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Tokyo Ravens Part 1 Limited Edition Blu-ray Anime Review

11 min read

Tokyo Ravens CoverOnmyo magic, convoluted plots and mini arcs introduces us to a complex world.

What They Say:
Harutora may seem like an ordinary guy, but he’s actually a descendent of an ancient and powerful clan of onmyouji. Born without the family talent for magic, he’d always believed he was destined for a normal, boring existence. All that changed the day Natsume, a beautiful face from Harutora’s past, barged back into his life and forever altered the course of his future. When her sudden arrival leads to a violent and tragic encounter with a magical prodigy, Harutora agrees to fulfill a childhood vow by accompanying Natsume to the clandestine Onmyo Academy. Together, along with their incredible onmyouji classmates, they’ll attempt to survive life at a school where not even magic can get you out of your homework.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the new English mix that also gets a stereo design, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD codec. It’s a bit surprising still to see new shows getting just a stereo mix, but the English 5.1 bump doesn’t happen as often as it used to. With the action component here, I thought this one would get the nudge up there though. Overall, both tracks are certainly competent and represent the material well as there’s plenty of directionality throughout with some of the action sequences but also some fun with the dialogue scenes due to things like the school setting or how spread out the cast gets at various events. The action works the soundstage more overall though and it makes the forward area really shine a lot of the time with what it does in keeping it moving and engaging. The opening and closing sequences provide a good bit of lift to it all as well, making it a strong design for the kind of show that it is. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in the fall of 2013, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes of this half of the series are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by 8Bit, the show has a pretty solid look to it with a nice level of detail, some very good CG animation that blends well and a great mix of magic design with a lot of pop and vibrancy. The transfer captures this all pretty well outside of some minor line noise during certain panning sequences and some gradients visible in a few places as well. Colors are largely pretty solid and well toned as it moves across the spectrum because of the nature of the stories here, detail in the backgrounds is really good as there’s a lot of it there, and the characters have some very fluid motions when things really pick up and get going. The colors are where it shines the most overall, especially when the magic is used, but this is a very solid transfer overall that will please most fans.

Packaging:
The limited edition release of Tokyo Ravens works a familiar but solid approach as we get a heavy chipboard box that holds the set we get here with room for the second half when it arrives. The front of the box has most of the core cast together with a good look as they stand together, though it’s a mix of supporting leads as opposed to the main group overall. The back cover lets them stand firm as we get Harutoa, Natsume and Kon together and here with the way they’re designed, it has some great colors and a certain kind of pop that’s really appealing, especially when set against a black background. The logo is kept just to the front cover in a small way while it gets a better size and look along the spine and top. Within the box we get the spacer box that doesn’t have any artwork to it so you don’t feel bad in putting it in the recycle bin when the actual set arrives.

The case that holds the discs is a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case as it holds both formats on hinges inside. The front cover gives us a very good image of Natsume in her priestess garb with a bow alongside Harutora in his school uniform with his spear, boh of which are set against a matte black background. It doesn’t have a lot of pop but it has the right kind of seriousness to it that definitely makes it work well and look good. The back cover is done in a soft grey background where it spaces things out well, breaking down the contents along the top with a wide area set for the premise that’s easy to read and clean. The extras are clearly laid out as well and we get a decent selection of shots from the show. Production credits round out the bottom along with a solid dual format technical grid that conveys everything in a clean and clear way. The reverse side of the cover is one that give us a shot of a couple of other supporting players in their school uniforms which looks good and the cover is fully reversible with that.

Menu:
The menu layout for this release is par for the course in that we get a decent design overall that’s more function than form, but it gets the job done in a smooth enough way. With the logo to the upper left and the navigation to the lower left, we essentially get a series of clips playing throughout it that highlights the action over most everything else, but we get a few quieter scenes as well. THe navigation has a bit of the logo and its design to it set against black, which works well since the logo uses red and grey, while alongside it in a small font – small even on a 70” set – are the navigation options. The show doesn’t allow switching of subtitles with the language tracks as it’s locked, but you can change the audio during playback through the pop-up menu. Everything moves smoothly and quickly and we had no problems either at the main menu or during playback as the pop-up menu.

Extras:
The extras for this release are certainly familiar on one level, but we get some good things here overall, especially for English language fans. Those fans get two audio commentary tracks included here for episodes five and twelve with the cast talking about it, but they also get a video commentary for episode seven with four of the actors talking about the show as it plays out. We also get the clean opening and closing sequences and the first two Kon Explains It All features, which are about five minutes long and were released online in Japan as expositionary pieces for fans to understand some of the workings of the series.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the original novel series by Kouhei Azano, Tokyo Ravens is a twelve volume novel series, which began in 2010, and is being adapted by 8bit with Takaomi Kanasaki directing while Hideyuki Kurata doing the overall series composition. The series brings us back to something that I haven’t seen in anime for awhile, which is a good thing as we had a year or two where it felt like there were a deluge of shows revolving around Abe no Seimei, the onmyo mage from centuries ago that plays a pivotal role in many events. With this series, it’s set in the present day where it focuses on one of Seimei’s descendants, a young man named Harutora Tsuchimikado. But frankly, when you have mikado in your name, you have a good idea what your destiny is going to involve, no matter how much you just want to have a normal life.

