We can laugh under the clouds but we thrive under the sun and will fight to get there.
What They Say:
Under the cloudy skies of turn-of-the-century Japan, three brothers shine brightly. Orphaned at a young age, the responsibility of providing for the Kumoh family fell to the eldest brother, Tenka. A skilled swordfighter and proud guardian of his rambunctious younger siblings, Soramaru and Chutaro, Tenka Kumo walks through life with unfailing optimism and devotion to his family.
But heavy clouds are beginning to settle over their secluded shrine — a growing gloom that signals the return of a deadly serpent known as the Orochi. As the Japanese military’s Yamainu Squad searches for the serpent’s human vessel, the unrest caused by the strict laws of the Meiji era spreads rebellion across the countryside.
As the Kumoh family’s ancient connection to the Orochi comes to light, old rivalries will be reignited, and the brothers’ carefree life will give way to the darkness of an ancient prophecy. As long as they stick together, what’s the worst that could happen?
The audio presentation for this show brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the new English dub, done in 5.1, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series is one that is largely dialogue based when you get down to it but it does have a number of good action sequences throughout before it goes to the bigger material toward the end where it uses the 5.1 mix more. There’s some good stuff to be done with the forward soundstage with impact and overall presence so the Japanese track fans aren’t shorted here but the English mix just comes across a bit stronger since it’s louder and a bit more distinct, but not overly so. The dialogue portion of the show plays very well for both mixes with lots of placement and depth at times to keep it moving and engaging. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems during playback with dropouts or distortions.
Originally airing in 2014, 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 for this set are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by Dogakobo, the show definitely has an appealing look with the characters since there are vibrant reds and greens mixed with a lot of black for the costuming and that stands out well here. The backgrounds are well detailed and there’s a good overall presentation for it that helps everything to stand out well when blended with the character animation. The transfer captures all of this in a very clean fashion with solid colors and smooth movements that don’t break up or have any problems. The lack of line noise and background noise is a big plus and the detail solidity gives this a welcome bit of a bump in how good it looks when it comes to the characters. It’s definitely a solid looking work that comes across just right here.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that has an o-card included with it for the first pressing. The o-card and cover artwork are the same, which is good as it’s the very appealing illustration artwork of the Kumoh side of things set against a light and easy background color. There’s a lot of great detail to it here that lets it stand out as something different. The light background wraps around to the back cover in a soothing way where we get the premise covered in a clear and detailed way that’s easy to read and a solid selection of shots from the show along the left. The extras for the set are broken out cleanly and we get a solid technical grid along the bottom that looks really great set against this background as the black and blue pops really well. While there are no show related inserts included here, the reverse side has the episode breakdown on the left while the right side features the other half of the front cover with the military side and other elements from the show.
The menu design for this release is definitely a welcome one though it’s another menu that feels like a bit of corner cutting. Instead of the usual array of clips we get a single static image that’s used for both discs. It’s a great illustration image of both sides of the equation here with a light and dark aspect to it thanks to the sun and clouds and with the detail we get it definitely looks great. Menus like this have a lot of appeal for me over clips since most of those tend to not set the mood right and this one works well. The navigation is kept to the lower right side with a simple font on a white strip with a nice cloud element at the end to tie it in. This works well as both the main menu navigation and as the pop-up menu as you can get around easily enough and everything functions in a smooth and problem-free way.
The extras for this release are fairly standard fare but are the kinds of pieces that I like seeing. In terms of new content we get a pair commentary tracks from the English dub and production team talking about the show and their experiences on it and these are always welcome, both for fans of the shows and of the actors involved. We also get the clean version of the two opening sequences and the one closing sequence.
Based on the manga series Donten ni Warau from Karakara-Kemuri, Laughing Under the Clouds is a twelve episode series that aired in the fall 2014 season. Animated by Dogakobo, the show is one that plays to the late 1800’s period well as it gets to engage with the increasing Westernization of the country and the visual dynamic that brings about. Though Dogakobo isn’t a studio that I find myself raving about often, the look for this series is pretty strong here while not being overly done and that results in something that feels like it’s adapting the material with a greater passion and interest in it than some other properties. That doesn’t help to ease some of the other familiar elements here that we get since it’s an area that has been mined before, but it does help it to rise above some parts of it to be a fairly engaging show.
