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Darkside Blues Anime DVD Review

8 min read

Darkside BluesThe last free part of the world does its best to fight back against the Persona Company.

What They Say:
In the gothic landscape of the future, the Persona Century Corporation owns 99% of the world. They thought they wielded absolute power. They were wrong. There are isolated regions of the world which are beyond the Corporation’s claw-like reach. One of these urban pockets of rebellion is a dangerous and lawless free-zone: Kabuki Town – also known as the Darkside of Tokyo.

Free of the Persona’s storm troopers, Kabuki Town has become an anarchistic haven for misfits, violent criminals, and idealistic rebels. Now, the time of reckoning has come. A mysterious figure has appeared – a dark mystic with the power to break the Persona’s grasp on the world. But the Corporation is aware of the threat he poses, and they have an army of super-human assassins and the resources of an entire world to throw against him. Can one mystic and a small band of rebels stand against a global dictatorship?

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release mirrors what we had with the previous release far too long ago with it being a bilignual release. The two language tracks are both done in stereo and encoded at 224kbps. With its age, there isn’t a whole lot really going on here but it does have a decent overall full sounding mix to it. Much of the show is based around dialogue and some ambient effects, but when it goes big into an action scene it does tick up a little more, but not by a whole lot. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback. It’s worth noting that the original CPM release had a 5.1 mix, but it was generally believed that it wasn’t truly 5.1 but rather a stereo mix flagged as such.

Originally in theaters in 1994, the transfer for this film is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. This release features the same master that was used during the 1999 DVD release from CPM which means it has the hard subtitles burned into the print for locations and an occasional sign translation. The dialogue subtitles are DVD generated soft subtitles. The film has some moments of visible cross coloration throughout, but generally it’s a good looking hand animated piece that shows a fair amount of detail and only a bit of natural grain throughout. It’s certainly a film that could benefit from having the original source material cleaned up and run through again. This edition does use newer authoring methods compared to what was done in 1999 so it holds up better and likely shows more than what was visible back then, especially considering upscaling and the change in equipment. The differences in what we used back in 1999 to 2009 is really boggling. While it won’t win awards, fans of the show will generally be pleased but would likely prefer to not have the hard subtitles.

The cover for Darkside Blues is fairly traditional but it works really nicely as it has a full length shot of Darkside along the left which is very detailed and moody. It showcases the style of the character quite well and with the deep blues surrounding him, along with the red petals, it’s all quite striking yet subtle at the same time. The logo is kept simple and clean, leaving you to focus on the artwork itself. The back cover has a few choice quotes – quotes that were used with the 1999 release as well – and a few basic shots from the show arrayed around it. There’s some slightly fuzzy material from the show used as the overall background but it works to add to the atmosphere of the design. The summary does convey the basics well enough so you know the setup of the feature and what to expect without giving too much. The rest is filled out with the production credits across three sides and a good technical grid. There are no show related inserts included nor a reversible cover.

The menu for Darkside Blues is straightforward and unsurprising as it takes the cover artwork, zooms in a bit on the character piece, and places the navigation to the right. There isn’t much here for navigation of course and even the extras section isn’t a real extras section as it’s just credits and trailers, but it does all set you up for the show well enough. The character artwork is definitely appealing and it even feels a bit moodier here with this version of it. Submenus load quickly and as expected, the disc read our players’ language presets properly.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
It’s been over fifteen years since I first saw Darkside Blues, one of those early anime DVD releases that many people looked forward to because there was so little content being put out on the format at that time. Central Park Media was one of the pioneers of the time and they put out a good deal of their catalog through themselves and other companies. Darkside Blues fit into that schedule well as it was a single feature length movie that was in a way rather accessible and it has a decent pedigree to it. At the time, the film left us wondering what it was really all about and had that feeling that it was aimed more towards fans of the manga.

Based off of a two volume manga by world renowned Hideyuki Kikuchi of Vampire Hunter D fame, the feature is typical of what we would get from a late 80’s manga and an early 90’s adaptation. The world has fallen to the “benevolent rule” of the Persona Century Corporation which now owns ninety percent of it. Outside of a few pockets of freedom here and there, the company rules with an iron fist and those that live in the bulk of the world are generally happy, though there are obviously issues to be had. Persona has a quite a grip on the world and though they generally do good, they are swift to deal with problems, such as tactical nuclear strikes, diseases and other methods through which they control the populace. Even with these issues, you still get the feeling that the majority of the world is in relative peace compared to what it was before.

One of the big pockets of freedom is the Kabuki-cho district of Toyko where there’s resistance. A walled in free city, they have a rough and tumble lifestyle where most anything goes, but there’s also a certain honor among many of those who choose to live there. It’s here that a resistance group called Messiah operates which is lead by a teenage girl named Mai who is fairly skilled. Along with a small following, they do a fair amount of good in keeping the promise of the city’s freedom and that of its citizens. Unfortunately, they get caught up in a terrorist plot to destroy a command center of Persona’s that’s nearby. The terrorist group, operating out of the Himalaya’s, lost most of its team but one survived and ended up in Messiah’s care. This brings them directly into the conflict, though Persona curiously seems intent on not tackling them as part of the problem.

All of this would be fairly straightforward near-future SF material if not for the supernatural aspect brought into it. During one instance, Mai is surprised when a dark and mysterious man shows up out of nowhere with a carriage that can fly through the sky. Naming him Darkside, he’s a classic piece of elegance that’s full of mystery and attraction. There’s something much more to him and he wanders through the city over the course of the film talking about Renewal and dealing out justice to those that cause problems. His story isn’t exactly clear here but he’s part of a larger picture that you feel isn’t being told in a way that makes sense. His presence is obviously supernatural, but the why of it is left as a question. What he brings to it is a sort of outside justice that’s come to pass judgment on those that require it, much of which is based around the sort of nasty’s that Persona sends into Kabuki-cho to deal with finding the terrorist that escaped their clutches.

Darkside Blues has a look that’s very much a part of the period in which it was created and released. This fits in with the same kind of style we saw in his other works, such as Vampire Hunter D, Demon City Shinjuku and Wicked City. It’s filled with older characters, no kids to be found here, and it has that air of violence and mild sexuality to it that gave anime a more adult name back in the early nineties. The style of the film has an appeal to it, with detailed designs and the rundown nature of Kabuki-cho, but also in the tease of seeing how the city looks from the outside. The character designs are good if a bit plain and the animation overall is what one would expect with no real problems. There are some great fluid moments in the fight scenes and some creative moments with the fights, but it is in the end all fairly dated.

In Summary:
In the end, Darkside Blues continues to feel like the same kind of show ten years later. Some of the little nods are maybe a bit more apparent now that I’m more familiar with Kikuchi’s works, but it feels like an incomplete snapshot of something more interesting. It reminds me of the differences between the Wicked City novel and the anime adaptation in that the film is just a piece of it and was unable to capture the nuances well to connect you to it. Darkside Blues actually fairs worse because the story itself feel incomplete and without a proper ending or explanation of some of the most basic of questions. I’m certainly glad to see it again after ten years, but I could easily go double that without seeing it again since it’s essentially a little piece of style without much substance.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

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

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 18th, 2009
MSRP: $14.98
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

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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