A twist on a familiar premise that somehow winds up more mediocre than it feels like it should have.
What They Say:
Ayakashi Kan: a mysterious condominium, widely believed to be haunted, where every resident is required to have a personal bodyguard, or Secret Service agent. When the socially inept Ririchiyo moves in, all she’s looking for is a little peace and quiet and some practice at inter-personal communications. However, she quickly discovers that her bodyguard Soushi might not just be foxy; he might actually BE a fox – a fox spirit that is. In fact, all of Ayakashi Kan’s residents and their agents are more than they seem at first glance. Each and every one of them has both human and non-human ancestors, but that’s okay, because Ririchiyo does too!
The release of this television series contains two language options- English and Japanese- though both tracks are limited to only a stereo mix likely due to the materials only being available to Sentai in that manner given how the original Japanese track was constructed. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was selected and the track is presented on the disc with no dropouts or distortions noted while the dialogue comes through clearly and it does at times make use of some minor directionality but for the most part the audio track matches the rest of the series in being competent but not really tasked with a whole lot to do to try to give a chance to shine. This isn’t Sentai Filmwork’s fault as it is reflected from the material but it still isn’t anything overly special and largely doesn’t help the show stand apart from the crowd.
Originally airing early in the 2012 Japanese television season, Inu x Boku Secret Service is presented here in its original 16:9 aspect ratio complete with an anamorphic encode. The series is largely one that uses an animation style that is strong enough to convey characters well enough (and at times break into super deformed style) though the video isn’t the most detailed available which gives the series a rather basic and at times almost generic sort of feel and it lacks much that could be considered establishing a particular look that would make it unique, which kind of matches much of the generic nature of some of the show itself. For this release Sentai Filmworks went beyond what is a long standard of putting 13 episodes and extras on two discs as Sentai spreads the material out over three discs though one wonders just how much of an improvement to the video quality this creates as the lack of detail that is part of this series and video issues present here aren’t exactly stunning.
Present on the disc is a level of fine noise that is usually moderate but at times it can combine with other instances to provide an annoying, if temporary, obnoxious distraction though most of the time it is rather minimal. Also present in the visuals is a bit of banding, some ghosting, minor aliasing at times (one in particular is pretty stand out), some blocking that at times can appear and disappear which can create a flicker effect as it comes and goes as well as some moments from the source material where some of the background images can bleed through some foreground characters.
The packaging for the houses three discs rather than the more typical two discs for a series of this length which is a more standard practice and to accommodate this the release is housed in a regular DVD sized case that includes a hinge insert that has space for a disc on either side with the final disc being stored in the back of the inside of the case. The cover for the release features Ririchiyo in her school uniform sitting on Souchi’s lap and turned toward him while the much larger Souchi appears to stare off into the distance over her and this image is set against a very blue background consisting of variously shaded triangles surrounded by a somewhat tan-stone boarder.
This boarder color carries over as the spine uses the same color for the background on the rest of the cover with the spine using a small image of Ririchiyo sitting and looking toward the viewer over her shoulder while the back has eight stills and a medium sized image of Ririchiyo and two other girls on the right while the middle/left has a large bubble for that contains the release’s copy. The discs on the other hand stand out more as each contains an image of a pair of characters from the series (an individual and their Secret Service guard) against a more colorful background also composed of variously shaded triangles. Overall the cover is likely not one destined to jump out at most people as it feels a bit subdued and flat in contrast to the energy the copy promises on the back and the front image just seems a bit uncomfortable as if neither character is sure they want to be there and the size difference between the two may give some a wrong impression…or possibly the right one considering that Ririchiyo is not yet 16 and Souchi is 7 years older than her.
The menus use are fairly basic in mechanics in that they use static images of character with the main menus featuring the same character’s from the respective discs on one side while the individual titles are listed on the other side. The Main Menu also lists the options selectable vertically with episodes being listed on top while the disc’s Language Option and Special Features (where applicable) are listed under while a portion of the themes play for background music on all the menu screens. The menus themselves are on the simplistic yet effective side as they are quick to respond to changes in selection and also respond promptly to whatever option was chosen.
The only extras present on the disc are the clean open and closes which is an industry standard but in this series case that standard gets a bit of a boost in that there are several closes for the episodes, each piece a character song from a different character (or characters) and as such the ending option runs for over 10 minutes. On the other hand it feels like there was a bit of a missed opportunity to include some liner notes about some of the characters and mythology found within the series but the extras still rise above average anyway.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
On paper Ririchiyo Shirakin appears to have the kind of life that most would envy- she is the daughter of a very wealthy and powerful family and is well educated and bright, a trait that seems to be as much a product of natural ability as the schooling that her status has allowed her. Of course the problem with basing things on paper is that they can fail to take everything into account and Ririchiyo’s case is reflective of that in a major way as she has no one she thinks of as a friend as almost all the people around her generally judge her based on her status or treat her in whatever manner because of it and not because of anything special about her as an individual. This has lead to Ririchiyo developing a particularly nasty habit of speaking with a sharp tongue to protect herself from both criticism and false praise which has simply furthered her oppressive isolation and causes her no small amount of regret as she often speaks first then gets depressed over what she said later.
Partially in order to fight this nature of hers, she has moved to an apartment building known as Ayakashi Ken just as she is about to begin high school in the hopes that she can break out of her suffocating habit. Of course even here there is a darker side to her desire as she doesn’t feel welcome even at home as she rarely gets to see her parents and even when she does she has never felt any love in particular from them. The cause for this is that Ririchiyo is seen as both more -and less- than a member of the family as the family has the blood of some of the ancient supernatural creatures from Japanese mythology running in it and Ririchiyo is one of the ones possessing the most of that blood in her generation which places her in an odd position in the family dynamic of more totem than daughter.
