Ninja Scroll-Volume 1 (TV Series)-Dragon Stone (2003)

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Released 21-Nov-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Anime Main Menu Audio & Animation
Storyboard Comparisons
Interviews-Crew-Soundtrack Composers
Featurette-Creating The Cover Art
Gallery-20
Theatrical Trailer-3
Trailer-Vampire Hunter D, Initial D, Biohunter
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 94:17 (Case: 90)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Tatsuo Sato
Studio
Distributor
Urban Vision
Madman Entertainment
Starring None Given
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Kitaro
Peter McEvilley


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, next episode preview

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    1993 saw the release of Yoshiaki Kawajiri's highly popular animated film Ninja Scroll. Set at the close of Japan's Edo Period, Ninja Scroll follows the adventures of ninja for hire Jubei Kibagami and his bloody confrontation with the demon ninjas of the Kimon Clan, a group bent on toppling the ruling Japanese regime (reviewed here). Ninja Scroll's popularity (at least outside of Japan) was such that Jubei was always bound to make another appearance: Ninja Scroll: The Series (Jubei Ninpuchou: Ryuhogyokuhen) marks his return.

    Set some fourteen years after the events of the film, the series sets Jubei on a new, though familiar, adventure. "Doomed to live and die in shadows," the Hiruko clan of demon-ninjas possess the Sacred Dragon Stone. Hiruko ninja Roga steals the stone in a desperate attempt to return it to the Light Maiden, hoping to experience a brief moment in the light. The Kimon Clan are back and pursuing the Stone for their own typically dark purposes. Meanwhile, Jubei meets Shigure, mistress of the Hidden Village. After the Kimon Clan massacre the village and Shigure discovers that she is in fact the Light Maiden, Jubei, Dokuan (the shady monk from the film) and thief Tsubute escort Shigure to the village Yagyu. Both Kimon and Hiruko ninjas are in hot pursuit and will stop at nothing to capture the Dragon Stone . . . .

    Fans of the original film may be a little disappointed by the series, especially by the absence of Yoshiaki Kawajiri from the project. Although carrying over familiar elements, the series just doesn't have the same level of creativity or depth. The new demons just don't compare to the old Kimon ninjas and have far less in the way of characterization, and are often little more than loud caricatures. I do like the clash of industrial and feudal ideas carried over from the movie, the combination of Japanese folklore, demons, and samurai with the early stages of industrialization and machinery. The series pushes character design just a little too far to the side of modernization, especially in the choice of music: but this all comes down to personal taste.

    From what I recall of the movie, though, the new Jubei and Dokuan seem true to character. The story itself seems a little contrived, but I guess I am getting a little tired of sacred stones and monsters of the week. But I am interested to see where this series will go. It's definitely worth deciding for yourself, but like I said, devoted fans of the Ninja Scroll film may feel the series doesn't quite measure up. But have hope: rumblings on the internet rumour mill suggest that Kawajiri is working on a second Ninja Scroll film. For now, though, there's still some fun to be had with the current take on Jubei Kibagami.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    I've been able to review some excellent video transfer from Madman lately and although Ninja Scroll's transfer is very good, it's not quite as good as some I've seen. The series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

    The transfer is very detailed and sharp. There is a light spread of grain in most shots, although noise and pixelization are nicely controlled and blacks are quite solid. Colours are soft and natural, with fine, light line work. The image is given a soft glow and lighting is used creatively, creating different levels of shadow and light.

    The biggest let down is constant interlacing. Most Madman animation releases seem to have this problem, although it appears a little more pronounced in this release. Combing suggests that the source is non-progressive and Madman's continuing use of NTSC-PAL conversions only exacerbates the interlacing issue, although I am not sure yet if such a conversion has taken place here. There does appear to be some 3:2 pull down judder, especially in the closing credits. I look forward to the day when I can watch animation without seeing interlacing.

    Otherwise the transfer is excellent, with no MPEG artefacts and no obvious film artefacts.

    English subtitles are the usual yellow and are a good translation.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Ninja Scroll is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0. I listened to both tracks and was pleased with both, though naturally the English track packs more of a punch - always a plus in a production like this.

    There are no problems with dialogue quality and audio sync is not applicable here.

    The English track produces a solid surround presence, though not a whole lot in the way of directional effects. Most of the action is steered to the front, with ambient noises and music to the rears. The Japanese track sounds similar, just with less intensity. The subwoofer lends good, clean support to the onscreen action, adding extras "oomph" to the sounds of body impact.

    Music is provided by Kitaro and Peter McEvilley, who have made some very poor choices in terms of style, although Kitaro's contribution consists of the opening/closing themes which are not too bad. The score is all synthesizer and when it sticks to clichéd, Edo sounding music it works fine. However, we also get irritating dance beats and driving, metal guitar work to accompany fight scenes. This sort of music pulled me completely out of the story and felt very out of place.

    Even though the English track has a stronger presence, I can't recommend it. While I recognize that something is always lost in the translation and simply doing a "literal" translation would produce dull dialogue, the dub provided has deviated too far from the original. There's nothing worse than adding dialogue where there is none in the original, and at times, the English dub is different enough to change a character's intentions and motivations. And of course, the voice acting is not great.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Storyboard Comparisons

    Alternate angle story board for four different scenes. Story angle, completed angle, or story with completed version in a small box.

Interviews-Crew

    Interviews with Kitaro and McEvilley, explaining their music choices and working process.

Featurette - Creating the Cover Art.

    Watch an artist draw the cover art in real time.

Gallery

    20 images of production art.

Promotional Trailers

    These give away just about the entire storyline of the volume one episodes. Wait until you've watched the episodes first. In English.

Trailer

    Several trailers for anime connected to Kawajiri.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 and Region 2 UK releases are identical to ours, right down to cover art.

    The Region 2 Japan has similar extra features, including cast and staff interviews, textless intros and outros, production art gallery, and promotional trailers. It doesn't look like it has English subtitles. The first pressing included a mobile phone strap.

    Unless you've got to have the strap - which is probably long sold out - all the releases balance out evenly.

Summary

    Not quite as good as the film, Ninja Scroll: The Series is still enjoyable on its own terms.

    Video is very good apart from interlacing.

    Sound is solid and clean.

    Several interesting extras are included.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Adam Atkinson (read my bio)
Friday, February 03, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-S336, using Component output
DisplayLG Flatron Widescreen RT-28FZ85RX. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V357
SpeakersDB Dynamics Belmont Series: Fronts: B50F, Centre: B50C, Rears: B50S, Sub: SW8BR

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