Off in the mountains of Japan somewhere, a high school girl with special sacred blood and her five not-quite-human guardians watch over a sacred sword that can destroy the world.
What They Say:
Every girl dreams of being an enchanted princess, but how many stop to think about all the grim and horrible things that happen in fairy tales? That’s a lesson Tamaki learns all too graphically when she’s attacked on the way to her grandmother’s house by creatures she thought only existed in myths! Fortunately, she’s rescued by an extraordinary young man: one who’s not only part demon, but her future classmate as well, and one of the protectors that Tamaki will need if she’s going to fulfill her destiny as a Tamayori princess. A destiny that no one’s bothered to tell her she’s inherited until now!
If it wasn’t bad enough to learn that every plan she’s had for the future has to change, to top it all off Tamaki still has to start attending a new high school as well! The new girl in school will have to learn how to deal with some very, very old-school-type problems in a hurry in Hiiro no Kakera – The Tamayori Princess Saga.
Audio: For this viewing, I listened to the 48 kHz 448 kbps 2.0 Dolby Digital English track. The audio is usually well balanced, though there were some occasions when the background music volume was raised too high, drowning out the dialogue during a couple of somewhat more dramatic scenes. There were no notable dropouts or distortions during playback.
Video: Originally airing in spring 2012, the show is presented in its original aspect ration of 16:9 with anamorphic playback capability. In general the video is fine. It probably helps that the 13 episodes are spread over three discs (4/4/5), which gives plenty of room for the video and two audio tracks. The colors are very rich, which is important because of the many sweeping background scenes. It is pretty clear, however, that one is watching video that is being upscaled for playback on a high definition device from a standard definition MPEG 2 encoded recording, as some scenes feel as if they lack a certain level of definition, but overall the picture quality is good. No noticeable artifacts were visible during the viewing session. Perhaps the slightest hint of grain on a rare moment, but you have to look for it.
The cover features a picture of the five guardians in poses and expressions that are meant to give a shorthand description of their personalities, easy to do with their paint-by-numbers personas. No sign of the title princess on the cover, she’s instead on the back art along with stills from the show.
The disc art uses images of the guardian characters in their school uniforms, except for Suguru who is in his usual traditional Japanese outfit.
Menu: The menus have static images of the guardians. Load times are quick and the menus are serve their purpose well enough.
Extras: Very little in the way of “extras,” should we even call them that. The first disc has the usual helping of trailers. The second disc contains the textless versions of the OP and ED animation.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
For the blu-ray release, take a look at Chris Beveridge’s review.
Based on the visual novel aimed at the female market by Idea Factory, this release contains the first half of a two-season adaptation. Its heritage is clear from the setup: Tamaki Kasuga appears to be a somewhat average, yet cute, high school girl whose parents have transferred overseas for work, so she moves to her maternal grandmother’s village in the mountains to live. We’re immediately let in on the fact that this is no ordinary village and Tamaki is not an ordinary girl when she starts seeing monsters while climbing up the mountain to her grandmother’s house, which is part of a shrine complex. She is saved from the monsters by Takuma Onizaki, a gruff brute, but who obviously has a gentle heart. Why? Because we’re in the land of otome games, and thus we will slowly see Tamaki surrounded by a reverse harem of male stereotypes with thinly developed personalities: in addition to Takuma the strong, silent type, there is Mahiro Atori (short, short-tempered, but also unserious), Yuichi Komura (silent, cool, and weird), Shinji Inukai (younger, slightly girlish), and Suguru Ohmi (the one non-highschooler, being already an adult and the acting leader of the group). These five are Tamaki’s guardians, as it’s revealed that she is the Tamayori Princess, a girl who has the blood of an ancient priestess who sealed away a powerful and incredibly dangerous artifact, the Onikirimaru. This cursed sword could destroy the world if the five seals guarding it are destroyed and the sword returns to this world.
Of course, where there are powerful artifacts, there are powerful enemies looking to take possession of them, and so we are introduced to the villains for this season, an organization called Logos who have sent a team of powerful people with various abilities headed by a little girl named Aria Monado, the “holy maiden.” Her four agents, codenamed by the German numbers One through Four (Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier), overpower the guardians and break the seals in an attempt to get control of the Onikirimaru. To end this little bit of plot summary, there is a major fight at the end of this season, which also involves important revelations about Tamaki, the Tamayori Princess, and the backstories of many of her guardians. It’s a decent ending point, though it is clear that there is more story to tell, since not everything has been revealed about the Tamayori Princess and her role in this world.
