What They Say:
Kazuma is a Contractor of the Wind, a cool customer with the power to unleash a whirlwind of terror on his enemies. Ayano is a smoking-hot mistress of the Fire Arts who’s got a nasty habit of dialing up the heat in the thick of battle. To say they don’t get along would be an understatement, but Fire and Wind are about to get a crash course in teamwork.
A sinister website known as Pandemonium is unleashing powered-up magic junkies and soul-devouring demons on the unsuspecting citizens of Tokyo. To save the world and lock down the realm of magic once and for all, Kazuma and Ayano must join forces.
FUNimation has given Kaze no Stigma a very good release when it comes to the audio as the series has a fair bit of action to it. The original Japanese language track is presented in its stereo format encoded at a meager 192kbps while the English language mix is in 5.1 at 448kbps. Both tracks are solid enough when it comes to the basics and what we get out of the Japanese track is essentially a solid forward soundstage mix that’s at times fairly center oriented. The English mix with its 5.1 bump up adds a bit more bass to the whole experience as well as generally raising the volume level a bit. I liked the English presentation overall as it does have more oomph and impact to it, but I’m drawn more to the way the Japanese presentation comes across simply because of my preference of the language itself and the flow of it. Both are good tracks however that are problem free.
Originally airing in 2007, Kaze no Stigma is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is really strangely laid out as it’s a twenty four episode show and this set contains the first twelve episodes. While I expected a six/six two-disc format, I got a seven/five two disc format instead. The extras on the second volume do take up a small bit of space, but nowhere near enough to require this kind of layout. The release looks really good overall as Gonzo has created a work with lots of vibrant colors that stand out well. In some ways, it doesn’t feel like a Gonzo series and some of that comes from the visual design of it. The transfer is similar to a lot of what FUNimation has been putting out in that there is some noise to be found in some of the darker scenes, but by and large the majority of people will be pleased by how it looks. Colors are generally solid, cross coloration is blissfully absent and line noise is very minimal when looking at the twelve episodes in total.
Kaze no Stigma really surprised me with its packaging as it avoided the traditional FUNimation half season model. Instead of the slipcover and the two thinpak cases, we get a single sized clear keepcase with two discs inside on one side. I prefer the other method as we get something that feels a bit weightier and it allows for more artwork and design options. This release has a good looking cover with the main trio of characters in full length shots where they all have serious expressions to them as the wind blows around them. The background colors are a bit drab but it allows for the character artwork to really stand out and draw you in. The back cover uses the same kind of background but with a full length shot of Kazuma in the middle that has the standard material on top of him. The summary covers the main story elements quite well in the space allotted and there are a few very small pictures from the show just above it that don’t help it too much. The extras are clearly listed and the remainder is given over to standard production and technical information. There’s a lot of open space here which I think works well instead of feeling too empty. The release does provide for some reverse side artwork that’s really nice as it has both Kazuma and Ayano together with their weapons of choice floating around them as they look very serious. Other than the choice of the keepcase over the thinpaks, I really like how this release looks.
The menu design is done using the same elements as the front cover in a really nice way. The background is kept the same for both volumes and the little side tab is shifted to the bottom where the menu navigation selections are just above it. The cover art for the characters is split up though so that the first volume has just Kazuma by himself, which looks quite imposing, and the second volume features Ren and Ayano together but moved closer together. They’re very simple menus similar to the way the cover is laid out and it’s very appealing as it gives it a serious feel. Submenus load quickly and the navigation is quick and easy. The discs don’t read our players’ language presets though which continues to disappoint me after all these years.
The extras section has some cute pieces to it, though it does feel a bit like “voice actresses gone wild” except for the fact that it pales next to what I’ve seen some US voice actresses do at conventions. The first extra is broken up into three parts where it essentially follows three of the Japanese voice actresses as they do an event prior to the DVD release and then two of them off exploring Kobe. The second and third entries in this little series are all from a camcorder and it feels like a fluff piece that wasn’t edited down where the women are just very friendly with each other. It’s cute but entirely pointless. Also included in the release on the second volume is the clean version of the opening sequence and the two closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I swear I didn’t realize it was a Gonzo series.
And in a way, I almost feel dirty since I’ve been so hit or miss with them in the last few years. Kaze no Stigma is a twenty-four episode series that’s based off of a series of light novels by Takahiro Yamato that started off back in 2002 and are still slowly being published to this day. While Kaze no Stigma does play in familiar territory with what it’s about, the series makes out better than some other ones because the pacing is different since it’s adapting from the novel form as opposed to from a manga. Manga to anime adaptations play by a different set of rules and the novel adaptations have a flow to them that I continue to find appealing since it works with larger arcs.
Kaze no Stigma takes place in the present day world but one where it’s sort of hazy about how the general population is aware of what’s going on. Taking place in Japan, there are several families that operate under the leadership of the Kannagi family where it seems like most families operate with a particular spirit power. The Kannagi family prides itself on its fire spirit power and they bring up through the ranks the next leader by the family member with the most impressive power. Four years ago, the intended heir apparent, Kazuma failed in his fight against a twelve year old girl named Ayano and he found himself thrown out of the household. His fire abilities were weak at best and he disappeared, no longer truly a member of the family.
Kazuma has returned to Japan now and he comes at a time when the Kannagi leadership is about to be challenged in a number of ways. No longer a part of the family, he’s taken a new name and has gained some impressive abilities in the realm of the wind. What’s surprising to others that catch up with him is that he’s become something called a Contractor, someone who has signed a deal with a particular Spirit King, in this case wind, and has immense powers granted to him from that particular ken. Kazuma has the ability to call on all the powers of the wind, but only for a limited time. It’s an impressive ability, as is his ability to help those of the fire skills in pushing them in new directions. Kazuma takes on the role of a “contractor” of a different sort to the Kannagi family as it allows him to make a really good living and potentially serving some other plans he may have in the background.
