What They Say
Feudal Japan is set to bear witness to the bloody clash of titans as two fearsome ninja tribes are unleashed, one upon the other. For wretched within the Edo Castle loyalties have been severed into warring factions, as two sons struggle to inherit the title of Shogun. If this rupture goes unresolved, the Tokugawa kingdom will be torn apart. A solution must be found, one befitting a samurai family.
The Kouga and the Iga, two ninja clans with four hundred years of hostilities between them, meet at the request of Lord Ieyasu. There they learn that the peace forced upon them is to be broken by the whim of royalty, and that the outcome of this battle will determine the next Shogun. The passions of the past quickly reignite as two scrolls are sent out into the night.
Ill-fated is this event indeed, for lovers stand with hands entwined as travesty approaches on the wings of a hawk. Reared from birth as sworn enemies, Gennosuke and Oboro, each the heir of these rival clans, seek lasting peace between their peoples. But the terms have been set, and two lists seal their destinies. Two lists from which a name can only be crossed out in blood.
No mercy will be spared to the enemy.
Basilisk retains its original two language tracks from the previous DVD editions though it follows through with what FUNimation has been doing with their stereo based releases to date. The English language mix had received a 5.1 upgrade during its DVD release and that’s presented here in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 in lossless form. The track sounds good, though there’s hardly anything really noticeable in terms of rear speaker activity, but it has a good solid clear sound to it with plenty of placement as well as depth and directionality across the forward soundstage. It’s not a knockout piece but it’s solid. The Japanese language track was only in stereo on the DVD so we get that here, but in a lossy Dolby Digital format encoded at the max of 640kbps. There is very little difference overall when it comes to playback on most setups, but it’s not as strong or quite as distinct in some areas. Unfortunately, even if the two tracks sounded the same, putting out lossy audio for the original language of a release is simply bad marketing and earns only negative remarks from casual to die hard consumers who want high definition audio. It’s not a bad sounding release in the slightest however and most fans will definitely enjoy what they hear since it is better than the DVD – but that’s not a good rallying cry to get people to upgrade their releases.
Originally airing throughout 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is at 1080p encoded using the AVC codec. The show is twenty-four episodes long and is spread out across three discs, with ten episodes on each of the first two dual layered discs while the third disc has the final four episodes and all the original extras in standard definition outside of commentaries that appear where appropriate. This release is an upscale of the original source material to 1080p and it appears to have had a fair amount of DNR applied to it. I’m really conflicted about this release in two ways. One is that towards the end of the second disc, around episode nineteen, there’s a lot more visible noise in the digital animation from the banding, but it all appears to be source related. The other is that while the DVD releases were horrible in so many places with MPEG-2 breakup, this one really does look very good even with all the DNR – by comparison. I would prefer that they did not apply DNR to their upscales, but my suspicion is that the only people really heavily bothered by it are those that will spend seven or eight times as much to import the Japanese sets. This edition’s main fault for most viewers will be the gradients that are visible through which we do see noise, but beyond that most people who have seen the DVDs will view this as a positively significant upgrade and definitely a better release than what we had before. Considering I found the DVDs near unwatchable at times, I love how this looks in general but understand why it’s getting harsh words from some fans.
The Basilisk release keeps to what we’ve seen with other FUNimation box sets, though I’d love to see their original release done up for Blu-ray with the wooden box again. The slipcover has a good piece of black and white artwork of the two main leads looking serious and somber which is offset by the red through the logo as well as the Blu-ray logo along the top. I really like the tagline under the series logo with, “To the one I live, prepare to die.” The back of the slipcover goes for a more classic look with a lighter look as it features the elders in the background while Gennosuke and Oboro are in the foreground in full color towards the bottom. The summary is fairly lengthy but it sets up the entire series just right and there’s a very tiny strip of shots from the show through the middle. The extras are all very clearly listed, though I wish they’d explained what the first press extras actually are rather than just list them. The discs technical features are all very clearly laid out as well with the formats and everything you need to know about it.
Inside the slipcover we get the two standard Blu-ray cases which come across fairly well as the artwork is dark for the most part and the deep blue blends well with it. Both volumes feature the pairing of Gennosuke and Oboro together, with each cover favoring a different one of them in the foreground with their eyes open while the other is in the background with their eyes closed. The first volume has a bit of a grayish blue hue to it while the second features purple, again reflecting the primary focus character of that cover. The back covers wrap around the background artwork but through the bulk of it in the middle it’s kept black with a breakdown of what episodes are on what discs with episode titles and numbers. Also listed under each disc is what extras are available on that disc, but all three discs have the incorrect listings for that. The reverse sides of the cases have full color artwork on them that I believe came from the original DVD covers, albeit shrunk down a bit to fit these dimensions, and they all have a very strong feel to them due to the solid character designs.
FUNimation really steps up its game here with one of, if not the, best menus on Blu-ray yet from them. It uses animation from the show after a bit, but the initial load-up point for it with the detailed artwork that flows from one piece to the other is really quite striking. If they could have found more artwork to use and stretched it out longer to make it run the entire loop it would have been fantastic, but even that opening tease really sets the stage well for this release in terms of atmosphere and design. The navigation is kept small along the top right in a parchment style with quick to load submenus and very easy movement throughout, though I would have liked to have seen slightly larger fonts when it came to areas like the extras selection. The discs did not read our players language presets which is the only significant fault I place on the design of them.