The intended audience for this series is easily marked out by something as basic as the character designs and their accompanying personalities. Tamaki is cute, but not remarkably so, with what appear to be average intellectual and athletic abilities. Attractive, but not a sexpot. Thus, she’s meant to be unthreatening to the audience of female viewers, who are intended to see themselves in Tamaki. Of all the female characters, only one would appear to be designed for male viewers, the overly buxom Vier, and she is one of the villains in the show. Because of the target audience, some of the more unsavory male fan fetish types are absent from this show. Male character designs conform to the standard palette of bishounen designs, with the usual inclusion of a cute girlish boy (Shinji), several high school heartthrobs (Takuma, Yuiichi, and bad-boy delinquent Ryou Kutani), and the adult (but not too old) Suguru.
For what was originally a visual novel, the plot is unexpectedly interesting, even if it is not particularly original or innovative. The key here is execution, in that the production team has down a good job of feeding the viewer bits and pieces of the mystery surrounding the Onikirimaru and the Tamayori Princess, just enough at a time to keep the viewer’s interest.
Unfortunately, that level of execution is not maintained overall for all parts of the show. There are times where the show sags and even comes to a near stop. It got pretty boring at a couple points. After Aria Monado and her overpowered henchmen easily wipe the floor with the guardians, you would have expected them to simply go ahead and seize all of the artifacts that create the seals on the Onikirimaru. Instead, there is a pause after the first fight and then Aria outright stops her mission to recover the sword because of internal suspicions she begins to form about some of her helpers, especially Drei (while the matter is unresolved in this season, it’s pretty clear that Drei is not to be trusted). During this pause, we get pelted with angst, but it provides more time for Tamaki to get to know the guardians, which is the real purpose of the show, following the dating sim nature of the original source. That source is blatantly on display at the very end of every episode, following the original Japanese end credits, where there follows a scene with various male characters (obviously Tamaki’s potential suitors in the game) talking to Tamaki (in first-person view) about spending time together.
In the end, we are left with as many questions as answers, since many threads stitched into this first season are not tied off by the end of it, especially the role of the government, as a shady agent from the Bureau of Medicine, Ashiya, makes occasional appearances, sometimes pretending to help Tamaki and friends, other times making it clear that his agency has its own agenda which will be revealed later. That’s not to say that the show leaves you feeling strongly dissatisfied with how it ended the season, but you do continue to wonder what will come next, if you were not too bored by the lull in the middle and dropped the show before the final episodes.
The dub is a fairly serviceable affair directed and adapted by Steven Foster. Emily Neves is fine as sometimes flustered, occasionally plucky Tamaki. Andrew Love growls a lot as Tamaki, Greg Ayres is raspy and irascible as Mahiro, David Matranga is even-toned and slightly off-kilter as Yuichi, Corey Hartzog is slightly weak (deliberately) sounding as Shinji, while Illich Guardiola’s Suguru is mature and refined. One unusual but nice touch is Luci Christian playing Tamaki’s grandmother, as we don’t often hear her in old lady roles. Hilary Haag voices Aria as an imperious child. All of the main and minor performances fit their roles well enough in service to the story.
It doesn’t seem to be much fun being a Tamayori Princess, but it does seem to come with perks, namely a ready-made harem for the lucky girl. While it doesn’t break any new ground or wow the viewer with a story that has not been told before, Hiiro no Kakera: The Tamayori Princess Saga is fairly well designed and executed, with the one major fault being a near pause in the plot for several episodes in the middle of the show, giving it a slight stop-and-start feel. Still, the mystery surrounding Tamaki and her guardians as well as the mysterious artifact that everyone is after was handled well enough to keep my interest and makes me curious as to what will happen next.
English 2.0 Dolby Digital, Japanese 2.0, English Subtitles, trailers, clean OP and ED animation.
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 16th, 2013
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG 2
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 anamorphic
Sony KDL-32S5100 32-Inch 1080p LCD HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Sony Bravia DAV-HDX589W 5.1-Channel Theater System connected via digital optical cable.