What They Say:
After a traumatic accident takes his loved one, Tor Kokonoe enrolls Koryo Academy, a school where every student has a weapon that is their soul manifestation. Fueled by his desire for revenge, Tor is dismayed to discover his soul is not a weapon but a shield.
Contains the complete series on Blu-Ray and DVD with both the English dub and the original Japanese track with English subtitles.
This is a dual release so for this review as a change of pace will be reviewing the DVD variation. The sound quality has options of 5.1 English Dolby Surround and the Japanese a 2.0 Stereo option. There were no complications of the audio throughout the release and the 5.1 option definitely comes through well with no need to adjust default settings on the audio system I was using. There were no problems with the video synching in with subtitles so definitely acceptable as a DVD release.
Similar with the audio, the video is set in 16:9 – 1.78:1 aspect ratio via NTSC transfer to PAL format – with DVD releases nowadays the effect definitely seems more grainier compared to HD and with me doing a ton of Blu-Ray reviews recently this is a good way to remind you how the times have changed. That said, the animation was fine (albeit the battle sequences seemed to be a bit off with the animation – even the later K fights seems to not flow as well as some other series – One Piece a good example for other recent DVD releases) and with a lot of bright colours and outfits, it still transfers well onto the screen, just little things here and there.
There was no packing for this test release.
The menu is pretty standard, we have an image of Tor and Julie on the right in battle poses on both screens on a white background, with below it the options of Play All, Episodes, Set Up and on disc 2 we have Extras. Easily selectable and clear with all the options, unlike Blu-Ray releases though you have to revert to the main menu when in show instead of via pop-up menu so no easy way to change languages, subtitles, etc in-show. Nothing fancy and again unlike Blu-Ray releases you get the slight delay when selecting your options as no pop-up but it is a standard DVD release.
We have a few extras here – first we have a couple of dub commentaries – episode 10 has Caitlin Glass (ADR Director/Lillith), Felicia Angel (Sakuya) and Anthony Berling (Tora) – this isn’t really a serious commentary and is to be honest quite random (trying to be classy when talking about busoms, imagining what other characters are thinking when a character goes into flashback mode, disappointed there is no dance battling in the show when it has it in the opening) so not really much in terms of content of the show.
The second one (episode 12) has Zac Bolton (ADR Director/K), Rico Forhado (Tor) and Bryn April (Julie) – they talk a bit more about the show with the aspects of it but it is still a bit goofy (talking how K is Robocop with wings for example) though it does talk about K’s evolution as a villain and how it is the first main role for Rico so it contains a little bit more in relevance to the show.
We do get a lot of traditional extras as well, with the Textless Op, all 4 closing songs textless, promo videos, commercials, US trailer and general trailers for other shows (Blood Blockade Battlefront, Garo The Animation, Doamygar-D, World Break: Aria Of Curse for a Holy Swordsman, The Heroic Legend of Arsland, The Rolling Girls and Yona Of The Dawn).
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Recently reviewing a similar series where set in a school and they can get rewarded by becoming stronger with magical powers, it felt like déjà vu when reviewing Absolute Duo compared to the recently shown Mikagura. This one definitely feels a lot stronger with the characters – in terms of the execution they seem to be quite similar however, and not in the best ways. Granted, this one is based on a long running light novel series so there is plenty not explored and questions to be asked, just what is there whilst seems like it concludes, only asks more questions…
Our main lead, Tor, is a young man who enters Koryo Academy – a school for students who use weapons called Blaze, a magical manifestation of their person. Most people forms swords, Tor is unusual though that his Blaze is actually a shield, and thus is known as an ‘Irregular’. On the first day he meets a nice young lady named Imari and the two quickly become friends, as you expected these two will be the main characters and potentially best friends/love interests.
So naturally, the show screws with that trope and the headmistress, a gothic Lolita girl named Sakuya makes them fight each other and the winner stays, the loser leaves – this sets up the true leads as Imari loses to Tor, and he is partnered with a very unique looking girl named Julie from Scandinavia, who is one part adorable, one part badass, and one part awkward.
So this now becomes the above trope…bait and switch. The show does go with romance/harem esque tropes with Julie accidentally sharing the same bed with Tor at times and we meeting other friends, the other female protagonists come in the form of Tomoe – a martial artists expert who always apologises profusously whenever she misunderstands what Julie and Tor are up to, her partner Miyabi, a nervous young lady who feels she is weak and quickly gets a crush on Tor, later we have Lillith, an over confident lady from Britain who is as skilled as she is egotistical, along with Tor’s two main male friends Tora an old childhood friend, his partner Tatsu, a silent muscleman who only communicates with gestures, and their psycho teacher Rito, who puts on a giddy persona who wears bunny ears, but her true personality is more violent and foul mouthed, as well as skilled and dangerous…
The story revolves around the cast getting stronger as well as their bonds as teams – initially Tor was going to team with Tora, as he thought Julie was going to team up with Tomoe, but the friendships bonds become too much and not wanting to leave Julie alone, they team officially as we learn there is something similar between the two as their pasts are frequently alluded to, namely both had family members killed and want to be stronger…
With threats of expulsion always there unless they get stronger, the 6 students do help each other out a lot, Julie training with Tor and Tomoe, as well as Miyabi trying to be stronger and slowly falling in love with Tor, they find out the façade of Miss Tsukimi and showcases that their abilities CAN hurt others (initially believed they couldn’t) depending on the hatred within your soul – this coincides with Lillith entering and because she is rich and can do what she wants, she automatically assumes she can have Tor as her partner because they are both Irregulars (Lillith’s weapon being a gun, called an Exception) – and whilst Lillith is very skilled, the show seems to slowly take it towards the harem route with trips to shopping from Julie and Tor (with Miyabi and Tomoe spying), and Lillith taking Tor to the theme park (with some comedy that Lillith can do what she wants, but Tor is punished for skipping class ^^). It changes from action to comedy quite quickly so when in a mock battle our heroes do defeat Lillith, we do get to see the main crux of the plot and what Absolute Duo is.
