Sometimes legends get distorted over the years.

What They Say
SYNOPSIS: In a strange dark age, across the land that will someday become Europe, the Divine Empire has been on the march, ruthlessly devouring its weaker neighbors for generations. But when a savage priest attempts to resurrect the long-buried Demon King Arawn by sacrificing Riannon, the young high priestess of the Gael Clan, the Empire sows the seeds of its own destruction! Deciding to side with the beautiful girl instead, the revived Demon Lord joins forces with her potentially legendary brother Arthur, and begins to assemble a mighty force that may just bring the Divine Empire its knees! Humans, elves and even dragon take arms in a spectacular animated interpretation of the Celtic, Gaelic, British and Roman myths of Albion, as an all star English vocal cast adds the crowning glory to TEARS TO TIARA the complete epic collection!

The Review!
Audio:

This release of Tears to Tiara contains both an English and Japanese 2.0 track. For the purposes of the review the Japanese track was used. The track is a 2.0 track that uses the side speakers for most of the dialogue and effect which produces a rather full sound in this manner. Dialogue is clear and there are no instances or dropouts or distortions noticed. The center speaker gets some of the dedicated music work which helps that seem a bit fuller as well without drowning out the dialogue or effects driven parts from the side speakers. The English track that is new to this release mirrors the presentation of the Japanese track with the use of the side speakers for dialogue and sound effects while the music is primarily center speaker driven. As opposed to the Japanese track there is one instance of distortion where static worms into a few seconds of dialogue and one spot where it sounds like the audio track hiccups as a character is delivering a line. Other than that the track is pretty similar to the Japanese track in its quality.

Video:

Originally airing in 2009 the video is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen. The video contains grain, a good deal of noise, some minor ghosting and some dot crawl. The episodes are spread out in a 6/6/7/7 count on the discs so the video isn’t overly crowed most of the time. Thankfully this doesn’t produce much color blur as the series likes to use vibrant colors. Also the blacks are solid which is a positive given that it isn’t a rare color in the program.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release is a four disc Stackpak case. The front cover features eight of the characters from the series in various poses and the image is almost split in half diagonally with the top half featuring a lot of blue and a flower filled field that conjures images of heaven/paradise while the bottom half uses a lot of red and brown to give more of an Earth/Hell motif. The image is surrounded by a brown and yellow boarder that contains images that given the impression of an ancient text. The side continues the text look with an image of Riannon with her arms outstretched welcoming someone and Primula praying behind/above her. The back features a circular image with some older style text in the circle and the copy inside that. The back also features an image of Morgan with her hands on Octavia’s shoulder looking like she is about to land on Octavia’s back as both smile. The DVDs each have a set of characters on them with a circular pattern and runes around the edge. Disc 1 uses images of Arawn and Riannon, disc 2 Morgan and Arthur, disc 3 Octavia and Lydia and disc 4 uses Llyl and Rathy.

Menus:
The menu screens are essentially the same across the four discs with a golden schemed menu that has the US Tears to Tiara logo and half the circle with runes theme that Sentai uses in their release. There is then a deep golden brown box that has little golden boxes with episode numbers at the top and an oval selection for the Languages plus one for the Special Features on the two discs that posses it. For the episodes the choice is shown by a small blue tiara that shows up on top of the box with the respective episode while a large blue box goes around the lower two box choices if selected. A few seconds of the open play in the background of the main screen. The Language screen and Special Features screen both use the same basic set up as the main screen with the circle and runes but they use the Japanese logo at the top. For both screens a few seconds of the end play in the background and for the Extras it uses large rectangles for the choices and the blue box around it to show selections. The Language screen uses long ovals for the selections and the special addition to this release is that the choice that is selected is highlighted by a large and very regal crown with the words “Now Playing” inside it, which is very appropriate for this release. The menu is quick to move with selections on the main screen but there is some noticeable delay in implementation, particularly when changing languages. It isn’t a horrible delay but it is a little on the long side for a release from them.

Extras:
The only extra as such on the set are a clean opening and clean versions of both closings.

