What They Say
In the ashes of Justice, Two Heroes Stand Alone! Long ago, the legends say, there was a secret army. Unseen until needed, these warriors struck from the shadows, protecting justice and defending the Jushin Empire from both tyrants and thieves. They were called the Amen Osa, The Phantom Masters.
But now Jushin has fallen, its kingdoms destroyed and its citizens left to the mercy of zombies, beasts, and sadists. Yet from the ashes of destruction, a hero has appeared to defend the people. His name is unknown, and no man knows who he serves… But there are clues: the strange symbol he wears around his neck and the female living weapon he commands. Is he the last of the Amen Osa? The answer will be revealed, when the Blade of the Phantom Master is unleashed!
The audio presentation for this release brings us both the Japanese and English mixes are done in a 5.1 format at the full 448 kbps encoding. The film does have a fair amount of quiet to it overall but when the action scenes kick in it utilizes all the channels pretty well. Bass levels are the weakest but the directionality both in the forward and rear channels are good throughout. Incidental sounds and the big action moments are well accounted for with this. Dialogue has some good placement as well and key scenes feature some good depth to them. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released in 2004, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The film has some very strong visuals to which is are generally well produced here. Some of the more striking moments come from the backgrounds, such as early on in the desert where the yellow skies are incredibly solid and free of problems. There isn’t much in the way of background noise to the film but it does creep into a few areas briefly. Where it starts to fall short is in that it has some brief moments of cross coloration that stand out as well as shimmering from various pans and zooms that occur. In general, it is a very good looking piece that lets the fluid animation show well but there are several small areas that pulls it down in areas over the course of it.
For a film with strong visuals, the cover art is surprisingly bland and weak as it features the pairing of Munsu and Sando together in an action pose. It doesn’t have anything that really lets it stand out and just tries to sell itself based on the strong male/sexy female dynamic. There is some good detail to it and the coloring is quite good but it lacks any real impact as well as something to really draw you in. The logo is done in its English form but they kept the original title as part of the subtitle which works well for me. The back cover works the standard template as it features two strips of shots from the show across it while mixing in some taglines and a decent summary of the premise while avoiding talking about any characters by name. The discs features are clearly listed and the remainder is filled out with production information. ADV tends to play with their technical grid and this one is no exception as it’s shifted about in different ways yet still readable and easy to figure out what’s what. No insert is included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design reworks part of the front cover in what feels like an attempt to be hard and gritty. Can that be done with a yellow background though? The main focus is on that of Munsu as it takes his design from the front cover and darkens it up significantly. It also shifts his crest medallion from a small piece to about thirty-five percent of the screen which helps cover up his body. It’s all given a very worn and almost rusted look which helps give off that gritty feel which ties in well to the almost industrial style instrumental music used for it. Submenus are quick to load and getting around is straightforward as it uses the basic navigation sections. The disc correctly read our players’ language presets and played accordingly.
There are quite a lot of extras included here which go on about the making of the film. There’s a segment about the creation of the CG which runs about ten minutes and spends plenty of time showing off monitors and racks of hard drives and servers. It’s actually interesting to see some of what goes into it but it is the standard fluff piece that doesn’t really reveal too much if you’ve seen similar things before. A short but interesting feature is a storyboards to CG section in which it showcases the transitions between the two over a ninety-second piece. It probably could have used a narration of some sort with some explanations of what they were doing but sometimes the visuals speak for themselves. The production sketches section is a bit longer than normal with six minutes worth of material that moves by which is set to some good instrumental music to keep you interested. Other standard inclusions are here such as a couple of the theatrical trailers and some of the TV spots. The big extras included here are the three interview pieces with the Japanese cast. Each piece is between ten to twelve minutes and deals with the voice actors for Munsu, Sando and Mari. Each of them get to show off some of their recording session and more.
Blade of the Phantom Master, or Shin Angyo Onshi, is part of a continuing trend that’s blurring the lines in Asia of what constitutes anime, at least from a Western perspective. The film is based on the manga that’s running in Shogakukan but written and drawn by the Korean team of n-Wan Youn and Kyung-Il Yang. The serialization just ended this year which means it’s been going on for nearly seven years and there are seventeen volumes of it released. It’s actually more surprising that they’ve gone a theatrical route with this franchise instead of carving it up into a standard TV animation series.
