Otogi Zoshi
Volume 2 - Enemy Shores

Starring (voice): Fumie Mizusawa, Kan Tokumaru, Kenta Miyake and Kumi Sakuma
Manga Entertainment
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 04 September 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, more than this who ever places the last three will become Emperor. Through a twist of fate Hikaru, disguised as her brother Minamoto, crosses the land with Watanabe no Tsuna, a partially sighted samurai, as her only companion...

Volume Two of the twenty-six episode Otogi Zoshi is finally out, continuing to provide a great narrative married to exquisite looking animation. For some further background on the show have a quick look at the review for Volume One before reading any further. The story continues to combine the best elements of action, quest and political intrigue.

Episode six, Noroi-Jima, and we pick up the story where we left it last time with Hikaru and the gang off to the cursed islands to confront the pirates whom the villages have accused of theft and murder. But things are not always what they seem, as Hikaru quickly discovers. Although Hikaru recovers the Magatama of water, it is not without cost and consequences and the group find themselves shipwrecked and separated.

In Mansairako, Hikaru finds herself washed up in Chinzei, still on the trail of the last Magatama (the Magatama of fire) which she needs to save the capital and the Mikado. The problem is that it is in the hands of Shuten Doji, who has his own plans. For once, Hikaru is revealed to be a woman and she comes close to being raped until she is rescued by Mansairako, who has lost his music troop whilst staring at a sunset - well drugs will do that to you every time.

Episode Eight: Red Demon, and with the gang back together they are finally in a position to go after the Magatama of fire. But Doji, holed up in the Kumaso stronghold, not only possesses this artefact but also gunpowder - making a frontal assault of the castle suicidal. Unfortunately Kintaro, who was introduced last episode, has joined the quest much to the detriment of the show. This type of character, with his over exaggerated expressions, is more normally found in anime comedies and his continual inclusion does little except spoil the tone of the show. For a minute there, when he bit into a bomb and it went off, I thought that they had gotten rid of him, but the annoying little brat survives. Lady Urabe continues to be an enigma when she calmly announces to the group that she too can create gunpowder bombs - not the sort of thing that your average lady of the court should know.

Episode nine: Darkness and Hikaro, and her companions are in a desperate race to get back to the capital before Shuten Doji and the Kumaso clans have an opportunity to attack. However, Hikaro finds that people often are not over kind to the messenger when they don't like the message.

Volume Two carries on the tradition from Volume One of providing some very high quality extras. If this ever comes out as a box set in the UK (it's already out in the States) it's going to be a killer. First up is a group discussion, running at a little over twenty-two minutes, between director Mizuho Nishikubo, Kazuchika Kise (who is both the character designer and animation director), Shou Tajima (who worked on the original character designs) and Yoshiki Sakurai (the chief writer for the show). If nothing else it shows that these guys take their art and craft very seriously. For the intellectually inclined, and for those wishing to prove that anime isn't just for kids, we have a Tokyo University Lecture on the Heian era, which runs to a healthy twelve minutes and looks at the historical accuracy of the show. Last up is a bunch of original trailers for the show. As per usual there is also a set of trailers for some up and coming shows - always worth a once over.

Audio options on the disc are extensive; you have the choice of either stereo, 5.1, DTS in both English and Japanese, with English subtitles. Normally the English dub is inferior to the original Japanese, but not so in this case. The voice over artists do a superlative job, though some of the translated script is a bit suspect as it moves between a serious tone and some very jarring modern slang.

Given the quality of both the show and the extras on offer, we can only hope that this is the future of Manga releases.

Charles Packer

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