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Karas Vol. #1 UK Anime DVD Review

6 min read
Your money gets you a 2-disc set loaded with extras and a Karas mini-manga from Dark Horse.

Karas was Manga Entertainment’s big new title for 2006, produced to mark the 40th anniversary of production studio Tatsunoko Pro, it’s an all-action spectacular with top-notch visuals and a story that wouldn’t be out of place on the pages of a western comic book. In other words, just the sort of thing that Manga made their name with. Does it have what it takes to live up to the high expectations that have been placed on it?

What They Say:
The series which takes place in a fictional version of Tokyo, where humans and demons coexist. As the city’s guardian, it is Karas’s responsibility to keep all these different forces in balance. The task proves manageable enough until the power-hungry Eko intervenes – at Tokyo’s expense, leading to an explosive battle that will decide the fate of mankind.

Audio comes in Manga’s usual wide range of format’s with both English and Japanese tracks coming in Dolby Digital 2.0 & 5.1, and DTS versions. I listened to the Japanese DTS track for this review. The show has an absolutely wonderful soundtrack, performed by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, and with that blaring from all corners of the room it’s hard not to get carried away. Effects and dialogue are well-place across the soundstage, and plenty of oomph is given to the fight scenes to help build and maintain the atmosphere. There were no apparent problems.

Karas is without a doubt visually stunning. The animation is a hybrid of 2D & 3D techniques that in places almost has a photorealistic feel, it’s that good – but every so often, particularly in the action sequences, you’ll get little visual cues that remind you you’re still watching an animation. It can be a little bit jarring, especially since the visuals at their best are so good. The encode does justice to the source materials, too – there’s nothing in the way of visual problems or defects.

No packaging was provided with our review copy.

After a brief sequence of Otoha kicking off his transformation sequence, you’re dropped into a simple screen with the Karas logo in the middle and the option – Play Feature, Scene Select, Extras & Languages – arranged around it on a fiery background. A piece of background music plays over it. Selecting an option kicks off a 15-second transition animation – far too long – before bringing you to the next screen. The menus are easy enough to follow, but thanks to the transition. far too slow to use.

Disc One has Behind the Scenes montage (a 4-minute series of clips of those involved in the show’s production), a 3-minute clip comparing of the original CG concept designs with what made it to the screen, a set of original Japanese trailers & TV spots, and a short set of interviews with the Japanese VAs for Karas, Hinaru and Yurine.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
A pair of flying samurai battle above a city in an action sequence that wouldn’t look out-of-place in a Hong Kong martial arts spectacular – all improbable moves and slow-motion replays. One eventually wins and finishes off his opponent in gruesome fashion. The winner is Lord Eko, and he’s not someone you want to be getting involved with.

Fast forward three years, to Shinjuku, and a series of brutal murders have taken place. The killings are rumoured to be the work of water demons, and the local media are on the case, poking fun at the theory and trying to prove it wrong – but it appears the rumours are true, as a TV crew discovers at the cost of most of their lives. Kure, newly assigned to the Shinjuku police, also escapes the attack in one piece along with one of the presenters. It’s just the latest in a series of similar attacks – each victim is drained of bodily fluids and the modus operandi of the killer appears to be the same each time, but so far there are no other clues as to the killer. Sagisaka, a long-serving Shinjuku cop and Kure’s new partner, firmly believes the water demon story is true – his daughter was the only survivor of the first such attack – but so far no-one will believe him.

Meanwhile, there’s a new man in town – Nue – and he’s no normal person. He’s fully aware of what’s behind the killings, and is on a mission to put a stop to them. While attempting a hit on a pro wrestler – the water demon itself in human form – he’s interrupted by Karas, a ninja superhero who deals with the demon in very short order…

Some explanations, as Karas isn’t all that easy to follow. The current Karas, real name Otoha, is the latest in a series of people to carry the title. Each one is accompanied by a Yurine, who controls Karas’ power and in some ways acts as its guide and controller. Karas is intended to do good, to protect the human world from the demons that lie in a nearby dimension and aren’t the friendliest. Lord Eko used to be Karas, but now he’s bent on destruction. Both Otoha and Nue seem determined to prevent him from carrying out his plans.

While this goes on, Sagisaka and Kure are left investigating the aftermath of the battles going on around them. The battles themselves aren’t visible to human eyes, but the wreckage caused by them certainly is, and it’s one of the strangest cases the police are having to deal with.

The style of the film is rather abstract and at times difficult to follow – it’s one of those shows where you really need to pay attention to what’s happening, otherwise you’ll quickly find yourself losing track of events, a trap I fell into with my first encounter with the show when it was getting its Japanese release. The advantage of all those lush visuals, though, is that they give you a hook to work with & make the show easier to watch.

The story itself is kind of “demon-of-the-week” at the moment as time is taken to set up the various characters and plot-lines, but it’s interesting enough – by the end of this disc you have a general idea of who’s who and how the main factions are lining up. Beneath the surface gloss, though, the story isn’t anything hugely unusual – at its core it’s a super-hero story with a Japanese twist, and once the initial “WTF!?” feeling passes and you begin to realise what’s going on events play out pretty much by-the-numbers. Manga’s PR for the show bills it as “Batman with a samurai sword”, which isn’t too far from the mark. They have big plans for the series (the dreaded term “franchise” makes an apperance), which is just the sort of thing Manga made their name with & that usually goes down very well with UK fans.

In summary:
Your money gets you a 2-disc set loaded with extras, and a Karas mini-manga from Dark Horse. All told it’s a pretty good package, and while the story probably won’t set the world alight, it’s competently done and presented as one of the best-looking shows I’ve seen in a while. On the downside, the story on this disc was originally presented as three OVA episodes – Manga have spliced it into one feature-length episode, which is a practice I can’t really condone. You can spot where the episodes would have begun and end if you pay attention. If issues like that aren’t going to both you, though, this is worth checking out.

Japanese Language 2.0, Japanese Language 5.1, Japanese Language DTS, English Language 2.0, English Language 5.1, English Language DTS, English Subtitles, Behind the Scenes Montage, Concept/Animation Comparison, Original Japanese Trailers & TV Spots, Japanese VA interviews

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A+
Video Grade: A
Menu Grade: C+
Extras Grade: A

Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: April 24th, 2006
MSRP: $19.99
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37″ widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.

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