What They Say:
In the final years of the Bakumatsu, wandering mercenary Yojiro Akizuki travels the length and breadth of Japan. While he employs his sword in the usual fashion, he also uses it help him locate supernatural items which he pursues with single-minded determination, often with bloody results. In the course of his quest, he crosses paths with a traveling theater group whose members have their own dark agenda. Is it a chance meeting, or the result of an undiscovered conspiracy?
Contains episodes 1-13.
The audio presentation for this release is straightforward and solid as we get both the original Japanese language and the new English language adaptation done using the DTS HD-MA codec in stereo with its lossless form. The show has a strong blend of action and dialogue with good use of music and ambient sound effects to build scenes properly, especially with the theatrical aspect of the shows that the cast puts on, so a solid forward soundstage design is very important here. There’s a good sense of sound design here as it moves back and forth as well as a few scenes that use the depth well with a few characters on screen and the way they move, making for a fairly immersive piece even with its stereo limitations. The action tends to shine more and the music stands out the most between the opening and closing, but as a whole it’s a very solid work that comes across cleanly and without problems such as dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally streaming in Japan in late 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The first thirteen episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second. The show is one that has a strong sense of visual design, animation and flow to it with a great deal of detail that really makes it engaging to watch just because of the visuals. It also plays things with a certain sense of design style as there’s a pervasive grain about it that keeps it from looking clean and it’s something that appears to be intentional, though distracting at times. Some of the scenes it works well in while others it doesn’t help but rather hinders, especially when it feels like it should be much cleaner. It doesn’t lead to things like macroblocking or noticeable banding, but it’s not what you’d expect based off of what it looks like overall and it all seems to be source material related. There is a lot to like beyond that though with the quality of the presentation and it has many, many stand out moments that are engaging and appealing.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray cast with both discs attached to the inner panels. The front cover is pretty distinctive and looks good even with its darker colors as it shows us a slightly stylized version of the lead in Akizuki where he has his sword in hand as he looks off to the right side. It’s split mostly along an angle with softer whites and blues along the left while the right has the darker colors with some pink cherry blossoms mixed in to give it a dash of flair that works well. The logo is kept simple but with the right elements to its heritage without standing out too much. The back cover is more traditional with a dark background and some decent bit fo black space while it shows off an array of shots from the show along the right and a single character shot along the left. The summary is surprisingly simple considering the complexity of the material within but it does lie the episode count clearly and the number of discs. Technical information is straightforward and easy to read with black on white design while the production information is the usual tiny size that lists things for both the Japanese and English productions. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is really nice even if it is far too quiet with no music associated with it. The first disc uses the same character artwork as the front cover, but it’s lighter, sharper and works better against the background here that has the gray designs along the right, which dominates the screen. The character artwork takes up only the left third, while mixing in some reds as well, while the rest is the gray with the logo taking up a small part of the right third. The navigation strip along the bottom doubles as the pop-up strip, making it clear which episode you’re on during playback which I love, as it has an in theme style breakdown by episode number and title with the selected episode highlighted with a brighter red. Submenus load quickly for things such as language selection and it all moves smoothly without any problems either as a main menu or during playback. The show defaulted to the English language selection instead of reading our players’ presets.
The only extras included with this release are on the second volume with the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Intrigue in the Bakumatsu is an interesting series in that it’s one of the few shows of real length and depth that was streamed online, at least initially, rather than getting a standard late night broadcast. With the show having a good pedigree coming from Sunrise and directed by Ryosuke Takahashi, it was streamed through the GyaO streaming site back at the end of 2006 and into the winter season of 2007 for a total of twenty-six episodes. The show has a really great sense of polish and design to it, marred only by the actual source materials itself where it has that grainy look that doesn’t serve it well, but it’s one that is working in an already far too crowded field of shows while being convoluted as well.
The series takes place in the fourth year of the Keio era, which is 1869 as the Shogunate begins to wane and power is in a state of flux across the land. A lot of this is made worse by the varied foreign influences that are coming into play within the country and how you have so many different people within the spheres of power orchestrating how they want the country to go. There’s a lot of interesting ways this can unfold, and plenty of familiar ones as well as it deals with real history and its various facets, such as a few glimpses of how the Shinsengumi has dispersed over the years and the catalyst of events that were caused by the death of Ryouma Sakamoto.
Where the show wants to focus is something that’s definitely got a lot of potential for engaging storytelling as we’re introduced to a traveling troupe of performers that range the country. They’re all quite good with what they do, not just a bunch of subpar actors or anything, but their performances are a cover for their hunt for a man named Jubei Nakaiya. There’s grievances they have from the past that has them hunting him down and dealing with others of the sword that are aligned with him. What makes it really engaging is that their adventures also become the plays, providing for a good sense of cheekiness as they show off in front of audiences with the way it involves people of name that they know of.
While they’re on their journey and mission, they also get someone that sort of joins the troupe in the sense that while they put on certain performances, he gets physically involved as well with his own sword as the stories take on a new life. Akizuki is known as the legendary Eternal Assassin as he posses a powerful sword called Getsuruito. He’s got a past connection with certain members of the Shinsengumi that comes to light, but that’s in the past and it’s only Okita that he really comes into contact with in this show, at least so far, since so many of the others are dead after the group went their own ways.
With Akizuki, we see his mission is different from the troupe but they do overlap as the stories are explored. His goal, and that of his sword, is to hunt down the Head of the Conquerer, a supernatural skull of sorts that has existed for two thousand years from a long dead Chinese conqueror whose fierceness has allowed it to exist in this form. There are those seeking it, some tricksters along the way, but the main villain of course is that of Nakaiya as we see him manipulating situations to try and gain it. Those that end up with it become possessed by it, though not all are aware of it, as we see how it seeks out the right person and personality for it to take over and do its deeds with. It’s certainly supernatural and creepy as the head floats about, partially taking over people and using them while trying to discern the right host, but that only comes after a good bit of time and mystery in regards to what it really is and what it’s capable of.
With a show like this, the overall storyline that’s in play here really is simple when you drill down to its basics. The problem is that it jumps and leaps about in so many ways that during much of this first half of the series, I found myself hard pressed to really latch onto anyone beyond a very superficial way, never mind even naming most of them even after thirteen episodes. There’s a lot of feints going on here, a sizable cast and a good deal of history being woven into it, but it doesn’t take a direct path. Which isn’t bad and may be something that works better if you’re a little more intimate with the real history. Having seen so many variations on it, this is one with a couple of nice twists but it provided no real strong character connections since it was so haphazard in how it started with its introductions and settings.
I had no knowledge of this series prior to its license and this first viewing really drew me in with its visuals and theatrics as it unfolded. There’s a lot to really like and dig into here and things do really start to come together in the last episode or two as various machinations finally start to make sense. The visual quality with its detail, colors and overall flow of animation is really strong, hampered only by the need to grain it up for some reason, giving us another show where Sunrise really doesn’t disappoint. Intrigue in the Bakumatsu is a show mired in a convoluted history before even adding the supernatural aspects and it’s a show that I suspect would work well upon a second or third viewing for me, especially when the totality of it is out. With this first set, I’m definitely in the conflicted camp as it draws me in some ways but pushes me away forcibly in others.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 4th, 2012
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 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.