What They Say:
In another time and place, on a world of pain and sorrow, when someone dies, their soul doesn’t go to Heaven or Hell – it becomes a book. A book that reveals the deceased’s innermost secrets… and can be read by anyone. Protecting these priceless treasures is the elite organization known as the Armed Librarians. It’s their job to keep the books and the knowledge within them safe from those who would misuse or destroy them.
It’s a tough, dangerous job, so Chief Librarian Hamyuts Maseta recruits only the best and the brightest psychics to join her team of expert fighters. But will they be good enough to stop the fanatics of the Shindeki Church from wrecking vengeance on the entire world? Only time will tell, but that book hasn’t been written yet.
Contains episodes 1-27.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track and the English language dub in stereo with both of them encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. Like the DVD release, the show makes good use of that stage with both the action and dialogue as there is some solid placement for both depending on what’s going on. The action goes big when needed and it hits the right notes here with a decent fullness to it while the dialogue is crisp and clear. There’s some depth at times but most of it is pretty much just properly placed without any issues. The series has a bit of a bigger feeling some of the scenes here than it did on the DVD and overall it’s a solid improvement if not the most noticeable one. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing from 2009 to 2010, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The complete series of twenty-seven episodes is spread across three discs here evenly with nine episodes per disc. The show has some very good animation to it out of David Production that certainly looked good in standard definition but has a better sense of color design and detail here that comes across more clearly. The series uses a lot of detail both in the fluid animation moments as well as the backgrounds, giving it a pretty rich and lived in feeling for much of it. There’s a certain grayness to the world here, but not overpowering, and it has an earthy tone to it throughout that’s pretty appropriate for it. Colors have some good standout moments to be sure, especially when the abilities are fully in play, but the overall look is just good and fits the show well.
The packaging for this release gives us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds all three discs with a hinge inside to keep it all together. It’s a pretty tight and appealing package overall that keeps it from taking up too much space on the shelf. The front cover uses the familiar image of Hamyuts with her cleavage showing and a wicked grin to her face while being surrounded by a number of other important characters from throughout the series. There’s a light and illustrative feeling about it that definitely works well and gives it its own sense of personality and style that lets it stand out nicely. The back cover is a bit earthy itself with lots of browns and a sense of the old to it with the indistinct background. The premise is covered nicely but not gone into too deeply and we get more character material similar to the front cover here along the right. The shots from the show are decent but are only so useful considering their size while the remainder is given over to the usual production credits and a clean technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for the release is fairly standard here but nicely laid out and in-theme to make it work well across all three discs. The layout is the same, though the placement changes a bit, as we get a third given over to artwork that’s seen on the covers and elsewhere, which looks just as nicely detailed here as it does there, while the center has the logo across it. The right on the first volume has the navigation strip which uses a lot of the earthy colors with it to provide the breakdown of episodes by number and title, which also doubles as the pop-up menu during navigation. With the extras only on the third discs, all we have to deal with here otherwise is language setup, which is a breeze, and episode selection itself. The release works smoothly and easily.
The extras for this release are pretty simple with just the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the ten volume light novel series that ran from 2005 to 2010, The Book of Bantorra is a twenty-seven episode series that came from the original creator Ishio Yamagata. The original work also spawned a manga series that ran briefly, but it’s the anime series that is more the legacy at this point. Animated by David Production, it was fairly well received but was the kind of series that seemed to just disappear after it ended with little said since. In watching this series for the second time, which I definitely still think works better in watching in small batches, it’s something that the more I watched the more I felt that this would have been a strong show half a dozen years ago in a different market, which is why I’m glad it got a dub and a bit of an extra push. It’s a show that should do better in North America.
The series takes place in a world that has an interesting feeling to it where for much of it there’s an old world feel as it revolves around the Bantorra Library and some of the surrounding lands. It has a slight European feel to it where there’s a sense of villages and a decent sized city, but it also expands elsewhere later on to more of an early 20th century feeling as well. All of the locales are earthy in nature though, not dank or dark but just very lived in and a part of the world, especially with all of the detail provided in the animation. What makes this world truly unique though is that when people die, their essence and self is turned into a stone book. These books are all kept within the massive and deep Bantorra Library. The more important people are kept lower and safer, but this is because when you touch the Books, you can get glimpses of their lives and secrets. Those that run the Library are very important because of this and it’s also why they’re armed, hence being called Armed Librarians.
