Youko’s world comes into focus as she takes action while more of the past is revealed in an engaging way.
What They Say:
A war fought with words can still have casualties.
The Kingdom of En is one of the strongest of all the Twelve Kingdoms. It was there that Youko was given the strength to become queen and Rakushun was given a chance to fit in. But now, the hand of war closes over En as a noble young official calls for rebellion. Lord Atsuyu kidnaps Enki with the help of enigmatic Koya. As the only human in all of the Twelve Kingdoms who can command Youma, Koya holds power equal to a Kirin. Enki sympathizes with Atsuyu’s ideals, and agrees to help him, but the standoff with King En turns deadly as the rebellion’s true nature is revealed!
Contains episodes 34-45.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty good as we get the original Japanese language track in both stereo and 5.1 mixes and the English mix in stereo, all of which is encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The show was originally recorded in stereo and got the Japanese upgrade a few years back, but it’s not a show that gains hugely by it, though the forward soundstage has more clarity and sense of placement about it because of the added levels. The series has a good balance of action and dialogue to it and the mix handles it well, with the music having some good warmth – particularly with the opening and closing sequences – while the action has some decent bass at times and overall a solid full flow to it. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2002 and 2003, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across three discs in a six/three/three format. Twelve Kingdoms has a very good looking transfer here with its high definition presentation. The series has a fairly earthy tone to it with some decent bits of vibrancy from time to time and some fluid animation that comes across well here. Colors are strong and generally solid throughout with some vibrant areas such as the green eyes or the color of skin coming across in great layers. A lot of the backgrounds and look of the worlds is done in somewhat drab colors, going for the realism look (especially when you have everyone without colored hair). The series uses the same source materials as the Japanese high definition release, with a different disc count though, and it’s one that has a solid look overall and should be noted that it is not an upconvert but a native release.
The packaging for this release mirrors what we saw with the DVDs before and looks great as it uses a standard sized Blu-ray case to hold the three discs. The front cover uses the familiar illustration style artwork of Youkoi and Keiki together in the circle with some great border material that gives it a classic kind of feeling to it. The logo along the bottom is clean and easily readable and the arc name is included as well which adds a bit of weight to it. The back cover provides two strips of collage style shots from the show that blends together beautifully with the greater cast shown and it’s separated by the premise which is simple and minimal overall while also including some, but not all, of the extras that are on the set. Production credits round out the bottom part of the cover along with a clear and detailed technical grid that covers the Blu-ray specs well. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this series goes with a very simple approach that works well enough to set the mood. The general design is that of using a variety of clips from the series to show off in a full frame format which sets has a decent balance of action bits and some character appearances. Like most menus that work like this, it loops after a bit and has a decent look to it but it doesn’t really come across as striking. The navigation strip along the bottom has the series logo along the left while the rest has the standard selections that load quickly and are easy to navigate. The navigation doubles as the pop-up menu as well and looks decent when it hits during the show itself.
The only extras included in this release are on the second disc which is a fifteen minute staff interview video piece with the Japanese side of the production.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While it’s not surprise, the three lead women of this particular arc that carries over from the previous collection continue their individual stories in this set. Each of them get something of a small recap of what’s led them to where they are now and we see how they’re all circling each other initially from their wide orbits and now how they’re getting much closer together. Shoukei’s story is probably the one I still find the most interesting since she’s had the most to change throughout it and the most to learn in a way. As she’s journeyed from Hou to Kei, she lucks out the most as well by coming across Rakushuu and he does his usual good job of being a guide and simply talking a lot which helps explain things to her and to the viewer. Before Shoukei even realizes that Rakushuu is friends with Youko, she’s come to understand and trust this Hanjyu so well that when the revelation does come her views on Youko are so easily shifted that it changes the course of her destiny at the same time, particularly with the group of people she falls in with once in the kingdom of Kei.
