To save the world, Akira must forsake much.
What They Say:
Akira Nikaidoa was just a normal, everyday high school slacker. Or at least, that’s what he was before he, his friend Kengo and sexy school prefect Aya were all attacked by a shadow monster called a Kokuchi.
Approached by a mysterious, shadowless stranger named Shirogane, Akira is asked to become a “Shin,” a creature from the Shadow World and help hunt the Kokuchi down. But is Shirogane telling the complete truth or does he also have a personal agenda that involves getting a bit… friendlier with Akira? Fortunately, Akira’s not completely in the dark in his dealings with the shounen ai-esque shadow stranger, as Kengo and Aya turn out to be able to see Shin as well. But can this unlikely team restore balance between the Shadow World and our own?
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded at 224kbps. The series is pretty straightforward with what it does here in that we get a standard action series with lots of dialogue and some decent action in each episode. The show works with a relatively small cast in each episode so there’s not a lot of people on screen at any given time. This keeps placement simple and effective at times but it mostly sticks to a kind of center channel based approach. The Kokuchi don’t provide for a lot that’s unique since it’s mostly on a by-character basis and they’re human but there are bigger scenes toward the end where it notches up a bit. Dialogue for the rest of the show is pretty straightforward with lots of banter moving around at times but it’s simple and without anything that really gets it to stand out. Everything is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Animated by ACGT, the show has a kind of standard look with a simple and flat approach to color design and character animation that makes you wonder if the two-cour aspect spread out the budget further than it should have gone. It’s not bad looking when you get down to it but it’s not a high-end production. The show works with darker colors overall with a lot of scenes at night or in shaded areas, though it does get a touch brighter with a few daytime scenes at school and even a beach episode. But it definitely leans darker overall and that feels flat here in standard definition form. Colors do hold up well overall with it as there’s only a bit of noise in some scenes and things are generally pretty solid all around. The high-motion sequences come across clean and in general it’s a good encode for material that doesn’t really stand out much.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized DVD case that has a couple of hinges in it to hold the five discs that the show runs. The front cover is one that works on some level but just feels too odd and out of sync to really connect. We get Shirogane and Akira as expected but the split between them feels weird with what it’s doing into the four qudrants, the nature of the cuts for the character artwork, and the half-inverted color for the logo. It’s like there wasn’t much in the way of good artwork for it The back cover works a bit better with what it does as we get some nice framing against an all-black background which has a scene from the series in larger form along the top. Several small shots from the show are underneath it to showcase a bit more and we get a solid summary of the premise. The production information is clearly listed and the tchnical grid covers the makeup of the set accurately and cleanly for fans to know how it’s put together. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release works nicely as it uses the black and white style to good effect and with some regular changes. The static nature is handled by using the disc silkscreening with each one where the right side is given over to the character artwork that runs through the five main characters. It’s definitely good looking material here where they’re distinctive and well-detailed so that it feels a bit richer. The navigation to the left is pretty much just the episodes by number and title but it’s done in a nice big chunky form that gives it a little more style as it eats up some decent real estate in this standard definition menu design. Everything loads quickly and easily and it has some good style to it – even if the logo just frustrates me a bit.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Kaili Sorano of the same name, Monochrome Factor is a twenty-four episode series that aired in the spring and summer of 2008. The manga ran in a couple of different magazines during its run when it began in 2004 and wrapped up in 2011 with eleven volumes as it initially had a shonen demographic before ended up in a shojo magazine. The original work also got picked up by TOKYOPOP for a while and saw some JManga release as well, so it does have something of a domestic audience for it over the years. But the fans from the manga will be seeing something in the anime that wasn’t in the manga as the anime introduces some shonen-ai themes throughout, which is like it’s going to appeal to a very different audience.
