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Guin Saga Complete Series Blu-ray Anime Review

15 min read

The beast within is visible without, though there’s more to him than meets the eye.

What They Say:
On the run from an army that destroyed their kingdom, the twin heirs to the Parros throne must avoid a magical land filled with incredible dangers. They are surrounded on all sides – by warring armies, an apelike tribe of desert creatures called the Sem, and the ruthless Langon clan. Giant sandworms, glowing, malevolent creatures, and powerful wizards mastering in the dark arts threaten them at every turn. If they were alone, they would surely perish. But in a dark forest, they are discovered by a mysterious stranger, a powerful warrior wearing a cursed leopard mask he cannot remove. His name… is Guin.

Guin becomes their protector and companion, though he remembers nothing of his life before meeting these young runaways. Together, they begin a treacherous quest to find safety for the royal twins – and the answers to Guin’s secret origins.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release has a pair of very good stereo tracks in lossless form using the DTS-HD MA codec with its variable bitrate. 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 distortionsd uring regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2009, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread four discs with eight each on the first three and two on the last along with all the extras. The series is one that on our initial viewing on Dvd we came away with a lot of appreciation is it has a really strong look to it with Satelight producing the animation. 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 this very well and the problems we had with noise in some of the backgrounds on the DVD is largely eliminated here with more room to move in terms of bitrate and space. The panning sequences were a problem before as well but that’s also reduced pretty well here. What you can notice, by design of the animation, is the color banding, but it’s simply how the series was animated and it’s not in many scenes overall and even then fairly muted. There aer many areas where the show is just visually striking and exciting to watch because of the transfer, giving it a richness that was just below the surface from our DVD viewing last year.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release works off of what the DVD releases were like as it has a heavy tone to it with lots of dark browns, including a border that weighs it down even more. This doesn’t play too well with the blue of the case either as it draws more darkness from that. The artwork itself isn’t bad, but with the sunset style color to the background and the darker colors used for Guin and the shadow he casts, it just makes the whole thing even darker. It’s not exactly something that sells it as well as it could, which was a problem the DVD covers had as well. The back cover just makes it a bit more blunt with its dark black background for much of it, which with the small white font makes reading the plot summary even harder. There are some good tags to be had here with a clean listing of what’s on it, including the extras, as well as the episode and disc count. The production information is clearly laid out and the technical information in the grid covers things accurately in an easy to read form. No shows related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design for this release is very good, both thematically and for the artwork used. The main menu for the first volume for example uses the background artwork illustration of Guin with a fierce look while using the logo to the right of him as well as a good chunk of text. The illustration style really sets it apart since it’s not just a bit of pop art or a scene from the show itself, giving it a good bit of detail and texture to it. Along the left we get the semi-scroll style to it that drops down with the episode numbers and titles as well as submenu selection. It’s done in a dark red with a few other colors that gives it a richness that works very well. And it doubles as the pop-up menu, or drop-down menu as the case may be, which is a lot of fun to pull up in the midst of the show. Everything loads very quickly and without problems.

Extras:
The fourth disc that has all extras on it has some very good stuff here that makes it very worthwhile. The basic are here in that we get the clean opening sequences and the clean closing as well as a set of trailers for the release. The bigger extras are where the meat is though, such as the interview with the voice actors for several of the leads, such as Guin and Remus as well as Istavan and Norisse. That piece runs for just under thirty minutes and covers a lot of the usual things you’d see in such extras with them talking about their roles and showing off some of the recording sessions. Another extra that’s rather interesting is the interview piece with a man named Kiyoshi Imaoka, who serves as the novel editor for the series. The piece runs for about twelve minutes and gives us a nice look at the original author and her works through a very personal experience. It feels more intimate and real than a lot of interviews tend to be and really gets you to feel a little connected to the author herself. Of course, he reveals early on that he was her husband so that definitely colors it a bit, but it’s really just icing on the cake of an intriguing extra. Another extra here is a thirteen minute piece from 2009, a few months before the show aired, where they did a premiere event and had the first episode shown off and spent time with the cast and creative side. It’s a bit bittersweet since the author is there as well and she died just a few months later after the show began its broadcast.

As if that’s not enough as we saw from the DVD release, there’s even more. There’s a very worthwhile extra in the form of an 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)
Based on the massive, sprawling series of novels by Kaoru Kurimoto, Guin Saga is a twenty-six episode series by Satelight that gives us a properly epic fantasy series. With the novels having started way back in 1979 and there being well over a hundred of them before Kurimoto died, there’s a lot of material to work with here and the anime world definitely needs more fantasy shows. With this set, Guin Saga introduces us to a lot of ideas, countries and religions in quick fashion as it has a lot of ground to cover. Things do slow down a bit as it progresses but for the most Guin Saga just keeps going and going.

Guin Saga can be a bit of a hard watch because it is trying to cover so much material and there are some jumps in it that could have taken a lot more time to work through. The series opens with the nation of Parros being under attack by the Mongaul warriors. It’s a quick and brutal attack on the fairly peaceful, elegant and established country which results in the death of its king and queen. That happens just as their twin children, with Rinda being the strong and serious daughter with prophetic abilities and Remus as the son who is a bit of a wallflower and not exactly a leader. The two are spirited away to ensure that the lineage would continue and they’re thrown into a special transportation device hidden in the castle that sends them a considerable distance away to the Roodwood.

It’s here that things take a curious turn as the twins come across a very powerful looking man who isn’t quite a man named Guin. While his physique says he’s a skilled and hardened warrior, his head is that of a leopard and he’s got very little memory of who he is, how he got there and what his purpose is. There’s a few key things he remembers, but their meaning is lost to him. What he does have is a sense of justice, so when the Mongaul troops roam through and try to take the twins, he steps in as their protector. This leads the trio to being on the run, something that happens for a good part of this set and for the first half of it specifically. It can be a little annoying at times because they’re constantly reacting and getting thrown to different areas of the land, which has them meeting new people and creatures.

Guin Saga does turn more seriously towards Guin himself as it moves on and into the country of Nospherus, which is like a no-man’s land where a few animal type races live and some what you would call savage men. It’s here that Guin really comes alive and has the feeling that he must have been an incredible general in a past life as he begins to put things together to defend the area against the Mongaul incursion as they’re intent on eliminating the races there and building a new keep to expand their power. This has Guin separating from the group for a bit and allows another addition to the cast from early on, Istavan the Crimson Mercenary, to shine a bit as he watches over the twins and engages in quite the plan with Guin for dealing with the Mongaul.

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 half proved to feel clunky. There’s a lot going on in this series over several different areas and trying to get it 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 in the second half 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:
Revisiting Guin Saga again a year after watching it on DVD was mostly a positive experience as I knew the problems to expect with the compression, pacing and leaping around and could compensate for it. Like many fantasy series of scale, there is a whole lot going on here with so many characters and lands involved that it can feel like it’s getting shortchanged. It’s a rare show that manages to grab the majority of what makes a novel series work and adapts it well. With as many characters as there are, it’s not a surprise that it faltered at times but it manages to bring everything together very well. 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.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, The Men Who Searched For Their Own Star, Interviews with Kenyuu Horiuchi (Guin), Tsubasa Yonaga (Remus), Shintaro Asanuma Shintaro (Istavan) & Yuya Uchida (Norisse), Another Guin Saga: An Interview with Kiyoshi Imaoka (Guin Saga Novel Editor), Japanese Premier Event, Japanese Trailer Collection, Extended Trailer, Japanese Trailer, English Trailer, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation

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 8th, 2012
MSRP: $89.98
Running Time: 650 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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