While this blood can be a boon as families with such a member in it are wealthy and powerful as if by a form of magic, that blood tends to cause them to be seen as “other” by the family and they are often not embraced even by their own parents. If that lose of familial bond wasn’t bad enough, the blood also calls out to those supernatural creatures that still exist when the sun goes down placing those with such a bond into a great deal of danger that the powers that come with such blood may not be enough to overcome. In order to combat this, the Ayakashi Ken employees some members with supernatural powers to guard those members from high families who chose to live in the apartment in a bodyguard position that they call Secret Service in order to help the other members survive encounters with the gods and monsters that aren’t as extinct as modern society would believe.
In Ririchiyo’s case when she arrives at the apartment complex she finds that a young man named Soushi Miketsukami has pledged himself to her as her guard, claiming that he knows all about her and that his loyalty comes from the fact that she saved him which catches her off guard as she doesn’t recall ever meeting him before. With that a strange relationship begins with a protector who can almost be suffocating with his affection and a young woman more prone to give out biting responses than expressing her true feelings…and the rest of the cast isn’t any improvement in the “normal” department as each member of the apartment seems to be possessed of more than just a supernatural lineage to explain their peculiarities and proclivities which create a building where misunderstandings, grudges and bizarre fetishes can gather and erupt at any time and which may turn out to be just the perfect place for a girl looking to change her perception of the world to fit in and perhaps change herself, assuming she doesn’t push everyone away first anyway.
Inu x Boku Secret Service is an odd mix of a series that blends together some of the more contemporary (and often generic) relationship series elements that have become dominant recently, particularly in the form of the stories lead who is a young woman just starting to bloom but who speaks often with an acid tongue that belies the somewhat sweet, loving and vulnerable girl who hides behind that mask in order to try to protect herself, though often each barb she throws wounds her more than the other she launches it at. In this regard the series does a pretty stellar job of creating an understandable psyche for its protagonist which may help the viewer to get close to her as she attempts to change the parts of herself she fears and hates while also giving a reason for her behavior.
Much of the rest of the cast isn’t quite as fortunate as the audience largely sees them more of how they wish to be seen by others as they present their public face to Ririchiyo but for the most part with less blatant reasoning for their actions which can make some of them seem particularly odd, especially in the case of Soushi as his devotion seems so over the top that it makes it almost seem insincere and while a fair amount of some of these stories are flushed out eventually in a few cases the pace of doing so keeps the work feeling a bit off through much of its run.
On top of this the set up of the story with the various characters all having special powers (among some other surprises) would seem to make for an environment rich with potential but so much of it is seemingly squandered by regurgitating the kind of stories that any relationship series could use the basic points for while often doing little to nothing of note with the parts of the story that make this series unique which can leave an empty feeling, especially when trying to watch a large number of episodes (or all) at once at just how much heart seems to be missing. In some ways the story feels like one where the outline was created before the characters and events were decided upon and then the particulars were just shoved into a readymade formula in order to either save time creatively or cause the audience to not think too hard (or the writers were just lazy) and the end result comes across as often a bit of a slog and definitely a waste of potential as when the series does try to use its own voice the program largely really rises to the challenge.
While most series tend to grow their characters slowly as a result of having “X” number of weeks on a broadcast schedule to fill for some reason in Inu x Boku Secret Service’s case these staples feel particularly tortured at times and requiring of more energy than most to get through which makes sitting down and watching all 13 episodes a task I just couldn’t accomplish as I kept growing weary of the parts of the series that seemed incredibly less than inspired and which when condensed together also terribly repetitive. The problem is that the material doesn’t have to be that way as there are a number of episodes that manage to just click almost perfectly and allow for the cast (or parts of it) to grow and show their uniqueness but then the next episode rolls around and the series gets mired in mediocrity which just feels even harder to take when coming off some spectacular moments.
Throughout the series there are incongruities that pop up in terms of some of the characters as at times some of them come across as very smart and at others they keep falling into the same patterns which created their problems and trip up the story and leave the impression that the characters are looked at as more a collection of quirks than an attempt to become a type of living (even if fictional) individual. Of course when one character in particular arrives this gets even worse as the story suddenly takes on a rather brash (often entirely too long) and somewhat raunchy tone that just throws an absolute wrench into the works as he is at such odds with the other characters personality that the bits where he dominates cause the work to feel like it derails as the rest of the story very often can’t compete. When all of this is taken into account it leaves a series that still has some fun to fantastic moments but which likely has just as many that will bore many if not completely turn off and one can’t help but see just how much better the whole might have been with more polish and a desire not to be like so many other series on the market and take chances to try to achieve that which leaves a product that is better than average on the whole but feels like it stands in its own shadow of potential and is so much the lesser for that.
Inu X Boku Secret Service is a tale of a sharp tongued girl who often regrets he words who attempts to grow beyond just trying to be just reactionary and so she moves into a unique apartment building where she meets a protector who says he deeply cares for her and other individuals who appear to understand her peculiar home situation as they have the same situations in that they all have the blood of some of Japan’s supernatural beings running through them. In this new environment the young girl will perhaps find her first chance to really find acceptance in her new family, assuming that she can live long enough to do this and not chase everyone off with her biting comments. Sadly with a fantastical set up so little time is spent on what makes this series unique and instead much of the series covers a generic sort of approach that has some spectacular moments sprinkled within but overall most people will probably find that they are forgetting much of the series as soon as they hit the Eject button if not before. There is some potential here for fun but it is so buried under pedestrian mechanics that it is probably best watched in small doses to get the most enjoyment in the long run which is a shame as it just screams at times how much more the series could have been.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closings
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 9th, 2013
Running Time: 325 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.