Monochrome Factor is a show that feels a bit like a budget show in some ways, stretched out to two seasons and going for a simpler look in a the designs and animation in order to tell more of the story. But it’s also a series that in this form is unfortunately far too familiar as it works a standard storyline that’s overly stretched out. It does end with something of a resolution, which is a plus, but it’s more of a delay in the larger storyline since the manga didn’t wrap up for another three years after the anime ended. In the end, not a lot of that really matters as if it tells a good story then you can just enjoy it for what’s presented. But the show is one that doesn’t deviate from the familiar and has low stakes throughout, resulting in something that’s just drawn out when it could have been a tighter single cour show.
The premise of the show focuses on Akira, a high school student who is pretty disconnected from a lot of things and is just doing what he can to get by. He’s not a terribly engaging character but when he ends up dealing with a tall and beautiful cloaked man named Shirogane who helps him out of a bad spot he ends up drawn into a larger battle that’s going on. Shirogane is from “another place” where he lost his position of power and is now in Japan dealing with the Kokuchi creatures that are possessing people in order to turn the country truly dark and shift it to a darker place. What Shirogane needs is help, however, and Akira is someone that he sees as being able to complement him but also it’s slowly revealed that Akira is a “Rei,” someone whose greater power is unawakened and involved in the larger events that are not covered in this series. Essentially, we get the unawakened Akira getting a handle on things here and the first round introductions to what’s actually happening.
So it’s a kind of “part one” to the bigger story. Which is fine because it does give it a mild kind of closure and completeness by the end. With Akira working with him we also get introduced to some of Akira’s friends that are slowly drawn into it. His best friend Kengo is basically the class goof but he really “gets” Akira since they’ve known each other forever. He doesn’t offer much in the way of power but there’s a good role for him here as someone that grounds Akira and provides for another way to talk about what’s going on. Similar can be said of Aya, the girl of the group, who is the big on justice type that gets drawn in and uses her blade and skills to help. We also get Haruka, who is a few years younger than the rest and in middle school, whose family has long been involved in the occult and knows a lot of what’s going on. Haruka’s an interesting character in a lot of ways and provides for some of the better reveals and twists toward the end of the show that does leave you wanting to go back and reexamine his role.
There’s a fun little support group of characters, from the bar to the butler as well as Kengo’s sister Mayu that’s looking for love in all the wrong places. They add some color to it so that it’s not just the small and tight group but that only goes so far since they just have their own regular arguments and gags that go on regularly. What the show largely deals with is the way that the Kokuchi are coming through from the other side and causing problems with that filling up the first half as one-off battles so that Akira gets to understand the threat. That they basically turn people gray and violent, leaning into their particular trait (anger, man-hungry, drinkers, etc) as their skill and just go at Akira and Shirogane intensely is about all there is to. It’s at the halfway mark that we get the reveal that there’s a bigger power at work here isn’t a surprise but even that doesn’t change much as the Kokuchi essentially keep on doing the same thing going forward from there until it gets really serious toward the end.
Monochrome Factor doesn’t have much to stand out and it’s easy to understand why it took ten years from its original broadcast to finally get picked up. But what really interests me is that it’s a really rare series in that there’s that significant change from the source to the anime. Most shows are pretty solid adaptations when you get down to it in that characters aren’t changed much. So introducing a shonen-ai element here is something that really surprises, even as light as it is, because you can see how it would appeal to a segment of the potential audience but possibly turn off a lot of the core audience. That said, the fact that it shifted from a shonen magazine to a shojo one indicates they may have known their audience better and were surving up the fan-desired elements the manga wasn’t giving them. It’s not a huge part of the show and there’s no real consumation of anything but the fact they put in as much as they did really is surprising.
Monochrome Factor is interesting in a kind of abstract sense with an “inside baseball” kind of aspect to it but for the most part it’s a series that’s familiar and drawn out without a big hook to really engage you with. The shonen-ai side will definitely be something that fans of that will gravitate toward since it’s not a well-served market in general so I can totally understand the appeal there. For me, the show was simply too much of a been there, done that kind of project that didn’t have a distinctive element to draw me in combined with a drawn out approach. For those who are fans it’s definitely great that it finally got picked up and got a decent treatment even if it is a Japanese-only release and a DVD-only release.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Maiden Japan
Release Date: October 16th, 2018
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.