Everything revolves around these Librarians as they go out into the world to deal with finding particular Books that are lost, just created and so on. And within the world there are those that don’t want their Books to end up there, though most do, and there’s an organization called the True Men out there with their own plan that’s manipulating one of the Churches that operates using False Men in order to push back against the Librarians. There’s a lot of cruelty shown in the first four episode arc here as we see one of the True Men using a significant number of ordinary people that they call Meats simply because they’re not True Men. And they use them to contain bombs so they can get close to them and simply explode. And the way the Meats are manipulated is pretty cruel since they become nearly brain dead as they go about their missions.
The Book of Bantorra works through a few different arcs with this first set, averaging around four episodes each, and it helps to slowly expand the world that these characters inhabit. It takes time to get to know the characters though because of the kind of haphazard form of storytelling. The one main constant throughout it is the Acting Director of the Library with Hamyuts Meseta. We do see her origin later in this set which is pretty interesting with how she changes from what she was then to now. In the present, she’s an intense, capable and competent woman who manages the Library in a way the frustrates so many people but they know that she’s practically unstoppable in a way. Though she’s just an Acting Director, she’s probably more comfortable in the position than any past Director.
As the series goes on, the stories are similar in some ways with the structure of them and the way it changes the cast, but it also adds in a little standalone material as well. The standalone tales continue to add more to the overall nature of the world and how some of the characters are defined, but they’re not really character tales in a way. While we get some time with Milepoc hunting down Lascall in order to deal with that threat, we really don’t get to know Milepoc herself. And considering what she did to wipe her memories away in regards to Volken, I’m not sure we could really get to know her now anyway since she took a big chunk of who she is out by drinking the Argax.
Volken’s tale is one that definitely had its moments in the first half and that all comes around here again as well as we see that he’s making inroads in coming back to the Library, but it’s all for his own other purpose. His belief that Hamyuts is hiding something is certainly not without merit but it’s his approach that makes things complicated. When he does come back, it ends up being a sequence that has him leaving not soon afterward, but this time with Olivia Livlet, someone who is already quite complicated herself because of a past that gets explored in dealing with a part of the Church and some of their more sinister operations. It’s quite intriguing to see her childhood and how she found some sense of safety, but it’s done so quickly that it’s almost a wash in a way. And because of the nature of her personalities, it’s also hard to say at times who we’re really hearing from.
My main conflict with the show is that since it is so rich in material and characters for the setting, I feel like we could have easily had a hundred episodes for the show. Stories that are resolved in two or three episodes feel like they’d carry an entire normal thirteen episode season if done “right”, and by right I mean taking the time to us get to know the characters instead of the whiplash movements back and forth for events. All of the stories have a lot of potential and things to offer, but we move through them so quickly, often because of how Hamyuts has it all figured out before it happens and sets things in motion to deal with it, that the thrill of the stories are removed. Sadly, it at times almost feels like we’re watching a series of recaps rather than the real story itself.
But I do really like some of the reveals that come from this half of the series, such as learning the truth about the relationship between the Library and the Church and seeing new ascension at the Church itself with a surprising member. This also goes into giving us a better look at Lascall than we had before, especially as it all goes towards the point where the world is going to end and she becomes more than just a tool, just for a little while. What I disliked was in the final arc that we got Ruruta fully introduced as a character from the distant past, talked about here and there but that’s about it, suddenly becoming a focal point in such a fast manner that it felt like it came out of nowhere. And that’s a problem with a lot of the show but it all really comes down to that recap feeling it often presents.
The Book of Bantorra is a series that feels so rich and expansive with what it could be that the adaptation only feels like it’s scratching the surface. Most series tend to feel a bit more superficial so there’s definitely something to be said for this. But what we get is a hard and fast look at things as we barrel through episode after episode with these characters in their fight between Library and Church as the stakes raise and curiouser and curiouser elements get brought into play. There’s a lot of characters to like, but their lives are like candles in the wind here where you know it’s best to not get attached. I don’t mind characters being killed, but we don’t connect well enough with them to make an impact. I love a lot of things about this show but there’s some real hate to be had as well with its execution. I wanted so much more out of it than it was willing to give for whatever reason that it left me disappointed but still craving more and more.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: May 13th, 2014
Running Time: 675 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.