What They Say:
Life is tough during the Warring States period of medieval Japan: lords battle lords for control of the country, while samurai and mystical warriors do their bidding from the shadows. Backstabbing and betrayal are common, and legendary ninja Saizo Kirigakure has had enough. He lives only for himself – until a girl with a mysterious dark power falls into his arms.
Saizo quickly finds himself dragged into a struggle between powerful warlord Ieyasu Tokugawa, and the strange but alluring Yukimura Sanada. He becomes one of “Sanada’s Ten Braves,” who use their mystical powers and ninja abilities to protect the people and things they care about the most.
The audio presentation for this series is definitely very good as the PCM stereo mix here has a strong design to it overall but also a good bit of depth to it. The PCM mixes always feel a bit more impressive than the lossless codecs that are out there and what we get here has a touch more warmth to parts of it but also just a fuller sound. The show has a fair mix of action and dialogue to it with the expected incidental music and various sounds but it mostly plays to what you’d expect from a show of this time period. The magic side comes across well and adds a bit of flash but there’s fun with swords and other traditional weapons that are well placed across the forward soundstage. It won’t stand out in a huge way, but it works well and represents the source material well with no problems such as dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2012, the transfer for this twelve episode series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two discs with eight on the first and four on the second. Animated by Studio Sakimakura, the show has a pretty good look about it with some very smooth animation throughout and some very glossy scenes when things go big with the action. While some shows go for a darker and earthy look for a series like this, they work a better balance here with some brighter colors but mostly avoiding going too vibrant, though Isanami’s outfit hits that mark sometimes. In general, it’s a very solid looking show with its animation that doesn’t skimp and the transfer captures it very well with no discernible issues to be had with things like cross coloration, background noise or other line noise during busy scenes.
The limited edition packaging for this release is as strong as we’ve seen with pretty much all the other NIS America releases as we get the heavy oversized chipboard box that has a real heft to it. The front cover has a great big image done illustration style of Saizo and four other members of the Sanada Ten with a fall tone to it in the background. The back side of it provides Saizo again with a different combination of them and some of the more villainous side of it that has a touch more red to the background, giving it a bit more intensity. The hardcover book inside is really well done, though it has a bit less than some others in terms of materials. We get the twelve episode breakdown with summaries and visuals from the show and a rundown of the various characters with their own pages and artwork. While we get no promotional images or Japanese cover artwork, we do get some translated poetry from the work that definitely fits well with things.
The two clear thinpak cases in the box work a similar style to the box itself as we get some illustration style pieces for them that does different character configurations. The pairings work well to provide a black and white contrast as each one is different but full of good looking character artwork with some solidly enjoyable expressions. The back covers add more of the artwork of other characters with a rundown of what episodes are on what disc with titles and numbers and a good technical grid that covers everything cleanly and clearly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release goes with a fairly simple approach here as it works a variety of clips with poses and action moments from the show. It lets the ten get their time in the sun and the overall look is good for that with some of the framing for it. The navigation aspect for it is kept along the lower right with a nice little bit of black and yellow style that has the standard selections while a small widget is along the upper left that indicates which disc it is. Submenus are quick and easy to load and navigation works without any problems to be had.
The release has a few extras included with it that are on the second volume as we get the clean opening and closing sequences as well as a collection of the original Japanese commercials and trailers.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga of the same name by Kairi Shinnotsuki which began back in 2007 and has eight volumes under its belt before changing magazines and starting a new series, Brave 10 is a series animated by Studio Sakimakura for TMS Entertainment. The manga itself had a North American pickup under TOKYOPOP but with their shutdown the license has gone to limbo since then. Brave 10 revolves around a familiar period of time and on the group known as the Sanada Ten Braves, the group that was involved with Yukimura Sanada during the key Sengoku period of Japanese history. So there’s definitely a layer of familiarity with it if you’ve seen shows involving this time period, but it also has to strike out on its own and define itself. Which can be hard to do with so much material covering the same time.
While the show has a good sized cast to it just going by its name, it has to have a central focus and that comes in the form of a wandering samurai named Saizo. Through a luck encounter, he rescues a cute young woman named Isanami from attack in the forest and she manages to cajole him into escorting her back to Ueda where she lives. Since a bit of food is involved, and she has a hearty appetite, it’s not a bad thing to pass up for one who wanders as much as he does. He’s able to tell there’s something different about her as their brief journey goes on, but the scale of it he doesn’t quite realize since there are quite a few people after Isanami, revealing that she’s a priestess of Iga and wanting her dead. Of course, Saizo’s the kind of guy who can’t walk away from that, but as he points out he’s not exactly going to give his life for her. But a challenge is a challenge and we get some really fun action here with the fight sequences.