Kazuma has some amusing experiences when he meets up with the current leader of the Kannagi family as he’s not trying to sway him back into the family for a variety of reasons. Instead, with almost a touch of humor, he’s more intent on utilizing Kazuma to help watch over Kazuma’s younger brother Ren and the heir apparent in the form of the beautiful and spunky Ayano. Ayano and Kazuma are like oil and water since Ayano was the one who defeated him, but mostly because Kazuma has such a superior attitude around her that it drives her nuts. At the same time, he is very good at what he does that she can’t help but admire it at times because he is someone who does do the right thing, even if he plays it all with such large self interest. Ayano has her own issues that come up slowly throughout this since she’s nowhere near ready to ascend to any real power, but she’s at that awkward stage where she has to really start getting serious about it.
What really surprised me about the relationship side of the series is that of Ren. Ren is the kind of character that when you see him, you expect the whiny child or the one who gets caught up in things beyond his control and is regularly kidnapped. Instead, with him as a future leader of the Kannagi family, he’s fairly self assured and confident in his skills and in doing what’s right. He loves his older brother who has now come back into his life and he’s intent on making sure that he sticks around and that they get closer, but in a really good way. It’s a very refreshing change in the relationship dynamic from what you normally get and it’s something that left a very positive impression on me. The character of Ren is often so poorly done in anime that having a well done one for this first half of the series, one where he’s really his own character and not dependent on others to define him, that you want to see more of him.
The first half of Kaze no Stigma was really a surprise since I wasn’t expecting such a fun show from Gonzo. It introduced some fun ideas, a decent concept, and a solid enough traditional execution that it all flowed together well. It wasn’t the best of this particular genre, but it had a nicely defined world and it progressed well as we got to understand the core characters and the familial relationships that play a decent sized role in all of this as well as all the magic. There was a rather good arc that reached a climax with that set which allowed for this half of the show to stake out new ground.
Unfortunately, it felt like a lot of the energy and enthusiasm that the first half of the season had falls a bit flat for a lot of this half. Not surprisingly, the first chunk of episodes for Kaze no Stigma in this set go for some simple standalone stories that revolve around secondary characters and establishing a bit of humor. There’s even the predictable hot spring episode that we get to “enjoy” as everyone ends up there for some fun. The only main twist really given to these early episodes is the introduction of Catherine McDonald, an up and coming fire magic user from America who has a powerful family name behind her as well. She clashes with Ayano right from the start and amusingly gets Kazuma on her side, though he’s doing it for a bit of a crafty reason that nobody else gets for a bit. Catherine brings a bit of chaos to the show since she’s boisterous and outgoing which in turn throws Ayano off her game in a few predictable ways.
Where a lot of this season goes is in two directions, both tied together. Mixed into some of the standalone stories is the growing problem of a number of magic based powered people showing up throughout the city causing problems. Some are plainly silly while others are your basic street toughs that are making their names known. What’s different with all of this is that they’re talking and acting as though they’re making progress in a video game, leveling up and gaining new powers as they changed classes and the like. It’s all real world, but the trappings of what they’re doing play this particular avenue out. Kazuma and Ayano get involved in all of it, Kazuma working with Tachibana over it, and they start to make some discoveries about a group called Pandemonium that’s organizing all of this for some mysterious purpose.
The “public” aspect of Pandemonium really doesn’t feel like it belongs in this show since it’s a bit too gaming oriented – and the characters even say as much – and it felt like it reduced the seriousness of it. On the flip side, Pandemonium does have some elements to it that work out well towards the end. Those that are running it have connections to Kazuma from his time spent in Europe as they’re a powerful group from there. Kazuma’s past has certainly been touched upon at times in the first half of the season, mostly in direct relation to events when he left, but here we get to see what he did with his time in Europe and the people he spent it with. Namely, an attractive young woman named Tsui-Ling that won over his heart, though events didn’t play out in a way that worked for the two of them. The changes he went through while there, and the things that happened that caused him to come back, are all wrapped up in Pandemonium.
Not surprisingly, there are things going on within Pandemonium that end up sending Kazuma over the edge when he discovers it since it relates heavily to his past. This is a predictable angle unfortunately and we end up with a good chunk of the last part of this arc where Kazuma is your generally unthinking bad guy out for revenge and he doesn’t care who gets in his way, including those closest to him. It doesn’t have a lot of real impact to it since he is kept off screen for more of it than I expected, but it’s also just too early and too quickly done for him to become this way, especially after all he’s done with his younger brother and with Ayano. This particular angle just felt forced in the storyline to give it more tension and to provide something more interesting than the terribly dressed villain himself who sits on a throne. That villain and Pandemonium’s plans are pretty unimportant as it plays out as the focus is much more on what’s going on with Kazuma and the manipulations made upon him. And unfortunately, Kazuma is forced to be out of character for a lot of it and that lessens the overall impact.
The first half of Kaze no Stigma was a lot of fun and it had me really interested in seeing this second half. Unfortunately, it feels like it lost a lot of its steam and then had a less than interesting top-level plot for the storyline. People gaining powers and acting out like they’re in video games, leveling up and so forth? It didn’t work well and it even felt like the leads were talking down about it. There are things to like throughout this set simply because the characters are fun even when they bring in someone new like Catherine. But the small stories and the background material for Kazuma can’t sustain the whole thing. The Pandemonium story gets twisted around a few different ideas before it reaches for a big city-ending idea that lacks a real impetus on the part of Pandemonium. That said, I do like the show overall because I like the characters, but everything felt a bit weak here compared to the first set. It’s not bad, but it lost its way some.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Behind the Scenes
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: January 17th, 2012
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG_2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic 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.