While not a typical extra this set does have the addition of an English dub. There are some very familiar names here for fans of the old ADV Films stable and they by and large deliver the performances fans have come to expect. Illich Guardiola (Arawn), Hannah Alcorn (Riannon), Monica Rial (Octavia) and Tiffany Grant (Morgan) particularly shine in this endeavor. The biggest flaw in this title is one that will come down to a matter of preference but the use of an Irish accent is one that doesn’t always work. The biggest problem is that it sounds like the actors were told to use an Irish accent but not given the same accent tapes or spent anytime matching them up. Some of the characters from the same village use accents that don’t match up completely, including the brother and sister pair of Arthur and Riannon. While they get closer to matching later in the series the initial episodes are rather jarring.

The accent also creates a new problem in that on occasion when Chris Ayres (Arthur) uses it at points (particularly when the dialogue is fast and louder, say yelling) the accent drags his voice up quite a bit. While having a deeper voice isn’t the most menacing thing, face it the first time you heard Mike Tyson talk it damaged how scary he was. Additionally from time to time various actors seem to drop the accents in some of their lines. Having recently spent time with someone with a Scottish accent this doesn’t happen naturally-especially for people who have never tried to drop the accent. It is a little thing that can help break the feel that using the accent is striving for which when done correctly nicely juxtaposes the different sides in the story against each other in a rather subtle yet consistent way. In the end the dub likely won’t become one lauded for the ages but it also is far from being one that should be derided either. If the accents had been a bit more consistent among the actors at the start and not vanished from time to time the decision to use the accent would have paid off far more than it did.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The origin of the Tears to Tiara franchise dates back to an erogame published in 2005. The game proved popular enough that in 2008 a remake for the PS3 was made with the adult scenes removed and a new character added and the title has since spawned a sequel and a pair of PSP games. The anime adaption follows the more mainstream remake with the removal of the erogenous material and inclusion of the extra PS3 character. Viewers will notice that the story borrows quite a bit from several religions and mythology including Welsh, Celtic, Christianity and Roman.

The feature introduces the viewer to some members of the Gael clan at a time where swords and magic are the weapons of the age. The first member shown is Riannon who is the greatest oracle in the land. She is taken prisoner by the Holy Empire priest Drwc who intends to use her as a sacrifice to awaken the Demon King of legend. The Demon King is prophesized to rain destruction around the land and so the Holy Empire declared that his temple be sealed when a prophecy of his revival was revealed but Drwc thinks he can control the Demon King. However Drwc learns that prophecy can be vague depending on one’s point of view and that legends suffer the same fate when the Demon King Arawn is awakened but has no interest in Drwc and his plans for devastation.

Arawn rejects joining Drwc and saves Riannon from his control as her brother Arthur arrives to try to save his sister. He arrives at a time that allows him to have doubts over Arawn and his motives which are further compounded when Riannon declares that she is his wife and so Arawn is now the leader of the Gael clan. While Arthur is suspicious of Arawn circumstances will force him to join with him as an unwilling ally. As the two fight together Arawn sees something in Arthur that reminds him of someone he knew from long ago and he decides to stick by him for a while. The Gael clan now looks like it will be at war with the Holy Empire after the confrontation with Dwrc they and will now have to leave their village and go to the mainland and the country of Albion to make their stand.

Despite Arawn having been revived too soon and having a body that is at the level of a normal human he declares that he will seek the throne to the Holy Empire general Gaius when events force the Gael to confront a Holy Empire fortress city but is there a hidden meaning in the words he uses as to his real plan and how it will play out with the Gael clan? As the story progresses the group around the Gael clan will gain a place to live and strong allies but they will also gain more attention from the Holy Empire and some powerful people within its ranks. Things will really pick up as the wheels of fate and reincarnation pick up speed and head toward a confrontation with Arawn’s past and with Heaven it self’s machinations.

Tears to Tiara is an adaptation of game story and as such it has a few problems in that the story told is widespread and far reaching and there are certain elements that can be used in games to get the player to develop a bond with certain characters through attacks and customization that are not available to be used in an animated product. Also in a game a single character can be the focus but the writers for the anime went for a more broad approach and at times that makes it harder to determine who they want the audience to focus on and empathize with. There is also a lot of story here and trying to make sure all the game characters get into the story winds up with times that the characters get only the most basic of introductions. These flaws aside the ambitious nature of the show does give a story that has a broad scope and some pieces that are epic like in the development of a kingdom. If one is patient with some of the shortcomings they will find a story that does not settle for doing things in small measure and some wonderfully developed characters and sense of a grand scope to be found within.

