What They Say:
Welcome to the prestigious Koryo Academy of Absolute Duo! A special school where students train to fight with weapons that are manifestations of their souls. On the outside, Tor Kokonoe seems like a regular academy student. But while his classmates carry swords, kunai, and axes into battle, his soul becomes a shield. As the students pair up in order to reach their full potential, Tor is partnered with the mysterious and exotic Julie. What he doesn’t realize is that their partnership means they’ll have to do everything together—fight, attend class, and even sleep in the same room! As the strangely affectionate girl begins pushing his boundaries to the limit, the other girls in his class start taking notice. While he’s fighting to make the grade, he’ll have to fend off the advances and attention from the tomboyish Tomoe, the meek Miyabi, and the exceptionally talented Lilith—a shield might be just what he needs after all!
The audio design for this series gets a nice little boost as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo while the English mix gets a 5.1 encoding, both of which are done with the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The show is one that works a fair bit of action into it so the English mix makes out better just from some extra oomph and bass to its design while also the volume just feeling like it’s kicked up a notch. This gives it some very fun scenes with the action as there’s plenty going on with weapons and guns to keep you immersed in it. Add in some running around and dialogue associated with that and you can be pretty engaged. The dialogue side of the show in general is pretty good but it’s kept a little simple since there’s often not a lot of people and it doesn’t work anything creative, sticking to straightforward dialogue itself and little else. The show comes across clean and clear in both mixes and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2015, 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 are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by 8-Bit, the transfer for the series is pretty spot on it as it has some good vibrancy with the way colors pop – particularly with the more magical side of it – and the detail when used holds up well. Colors are solid throughout and there are some decent backgrounds which has the whole thing coming together well. The show is one that’s a bit mixed in its animation quality as it’s kind of a budget show to a degree but the pendulum swings both ways. When it digs into its more fanservice oriented areas it tends to go all in, especially with color design, while other scenes tend to be a bit simpler and not as detailed or fluid. It’s not a top shelf production but it’s also trying to not be a bottom shelf one and the transfer does the best that it can with it.
The packaging design for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the four discs of the two formats inside on hinges. The o-card with it replicates the case artwork itself and the pinks and whites here definitely have more pop to them thanks to the better cardstock. The front cover works a very good visual of the two lads together that has a good sense of cute and power that’s appealing and the logo definitely stands out against the white of the background, making it every eye-catching. The back cover carries over this white aspect to it which gives it a strong look overall with a cute shot of Julie along the bottom right and a good selection of shots from the show that even though they’re small still stand out overall. The summary of the premise covers things well in a clear and concise way and with it being black on white made it really easy to read. The extras are clearly listed and the technical grid breaks everything down in a solid way that’s quick and easy to figure out. Though there are no inserts included here we do get some great artwork on the reverse side working from the Japanese releases where the left side has an image of Julie while the right is given over to Lilith.
The menus for this release are ones that do work with a good idea but they don’t execute it as well as could be. The clip sequence given over to this uses the piece from the opening sequence with the characters moving around but it’s done with the white background and the characters with shades of pink. But it’s a very light and indistinct pink and that just leaves the whole thing feeling really weak and foggy looking when you get down to it. It lacks the right kind of clarity for it to set the mood well. The navigation along the bottom is pertty nice as it uses a black border with the white space inside and has the text as black with pink highlights, providing some nice continuity across the whole thing. The menu itself works well both at the top level and as a pop-up menu but the clip aspect with its design just doesn’t work at all.
The extras for this release are fairly standard fare but very welcome pieces. The show brings out a pair of commentary tracks for the dub, though they’re both on the second disc with the tenth and twelfth episodes, which is unusual as they tend to have one early on in a series. The opening and closing sequences get their day in the spotlight here, which are definitely highlights, and we also get a look at a few promotional pieces with the commercials and the like.
Based on the light novel series of the same name from writer Takumi Hiiragiboshi and illustrated by Yu Asaba, Absolute Duo is a twelve episode anime series that aired in the winter 2015 season. The original light novels are still ongoing with nine volumes since it began in 2012 as of this writing and it’s had a couple of slow moving manga spinoff series as well. The anime adaptation came to us from studio 8-Bit with Atsushi Nakayama directing it and Funimation gave the show a simulcast run when it arrived. The series is one that you can see some interesting ideas with but you’re largely left wondering if the actual execution of it is better in the light novels because what’s here feels really indistinct and without enough grounded material and central forces to work with.