Suzu’s tale is a bit more all of the map at times, largely due to her grief over what happened to Seishuu. With Asano basically being abandoned to his own ways, Suzu tries to deal with the way that nobody seems to want to help her seek justice against the man who did it. Her story is the most straightforward of the bunch in a way since it gets us the closest to the “villain” of this arc in Shoukou, the person in charge of this part of the province. He’s widely regarded as a fairly evil man with the way he levies the seventy percent tax on his citizens, the way he kills them freely for being even a penny under and the way he keeps such an iron control over it all and gets away with it. Much of the people live there in fear and Suzu has a hard time really coming to grips with it. She ends up blaming Seishuu’s death not on Shoukou directly but she blames Youko for it as the Queen in that she lets someone like Shoukou remain in power while someone like the lord of Baku is removed from power. Suzu ends up falling into the planned insurgency group that lives in the area after she reveals her intent and this brings her into some interesting new areas.
Youko’s tale continues on as she spends her time in the rike and we see her exploring more of the surrounding area as she tries to understand the way of the world. What comes strongly to her as she learns more and more is that so much of what goes on in this world in how things happen are controlled by the Heavens. Being from Hourai this is difficult for her to accept but it’s something that becomes key to her finding her place within this world. What’s really interesting with Youko is that over the course of the five episodes she ends up coming into contact with both Suzu and Shoukei at different times and pulling their orbits closer together. Though they only know her as Youshei and not as the queen, she ends up causing a ripple effect that’s causing events she started herself during the assassination attempt to work down this far into society and work its way back up.
The time spent here in Wa Province is very illuminating but its taken time to get there for it. The original assassination attempt, as expected, is part of a bigger maneuver than originally thought and Youko’s making discoveries and learning her Kingdom well here, though it does allow the ministers to continue to try and consolidate their power while she’s gone. Keiki’s counsel is amusing since his honesty ends up infuriating her more due to her inability to listen back when it was important that she seem like she was thinking for herself and to now realize just how much more of a mess she made. But I still think it was more important that she end up out in the real world to see what’s going on, though she ended up a bit too stationary by hanging around with Enho and at that Rike, which lead to some of the nastiness found here.
With Shoukou making his plans and continuing to do what he does to defy the heavens and prove that they don’t really punish anyone, his manipulations with Gahou have led to a number of small resistance attacks in various parts of the province. Those that are attacking are doing it in an interesting and effective way, causing trouble in one area, distracting the soldiers in another and then striking elsewhere. Some of the towns are still completely left in fear not only of Shoukou but also what would replace him since they believe it would be more of the same or worse. So while others around them start to rebel, some towns are just hiding in their homes and not coming out until it’s all over.
The movements made by the groups are quite fun to watch, since Youko aka Youshi is doing her best to try and guide things to a way she’s able to control the outcome of. Having learned so much during her time out in the real country and dealing with its people, she’s determined to not let what happened in the castle happen again. She had been so easily manipulated there into doing what others want that she’s ensuring a much more hands on approach this time around. She’s insistent on controlling her own destiny and making things right by her own hands. Granted, she’s doing it with the help of a thousand or two people that are fighting back against her own mistakes, as well as a couple of unseen helpers that are decimating the troops, but it’s her force of will that’s the strongest here.
There are some profoundly powerful moments throughout these episodes, though most really come after the battles have been fought. When Keiki comes onto the scene in his transformed state and Youko rides him to deal with the uprising within the ranks of her own military, there’s an amazing sense of real power on display there and its ripple effect throughout the ranks from the top to the bottom is evident. Her time spent with the citizenry has given her the new perspective on how to properly talk to and deal with them as a whole, which is then reflected in how she deals with those she fought by during the rebellion against Shoukou. Though they’re all deferential to her once they realize just who she is, she continues to deal with them on a one on one basis and is able to get past the ranks and such to get to the person and draw them out to say what they really want.
As much fun as the big epic moments are in battle and in their resolution, what makes this series just so engaging to me is those exchanges of dialogue and even the speeches. The epilogue section of this arc brings about so much change, so fast and so effectively, that when you sit back to take it all in you realize just how important it is and you go back to rewatch it. Youko’s first true ordinance as the Queen of Kei is, much like said by another ruler, an attempt to truly heal the soul of a kingdom that is in dire need of it. It’s such a radical change and one that’s needed to set things straight, giving the populace a chance to almost reinvent themselves that it’s only something that she could comprehend after he time spent out in the real world away from the rulers and those of status. When she gives that speech after rearranging her court, I’ll say that it almost had me feeling a bit weepy because of just how powerful the scene and the words are.