In Summary:
Tears to Tiara is an ambitious tale showing the rise of a country from a small clan as they grow and acquire the power to challenge the strongest empire of the day. Inside this tale one will find a personal struggle of growth as preconceptions of the world are challenged and the importance of freedom are realized. And all of this will take place against a backdrop of the efforts of the past as reincarnated people will get a second chance to build a place they can live in freedom. While not every character gets a chance to shine the whole of the product covers for some of the flaws in the individual ingredients. It aims very high and while it doesn’t totally get to that level it still achieves a fairly high level in the final measure of things.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Review Equipment

Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: C+
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Blue Drop

Love knows no bounds. Neither gender nor planet of birth can stop it.

What They Say
Five years ago, something horrifying happened on Kamioki Island. Something so nightmarish that it stripped all memory from Mari Wakatake's mind even as it left every other human on the island dead in its wake! Now enrolled against her will at an isolated girl's academy, Mari is unaware that hidden eyes are watching her, waiting for her memory to return. For buried in her psyche is the most terrifying secret of all: while Mari was the only HUMAN who lived, she may not have been the only survivor! As something in a female skin invades Kaihou Academy, Mari's only hope may lie in a strange girl to whom she is inexplicably drawn yet cannot trust. An all new English dub featuring an all-star cast takes on a story of star-crossed love on an interplanetary scale in BLUE DROP - THE COMPLETE COLLECTION!

The Review!
Audio:
The DVD contains both an English and Japanese track and both are 2.0 in their presentation. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used but the English track was played in its entirety after that to review the track that was newly added for this release. The Japanese and English track both mirror each other in that the side speakers are used to drive the dialogue and effects while the center speaker is used mostly for adding in some of the background music on the release. Neither track presented either distortions or dropouts and both did a good job of making sure that the dialogue, effect and soundtracks complimented each other without drowning each other out at inappropriate times.

Video:
Originally airing in the winter season of 2007 Blue Drop is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The release has a few issues with noise, softness, dot crawl, color shift problems and ghosting being present to a degree though not to an over whelming extent. Beyond these issues the presentation does do a good job with both the bright colors and the blues that appear in the feature.

Packaging:
The packaging for Blue Drop is a standard two disc case with the discs on either side of each other in the case. The cover features Hagino Senkoji looking like she is diving/floating downward from the upper left corner of the front while Mari Wakatake is in the lower right looking up. The ship (Blue) from the series is diagonally in between them while the title of the series and its Earth logo run parallel to the ship. The text proclaiming it the complete collection and English language version run perpendicular to the logo. The back cover has Hagino and Mari facing each other and clasping hands while looking kindly into each other’s eyes in the upper right hand corner. There are twelve stills from the show that run vertically under that picture while the copy for the title is found under that. The spine features Hagino’s subordinate Tsubael in her uniform from aboard Blue as she looks like she is floating. The first disc features Hagino on the left side as she has the bird from early in the first episode landing on her arm while Mari us on the right moving her hair out of her face as she is caught in a strong breeze and both are wearing their school uniforms. The second disc features a close up of Hagino in her military uniform while the full image of Tsubael from the spine is on the other side.

Menus:
The main menu of the first disc features Mari Wakatake and Michiko Kozuki in their school uniforms as well as Yuko Sugawara wearing her lab coat from the school on the right side of the screen while the left and center feature each episode as a block that can be selected as well as the language and special features options below that while the instrumental beginning of the opening song plays in the background. The Language screen features the images of Mari and Hagino Senkoji from the disc’s label along with an image of Blue as the beginning of the closing theme plays. The second disc focuses on the Arume as Azanael clutches her pendent and Tsubael looks longingly into the distance as the fleet leader Shibariel looms behind them and uses the same part of the opening as disc one. The language screen features a front and elevated shot of the Blue and shows off its main deck and command tower while playing the part of the closing as on disc two. The special features screen has a collage image of the main girl’s from Mari’s dorm and Yuko as the main academy cast is well represented as the sub screen uses the opening theme intro again. The selection currently highlighted is either represented by part of the logo of the circle with its concentric lines around it though using less than half of that image or a silhouette that looks like it is a military insignia. The menu is quick to respond to changes in selection and the implementation of those selections.