The film revolves around a country called Jushin which has just suffered horribly as it has collapsed at long last. The reason for the collapse are not given nor are those responsible for it the focus of events here. Rather it wants to focus on a particular man as he travels about in search of someone that he has a score to settle with. Munsu is what is known as an Amen-Osa, an operative of the government that serves as both a spy and policeman of sorts. Their mission during the time of Jushin was to travel around and correct misdeeds caused by errant officials who were too greedy in their ways. A secret police, they worked tirelessly for the betterment of the people. But with the government gone now, Munsu has dedicated himself to his mission which has pretty much zero impact on the film. This isn’t about him righting the wrong done to Jushin but rather smaller and more interesting tales.
Armed with his guns and explosives, his travels bring him close to events that end up forcing his involvement. His mindset is that of someone who doesn’t want to get involved but his conscience and time spent as an Amen-Osa keeps bringing him back to it. During his passage through the desert, a fellow traveler helps him out and talks about his own goals of becoming an Amen-Osa to protect a woman he loves. Though the young man is quickly dispatched in a brutal way by the Sarinja of the desert, Munsu isn’t interested in avenging the young man and picking up his mission. Yet things force him into that role which leads him to meet something that could be considered critical to an Amen-Osa.
This initial story sets up the introduction of a young woman who calls herself Sando, which is what the bodyguards of the Amen-Osa are called. Extremely powerful yet something of a cipher due to events in her life, she takes to Munsu as a follower of sorts and tags along with him even though he’s clear he doesn’t want her to. Their journey is one that shows the diversity of the land with some lush backgrounds that really shine before it shifts into the main story arc. The shift from a desert story to one of a ruined city ruled by a cruel man and then off to one about an island village that has a mysterious issue going on really has the show feeling like it would have been better done as either OVAs or a serialized format.
As a movie, it really doesn’t hold together well in how it’s tying everything together. The building of the relationship between Munsu and Sando is good but the way it flows into the other story is fairly disconnected which leads to the three acts not really gelling together well. As individual pieces, they’re quite engaging. It’d be easy to split this into two pieces and have something that would work much better. On their own, the two halves of the film are strong if familiar stories that play with a sense of power and strength that is very appealing with the kinds of visuals used. The strong CG moments are kept relatively minimal, more accents than anything else until the big action scenes, which leaves it to the characters to really define the film.
There are certainly enjoyable moments for that, especially in how Sando keeps following Munsu at first and he starts to warm up to her enough to let her continue on with him. Their relationship is one that would make for engaging material in the long run, which I’m sure the manga has covered, but it’s a good setup for here. But as the second act gets underway with the island village, she’s pushed more to the background in order to tell that tale. And as interesting as it is, we just got done watching the pairing of them come together under duress and now she’s being moved to the side a bit. On their own, in this act, they have some really good scenes, such as Sando dealing with her battle in the forest and Munsu teaching the young man that he has to be the one to set the villagers free, but as a whole, I keep coming back to how weakly it all ties together.
As many problems as I have with the pacing of the film and how it all ties together, it was an enjoyable experience overall. Having the lead character of Munsu with a mission that drives him yet not having it as the centerpiece for the film works well. It keeps it from being entirely predictable even if a lot of it is quite familiar. The animation production itself is solid though it doesn’t quite hit some of the levels of other theatrical films and the overall concept is intriguing enough that I’d love to see the original manga run to get more out of it. In some ways this is more of a giant love letter to fans of the manga as it cherry picks some of the early stories but it’s done well enough to bring in people unfamiliar with the property as well. While fans are likely to get more out of it than others, it’s an enjoyable experience both for its visuals and overall direction. It could have been a lot better however if the stories were tied together in a different manner.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Making-Of Video, Storyboards, Production sketches, Interviews with the Japanese cast, Original Japanese Theatrical Trailers, TV spots, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: ADV Films
Release Date: November 13th, 2007
Running Time: 90 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.