What They Say:
It’s been a year since brothers and Kumou shrine guardians, Tenka, Soramaru, and Chutaro, have defeated the legendary giant snake that threatened to destroy humanity. However, their lives are thrown into upheaval when they discover a plot to revive the evil serpent.
The audio presentation for this show brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the new English dub, done in 5.1, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The film series is one that is largely dialogue based when you get down to it but it does have a number of good action sequences throughout before it goes to the bigger material toward the end where it uses the 5.1 mix more. There’s some good stuff to be done with the forward soundstage with impact and overall presence so the Japanese track fans aren’t shorted here but the English mix just comes across a bit stronger since it’s louder and a bit more distinct, but not overly so. The dialogue portion of the show plays very well for both mixes with lots of placement and depth at times to keep it moving and engaging. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems during playback with dropouts or distortions.
Originally airing in 2017 and 2018, the transfer for this three-film series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Each film runs either an hour or just under a few minutes and are kept to a single disc as it comes to just around three hours total. Animated by Wit Studio, the films definitely have an appealing look with the characters since there are vibrant reds and greens mixed with a lot of black for the costuming and that stands out well here. It’s very reminiscent of the TV series overall so that I think it doesn’t stray far but it amps things up by being done for theatrical release with richer colors and more detail and fluidity. The backgrounds are well detailed and there’s a good overall presentation for it that helps everything to stand out well when blended with the character animation. The transfer captures all of this in a very clean fashion with solid colors and smooth movements that don’t break up or have any problems. The lack of line noise and background noise is a big plus and the detail solidity gives this a welcome bit of a bump in how good it looks when it comes to the characters. It’s definitely a solid looking work that comes across just right here.
The packaging design for this release comes in a standard-sized Blu-ray case that comes with an o-card for the first pressings of it. The covers match for both of them but the o-card looks better as the lack of the blue borders of the case makes the white flow better. It gives us a good looking piece where the main cast is in the center with a good bit of detail and I like the logo above as it blends through a few colors, giving the Donten piece a nice mix of red and black. The back cover provides for a small summary of the premise and some character artwork while breaking out the extras and what films are included. A strip of shots from the films highlights the designs nicely and the remainder is a kind of standard theatrical breakdown of who is involved and lots and lots of logos. The case is the same but has artwork on the reverse side with some nice supernatural location material. It also comes with a wrapped three-piece mini-poster set.
The menu design for this release goes with a static approach and it’s also kind of harsh in a way. It uses the black and white circle effect decently but when paired with red for the bars of the navigation, it has a strong look to it that sets a ton. The whitespace features the main visual of the cast from across the features which looks good with all of its detail and I like the circle effect of it within the white. The navigation along the left features the Donten mention in large with the rest under it where we get a play-all piece, selection for which film you want to watch, and basic setup details. Everything loads quickly and easily both during regular playback and as the pop-up menu when needed.
The only extras included here are some trailers for the films.
After the success of the TV series adapting the original manga series back in 2014, it was surprising to learn that a trilogy of films were coming out in 2017 and 2018. Even more that it shifted from Dogakobo for the animation to Wit Studio since they’re usually pretty busy. There are always reasons to change studios when going from TV to film though I’m not usually a fan of it. With this film series, adapting the Gaiden manga that ran from 2013 to 2017 for three volumes, the films came out across several months and delivered largely standalone tales. Each one does what it sets out to do and it looks great. The problem was that it’d been a bit since the TV series itself and that property, while fun, was not memorable.
So much so that I struggled a good bit here with these films in trying to remember much of anything about the series, which is important since the first film follows up more directly on the show. With the prison being moved to Hokkaido, there’s plenty of issues to deal with even as things are going to settle down some. They’ve had their losses even with the victories and the tensions are a bit more worn on the sleeve than they were before for some. The focus on how everyone is handling recent events kind of paints this more of an epilogue to the show than its own thing but it’s also setting up the new status quo going forward. A lot of this blends into the second film as well with the cast as their lives have gone through such changes and trying to adapt to that is easier for some than others. Or some just bury it down far enough that it seems like they’re able to just brush it off and move forward. And that definitely causes tension itself.
The second film does change things up a bit more as it focuses on Isuke and Isame even as it plays to convention with how there are issues with the clan, a villain to face off against, and the usual darkness. I mean, when you learn that to complete the training you have to kill a family member you know you’re in familiar territory. These are well-animated works so you can get a good feel for the intensity of the action when it shifts there, and while it’s not out and out violent like it could be, it doesn’t shy away from doing what it needs to in order to get the point across. But I’ll say it’s definitely welcome to have a film that leans into the darkness and doesn’t try to go for a completely happy and bright ending, instead of letting all the foreshadowing and bluntness do all the right work for it.
By the time the third film hit, as it shifts things up again into its own tale, I’ll admit that I was feeling even more lost. What I found with the trilogy is that once I stepped back from trying to piece it together with what I remembered from the show and just enjoyed it for its animation, the more I actually enjoyed it. That’s… not good when it comes to the story. Each of the tales has interesting moments but so many tendrils snake back to the previous TV series that I felt like I was a couple of steps behind from the start and was never able to catch up. So taking it in purely on its technical terms, admiring the strength of the animation and design team, the direction of the action and the cast, it’s easy to become enthralled by what they put out here. Shout! Factory and Eleven Arts put together a really nice package here and I’m still surprised that they managed to get a dub made for it. Fans of this work will definitely enjoy having it all together on one disc in high quality with the bells and whistles it needs. I wish it had a little more in terms of extras, or even a primer of some sort so that it could help lapsed viewers re-engage better.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: February 4th, 2020
Running Time: 180 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.