Having watch his series in simulcast form, and liking it for the most part, I was definitely interested in checking this out in marathon form because of its structure. Working off of the light novels, what we get is a larger story here, but one told in smaller arcs with a standalone fun piece thrown in for good measure. This can help to really make it feel like there’s actual progress in the show as opposed to a stream of loosely connected stories. What’s also interesting with this show is that we get a solid progress of time as well, where the first episode and last episode in this set are separated by about a years worth of time. That helps to nudge the characters along in age, but we also avoid some of the familiar school trappings and instead focus on the story. The downside is that since they’re build a pretty big world here overall with how onmyo work as government sanctioned types, an actual academy and a mysterious organization looking to cause trouble, it can get a bit confusing and overwhelming.

But by doing this we also get some layering that works to its advantage. While the initial focus is on our high school age kids that are attending Onmyo Prep in Tokyo, the teachers and other adults are given a good bit of time and aren’t just faceless background characters. The evil organization comes into play where there are ties to the academy that goes back quite a few years and we also get some of the Twelve Generals, the high powered and seemingly free to do what they want types that are fully sanctioned in dealing with spiritual issues in the country. And that’s in the background of things here as a year prior to events in the series, there was a spiritual disaster that made a lot of headlines and provided for a lot of complications and heightened tensions when it comes to those with abilities. The stakes are obvious for many and those that train, who often have their own quirks or problems, know their position in the world after graduation will be important.

That said, there are familiar trappings to be had here. Harutora as the male lead has an intriguing start where the girl you think he’ll be in some sort of triangle in ends up killed in an attack by one of the Twelve Generals, though she’s trying to save someone herself and there’s just a lot of crazy collateral damage. While Harutora, a branch family of a larger and more powerful family, wasn’t intending to go to the Onmyo Prep Academy, this gets him to do so, and brings him closely into orbit with a childhood friend named Natsume. Natsume’s a very gifted spiritualist, but because of issues, she has to pretend to be a boy while at school – and in life in general – and that leads to the expected silliness along the way. What helps is that while Harutora does have her as a familiar friend at school, his other longtime friend of Touji ends up there as well. His storyline is interesting as it progresses, the most interesting for me really, as he’s really a half-ogre and the academy is going to help him to learn how to control and master that half, whereas Harutora’s father had helped him for years to learn how to suppress it. That opens some interesting doors to be played with.

Because of the structure of the show, the arcs work well in advancing the timeline. The opening three episode arc brings us into an idea of how spiritualists and the like operate here and some of the foundational issues. Time advances with the start of the school arc and all the introductions of faculty and students there, and complications for Harutora with Natsume, but also the introduction of his own familiar, a cute fox spirit named Kon. Kon’s a cute girl taken with her master, but it’s a teenager vs child kind of mindset so it has its moments, but never feels real in the sense that Kon wants it to be. Add in time with the ogre arc for Touji and then bringing in the “villainess” of Suzuka from the firs arc, now having to redeem herself by having her powers limited and back in school even as one of the Twelve Generals, and you can see a lot of the basic plots coming into play. But when you factor in the passage of time, it doesn’t feel like it’s hugely compressed and forced within a short period, and that kind of decompressed aspect, plus time to play with each arc, gives it more than enough room to breathe.

Revisiting this series again after a good eighteen or so months of distance, I do find a lot to like about it still. But the frustration I have is still largely the same in that I can’t feel like I’m introduced well to this world and that there’s too much that keeps me on the outside of it, particularly when it comes to the actual form and function of it all with the organizations that exist here. A lot of it really is that with the adults as they come into the storylines, they’re only lightly formed for the viewer. You get the feeling that the light novel readers will have rich back stories to populate the anime version with and that makes it a really engaging experience. But for a new viewer, you’re trying to pull together all the connections and twists and turns against a light backdrop and it just doesn’t come together well. What helps offset that though are the younger generation characters in the academy as they’re well humanized, easily accessible for the most part and, with foreknowledge of what’s to come, their story of becoming a part of a bigger world is definitely done well with all this foundational material presented here.

In Summary:
Tokyo Ravens feels like an odd show in a lot of ways because it works with a different kind of set of characters overall, high school and adult, and treats them both seriously for the most part. There’s some solid action to be had throughout the series, good characterization that’s allowed to build over time and definitely some good animation and design work to make this feel like a real and lived in world rather than just simple backdrops and action, action, action. The use of the arcs is definitely to its advantage here as is the progression of time, which makes this feel a lot more layered and part of a larger narrative that’s being told. I don’t feel that I’m a part of that narrative a lot of the time though, which has me retreating to just enjoying the younger characters stories. And those are fun, interesting and definitely treated a bit better than a lot of other shows. As this is all set to lay the foundations for the second half, it hits all the right notes.

Features:
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, Kon Explains it All, Episode Commentary (5, 12), Textless Opening and Closing, Video Commentary, Trailers

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: April 7th, 2015
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 300 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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