Isanami’s hopes of finding help in Ueda falls a bit short though as we learn how those she was with previously were all killed and her shrine having fallen to the attack. Going to another shrine for help only has them refusing since they don’t want to get caught up in her quest for revenge or being attacked themselves. For Saizo, you know that he’ll eventually give in to it all and help her, but he’s resistant to it for as long as he can be since he doesn’t want to get involved either. While there is a good bit of action to it, and it’s well animated, there’s also a supernatural element that comes into play as it progresses as well with some very skilled warriors becoming part of things. But like other series of this nature, the more you know the characters and their standing in history, the more you’ll get out of the connections and the reworkings of it.
With Saizo and Isanami having a working relationship at the moment that helps out at least Isanami, the pair are starting to get a little familiar with each other, though as is expected, Isanami kind of runs roughshod over him and he just flaps in the wind trying to cope with it. What throws a wrinkle into the mix early on here though is the arrival of Ana, a blonde haired woman who has quite an interesting skill when it comes to creating ice and using it as a weapon. Even more complicated is the arrival of a few other people in the group she’s with that are again hoping to use Isanami for their own purposes now that she’s spending her time there in this village. And with it being just about festival time, having a priestess of her nature there is a plus so everyone is trying to get something from someone.
While the festival has its fun moments, the show also thrives on action and Saizo does easily deliver that once again here, though it feels a bit forced. With people dealing with a rumored uwabami creature in the area, it’s Saizo and Isanami that end up coming across it and he has to deal with it before it kills him. It’s a pretty brutal critter when you get down to it, but the main feature about it is that it’s designed to cause Saizo more problems. And those problems are being buried alive with Isanami. It’s one of the ways to get the two of them together in a confined space where there’s nothing to do but talk and get to know each other. It helps Saizo understand her a bit more, to soften just a touch with her, and also to let the viewer take in her struggles and their relationship.
With the foundation of the series being the relationship between the two, it’s well handled early on and doesn’t change too much from there. Where it does grow is in that we get to have them moving on, which has Saizo ending up in Yukimura Sanada’s place in Ueda where he’s growing his power. With Saizo being a masterless warrior, which he’s quite pleased with, he does end up opting to work with him in order to discover more of what the truth behind Isanami is when it comes to her mysterious power and the pin that holds it. Sanada has a reputation to use and an interest in what Isanami is, a good part of it being that he knows that the power that she has can change the destiny of people and potentially the nation. So he’s not intent on getting it from himself but rather keeping it from others that could abuse it in the worst possible way. Because of the draw Sanada has, he’s able to put a few people to helping Saizo and Isanami as they go on their journey to investigate the truth of it all.
And that’s what the crux of most of the series it. While there’s some decent stuff with the Koga ninja early on and we get the competitive side towards the end with the Iga ninja showing up with their far more outlandish abilities in full show, the bulk of it involves the core pair on their journey, which adds Kakei early on, and then introduces more along the way. We get the usual variety as the ten is built up, which includes a one-eyed man with strong potential, a buddhist monk type with an amusing connection to Isanami that’s revealed and we also get the kid character who is all about fire and tossing bombs. The whole concept of the ten revolves around the idea of the important elements that protect the yin/yang piece that’s in the middle of it all, which is what Isanami is. It’s not a bad idea and it’s one that I imagine the manga can work a lot better without the time constraints. But cramming that many people in here, plus others like Date and Hattori Hanzo, they get some nods but mostly just the interaction with each other to define them.
While the show has its end game here and a definite goal to achieve, it crams it all into the last episode or two and spends a good part of it with an illusion world used by the Koga enemy to confuse them. We also get an episode largely focused on the politics of the time as Date is pulling one over on Ieyasu, which does make sense if you’ve watched enough shows from the Warring States period, but it all just feels like too much on top of everything else. The series has some good fun along the way, complete with obligatory hot springs sequence, but it doesn’t have a strong enough narrative to carry it through. Something about it just doesn’t hit the right sweet spots nor does it truly separate itself out from the countless other shows involving some of the characters and setting. It’s familiar and it has its moments, but it’s simply not compelling. With all the polish, it just lacks in a strange narrative and characters that you reall can connect with.
Having watched a large number of shows over the years from this period, I’ll admit that it needs to be something special for it to work for me. Brave10 does a good job overall with what it has and its limited run since it has to deal with so many characters and it does it all with good, solid animation and some spot on designs. I like the production as a whole and what it does, but the story simply didn’t connect for me and the characters are pretty shallow overall, asking more of you to just remember who the key ones from history are and work from there. Saizo and Isanami are at the core of it and while they get the most time, you never really feel like they become fully rounded characters and instead are just more pieces to be moved across the board – acquiring more pieces along the way – until the inevitable end of the arc. NIS America has put together a solid premium edition here and fans of the show will definitely like what they get here, from the packaging to the book to the presentation of the show itself. There’s a lot to like, but it just didn’t work well for me.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening and Ending, Japanese Commercials, Japanese Trailers
Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: NIS America
Release Date: October 8th, 2013
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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.