The extras for this release are pretty significant which is good, though it appears some didn’t end where the packaging indicates they will be. The first disc has a single commentary track on it and they list that the disc will have the history of the ninja and the second will have the cast auditions and clean opening and closings. Unfortunately, only the commentary made it onto the first two discs as the second disc doesn’t have an extras section, unless I’m missing something. The third disc is where all the extras actually landed though so we do get everything, which is the extensive Japanese behind the scenes features, the history of the ninja and the audio cast auditions pieces for the English language release as well as the clean opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga of the same name, which in turn was based on the original novel by Futaro Yamada written back in 1958, Basilisk is a twenty-four episode series that is all about ninja on ninja action. Taking place over the course of seven days, two ninja clans fight hard against each other in a fairly brutal violent way with plenty of sexuality infused into it as well. The manga won an award for best general manga back in 2004 and the anime series was fairly well received, though FUNimation’s DVD release less so on technical merits during its original single volume release.
Taking place in 1614, Basilisk occurs at a time when the succession of the shogun is in dispute as two grandsons of Iyesau Tokugawa are at each others throats to become the one to ascend to power. Iyeasu has retired and is off at Sunpu castle where he observes a show of power between two rival ninja clans, the Kouga and the Iga. With the clan leader of each there along with one ninja, the two ninjas do battle with each other until Tokugawa is satisfied. All of this is for show in the end though as Tokugawa informs the Hanzo from that clan there that he intends to determine the succession of the shogunate by having the two clans fight each other. Each clan will represent a different grandson and the clan that wins will determine who will ascend. Ten names are written by the clan leaders on the two rosters which will then be sent to their respective clan villages in order to start the war.
The two clans have been at relative peace for some four hundred years after an anti-war pact was worked out between them by the first Hattori Hanzo. Several decades prior though there was an incident where the two clans were set upon each other and the Iga were nearly put to destruction by the Kouga through a manipulation few were aware of. What made the whole incident worse was that true peace was close to being achieved as the youngest of the leaders were in a relationship together. Those two are now the elders of the clan and even though they once loved each other dearly, they’re now setting their clans to war against each other and eliminating any chance of peace.
To make matters even worse is that their descendents are in the same place they were all those years ago. From the Kouga clan, Gennosuke is the next to lead them and he’s grown up to be a powerful but compassionate man who has spent time at the Iga village over the years and has fallen deeply in love with its next leader. Oboro is an unlikely leader of the Iga in that she has no real ninja abilities and only one truly scary power with her eyes that sets her apart, so much so that her grandmother fears her as well. The two are days away from being wed and bringing their dream of true peace between the Iga and Kouga to reality.
Unfortunately for the Kouga, they become aware of the war that has started too late as their roster scroll was lost along the way when the Kouga ninja who had it was killed. But once the rosters will filled out, the war started quickly and the bulk of the series focuses on this back and forth between the two sides of ten as they come up with various ways of killing each other, sometimes in groups and sometimes singly. Once both sides are fully up to speed though, the show moves through numerous attacks as the variety through which they can kill and infiltrate is used to the extreme.
When we first watch Basilisk several years ago, there was some initial disappointment in some of the setup of the series in that it wasn’t a “true” ninja show. All the characters involved here have powers and abilities that go beyond the human, so it lacks the kind of violent realism I had wanted to get out of a show like this. When you have characters that shoot spider webs, completely take on the appearance of others, turn into little pools of jelly or even have no arms and legs and yet is an insanely powerful killer, realism is not the name of the game. To take it even a step further is that one of them is nearly four hundred years old as he has some sort of strange and hungry beast that lives inside his skin which eats all the wounds that he gets.
There’s a lot to like about this show with its visual design, both in background and sets as well as the characters. There’s a fair bit of travel through the countryside and along Tokaido road that gives it a fair bit of personality and character with a good amount of detail to it. The character designs themselves are really quite good as they have to work with some creepy looking characters at times, but most of them have a presence of power behind them. What also works out well is that the women do have a very curvacious feel to them and they use their sexuality in the right way to try and achieve their goals, often of either saving one they love or getting revenge on someone who killed said someone.
If there’s an aspect of the character designs I didn’t like, it comes from a story element. One of the famous quotes is that the eyes are the windows to the soul. With the massive eyes you find on some anime characters, you can see a lot into them. With Basilisk, it only takes a few episodes before the two leads, Oboro and Gennosuke, have their eyes sealed so their special abilities are kept out of the game. Both of them are very appealing characters so losing those windows hurts. To their credit though, the voice performances (at least on the Japanese side, we didn’t listen to the English version much) make them work very well as they have to give strong performances in order to sell these characters because of the lack of eyes. The emotions from them are very solid, even when they’re tight and controlled like Gennosuke often is.
I had a difficult time with Basilisk when I first saw it since it went for the supernatural characters. But it was also problematic because watching a lengthy back and forth series of fights did not play out well across six volumes and an average of two months between volumes. Taking it in season form, watching the show over the course of two days, it really flows very well and holds together better than I imagined it would. This is the kind of series you wish they’d slip the marathon feature into as well so you can view it as a larger narrative over the three discs. I really liked this Blu-ray edition overall as it visually gave the show the release it should have for the most part, but it does fail when the high definition audio side when it comes to the Japanese track. Still, with everything that’s here, it is a release that is leaps and bounds over the original DVD releases and is in my mind worth upgrading to if you enjoy the show and want to see it look better.
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, The Onslaught of War Commentary, History of the Ninja, Cast Auditions, Textless Songs, Trailers, Behind the Scenes of Basilisk
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: December 15th, 2009
Running Time: 600 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.