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Shigurui: Death Frenzy Complete Series Box Set Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

Violent. Sexual. Intense. Passionate. Shigurui is a frenzy on many levels as it details the life within a dojo five hundred years ago.

What They Say:
Two damaged warriors wear the scars of a twisted and violent past. Bitter rivals for the secrets of their master’s sword and the right to his daughter, these samurai inflict wounds on each other that would destroy lesser men. The final chapter of their saga unfolds within a brutal samurai tournament, a gruesome contest arranged to satisfy the bloodlust of a cruel tyrant overlord.

The disfigured legends of the blade must summon the strength for one last battle – a final lesson in the artistry of violence where nothing is more beautiful than the kill.

Contains episodes 1-12.

The Review:
Shigurui is both a pleasure and a disappointment when it comes to the audio on the release. The English language mix gets a wonderful Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix which really shines in a lot of places. The series is very quiet overall but it’s also very expressive as well with the background and ambient sounds. The simply things such as the feet walking across the dojo takes on a greater significance during all these quiet moments. The fights themselves are intense and the dialogue placement and depth is spot on. This only serves to make the Japanese stereo mix seem even weaker than it is, since we don’t even get it in lossless stereo. I would have been thrilled to get an uncompressed/lossless stereo mix for the series, but instead we get slightly better than DVD stereo for it encoded at 640kbps. For a good chunk of the show it’s not too terribly noticeable, but there are so many stronger moments in the English mix that it’s a damn shame the original track got the shaft.

Originally airing in the second half of 2007, the transfer for this twelve episode series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is encoded with AVC in 1080p. Shigurui is a curious release both in presentation and how it was broken down. The show is essentially a black and white series with splashes of color so it has a bit more room to maneuver. But it also has a significant intentional grain filter applied to it to give it a certain style. The look is very intriguing and intense during many scenes and the encoding looks really solid overall once you know that this is the intended style. There’s no visible breakup during regular playback and even the visible gradients are pretty smoothed out because of the grain filter. This is a release that definitely shows off more detail in high definition, but it’s not a show that’s going to seriously wow people either because of its stark design. FUNimation has split the twelve episode series up in a strange way, putting eight episodes on the first disc and four on the second. There’s no amount of significant extras here either which makes all the more unusual since you’d expect a straight six/six split.

The slipcover is a thin paper sleeve type, not similar to what their DVD thinpak releases have been like, which has the artwork of the two main characters with all sorts of blood splatters around them. It’s a dark and murky cover that does admittedly let you look right at the logo to see the “Death Frenzy” piece of it. That’s going to sell it right there to the appropriate crowd. The slipcover also has the Blu-ray strip along the top with the logo to help differentiate it from the DVD release. The back cover is a bit more colorful as it has the same murky background but it brings out several shots from the show and a very striking visual of Mie in her white gown with the blood red logo over her. The summary does get down to the basics well enough and the right side breaks down the sets episode count and the features of it. Thankfully, the technical grid is listed on the back as well and it makes it clear what to expect for the audio and video specs.

Inside the slipcover we get two standard blue hued Blu-ray cases, each of which is laid out similarly but with different pieces of artwork. The first volume has a good character shot of Fujiki while the second is given over to anatomy. The back covers are a little indistinct as one is just murky and without anything substantial while the other has a light version of the tiger from the show. The reverse covers are just as murky in general but there are episode and feature breakdowns as well as the visual of the dragon which is also represented in the show. No show related inserts are included with this release.

Not surprisingly, the menus for Shigurui fall into the design that FUNimation has used on most of their releases. It’s a basic small piece along the lower left that features the basic navigation with some designs that themed to the show. A nice plus is that they have included marathon play for this release and I do think it provides a better flow for the series overall. Submenus pop up along the top of the screen while the background has various clips, themed dark and violent, playing underneath all of it. It’s a solid enough piece and it’s very functional and easy to use but it is generally unmemorable. FUNimation continues to not author their discs to read player presets though, even in Blu-ray, and that means it defaults to English language instead of what I have set.

The extras are relatively mild for this release but they did put in some effort. There are a pair of English language commentary tracks, one for each volume, as well as the clean opening and closing sequences. The second volume also has a brief section of artwork, one for the characters done as stills and one done for the settings. They’re intriguing pieces that I wish there were more of and even a bit more done with it to show the evolution from concept to final animated form.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Takayuki Yamaguchi, which in turn is based on part of the novel Suruga-jou Gozen Jiai, Shigirui: Death Frenzy is a twelve episode series that marks the first dual release of a new series from FUNimation on both DVD and Blu-ray. While we’ve got the bone to pick with them about the audio side of the series, this release is definitely something that Blu-ray fans can get excited about in general because it does show the slowly changing shift in things. There’s always the appeal of older shows being revisited, but offering a new series in high definition (both in audio and video) is something that is significant over both DVD and streaming options.