Extras:
The extras on this release are a clean opening, closing and an art gallery that looks to feature the original Japanese DVD covers and some of the production models from the series.

While not a traditional extra this release does have a bonus that the previous release did not and that is an English dub. The particular highlight of this track is the performance of the two leads, Hilary Haag as Mari Wakatake and Monica Rial as Hagino Senkoji. The story demands quite a lot out of the two of them as they have to portray a pair of school age girls as they go through the highs and lows of love, hate and pretty close to everything in between.

The role of Mari provides quite the challenge for Hilary Haag, as the role requires significant vocal range since Mari is a very emotional character who expresses herself strongly with both her face and her voice. She has to use her voice to match the character on screen and Mari is the type of character who wears her heart on her sleeve and Hillary Haag proves herself to be up to mastering that task. On the other hand Monica Rial’s Hagino requires a far more subtle approach as the character of Hagino is not only more reserved but also under some incredible pressures with her joint role as captain of a scouting invasion force but also school girl who learns more about the land she is supposed to be invading and comes to empathize with those she should ostensibly be the enemy of and the emotions that blossom between her and Mari.

Kelly Manison’s Azanael is also worthy of being singled out due to her portrayal of a character that is obsessed with revenge and sometimes has to hide just how far down the depths of her hatred run. The rest of the dub actors also turn in a strong performance as the other characters in the story. The use of accents for those aboard the invading Arume ships works well as the cast does a good job of trying to synch up their use and create a sense of unity among the invaders though the fact that they don’t always match fully could be seen as giving a size to the Arume home world as even in the same region accents can vary among its different corners.



Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The story begins with two people leaving the Earth and on their way to negotiate a peace treaty. Though her aid is nervous the middle aged women who is leading the delegation expresses optimism and recites lines from a play. When questioned about the lines she flashes back to the year 1999. A young lady named Mari Wakatake is being transferred into Kaihou Academy which is a girl’s school where most of the girls live in the dorms though she is completely against this and sees it as her grandmother looking to get rid of her. On her way to the school she sees a girl her age standing on a rock sticking out of the ocean and a swarm of birds passing her and she is immediately intrigued by the girl.

Mari’s introduction to the school administrators and her homeroom teacher goes poorly though Mari couldn’t care less. She has no intention of staying but is stranded when her driver leaves her at the school as Mari is being shown the school by Michiko Kozuki. As Mari is feeling abandoned and she is being shown to her dorm a snippet of Mari’s past is revealed in that she was part of an event five years ago that caused her to have amnesia and even forget her parents. As Mari is looking around her new room the girl she saw by the ocean comes in and introduces herself as Hagino Senkoji. Mari greets her warmly but as the two shake hands Hagino sees a scene of disaster and a young girl crying with fire in the background and she goes blank. Mari is shocked as she finds that Hagino’s eyes change and suddenly Hagino’s hands are around Mari’s neck.

With this introduction Mari is put at odds with Hagino which Hagino seems not to understand and worse given Hagino’s status with many of the other members of the dorm she is set at odds with Hagino’s fan club. After she gets into a brawl with them she is sent to bed and sees Hagino sneaking out of the dorm. Mari follows her but is stunned when she sees Hagino in front of an unearthly looking ship and her eyes glowing blue when she turns to Mari. Now both Mari and Hagino’s life will be thrown into a turbulent sea of emotions as they both get closer and try to keep their distance with each other. Secrets will be revealed about Hagino and the source of the ship Mari saw as well as the link she has with the tragedy in Mari’s past. The two will learn more about each other and themselves. Perhaps they may even become friends or more but do they have a chance when Hagino’s superiors start to make plans for moving forward with their invasion and past machinations are revealed? And what happens to Mari when it seems those she relies most on have secrets of their own? When two worlds are set to collide what is the fate of two young girls as they are at the pivotal point of history?

Blue Drop is kind of two series in one as it tries to meld the story of two girls and their relationship with each other against a science fiction backdrop of war and loss. The series does a decent job of establishing the main characters and bridging the worlds between them as they clash with each other and learn more about each other and themselves. The pathos some characters build is developed and carefully nurtured. The negative side to this coin however is that a number of factors and events are left empty and it seems that the planning staff either failed to plot events out in advance or had the number of episodes cut on them as they leave some interesting clues about Mari that go absolutely nowhere and the brief scene at the start of the series really isn’t wrapped up. The series just leaves so much hanging it feels like they should have concentrated either on the school or sci-fi elements but the mix just leaves the audience wanting too much that gets left undone.

