What They Say:
In another time and place, on a world of pain and sorrow, when someone dies, their soul doesn’t go to Heaven or Hell – it becomes a book. A book that reveals the deceased’s innermost secrets… and can be read by anyone. Protecting these priceless treasures is the elite organization known as the Armed Librarians. It’s their job to keep the books and the knowledge within them safe from those who would misuse or destroy them.
It’s a tough, dangerous job, so Chief Librarian Hamyuts Maseta recruits only the best and the brightest psychics to join her team of expert fighters. But will they be good enough to stop the fanatics of the Shindeki Church from wrecking vengeance on the entire world? Only time will tell, but that book hasn’t been written yet.
Contains episodes 1-13.
The audio presentation for this release is somewhat surprising still as we get two language tracks in stereo encoded at 224kbps. The show has both the original Japanese track and the new English language adaptation as well and both of them come across very well here as they utilize the forward soundstage. The show makes good use of that stage with both the action and dialogue as there is some solid placement for both depending on what’s going on. The action goes big when needed and it hits the right notes here with a decent fullness to it while the dialogue is crisp and clear. There’s some depth at times but most of it is pretty much just properly placed without any issues. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing from 2009 to 2010, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This collection contains thirteen episodes spread across two discs with six on the first and seven on the second. The show has some very good animation to it out of David Production that lets it shine through well with the transfer here. The series uses a lot of detail both in the fluid animation moments as well as the backgrounds, giving it a pretty rich and lived in feeling for much of it. There’s a certain grayness to the world here, not overpowering, but it has an earthy tone to it throughout that’s pretty appropriate for it. Colors have some good standout moments to be sure, especially when the abilities are fully in play, but the overall look is just good and fits the show well.
The packaging for this release is pretty standard for Sentai at this point as we get the two disc collection in a standard sized keepcase. The front cover is dark and sexy as it features Hamyuts in her usual attire with her chest falling out of it, but it’s something that does fit with her character and background in the series. The background is definitely good as well as it goes with an archaic piece of work that’s half covered in shadow that adds the right kind of oppression to it. Add in the really good looking logo placement and design and it’s a very eyecatching and appealing cover. The back cover is much darker though with a decent quote along the top and a simple but effective summary. The middle section is where it’s more difficult with some murky looking images and the red text on black that’s a little hard to discern. The bottom is much cleaner though with the white text for the production credits and a clean and accurate technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is a little difficult if only because of the lengthy episode names that are used, so we get some large expanses of text here. The layout is straightforward with a third of the right side featuring Hamyuts looking all seductive from the front cover but with a lot more light to it. The background is a bit more indistinct overall but it fits the flow of the show itself well. The rest of it is given over to the episode selection which has the episode name and number which stretches across a lot of the menu. Submenus load quickly and language setup is a breeze, though it defaults to English with sign/song subtitles. Access times are fast and the layout is easy to navigate.
The extras for this release are pretty simple with just the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the ten volume light novel series that ran from 2005 to 2010, The Book of Bantorra is a twenty-seven episode series that came from the original creator Ishio Yamagata. The original work also spawned a manga series that ran briefly, but it’s the anime series that is more the legacy at this point. Animated by David Production, it was fairly well received but was the kind of series that seemed to just disappear after it ended with little said since. In watching this first set, which definitely works better in watching in small batches, it’s something that the more I watched the more I felt that this would have been a strong show half a dozen years ago in a different market, which is why I’m glad it got a dub and a bit of an extra push. It’s a show that should do better in North America.
The series takes place in a world that has an interesting feeling to it where for much of it there’s an old world feel as it revolves around the Bantorra Library and some of the surrounding lands. It has a slight European feel to it where there’s a sense of villages and a decent sized city, but it also expands elsewhere later on to more of an early 20th century feeling as well. All of the locales are earthy in nature though, not dank or dark but just very lived in and a part of the world, especially with all of the detail provided in the animation. What makes this world truly unique though is that when people die, their essence and self is turned into a stone book. These books are all kept within the massive and deep Bantorra Library. The more important people are kept lower and safer, but this is because when you touch the Books, you can get glimpses of their lives and secrets. Those that run the Library are very important because of this and it’s also why they’re armed, hence being called Armed Librarians.
Everything revolves around these Librarians as they go out into the world to deal with finding particular Books that are lost, just created and so on. And within the world there are those that don’t want their Books to end up there, though most do, and there’s an organization called the True Men out there with their own plan that’s manipulating one of the Chuches that operates using False Men in order to push back against the Librarians. There’s a lot of cruelty shown in the first four episode arc here as we see one of the True Men using a significant number of ordinary people that they call Meats simply because they’re not True Men. And they use them to contain bombs so they can get close to them and simply explode. And the way the Meats are manipulated is pretty cruel since they become nearly brain dead as they go about their missions.
The Book of Bantorra works through a few different arcs with this first set, averaging around four episodes each, and it helps to slowly expand the world that these characters inhabit. It takes time to get to know the characters though because of the kind of haphazard form of storytelling. The one main constant throughout it is the acting Director of the Library with Hamyuts Meseta. We do see her origin later in this set which is pretty interesting with how she changes from what she was then to now. In the present, she’s an intense, capable and competent woman who manages the Library in a way the frustrates so many people but they know that she’s practically unstoppable in a way. Though she’s just an acting Director, she’s probably more comfortable in the position than any past Director.
What slows down the series really kicking into gear is that it does have a decent sized cast and a supporting cast that gets killed somewhat regularly along the way. The main cast of Armed Librarians is interesting but it’s like they’re just scratching the surface with them since none are really dealt with in depth, though there is some minor exploration here and there. The focus is more on the missions at hand that they have to deal with and because they’re all unique characters, they’re in their own kinds of uniforms with no consistency to them which kind of throws me a bit. It makes sense in context of how they want to sell the show but within the show it just makes it clear that they all have different abilities, styles and approaches to things. In the end, if that’s the worst thing I have to say about it, it’s not that much of a complaint.
The first half of the Book of Bantorra series is rather engaging and intriguing to watch here, a good part of which comes from trying to figure out the nature of this world. It’s a curious piece that doesn’t lay out all the pieces right from the start, which is good, but it’s one where you’re only really feeling like you’re getting a handle on it by the end of the set. This is an interesting world design filled with characters that could all largely sustain their own series when you get down to it but they have the problem of being part of an ensemble headed by Hamyuts. She definitely brings something unique to the show but it’s largely hands off outside of a few areas, yet you can’t help but to feel she’s manipulating much of it. I definitely enjoyed the show and the challenge of figuring out how it’s designed and getting into the thick of the stories and characters. But it also feels like something was slightly askew in the execution, keeping it from really standing out strongly.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: May 15th, 2012
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG2
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.