With the setting in mind, the show focuses on three brothers that uphold the Kumoh shrine that’s alongside Lake Biwa. The middle and younger brother, Soramaru and Chutaro, ferry prisoners out to the prison that’s out there while the elder brother, Tenka, helps with some of the general things going on in the area. Notably, he’s the one the police go to when they lose a captured criminal and can’t catch him. Tenka was part of the special military group that works out of this area but left for reasons previously, so he certainly has the skills to be able to help out in this regard. As you can expect of a trio of brothers, Tenka is pretty much taking a laid back approach to life after what he’s been through, Sora is doing his best to live up to his brother and surpass him, and Chutaro is essentially ignored for the most part and is such a non-player overall that within the context of the series he’s not truly necessary.
While we get to know the brothers we also learn about the prison as we see prisoners going there, truly frightened, because of the rumors of what they supposedly need to bring. There’s a dark force that exists within this prison, chained by all limbs to the wall and wearing a mask, that still exudes control over it. What the mystery thing that they’re supposed to bring truly isn’t important, since none can actually bring it, but through the fear and how they react we know that the guy here is One Bad Dude. So when we get Sora visiting later and seeing some of those he ferried and how far gone they are in several ways it simply reinforces it. The prison and the masked man in there is all part of the background atmosphere that’s setup along with the way that this region of Lake Biwa is constantly under clouds these days. It’s not dark in a true sense as light does come through, but they don’t have blue skies and pure and undiluted sunshine coming through. Combine that with the numerous criminals in the prison and it’s little wonder, especially with escaped criminals, that there’s an oppressive element to the region.
A decent part of this series focuses on the introductions and supporting cast connections as the brothers deal with things going on. Everyone has a role here and the expansion of the special forces group that Tenka was with leads to the main thrust of the series being revealed in that the true enemy is Orochi, a once in three hundred years person that can cause massive destruction. The vessel is coming soon and that has a lot of people being looked at. There are some neat things to this in how it’s viewed but I really like that we see Tenka as the apparent vessel and that he does the honorable thing in dealing with it. Which isn’t easy for the brothers to understand and turns one of them more susceptible as their belief about how the vessels work isn’t as simple as they thought it was.
Over the course of the twelve episodes we do get a fairly cohesive story and it’s that introduces a lot of pieces that take time to come together rather than being instantly revealed. The time spent talking about past ninja clans and how they’re being turned to pasture overall because of the changes in the government is interesting, digging into the three main ones and the dissolution/destruction of the Fuma clan. Watching as some of these remaining shreds of the clans surface along the way with motivations that aren’t clear and are a bit varied makes it pretty interesting as well because you can’t be sure of what they’re really after or what they’ll really do. And what this does is that you have to take in all the small details and see where they’ll fit later because they’re not all laid out right at the start in a clear and blunt way like so many shows. While this may not add up to an amazing work it does result in a solidly strong work with some nicely creative moments.
I hadn’t seen much on this show during its simulcast run and it’s been a while since it first aired so there’s definitely some distance between it and now. It’s a show that I thought had some neat moments to it, some really nice visual design elements, and a kind of pacing that’s appealing. And it avoids forcing any really serious romantic elements, making it more a story of the brothers and the larger threat that’s slowly revealed. The pacing may be frustrating for some if you like things laid out clear up front but what we get here does a nice bit of world building and exploration of some aspects of the time period. Funimation’s release is solid throughout as the show looks and sounds great and it’s wrapped up in a solid packaging presentation with some good extras included. Fans of the show will definitely be pleased and it’s the kind of series that gets overlooked when it shouldn’t.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Episode 1 Commentary, Episode 10 Commentary, Textless Opening Song – Biran no Kaze, Textless Opening Song – Ruten no Hi, Textless Closing Song – ATTITUDE TO LIFE
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: August 23rd, 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.