What They Say:
A war between bordering lands Roland and Estabul has begun. At the King of Roland’s command, Ryner Lute, a bearer of a cursed, extremely lethal power called the Alpha Stigma, and his beautiful comrade Ferris set out on a search for the Heroic Relics – artifacts that contain enormous supernatural powers and can be devastating if placed in the wrong hands. War tactics, bloody magical battles, and political intrigue ensue!
The release of this television series contains two language options with the Japanese track having a 2.0 mix while the English one gets a boost with a 5.1 mix. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was selected and it is a solid representation of stereo tracks as it splits the dialogue and other sounds nicely in such a way as to give a decent illusion of depth and overall the track has a very nice balance to it. The track also works well to provide directionality as it also covers the low sounding effects, the more quiet ones as well as the higher pitched ones in a way that provides a nice balance. This is good as the series is one where the track has a lot of space to cover between some of the quiet contemplative moments and the extreme frenetic ones that occur which could easily have been an issue.
Also of note for those who make use of the subtitles is that there are a good number of times where the subtitles can clash with the titles used for locations which can create the appearance of a bit of a mess on the screen to decipher until the location title goes away.
Originally airing in the middle of the Japanese television season in 2010, the series is presented here is presented here in 1:78.1 widescreen ratio and is complete with an anamorphic encode. The series largely makes a good though not stunning use of its visuals as it doesn’t shy away from having a good number of action scenes that compliment the more subdued politically focused ones. Over all the series uses the images as a fairly strong point though the transfer to DVD doesn’t always exemplify it. Present in the visuals are both grain and some fairly obvious CG images which would be from the production company end but also added is some banding, blocking, aliasing, a fine level of noise, a bit of ghosting, some feedback noise in certain colors/scenes, bit of color bleed with some stronger reds. To top it off the series often looks a bit washed out but whether this is from the authoring of the DVD or the original intent I don’t know.
This review is of the DVDs only but the packaging was covered in Chris Beveridge’s review of the Blu Ray portion of the releases’ review.
The discs themselves use a simple but effective image of the Alpha Stigma image that plays prominently in the series (a typical/generic five point star with some invented writing in each point and surrounding it) in a metallic looking ink. The series title is written in a rather fancy font in yellow under the disc hub and there is a small rectangle at the bottom whose disc number is the only thing that differs from disc to disc.
The menus are static affairs that use images of different characters from the series with the Main menu using characters images against a burgundy reddish background while the title is present in the foreground. To complement this, the Alpha Stigma image is present in the background and the rectangle and disc number over the characters on the right side as the options are present to the left. The sub menus all use screen grabs from the series around the top half of the screen while a gold-yellow boarder separates them from the burgundy background that the options are placed over and each of the screens uses various instrumental tracks for their background music. The options present are listed in a semi tan-ish yellow that turns bright yellow when highlighted and the menus themselves are quick to respond to changes and implement selections while the currently selected option is signified by the option appearing in a bright standoff color.
The set comes complete with a somewhat standard set of clean open and closing and FUNimation also went the extra distance by creating a pair of commentary tracks for the English dub fans.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Picking up from where the previous set left off, Ryner has decided he is going to save the young Alpha Stigma user he has come across and in order to fully accomplish this he has to lay a part of his soul bare to the object of his efforts. Though this may turn out to be the easiest part of his task as to truly help the boy he and Ferris have decided they must save the girl who first alerted them about him and who happens to be held captive by a pair of familiar faces from Gastark.
While attempting to fulfill their task the pair trip across Froaude and he becomes convinced that he must dispatch Ryner and Ferris for Sion’s sake and so he starts moving pieces into place to accomplish this task. To that end he even kidnaps a childhood friend of Ryner and captain of the Taboo Rule Breaker squad, Milk Callaud, and gets its most powerful member to try to take Ryner down. Unfortunately for Milk she doesn’t know the true extent of her team’s orders when it comes to Ryner though when Ryner becomes aware of the orders that Sion made he parts ways with his country.
But life isn’t easy as Ryner still finds himself up against the country lead by his friend and there is no relief for the bearers of Alpha Stigma as he comes across a small group that is being persecuted. While Ryner still has faith in his friend who has become king there are darker events swirling behind the scenes and events may lead both Ryner and the kingdom to their doom. Luckily for Ryner though he has managed to accumulate a good number of people around him who are willing to both fight for his sake as well as able to help him discover the will to fight on his own. But will even these bonds be powerful enough to break the bonds of destiny that weave so many of these characters together and which seem to have the final act already preordained to end in tragedy?
Events of the first half of the series left a whole lot on the plate in terms of hanging threads for the last 11 episodes (plus 1 mostly recap one) to try to tie together in a neat bow at the end. The fact that the novel series that the animation is based on didn’t finish the story itself and it spawned a sequel probably meant that the effort was going to be a herculean one from the beginning but the adaptors certainly gave it their best shot. Unfortunately the series never quite manages to fully achieve the level that it appears that the story is striving for.
While the series does a fairly decent job of avoiding falling into ruts it doesn’t do a great job of building up events and laying the ground work for some of the later elements that clearly are supposed to be climactic and (probably) somewhat shocking. Maybe this can be attributed to trying to get 11 light novels worth of material into a relatively compact space but often the weight that events should have just seems to be missing as they can come across as rather shallow due to the lack of either character or situational development. Not that the series doesn’t try as these episodes give us some back story on Ferris, Ryner and the history of the world itself but some of this still comes across as truncated and parts just aren’t foreshadowed well enough to bring in their full impact.
The story does have some very strong action as well as a good sampling of humor going for it but due to the length of the series run at times some of these strengths seem to spend so much time warring with each other for space and attention that they actually undercut each other. There is just so much going on with some of the lore of the country as well as the back story of the inhabitants that the viewer is expected to follow that it feels like the series is swinging wildly from one extreme to another in its approach to different characters and the atmosphere they bring with them. If there was one thing I could change about this show it would be to give it at least another 12 episodes if not double that as the original author doesn’t seem to have been short on ideas but this concentrated version doesn’t provide the most suitable environment for showing them off.
In the final measure I really wish this series had been at least twice the length that it is (and perhaps a bit better paced as well) as it relies on a good number of cheats to try to substitute for the time needed to spend with some of its characters and build a connection with them and the final result feels less powerful because of that. Going in the series clearly had the feel of something that was looking to be more than just a simple tale of a handful of individuals but was aiming at something much more along the scale of “epic”- which unfortunately is very hard to convey in 24 episodes and even harder when it looks like the series had to render some of the novels events that were popular but which maybe didn’t create for the most effective narrative for this adaptation. Still even with its flaws it is a series that has a good number of strengths and I would very much like to visit its world again should a sequel series be made (or the light novels be translated).
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Commentary
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: April 17th, 2012
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.