit of the commentary which is replaced by a klaxon. I think I can say that was a first…Animation on the show discussed, and favourite characters (all the questions seem to be hinted by Monica though) and that mightiest of debates…ninjas vs. Pirates! Yeah, not the most serious of commentaries but still quite fun.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Nabari No Ou falls into the blind watch pile, as it was a show where I literally knew nothing about. So I dove into the deep end, and mostly enjoyed getting my toes wet from this show, as it was definitely a more unique telling of like a ninja genre yet incorporating it into a modern day setting. And amazingly, it does not just work, but also makes sense.
After an interesting flashback of a young boy being saved from a battle, we cut to the present of said boy now 14 years old, Miharu – a self confessed apathetic young man who either doesn’t care what’s going on around him or uses his androgynous looks to his advantage. However, the flashback indicated there was something unusual about him, and his homeroom teacher Kumohira is first up to notice, saying that he wants him to join his after school club. Miharu doesn’t want to as it was basically called the ninja club, but the fan is quickly hit as Miharu for some reason appears to be a target from other ninjas. At first, I felt it was weird that in this modern setting that ninjas were attacking without any explanation, fortunately I can say that Nabari does explain it quite well as the series goes along.
Miharu possesses the coveted Shinra Bashou, a gift inside his body which apparently gives him the power to become the Nabari King, a.k.a an overlord over all ninjas. We are introduced to two other ninjas in his school, Koichi – a seemingly bright young boy who hides a shocking secret, and in episode 2, a female samurai named Raimei who wants apparent revenge against her brother for wiping out her family – all of them however are partly wanting to help Miharu because of his apparent power, which subconsciously he uses in the first episode…to terrifying effect.
A number of episodes follow an episodic format, with the new group of 4 looking for various scrolls and secrets to protect Miharu (who is literally dragged along, one of the core premises of the series is to see if they can snap him out of his apathetic nature) – they face up against various clans, meet various leaders, some may seem more important or involved in the plot than others, but initially it doesn’t seem that way.
However, it suddenly turns out that early cameos are much more important than expected, which is why I’m highly praising this show so far. Episode 3 for example introduced a gunman named Yukimi, who seems not really caring about the fights he has, and just wants to do the job and doesn’t mind whether his enemies live or die. Turns out he was the main partner for one, if not the key antagonist of the series so far, Yoite – a young ninja who has telepathic abilities which are far more powerful than almost anything in the series so far, yet also causes damage to his own life force. The interesting thing is that he almost immediately has some sort of connection to Miharu, which finally begins to interest our apathetic protagonist. Let’s just say I can see why this series is popular in the shounen-ai crowd…
The Fuuma chief Kotarrou as well, we see he is powerful from the way he saves the group from Yoite – but later on you feel there is a lot more sinister energies from him the fact he basically humiliates Kumohira in a mock battle at one point. In fact, lot of the characters have much more complex energies with themselves – the best example is when we meet Raimei’s brother Raiko and learn what is really up with Koichi…when Raimei learns about what she thought about her brother involves in both heated words, swords crossed, some epic flashbacks and some touching stories with him and his subordinate Gau, who isn’t even a ninja – almost everything does link in with each other.
As the story continues, everything mixes in together, with the main focus being on Yoite and Miharu. They basically make a deal after Yoite ‘kidnaps’ him to ask him to use his power to change the past so he never existed. Miharu has to pretty much get blackmailed to basically granting his possible with the Shinra Banshou, but at the same time Yoite is the only person who seems to understand Miharu really well, and vice versa. Miharu knows that pretty much everyone who is with him is after his power, but at the same time, he feels at least Yoite is being honest. His other comrades get this way as well, especially Raimei who feels like a bodyguard towards him and an older sister especially after the troubles with her brother are learned and told.
The strength of the show is how they managed to weave in ninjitsu into a modern day setting and make sense. There are a few ‘what the heck’ moments where you wonder how far they stretched certain loopholes, but it all does make sense in a weird way. The real sell is how the characters well – Miharu, despite his apathy is actually fairly likeable despite his mostly solemn moments, you can tell he is gradually getting into this crazy world. He works as a reverse of Raimai, and an equal of Yoite, just on different ends of the spectrum. The plot with Yoite’s losing his life force every time he uses his powers gives an urge for Miharu to search for more scrolls to take his place as the Nabari King, however the way it’s done in great animation and battle sequences, combined with surprisingly deep character development and exposition shows that it knows what it wants to do and draws the audience in deeper. If I had to make a few moans about it, it’s that the pace switches way too quickly at times, and whilst each episode has a purpose, you may quit early if it’s confusing you, instead of keeping up with it and realize that episode 3 had a much bigger significance in episodes 7, 11 and 12 for example. Kumohira seems to be used more for comic relief rather than being the strongest in the group as well, though again there are moments of hidden depths that definitely could play out later in the series.
Nabari No Ou is a real unique series even in today’s market, where ninjas and samurai are incorporated into the modern world almost flawlessly. It had a few minor issues of how it works, but mostly it’s fine. The characters drive the series where despite its episodic nature, it all links together in the end, where it’s involving assassinations, quests or soul searching. Each of the characters has their quirks, their motives, their powers and each is explored well enough for the viewer to get a feel for them and either love or hate them. The fact that none of the cast is either black or white makes for a very intriguing show and the dynamic between Miharu and Yoite is enough to keep you interested if nothing else. Well recommended.
5.1 English, 2.0 Japanese – Episode 2 Commentary with Chris Burnett (Koichi) and Eric Vale (Tobari), Clean Opening/Endings
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B –
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: 20th June 2011
Running Time: 322 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.