The true antagonists arrive, first to capture Lillith but Tor and Julie stop that – the man attacking them is named K, and he comes as part of a supposed bigger organisation hosted by someone named Equipment Smith who is at odds with Koryo Academy and Sakuya. At first K seems like a cool calm individual, but as the series continues, you see he is anything but and despite having similar pasts to Tor and Julie, he doesn’t really take it in his stride as well especially when he gets defeated a few times. This gets into the second half of the series when a training camp brings us the welcome return of Imari, as she explains that those defeated are sent to another place for training – it seems like Sakuya is more kinder than Tor thought but she simply says it is just for discovering an Absolute Duo…
The true switch in things is when Miyabi gets involved. Throughout the show she is the shy girl who likes Tor, but with Julie and Lillith around, she rarely gets a word in – thanks to Imari she gets her moment to confess but Tor rejects her – not because he doesn’t like her, but he feels due to his past and sisters death, he is too weak to care and protect for someone. Miyabi runs away…and then an attack happens by Equipment Smith and his team. Thanks to Tsukimi, and a berserk mode Julie (as her own past is dragged up around K), they seem to hold off K, but then it is revealed that Miyabi has actually joined them…
…which I feel is the weakest point of the show, as the ending showcases the extreme rushed pacing as they don’t really explain why Miyabi joined them, other than wanting to be stronger for Tor, and it is feels extremely weak. The actions sequences range from decent to weak in general, and this doesn’t help. Granted gives Tomoe a chance for her moment in the sun and also Tor given the chance to get the same powers as Tsukimi (level 4) and Absolute Duo is explained, with K eventually being the final boss character (Equipment Smith’s role was to be a smug so-and-so and then usurped by K) and the story does give a whole fine line between power and revenge when Julie goes berserk again, but it does feel incredibly rushed.
Maybe this is why it feels disappointing – not because the characters weren’t good, the lead certainly doesn’t suffer compared to Mikagura School Suite – Tor himself seems to be a typical harem lead but in a twist, the main girl (Julie) doesn’t seem averse to sharing him or someone else being his girlfriend, just the fact as a Duo she and he are the partnership – also the back-story of Tor and his connections/similarities with Julie and K give a good contrast with those who want to protect and those who want to destroy. Tor himself is actually quite likeable and am glad he doesn’t get lumped in with similar characters with these harem tendencies (Tomoe is the character you expect to beat him up after an accident happens…instead after the initial rage she is in full yamato nadesico apology mode).
Julie is also very likeable, her verbal tics are fun and her combination of adorable, inquisitiveness and sheer skill make her a great all round character – sure, a lot of typical tropes are used for some of her moments (like sneaking into Tor’s bed because she was lonely) but her innocence nullifies this a bit, combined with just how skilled she is – combined with a few other quirks (learning how to swim) so she isn’t seen as a Mary Sue or invincible help out too. The side characters all have their moments – Lillith in particular could have easily been horrendously unlikeable, but she does evolve as a character and becomes quite likeable. – and the teacher Tsukimi is a totally riot with her split personality (doesn’t help her Japanese VA is Yukari Tamura – a.k.a Nanoha ^^).
However, the story itself bar the flashbacks is inherently weak – the story of what Absolute Duo is only blemished on and Sakuya herself isn’t likeable or interesting enough to keep the story going, the antagonists seem forced upon half way through the series and the reasons for Miyabi to join K is basically done off screen, no real explanation and when she does talk during their fight, it’s not clear outside of ‘I will be strong for Tor so he can love me’. Sure, love can make you crazy but that was one heck of a quick change in character (and just as quick snapping her out of it as well). It doesn’t help there isn’t any major reason that is explained why Miyabi is so interested in him which makes the whole turn really confusing…
I liked the idea of the Blazes, and that with characters such as Tor and Lillith there are irregularities, and the possibilities are therefore endless. The concept of them levelling up at school isn’t new but the character themselves save it from it being quite familiar or generic, or fall into a harem esque show fully due to Julie being awesome. That said, whilst the characters do make the show and it is quite fun, the story, weak battles and poor villains/finale make this one you wish had expanded more – we never know who killed Tor’s sister, K’s brother or Julie’s father (or if there is a connection) and it screamed for this to be expanded, and with lots of novels been done it does feel like it should have a sequel – and as of yet, none on the horizon and the way it ended feels like a conclusion…so disappointment was the main feeling I got.
Absolute Duo has some great chances for it to be really good – a great cast of characters for the most part combined with some dark history and some magical badassery, Sadly, the poor ending with Miyabi not really being shown as sympathetic and just ‘hey I’m evil now’ suggests that the anime adaption may have had to cut bits which could have explored the ending more. Because of how rushed it feels, it nearly ruins the series and it relies on the fun harem like moments to at least make it enjoyable. Sadly as a story it fails because characters like Julie and Tor did deserve more at least.
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: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Anime Limited via Funimation
Release Date: February 27th, 2017
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.