What the show does from here in its last episodes is to start winding things down in an unusual way, bringing out one more tale as told by the King of En from his early days five hundred years prior and how Youko can use the lessons from it to deal with her own situation with Shoukou. Reflecting at the site of a grave where an enemy of sorts of his has long since resided, Shouryuu takes us back to when he had been king for barely twenty years in the land of En. It’s an interesting time for him as his ministers and confidents still don’t trust him, mostly because he’s in the same kind of situation as Youko in that he’s trying to understand the land and the world. He does much the same thing in going to ground every once in awhile and mixing with the common folk which upsets his ministers to no end, especially when he ends up sweeping up in a brothel in order to pay for the nights services. But it is at this level that he gets some of the best gossip of his kingdom and understands some of the currents, as much as you can trust gossip at least.
With it being only twenty years since the previous King had been dispatched, his having been a bad tenure that went very much downhill as he ravaged the lands and its people, things are only now starting to settle. Most of the provinces are going through revitalization periods and starting to flourish quite well, the dark grays of the lands are shifting to greens and the people are placing their faith in their King, which in turn places his faith in the people and that helps heal the lands. The only area that is a problem is the province of Gen. During the dark period before Shouryuu, the provincial governor there had found himself being quite the lackey to the previous king and did all that was required, over collecting in taxes, executing “traitors” and other dark deeds as it was the only way for him to survive.
But before those days came to an end, he was cast aside by his son Atsuyu who was much loved by the people and supported his attempts to take power and protect the province. While all the other provinces around them fell to ruin, Gen flourished and grew prosperous. The expectation was that once Shouryuu came to power, Gen would prosper even more but in the end it was surpassed by the others. The people of Gen came to love Atsuyu even more and began to distrust the King of En and slowly the province gains in its power and its rumors and before anyone really knew it, the province has the same size army as the Royal Army. Since citizens cannot simply claim a position like a provincial governor and it must be assigned by the King, the political arena starts to heat up as Shouryuu starts to exert his power and influence in controlling a situation where a huge rebellion could sweep the entire country.
To make matters worse for him, he ends up losing his Taiho, Enki, to the Gen province when he’s captured by one of their commanders. This is actually one of the main arcs of the story as we’re introduced at first to a young boy who is an orphan from the wars that brought the last king down but has been raised by a Youma. Enki came across him at one point and ended up being the only friend he made at that point. The boy even took on the name Enki gave him, calling him Kouya, as well as naming his Youma friend Rokuta so that he’d never forget Enki. Kouya’s life takes a different turn though when he comes across Atsuyu and his compassion brings the boy to his side, turning him into one of his most able commanders and eventually someone who is able to get close to the King by knowing Enki.
The four episodes that tell this tale are fascinating to watch as it shows the play of power that we had seen in the previous arc but in a different manner. There are plenty of similarities and differences, particularly in the way Shouryuu does things in general, and both are very interesting. The same reasons that every other arc in this series has been engaging to watch is just as true here as there are so many nuances to what’s going on that it simply envelopes you as the story gets told. Even when Youko is nothing more than a bookend to each episode while Shouryuu tells his tale, you can see how it’s something that will affect how her story is told as it goes forward. It’s filled with political intrigue, action, deception and a range of elements that when done in the four episodes that lead up to the recap and summary simply put so many other series to shame. So much happens here that it’s almost surprising if we hadn’t had the forty episodes prior to it doing the same thing.
With it being cut short from its original promise, at least in terms of episodes, Twelve Kingdoms ends in a way you wouldn’t wish on an enemy by doing a recap. That said, everything we get prior to it is just gold as it deals with so many plot lines and characters and large situations. The time with Youko is among the best as we see her starting to understand her kingdom more in the way that was necessary, since she was never truly a part of it before, and through it we get to see so many storylines in action that have come together. The follow-up material is just as engaging as a flashback piece since it’s instructional for Youko to learn what others have dealt with and it allows other characters to take center stage, which has been a strong point in the series as a whole. Revisiting this series after so many years has me pining for either a new adaptation of the source material or a continuation in some form, something that has been happening more and more the last year or two with reboots and remakes. If there’s a series I want to fall under that banner, it’s this one, if only to get more of it adapted. Definitely a worthy show and a worthy series to own on Blu-ray, even with the odd structure of the collections and episode counts.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, Staff Interview
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Media Blasters
Release Date: December 13th, 2011
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
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.