And what an intriguing series to do it with as well. Shigurui takes place in the early 1600’s, though it jumps back and forth a little bit to tell its tale. The series opens with a match of skill by two opponents who almost seem to drag themselves onto the field to face each other. One of them is a twisted wreck of a man, but one who seems to have a great amount of skill to him. The other is more controlled and not as wild looking, but even from him something about him is incredibly off-putting. As the match begins and we realize that they have a long history together, Shigurui goes back in time some eight years to explore it from when they first met.

Back then, Fujiki was the up and coming rising star of the Kogan style within the dojo of Kogan Iawamoto. The dojo has all the classic trappings to it and there’s a sense of honor and intensity about the entire place as we’re introduced to the core cast during a series of practice matches. It’s into this that a man named Irako wanders in as he wants to challenge Kogan himself. The dojo rules have him facing off against others first to test if he’s worthy of such an honor, and that eventually has him facing off against Fujiki. It’s here that the two become truly at odds as their styles are certainly different but Irako has an extra bit of brutality to him as well as a bit more ambition as he wants to make a name for himself around the world as the best of the best with his style.

Irako finds himself now a part of the dojo and working through learning the Kogan style. Brushing up against Fujiki on a regular basis thereafter, the two are on a collision course to become the successor of the dojo which is considered one of the best and most influential in the land. The rivalry is intense in that area, but there are other areas as well. Irako is quite the womanizer and spends time with many women. When it’s becoming clearer that he’s going to take Kogan’s daughter as his wife as part of the succession, that causes a lot of trouble as Mie has no interest in him at all because of his brutality and callous nature. Irako is even worse in a way as he’s been taking Kogan’s wife, Iku, to bed as well on a regular basis and the two are quite the item. There is one beautiful scene where Kogan confronts Irako about this, comparing her to his sword as a tool that he knows intimately and can tell when someone else has touched it.

Over the course of the series, we’re shown the growth of both men in their craft as well as their relationships and the time of the country as well. Each of them and those around them are very intense men and they’re living a life that could end at any second. A lot of this takes on a decidedly darker tone over time as Kogan himself becomes more involved. The founder of the style and a very powerful tiger of a man himself, he’s becoming more and more deranged as he gets older and his moments of lucidity are fewer and fewer. Kogan’s problems become more and more critical to the series as time goes on and the need for a successor becomes more important as the Lord above him is going to need this to happen.

With Shigurui only adapting part of the manga which is ongoing, and that being an adaptation of just a part of a novel, there isn’t any huge sense of closure here. The opening does paint us a decent ending however and it’s watching how the events shifted from one end to the other that is the most fascinating. Unfortunately, they lost me for part of it at the start with the disparity in the dub from the subtitles, where the dub talks about when things happen with the wrong time frame and that made me more suspect of what else may have been done wrong along the way with the translation and adaptation. Still, the series has a straightforward premise overall and outside of a few jumps back and forth in time here and there, it’s a fascinating piece to watch.

The visual design of Shigurui is very striking and rather unusual for a series even of this length. It’s essentially a black and white show with some mild splashes of color here and there. It’s working through so many shades of grey, white and black that it’s very intriguing to watch the choices that get made. Some series may do a flashback this way or a special episode this way, but having a whole series like this really does change how things are done. When color is introduced into it, it has a lot more intensity and impact, especially during the blood related scenes. But even beyond that, when the surroundings are done in full color, or an off item here or there, it catches the eye and draws you in more. I still wouldn’t care to see a lot of series done this way, but the choices made for Shigurui are spot on and it enhanced what would otherwise be a somewhat predictably animated series.

In Summary:
Revisiting this release after a bit of time is definitely interesting. Few shows reall ywork this level of brutality and violence and it’s tthe kind of series that FUNimation seems to grab once in awhile. It’s very violent, but controlled. It’s intense, but it’s directed in a way that’s fascinating to watch. There’s passion to this as well, sometimes wanted and sometimes unwanted. The series doesn’t flinch from anything, whether it’s the bodies being sliced open and the guts flying all around or when it comes to the sex and gratification aspect. All of it is tied up in a straightforward story that’s executed in a way that keeps you engaged. It has a quiet presence for much of it, and that works surprisingly well, but it becomes all the more powerful when it ratchets things up. Similar to my feelings when I first watched it, it’s not a show that can be watched often because of what it does and the manner of it, but it’s the kind of work that does come along rarely and merits at least a single viewing to get a good look at what the medium can do. Not for the faint of heart or easily squeamish though, especially with a couple of very intense scenes that still sit strongly with me.

Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Production Sketches, Episode Commentaries

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

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date:March 31st, 2009
MSRP: $44.99
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 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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