The premise for the show has some familiar and decent ideas where we have a place called Koryo Academy, one of many academies around the world, that brings in students that can utilize abilities that allow them to generate personalized weapons known as Blaze. The weapons tend to be familiar things like swords, axes, bows, and other familiar “old school” weapons that don’t require anything complex. The students that are brought into these academies are doing so in order to train and foster these abilities to be peacekeepers of some sort, but that’s never really made all that clear. There’re opponents to this that are mentioned in passing and we do get some competition later on from those seeing position and advantage over this group, but it’s so loosely defined and really doesn’t have a central and series-long opponent to it that you’re left more with just basic school stuff combined with weaponry and magic.
The series focuses on a new arrival to the school with a young man named Tor that ends up making an acquaintance along the way that you think will be a main focus but instead disappears. The real early focus is on a perfectly moe young woman named Julie who speaks with mild German from time to time. She’s quiet but obviously secretly very powerful and Tor finds himself stuck with her at first and then intent on protecting her, because her goal of becoming stronger in order to get revenge means that she needs to be protected at all times. Tor’s a hugely frustrating character from the get go since he’s thrust into temporarily rooming with Julie when he wants to room with a friend from his previous school, Tora, and then partner up with him as a Duo – even though Tora really doesn’t seem to care for Tor all that much and kind of just tolerates him. When Tor learns that Julie doesn’t have a Duo since everyone else paired up quickly and early he ends up abandoning Tora in order to protect Julie, which kind of frustrates a couple of other female characters that are here mostly just to provide a couple of pairs of breasts for fans to ogle from time to time. Tachibana and Miyabi have their small moments along the way – they help Julie get some clothes since she only has winter clothes from her homeland, of course, and that includes underwears – but beyond Miyabi being given power later and briefly turning against everyone they’re non-entities for the most part.
This is really just the Julie and Tor show and unfortunately, there’s not a lot compelling about them since it’s not until late that we learn about Julie’s desire for revenge and why and even that’s pretty damn superficial. There are some interesting bits early on about the Blazes and how it works, but that’s fairly superficial as well, especially since the overall goal isn’t really made clear here. Presumably, that’s for another book. Of course, it can’t be all about Julie and Tor as there has to be some competition since he’s considered to be weirdly powerful and that has the arrival of Lilith, a young blonde woman who has the rare ability to create her Blaze in the form of a gun. She’s pure ego, being something a few levels up from your standard kids that we get here, and naturally she has the talent to back it up. And we get plenty of the usual triangle issues since Tor has no real interest in her but she inserts herself into most situations. Which just makes her all the more problematic.
Absolute Duo is the kind of series where you get a lot of things going on but you can almost tick them off a list of what a series wants to accomplish. Which, of course, means it’s adapting what the light novel is doing as it follows the all too familiar trend. While I imagine that there may be some changes and differences between the two and that later volumes of the light novels expand and work more interesting ideas, what we get here is something that we’ve seen dozens of time and done better. Better in that there are clearer goals other than just characters learning their basic abilities and enjoying life with 100,000 yen a month allowances since they’re the elite of the elite – yet are still pretty much mildly annoying characters at best with nothing to them beyond their Blaze pursuit and training.
I hadn’t seen much on Absolute Duo itself until watching the show so I wasn’t predisposed toward it one way or another. Marathoning it over the course of a day left me pretty underwhelmed in a general sense because there’s just not much here. There are fun scenes with the action that shows some good design and choreography along with the animation and some of the fanservice/sexuality is fun as well. But these are all familiar things that are a dime a dozen in any other number of shows. The story itself and the characters themselves simply don’t click and the whole thing simply felt superficial overall. I can seem glimmers of interesting things but the execution leaves so much to be desired that it’s frustrating. I actually liked the designs and good chunks of the animation as well as the whole Blazes visual aspect of it but it simply lacked anything compelling to do.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode 10 Commentary, Episode 12 Commentary, Textless Opening Song “Absolute Soul” Textless Closing Song ”Believe × Believe” Textless Closing Song ”Appuru Tii no Aji” Textless Closing Song ”2/2” Promotional Videos Commercials, U.S. Trailer, and Trailers
Content Grade: C-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: C
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: August 9th, 2016
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.