Otogi Zoshi
Volume 1 - Legend of the Magatama

Starring (voice): Fumie Mizusawa, Kan Tokumaru, Kenta Miyake and Kumi Sakuma
Manga Entertainment
RRP: 17.99
MANG 5022
Certificate: 15
Available 26 June 2006

Japan in the Heian era (794 - 1185) and things are not well in the land. In the capital city of Kyoto the imperial court is at the height of its power, art and literature are flourishing in a creative explosion. However, in the countryside poverty and illness ravishes the land, and the capital itself is quickly falling into a state of disrepair. In order to halt this decline the emperor must find the missing Magatama. When the five are joined together legend says that the suffering of the land will be alleviated, and whoever places the last three will become Emperor. Through a twist of fate Hikaru, disguised as her brother Minamoto, crosses the land with only Watanabe no Tsuna, a partially sighted samurai, as her only companion...

From the opening shots you can tell that this show is going to ooze quality on an artistic and storytelling level. It takes no prisoners throwing you straight into the action with little explanation; this is obviously a show that is going to require you to pay attention. It's attention that will be well rewarded, not just for the beautiful soundtrack or gorgeous visuals but also for the rich and complex plot by Yoshiki Sakurai. The show has a specific look to it; the colour pallet is earth tones for the most part against backgrounds that have the look of water colour paintings.

The disc contains the first five of twenty-six episodes. The show is split, with the first thirteen episodes telling a historical tale and the latter thirteen moving the action to contemporary Tokyo, where the characters have been reincarnated. The quality of the show shouldn't really come as any surprise as it comes from the Production I.G. studio, which has also produced the excellent Ghost in the Shell, Blood: The last Vampire and provided the animated sequence in Kill Bill.

Act one, Raiko, sees our heroine up against the bestial Tsuchigumo clan who have stolen one of the Magatama's. Although the show starts with an attack by the Tsuchigumo clan, the main purpose of the episodes is to set up the characters and the quest that Hikaru has undertaken in her brothers name as he has fallen ill.

Act two, Sadamitsu, sees our two seekers coming across a rural hamlet where things are not what they seem. The village appears to be safe from the Tsuchigumo clan; the village elder explains that they give food as tribute. In this period of Japanese history money was almost unknown and would never have been used by the poor. But the village holds a deeper secret that will put Hikaru and Tsuna's life at risk.

Act three, Tsuchigumo, and two have become three with the inclusion of a surviving imperial warrior who knows a secret way into the clan's lair. But is three going to be enough to overcome the clan and retrieve the Magatama? Well it would be odd for them to fail in act three of twenty-six, but Hikaru finds that some victories can come at a price and some come too late.

Act four, Rashomon, finds the heart broken Hikaru secluded in her home, when she gets a summons to attend the imperial palace. This is a very introspective act. Hikaru meets a new character and, as in much of these shows, little is given away and the enigma just adds to the slow thoughtful tone.

And the final act on the disc, act five, Urabe. Abe no Seimei continues his machinations at court whilst Hikaru and her companions begin their quest for the remaining Magatama's. To help them out they are sent a female companion Urabe, who seems to know more than she is willing to divulge.

There is a nice choice of audio options. The show is presented in English and Japanese stereo, 5.1 and DTS. For an anime show the extras are superb. There are two discussion featurettes regarding the show from its creators and a lecture from Dr Kazuto Hongo of the Historiographical Institute of Tokyo University, who helped to keep the show as historically accurate as possible. Last up are the textless opening and closing sequences.

So, great visuals, nice audio, good extras and five episodes on the disc, how could you go wrong.

Charles Packer

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