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King Of Thorn Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

When a powerful virus hits the world, the path to survival is intense and brutal.

What They Say:
Panic spreads worldwide as the Medusa Virus – a fatal pandemic that solidifies the body to stone – threatens to wipe out the human race. One-hundred and sixty infected individuals are selected to be cryogenically frozen while a cure is developed. Kasumi is one of those chosen for the experimental program.

Forced to enter without her twin sister, Shizuku, her distress multiplies when she awakens to find the facility overrun with thick, thorny vines and ravenous monsters. As Kasumi and six others fight a losing battle to escape this labyrinthine nightmare, questions cloud her distorted mind. Where is her sister? Why did their only salvation mutate into a deathtrap? If they survive, how much longer do they have to live?

The Review:
The audio presentation for the feature gives us both the original Japanese language and the English language adaptation 5.1 mixes using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The film is one that works a lot of action into events and it has a pretty solid sound mix overall with some good moments hitting the rear channels along the way. The first act is largely quiet and generally all about the dialogue but once things move into the second and third acts, it just goes at a good pace. There are quiet and moody moments so it definitely is utilized well for the ambient sound effects and more. It’s not a hugely immersive mix as the majority of the action is still along the forward soundstage, but it throws a good number of things to the reaer when needed. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally in released in May of 2010, the transfer for this feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The two hour feature from Sunrise has a very strong visual design to it that uses a lot of filters and color designs to create the atmosphere it wants and the transfer runs the gamut when it comes to the bitrate, though it hits the high twenties and low thirties where it’s definitely needed. There’s some really good detail to be had which you can poke through when pausing and colors are generally quite strong, vibrant where needed yet soft and mood setting elsewhere. It definitely has all the feel of a proper theatrical anime work and the transfer captures that.

The packaging for this combo release comes in a standard Blu-ray case with an O-Card slipcover that mirrors whats in the case itself. The front cover has a good illustration piece that’s pretty oppressive when you get down to it as it shows the main cast of characters as they’re all struggling to survive as the vines and thorns are all around them. With a lot of darker colors to it, it has a good look with a lot of detail but also a sense of hopelessness about it that’s interesting. The festival circuit nods it got are included here as well as its general studio pedigree, all of which looks good when pulled together with the logo. The back cover has some simple but decent background design elements to it that fits the show well without standing out too much. There’s a small selection of shots from the feature that don’t do much but the premise covers things well and makes it seem like an engaging work to check out. The discs special features are clearly listed and the technical grid is laid out cleanly, though I wish it had a solid background so that the small text could be read more clearly. While there are no show related inserts included, we do get a good look at a piece of artwork on the reverse side that shows off where the feature takes place.

The menu design for this release is kept very simple where it uses a series of mostly quiet and almost tender clips from the feature all done through a grayscale filter. The progression works well with the instrumental music used but it doesn’t set the mood in a very big way for things as it’s almost too quiet. The navigation is kept along the left with a green box in the upper corner which has all the selections and navigation items. Submenus load quickly and as the pop-up menu as well as quick and easy to move around in. The disc defaults to the English with sign/song subtitle track rather than reading our players’ language presets.

The release has a good deal of extras to it that fans of the film and those behind it will enjoy. The first is a good length thirty minute talk session given at one of the cinema special showings with the director and others. It goes into the film pretty well and lets those involved talk about it well while still being properly respectful and so forth. In addition to that, there’s a separate eleven minute interview session with the director that digs into things a bit more, such as going into the various additional meanings some scenes have. The short two minute pilot film is included as well, which are always fascinating to see since there are key pieces that are carried overw hile others aren’t. Add in the various trailers from the Japanese release as well as a TV spot and the US release trailer.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the six volume manga release by Yuji Iwahara that’s brought to life in this two hour feature from director Kazuyoshi Katayama and studio Sunrise. The manga release made its way here in the US from TOKYOPOP and its adaptation here is one that I can’t speak clearly to as I never read it, having fallen out of manga at that point. The book was very well regarded overall, especially since it was a seinen book and it had a plan from the beginning to have just that, a beginning, a middle and an end. In watching this two hour feature, I found myself coming away from it very, very impressed, quite engaged and ready to watch it again.

The story is one that starts off where most stories of this nature deal in flashback. The end of 2012 shows the increasingly rapid revelations about a disease called Medousa, which is infecting people and incubating within them. After a period of time, they essentially petrify quickly and end up crumbling into dust. Families are falling apart, the financial markets are spiraling downward as there’s a huge labor shortage as more and more people fall away to it and the whole thing feels like the end times for mankind. The first act covers this well, giving us a world that definitely feels like it’s on the cusp without being overly dramatic as it uses various news broadcasts and smaller stories to bring it together.

Where it wants to go is something interesting as there’s a pharmaceutical company that has come up with a way to slow the advance of the disease by creating a Cold Sleep Capsule Center, a place where they can “store” 160 people until such a time as there’s a cure. We don’t get the details of how people are chosen, but there’s a curious mix since we get a few kids, schoolgirls, senators and criminals. The process is certainly intriguing as we see people processed, their friends seeing them off and nods towards what their future may be. And once they go into cold sleep, monitored by the ALICE computer system (as there’s a big Sleeping Beauty and other fairy tale motif used here), it doesn’t take long for them to wake up in a very different world. It’s usually here that the story starts, so shifting back first feels very unusual and for me added a lot more to the tension.

Once everyone is awake, it pushes us hard and fast into the second and third acts where it turns into a struggle for survival. While there are pauses to be had here and there as is necessary, I was really struck by just how hard and fast it really does work its pacing as it goes on. There are certainly plenty of familiar survival elements here as the cast is winnowed down and they discover more of the truth along the way about what happened after they were put in cold sleep. What I really liked here is that it didn’t go in ways that were predictable with the real truths of what’s going on. The survival sides are familiar as they fight, flee and grab onto something to maintain their sanity, but it hits so many really good notes along the way and doesn’t allow for much of a slowdown that the adrenaline rush is pretty intense. I’m loathe to say anything about what happens in the second and third acts once the characters wake up from their cold sleep, but it left me wanting more and more yet craving a break from the pacing at the same time.

In Summary:
King of Thorn is a feature that based on the initial premise that you see is something that looks terribly familiar. These kinds of movies are somewhat common when done in anime form. We’ve seen this kind of movie many times over the last twenty-five years or so of watching anime. While there are certainly some very common elements in here, King of Thorn takes its own path with the narrative which makes it far more engaging to watch, more connective even with the way the characters go largely unnamed for much of it, and is filled with much more adrenaline. That was what got me the most as features of this nature have a lot more in the way of quiet moments and pauses, usually to tease out more of the back story. By doing the back story first, that allows the rest of the feature to just run hard with the action, building it up more and more and making it a workout. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this but came away loving it and wanting to queue it up again.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Talk Event at Cinema Sunshine Ikebukuro, Director Interview, Pilot Film, Original Trailer, Overseas Trailer, TV Spot

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: September 18th, 2012
MSRP: $24.98
Running Time: 120 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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