What They Say:
In a mythical kingdom, the mighty Imperial Knights harness a magical substance known as Aer to power their weapons and protect humanity from the monsters of the forest. But something strange is afoot. The Aer is somehow changing, causing the wilderness to waste away and stirring the woodland beasts to attack with greater frequency. As danger creeps steadily closer to civilization, two young recruits – Flynn, the rigid son of a fallen hero, and the rebellious and brash Yuri – must ride with their fellow Imperial Knights to distant ruins in hopes of uncovering the truth behind the transforming Aer.
Some will not survive the thrilling journey. Some will be betrayed. If Flynn and Yuri cannot overcome their differences and learn to fight together, all will be lost for the people of the realm.
The audio presentation for this release is rather straightforward as we get only the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded at 192kbps. The show is largely dialogue driven but it has some very good moments of ambient sound effects to help build the atmosphere, especially when tied with the instrumental score. It does have some action scenes, though they vary in terms of what goes big. When it does try to run more than average, it generally does well in giving it a good forward soundstage feel where the action swirls about, especially with the music, and the end result is a pretty pleasing if standard stereo mix. The opening and closing sequences tend to stand out more for obvious reasons but the show as a whole has a good feel to it, though it does try to play things a bit subtle.
Originally airing in the fall of 2010, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback .The thirteen episodes are spread across two discs in a seven/six format with the extras showing up on the second disc with the additional space. The series has a very good look about it where it’s close to straddling that line of being soft but does it by intent in order to give it an authentic feel for when it takes place. A lot of it comes from the color palette choice which I think works well to establish the setting. There are some striking moments of vibrancy here, usually when the spiritual world comes into play, but just small things like certain flowers can stand out or someone’s eyes in a way that really makes you take notice. Colors have a good solid feel throughout with much visible in the way of noise and backgrounds maintain a largely solid look. Cross coloration is non-existent and there’s only a few slivers of line noise during a pan sequence or two.
The packaging for this premium edition release is spot on and in the tradition of the other ones fro NIS America. The oversized heavy chipboard box has a very good look to it as it uses just character artwork on both sides but in a very effective manner. One side features the two leads together where they take up a large chunk of real estate, letting the detail of their designs shine through while being well balanced by the soft red that’s used for the background. It has a lot of detail and stands out in a big way. The other side uses the main cast overall in a similar way, though not as big, but with just as much detail and and striking look for the colors. Each side offers a different character perspective for the series and it fits the show well.
Inside the box we get the large hardcover book and the pair of clear thinpak cases. The book is a very appealing work once again that starts off with a great piece of the ensemble cast together against a white background that lets the characters stand out well. The book is really strong here as it goes through things as a Spirit Affairs book where there’s lots of material on the characters, episode by episode breakdown with numerous pictures and a section that has a lot of great full page artwork. The really big piece here though is the meaty series of cast interviews that has a lot of material as they talk about the show and their characters. Some of the books tend to be a bit more simplistic in that it feels like it was taken directly out of a magazine piece, but this one fits the show perfectly and is a great value added piece.
Also inside the box is the obvious thinpak cases which use some slightly different stylized versions of Kei and Zakuro. Each gets their own case where they’re laying against a white background with cherry blossom petals falling around them. They both have a sense of blushing about them that’s kind of amusing, especially with Kei in his full dress uniform. The back covers are laid out in a similar manner to each other with a breakdown of episodes by number and title, a good selection of colorful shots from the volume and some cute chibi versions of the characters alongside the logo. The discs features are clearly listed as well and the technical information lists everything cleanly and clearly with no visible issues with it. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is simple but well done as it uses the soft red from the box art as the background, which shifts into a soft white along the bottom. The design of the navigation along the left has a bit of elegance to it as it fills half that section with the logo over it. It’s simple with only a few things on each disc so it’s easy to navigate and move through without any problems. To the right you get the character artwork that mirrors the thinpak case are but it has more vibrancy to it that lets it stand out in a big way. Submenus load quickly, language selection is a breeze and with the music playing along in the main menu it sets the atmosphere just right.
The extras are decent here as we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences as well as a pair of fun little picture dramas.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Lily Hoshino, who has had several of her works released over here, Otome Yokai Zakuro is up to five volumes in Japan since its start in 2006, so it’s not exactly a really big property or one with a whole lot of material. Which makes it pretty ideal for a short run series like this in that a good portion, if not all of it, can be adapted to anime without any real worries. Hoshino is largely known for her boys-love work but she’s done some other things as well including some seinen material. This one looks to play up the pretty boy material pretty well with a good cast of women included, giving both sides of fandom a lot to work with, though with a girlish tint to all of it.
