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Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher Blu-ray Anime Review

9 min read

Avengers Confidential
Avengers Confidential
Sometimes you can’t send the top tier heroes to save the day.

What They Say:
After interfering with a top secret mission, THE PUNISHER is taken into custody by S.H.I.E.L.D. AGENT and AVENGER, BLACK WIDOW. At the orders of Director Nick Fury, Punisher and Black Widow are sent on a mission to stop LEVIATHAN, a global terrorist organization, that plans to sell stolen S.H.I.E.L.D. technology to the highest bidder. Now, the vigilante and spy must work together to prevent this technology from falling into the wrong hands. The fate of the world, and of the AVENGERS, hangs in the balance.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release brings us both the English language mix and the Japanese language mix in 5.1 using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. With this being a direct to video feature, they do a decent job with the audio presentation here as we get a strong forward soundstage mix throughout it with some decent things thrown to the rears, largely for action but also with dialogue from time to time. The forward side is where it all really takes place though and with the guns, the fisticuffs and ships that flit about from time to time, it has a pretty good dynamic to it that lets it stand out well. The weapons have a good bit of impact with the bass and the hand to hand side also works well in this regard to let it stand out. Dialogue is largely well placed when needed but is mostly a center stage mix. There’s some good clarity here with both language mixes and the end result is a show that definitely works well no matter which language you watch it in.

Video:
Originally released in 2014, the transfer for this feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show clocks in at just 83 minutes, including credits, but features some great looking Madhouse animation. The authoring here captures the look of the show well since it plays to the darker tones for a lot of it but it also hits some good depth and detail to it. With both lead characters wearing variations of black, there’s good definition to them with the detail and depth of color. Madhouse doesn’t skimp here compared to a lot of their other productions so anime fans get a good looking show with the kind of fluidity that at expect from them as well as the kinds of designs. The bit rate for the show is largely around the middle of the range but it does some good bursts higher in the high action scenes but doesn’t spend much time in the lower range for the most part, which certainly helps.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release is pretty much the weakest part of this, though that’s partially by design. We get a standard sized Blu-ray case that with an O-Card over it that mirrors what’s on the case itself. The O-Card take sit a little further as the logo is done with an embossed style while the artwork side has the silver foil aspect to it that gives it a bit of life. With a heavy logo at the top, the main feature here is the character artwork of the two leads and a few other top-line heroes. Unfortunately, the designs across the board just look bad and not representative of the animation itself or good comic book artwork. It’s just plain bad looking overall. The back cover works the silver aspect the same way but it has a more solid approach that works relatively well. What we get through the center here is actual animation material so you get a good look at how the characters actually look, which is placed underneath the premise summary. The middle strip gives us a look at the extras and the obnoxious Ultaviolet details. The rest is given over the a small breakdown of the discs features and a look at the production credits for the feature. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design for this release unfortunately works with the cover artwork for its main design and it takes a few steps worse by using the motion blur aspect from the silver foil and making it even more prominent here. The character artwork through the middle is just awful looking and the blur aspect of it just makes you look at the character artwork all the more. There’s no logo for the film used here and all we get otherwise is a decent navigation strip along the bottom that has the usual selections. Load times are very slow throughout when going to different actual selections, especially when viewing the extras, almost to the point where you don’t want to bother looking further at them because it’s not smooth or seamless.

Extras:
The extras for this release are pretty welcome with what we get with it. The first piece is a conceptual artwork gallery that you can step through individually but also launch as a smooth movement video. We also get two behind the scenes featurettes that run about ten minutes each that goes into how the film was made and conceived, working with the English language production team for it. It’s not one that lets Madhouse stand out here with how they worked on it, focusing more on the overall tone and style as well as story and English language voice direction.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Over the years, I’ve been a fan of the DC Animated Universe more than what Marvel has done with their animation. A lot of their shows, especially during the Lionsgate distribution era, just looked amateurish and awful. Outside of Spectacular Spider-Man, I’ve not been able to get into their animated properties at all. What changed a bit was the Madhouse project a couple of years ago that netted us four TV series that, while problematic, worked better for me, and the Iron Man feature with the Technovore. The latest one to come is this Avengers: Confidential feature that focuses on Black Widow and Punisher as animated by Madhouse based on a story Marjorie Liu.

The feature is one that is admittedly predictable in a lot of ways, but it works as a low-tech mission that lets some of the second string players get their time in the sun. It’s easy to do a feature with the name characters of Captain America or Iron Man or another Hulk feature. Here, those characters are kept out of the mission at hand since they would be susceptible to being controlled by another force. And having them in those hands would prove disastrous. Better to work with the covert side of things and that means a solid Black Widow mission within the SHIELD structure for her. The simple premise is that SHIELD technology has ended up in the hands of a growing terrorist organization known as Leviathan out of Russia. SHIELD is work through their tracking of the situation to find out where the technology is being redistributed from, but it all goes awry when Frank Castle, aka the Punisher, deals with it on a street level and messes up their operation.

With hints at a larger relationship that exists between him and Nick Fury across a couple of scenes, we see how Fury forces the situation to his favor to put Frank and Natasha to work together to figure out what’s going on. It’s the obvious not-welcome partnership that gets underway, but one that has mutual goals and some time to spend beating the snot out of each other a bit. For the Punisher, it’s about eliminating the problem that’s causing a lot of death and carnage in the streets and that factors into his more personal mindset. For Black Widow, it’s cleaning up a loose end that’s out there, an unknown one, that involves SHIELD that could lead to a lot more problems down the line. But for her, it also turns really personal when she discovers that the one in Leviathan that’s supplying the technology is a former SHIELD scientist and one that she had a semi-relationship of sorts with that pushed him in this direction.

With these two as the primaries for the bulk of it, there’s a lot to like in general as it goes with an infiltration operation that gets out of hand, provides its reveals and has a little globe trotting going on in order to get things settled – including some time in Madripoor. There’s no real surprises with the feature as it goes on, but what it does do it does well. Punisher and Black Widow are enjoyable enough characters and the dynamic is about as you’d expect between the two of them since Frank isn’t exactly a team-up kind of guy. That they find a working relationship isn’t a surprise, but I did like that they focused on their own missions as well, though Natasha’s is the one that feels like the primary story because of her connection to the former SHIELD scientist. The action side of it is handled very well for these two between fists and guns and that’s a big plus. I also like that they do call in some of the big guns towards the end in a sprawling fight scene that lets us see Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and a hugely welcome appearance by Captain Marvel.

In Summary:
With a good bit of fleshing out and meshing with the existing Cinematic Universe, I could easily see this as the bones to flesh out for a live action film. What we get here is pretty much a standard story that’s focused on getting from point A to point B with a couple of mild twists along the way. It does what it sets out to do and it does it well, but it could be more at the same time. It’s simply a tight piece that’s focused on hitting its marks, since doing really emotional stuff is still hard for superhero animation. But this one does try as it focuses on Natasha’s past relationship and its meaning in this situation, even if it is rather predictable. For a lot of fans of these characters, they’re simply not anime fans so they have a huge distaste for the style. It seems like there’s a small amount of crossover between the two, which is unfortunate. I really liked the designs here, the animation and the fluidity of it when it gets going. Black Widow is really fun to watch and listen to – in both languages – and they captured the Punisher pretty good as well. It may not be a standout effort, but I had a lot of fun with it and it was good to see these characters get their own feature and it left me wanting more.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Conceptual Art Gallery, The Vigilante Vs. The Spy, Espionage And Punishment

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: C
Menu Grade: C-
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: March 25th, 2014
MSRP: $19.99
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.

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