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Juni Taisen: Zodiac War Season 1 Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

JUUNI TAISEN © 2015 by NISIOISIN, Hikaru Nakamura/SHUEISHA Inc.
Zodiac Hunger Games mixed with Highlander!

What They Say:
For one wish, they’ll risk it all. The time has come for the Twelfth Juni Taisen Tournament—held every twelve years. Twelve proud warriors, each baring a name from the Chinese zodiac, will prepare to fight in the bloody battle royal. The victor is granted a single wish, and they’ll do whatever it takes to earn it. Blood and tears will flow on this battlefield—who will be the lone survivor?

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo while the English language dub gets a 5.1 boost, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series has a really good mix of action and dialogue scenes that are pretty balanced in most of the episodes. The action scenes don’t go big in a lot of ways that you might expect as it’s often one on one and without a lot of collateral damage. Which works fine because it’s done as a lot of intense smaller fights that do have some sprawling elements to them. The way it moves across the soundstage is engaging and the dub gets some good additional impact with the 5.1 mix and its bass. Dialogue is pretty straightforward throughout with some good interactions that have some placement and depth to them when there are positionings that require it. Mostly it’s standard center channel stuff though but it comes across in a good way. Both tracks are clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2017, 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 are spread across two discs in a nine/three format that gives it plenty of room to breathe. Animated by Graphicina, the series has a really strong look to it with its designs both in character animation and with the backgrounds and settings that it becomes a very immersive experience. The character designs feature a lot of really good details to them that are kept through the run while the locations give us that richly detailed city that’s needed in order to cement its realism. The character animation is very fluid where it counts and the violence doesn’t shy from the blood or messiness of it all, though it doesn’t go into it in a way that makes you feel like it’s enjoyable. The colors throughout are solid with great black levels and we didn’t see anything with breakup or noticeable noise during regular playback.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the four discs on hinges while coming with a slipcover that replicates the case artwork. The slipcover gives us a black stripe along the top that’s better than the traditional blue and the main key visual of all of the main characters around it looks great even as busy as it is. You get a good handle on who is who and having the moon in the background works well. The back cover goes for an all-black background with the summary of the premise taking up most of the space. The extras are clearly listed and we get a nice image of Rat along the right as well. The shots from the show are too dark to be of any use but the technical grid is laid out in a clean and easily readable way with an accurate breakdown of both formats. While there are no show related inserts included with it we do get artwork on the reverse side with a good serious two-panel spread of the main cast spread out with a bit more space to them.

Menu:
The menu design for this release works with static images and applies what we get from the packaging to good effect. With the moon shining brightly it all still has a dark and kind of oppressive feeling to it, especially with the logo wrapped in black and the larger menu navigation itself also done with black and a little light framing. The main visual looks good with it brighter and more distinctive here than on the cover itself while the navigation is easy to use and get around in with just the show on the first disc while the final episodes and extras are on the second. Language setup is a breeze and everything moves smoothly both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu during playback.

Extras:
The extras for this release come with the clean opening and closing sequences but also a little more. We get a seventeen-minute piece that was produced by Funimation as each of the main zodiac actors get to talk briefly after coming out of the booth doing a little recording. It’s fun to see them doing their piece and talking about and giving a nod to each of the main actors. It may be long but it feels short and works through everything pretty quickly.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the novel of the same name from Nisio Isin and artist Hikaru Nakamura, Juni Taisen: Zodiac War is a twelve episode series that aired during the fall 2017 season. The novel was a one-off work that also spawned a manga back in 2015 while another novel landed just as the anime itself ended in 2017. Animated by Graphinica, Naoto Hosoda handled the direction working from the series composition by Sadayuki Murai. I had little idea what to expect going into this show other than it being zodiac related and coming from Nisio Isin, which generally ramps up some interest. What I got was a show that felt like a Zodiac version of the Hunger Games with a violent element that I didn’t expect. And the more the show went on the more interested I got – for a little while.

The premise for it is intriguing as twelve deadly warriors from around the world have been brought together based on their ability and their connection and special powers related to the Chinese zodiac. They’re being given an entire city to play in for the twelfth Zodiac Tournament, an even that happens every twelve years. Each version has been different over the years and this one looks to be particularly violent as they’ve all been given a poison gem to swallow that will kill them in twelve hours. Prior to that, they must eliminate the others and take their gems from them. The winner will get their wish given to them which can be anything. It’s got a nice nod to Highlander in a way with it as you see how some of them want to set teams to figure out what to do and some are looking for more peaceful resolutions so that it’s not wholesale carnage.

But that’s really what it becomes, almost from the start, with the meeting ground suffering from an attack from within, allowing for everyone to splinter out into the city. While past tournaments have allowed for more time and no poison, giving them a chance to spread out around the world to fight or hide and survive, everyone is sticking close because they’re all given the poison gem. The setup is solid and the show intends to go the distance as we see some real bloodshed here, from exploding body parts to the undead walking around thanks to one person’s abilities. The violence is more of a draw than I expected because it starts off kind of comically with the Boar member, who has a non-reload ability that her shoot endlessly, causing a lot of destruction up until the whole event actually starts. That she’s killed from the start and controlled by one of the other members to cause random trouble works far better and more menacingly than I expected.

The setup for the show is fairly simple but it has a lot of complexity to it. With twelve members and twelve episodes, each episode is given over to the backstory of one of them. It all ties into the larger picture in some really good ways to explore why they’re fighting and what their abilities are. It’s not all about their background as material in the present makes up a good chunk of it as well, especially the attempts to forge alliances or just understanding what’s motivating others. This really does a very good job of giving you ways to connect with the cast as a whole but not at the expense of other characters since everyone gets a good bit of time across the whole run. The problem I ran into is that my favorite characters, such as Boar, Monkey, and Sheep, all ended up being taken out relatively early. That didn’t eliminate them completely from use but it did kill some of my enthusiasm as I didn’t connect as strongly with some of the others and it reduced my investment the further things got pared down to characters that simply existed in the show for me.

In Summary:
I had little knowledge going into this show and ended up discovering something that worked far better than I would have guessed in reading a summary for it. The series is structured well to give everyone a chance to shine, not something that always happens, and it delivers some real thrills and uncertainty as it starts eliminating the cast in pursuit of the larger goal. It does get a little anime-philosophical in the last episode with the one that wins in determining their wish but that’s mostly expected. The series has a great look, strong casts for both languages that will please fans, and a solid package holding it all together. I loved the visuals, action, and the violence that it works with to really give it some weight and impact. Definitely worth checking out and investing in.

Features:
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, The Zodiac SEssions

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: October 16th, 2018
MSRP: $64.98
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.


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