The series takes place in an alternate history time line where a Ministry of Spirit Affairs has set up to deal with the yokai out there. The ministry is designed to bring both sides together to work out the issues, though it’s interesting in that we get a significant military angle to it with the men as they’re all in uniform and have a very strict feel to them. Well, when they’re not being all flirtatious for one or two of them, enough so that they’re surrounded by roses in classic shoiujo tradition. The opening episode largely revolves around introducing us to the main cast and their issues, such as one of the human representatives who is pretty much afraid of the spirits they have to deal with which certainly causes problems.
Even worse is that he’s afraid of the women that make up the other side of the ministry which are essentially half spirits since they’re in human form with particulars like cat ears and the like. Being afraid of them is kind of amusing at first, but it could get old pretty quick. It does set up the predictable angle of them getting closer together and having some misunderstandings along the way until they actually get closer and potentially fall in love. The human side is the area where it could have some potential though since there’s a firmness to the men when, outside of Kei at least, in how they have to deal with this particular assignment in coping with women who aren’t completely human. And considering the time period, there’s also the problems of them taking women seriously in general with a position like this as well. The Meiji period does have some social changes going into it, but not enough so that you can imagine the women being able to be completely involved as they’re portrayed here, if not for their being half spirits.
With the titular character of Zakuro, a good bit of focus is on her as time goes forward and you know that it’s her and Kei who will cross paths heavily to try and understand each other. Thankfully, we do see other humans of the Ministry starting to make their inroads and showing they’re open minded about things and helping out while being curious about yokai culture and what it entails. It’s not terribly detailed, but it’s about what you’d expect for an opening episode. The same can be said about the animation and designs. It’s good, it has some cute qualities about it with the way characters go out of the norm and the light comedy is applied well to it. But it also has some really good backgrounds at times and executes the full spirit characters well as they mingle with the humans and the half spirits. Seeing everyone coping with the prejudices that they have is something that I do wonder if they’ll be able to continue through the show and work with, especially as they start dealing with real issues as opposed to this kind of basic and forced setup episode.
Most of the single digit episode numbers of the season do good job of expanding on the cast of characters, and honestly doing a lot of pairings that surprising since nobody seems like they’ll end up alone, and showing how the area is dealing with having spirits, or half-spirits, more involved in the human world. While I would have liked to have seen more of this over the course of it, it’s naturally more focused on the primary characters and the story there. And it’s an interesting one that’s not left to the final episodes but rather seeded throughout the show. There isn’t a feel of a monster of the week aspect here and that’s a big plus, though there are several encounters with unhelpful spirits to say the least that have their own issues.
At its core though is the story of Kei and Zakuro as each works through their own prejudices. Zakuro’s hesitancy towards working with humans is obvious and Kei has his own problems as well that get explained a bit along the way. But they come together fairly quickly, with some humor and tension, that lets a more meaningful bond start to grow. What brings it to life though is that there’s someone that’s hunting down Zakuro, wanting her for their own mysterious purpose, and it’s tied to her past. As we learn more about the half spirits, it explains a lot of why there are only girls, how Zakuro came to be with her guardian and an exploration of her family heritage. It all ties into the present and the way it unfolds works well to tease it out without making you wait too awful long to get to it. And it all culminates in an appropriate big fashion while also keeping it personal. Unlike a lot of other series though, you can understand the attraction between the leads and why it moves them as they do.
Otome Yokai Zakuro hits all the right notes throughout as it explores the way two very different but similar types of people learn to co-exist. The way they work to understand each other isn’t something that either side wants at first, but it’s a given that it must happen so they make the best of it and make far more progress than they thought. The show goes big in the end, much like it has at key times earlier in the series, but also knows a lot of the appeal is in how the Spirit Affairs characters interact. Some of the relationships may be working out a bit too easily here at the end, but I’d rather be sent off with a better sense of hope and closure at this point like this than something that leaves it all uncertain. I’ve really enjoyed this series when I thought I wouldn’t because the time period and material has been done quite often, but usually to comedic effect. Here, it’s treated seriously but also focused heavily on the racism side and had a lot more realism to it overall. In the end, it proved far more charming and interesting than I would have guessed and left me with a big smile when thinking about it all.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Picture Dramas
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: NIS America
Release Date: June 12th, 2012
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
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.