What They Say:
As Harutora and Natsume navigate the treacherous hallways of Onmyo Academy, alliances shift and their magical powers evolve. Accompanied on their journey by the half-ogre, Touji, and the foxlike spirit, Kon, Harutora and Natsume seek to unravel the mysteries plaguing the academy.
Adversaries become allies and shocking secrets are revealed when dark forces launch a violent attack on the school. Through it all, Harutora honors his vow to stand bravely by Natsume’s side no matter what evil they may face. But when the powerful Raven Coat unleashes Harutora’s demonic side, he finds his hands stained with innocent blood – and his soul tempted by a taboo ritual that could forever change the fate of our world!
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.
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 second 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.
Following up from the limited edition release for the first, the packaging for this second installment is just the slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case as it holds both formats on hinges inside. This release comes with an O-card that has different artwork the case as the cardboard cover features most of the good guys and Harutora in his “serious” mode along the center top that looks good with its angles and overall color design. The front cover gives us a good, threatening, image of some of the more dangerous characters set against the black background. 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 but with a minimum of artwork to accent it. 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 Harutora and Natsume together from the final arc which looks good and the cover is fully reversible with that.
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.
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 fourteen and twenty-three with the cast talking about it, but they also get a video commentary for episode eighteen with four of the actors talking about the show as it plays out. We also get the clean opening and closing sequences and the third Kon Explains It All features, which is about five minutes long and were released online in Japan as expository pieces for fans to understand some of the workings of the series.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After watching the series in simulcast form and then getting to marathon the first half of it with the previous Blu-ray release, I’ve now been able to marathon the second half of it over the course of a day. And I’m still feeling very much like an outsider looking in at a story happening to people that I don’t know from another country speaking a language I’m only getting snippets of. Generally, I like adaptations that work off of light novels simply because the structure of it is different with what it wants to do, not bound by the weekly convention of magazine publication or monthly installments and instead can work its chapters as needed, though they fall into ruts as well. That makes it a bit more of a challenge for the adaptation team to work it all out but it’s not a paint by numbers deal for them and the work can pay off.
With Tokyo Ravens, we do get that mini-arc structure and it’s one that worked decently in the first half of the series. We got the setup from the countryside of things and then the experience of Harutora going to Tokyo for the Onmyo Academy and all that entailed. We also got a nice, if small, time jump to move things forward a bit and avoid most of the getting to know the school material. It populated the cast decently enough with his friends, new classmates and Natsume as well, though it was a little troublesome with Suzuka because she just felt like a forced insertion into things that simply didn’t belong. But even there it managed to find some decent time between her and Harutora that provided for some growth for both of them. It wasn’t stellar but it stood out among all the other things going on.
With this half of the series though, the problems I had with the first half are amplified. While we get a lot of student material as they learn, train and deal with a host of issues, there’re a lot of adults running around here too, from both sides of it, that makes for some complicated storytelling. Honestly, I kept struggling to remember who was who, who represents what side of the fight, and just how far back a particular grudge goes. As weird as it may sound with as frustrating as it gets, it’s an area that I do appreciate. It makes this series feel richer, more lived in and full of a lot of ongoing storylines that make these characters feel like they have weight and experience, pasts that intersect with other events in the here and how. I crave more series like that. But something about how it’s done, how it’s presented, has left me cold. Part of it is just the rough and brief introductions that we ge. Some of it is that there feels like there’s far more here introduced quicker than it should be, making it overpopulated and overly complex earlier than it should be. And other aspects simply involves the way it shunts the main characters off the screen for too long at times while seemingly having only a tangential connection to what’s going on with said characters. It’s a richness to world building that’s poorly executed overall.
To the point where after watching these twelve episodes I’m hard pressed to really find a theme to it, a larger narrative to talk about and examine. We do get a lot of action throughout it, with an attack on the academy that has the adults going to the forefront to protect while old grudges are explored and worked. The protective nature of the teachers is appreciated as is seeing the kids standing up and attempting to hold their own as well, while not always being able to do so themselves. Everyone has their own slate of abilities and skillsets and that gets nudged well, but I never really felt in tune with how the onmyo magic works and the mechanics and rules of it all because of how scattershot the introduction was and how minimal the overall education side in the school was. It wanted to focus more on cast interactions and I can’t begrudge it that, but in the end neither side of that choice worked well for me.
Where some of the focus really ends up working through things is with Natsume. Over the course of some of the fights that go on her true nature is revealed. That has Harutora in protective mode as one would expect, but Natsume is the one that really has to deal with the fallout of the lies she had to tell because of traditional and rules within her own family. This leads to some decent moments with others, notably with Kyoko as she tries to apologize, but others have varying talks with her her as well. It’s Suzuka that kind of sets the tone, which works considering the way Harutora had made an effort to smooth things over with her before. Unfortunately, the show goes for a difficult angle of killing off Natsume along the way. You know it won’t last because of how the arc itself is working out, particularly with what Natsume and Hokuto are and their own connection with Harutora, so it’s just a far too obvious route to take. What manages to make it work though is that it seemingly forces Harutora to grow up and take some ownership of the situation and what must be done to bring her back. While he does have a Dark Harutora look about him, I really like that there’s actual cost to him with what he does and it all has a sense of something grander to come. But that grandness is tainted by the poor execution of the series that has me wary that it would ever be produced in an engaging enough way.
Tokyo Ravens is one of those series that I desperately wanted to like a lot more, to feel more engaged with, than I ended up being. I really enjoyed the simulcast when it started but felt it becoming convoluted as it went along and that left me hoping that marathoning it would clear that up. But those issues are still here and I feel like I’m more than arms length from the material and being kept at a distance because of it. While the show in the end is a struggle for me and doesn’t work in a lot of areas, FUNimation put together a really good release here and went the distance. With a solid transfer that brings the beautiful animation and detail to life in a great way and a solid slate of extras – including a new video commentary! – the show got a lot of attention that will definitely please the fans of it. In the end, it’s a show that I really wanted to enjoy more than I did because it comes across as a property with an engaging and dense mythology and cast to work with that just didn’t click with me through its execution.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, Kon Explains it All! #3, Episode Commentary (14, 18, 23), Textless Openings and Closings, U.S. Trailer, Trailers
Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: July 21st, 2015
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.