In Summary:
Blue Drop is an emotional story of the paths two girls walk and how their pasts butt up against the present where they meet. The feelings will fly as Mari is a character to quickly show her emotions and who is constantly being forced to adapt as her world view gets changed while Hagino has to come to terms with these new feelings she has that grow both toward the human race in general and Mari in particular that is set against a backdrop of an alien race looking to invade the Earth. The series shines when it comes to developing its characters but falls short in the execution department of really making the invasion of Earth seem like something deeper. Perhaps if the series had been longer it would have finished stronger but what is here is a strong character piece set against a much weaker backdrop.

Features

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Promotional Video, Japanese TV Spot, Art Gallery, Clean Opening & Clean Closing Animation

Review Equipment

Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
_______
Needless 1

Needless action. Needless fanservice. Needless fun.

What They Say
They're called Needless-mutants who wield amazing powers such as super speed, the ability to change form, and some, like Blade, the power to "learn" other opponent's powers. It's Blade's greatest ability. But is it powerful enough to overcome his weakness for cute young girls in revealing little skirts? Find out in the craziest action comedy anime of the year!

The Review!
Audio:
The feature contains both English and Japanese language 2.0 tracks. For the purpose of this review the Japanese language track was used. The track is a basic one with the sound being split between the front right and left speakers with no center speaker presence. The track is free from dropouts and distortions. It also lacks directionality for dialogue and effect though they are clear and easily discernable.

Video:
Originally produced in 2009 the feature is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation has a number of issues including the presence of noise, occasional blocking with some of the solid colors, jaggies, and some minor ghosting. The video is alright but nothing special on this release though the blacks are largely solid throughout the presentation. It is a bit on disappointing side as the visuals are an interesting mesh that seem to borrow from Gurren Lagann’s mix of bold color, styles and little pop art flavor.

Packaging:
The cover shows off the artistic flair that the series designers chose to run with. A striking image of Adam Blade standing with his trench coat spread in a dramatic way as if it were caught in the wind to give him a heroic look while wearing a grin on his face. There is a large yellow light cross in front of him and both he and it are set against a metallic grey background while the title appears in silver surrounded by bold black lines. The back features an image of one of the characters (Disc) met in the series as well as a jagged series of stills that feature a number of images from the series and a good representation of the action and fanservice to be found within as well as the copy for the series. The spine contains an image of Eve Neuschwanstein in a very fanservice image of her with her torn clothing from the series. The packaging is a two disc set with a flipper in the center. The first disc contains the three members of the Beautiful Girl’s Force clinging to each other while the second features two opponents found later in the series.

Menus:
The menu for the first disc features a close up of the image of Adam Blade from the front cover with six plus shape “x”s in front of him at around waist height each bearing an episode number with the episode title underneath them. The selection of an episode is highlighted by a red dot at each of the four points of the “x” and the special features and language selections that are below those are highlighted by a red underline while a few seconds from the open plays in the background. The language screen includes the shot of the character Disc from the back cover with current selection having a series of half concentric circles on either side of the choice highlighted underlined as a portion from the close plays. The special features screen features the image of Blade from the front with a portion of the close playing and the choice currently highlighted being underlined in red. The second discs main menu matches up with the first disc with the exception that Eve Neuschwanstein in her school girl uniform replaces Blade and the dots that indicate selection are a light shade of green. The language screen replaces Disc with the Beautiful Girl’s team image from the cover of the first disc label and the special features uses the full image of Eve with her torn uniform and drill weapon as the same music tracks as the first disc play on the same screens. The menus are quick to respond to changes in selection and the implementation of them.

Extras:
Extras on this set are The Secret of the Lilly Academy shorts, Needless information, character sketches, and clean open and closings. Needless information is a series of translator notes for some of the background information and explanations for some of the editorial decisions on changes made for the R1 release. Also a word of warning is that the character sketches include images that are spoilers for events on the second disc. The Secret of the Lilly Academy shorts are little two minute plus stories that take place in an alternate line time line where Cruz Schild is infiltrating an all girl’s school composed of the young women from the main series and the events that follow him as he attempts to investigate while girls are either in a constant state of undress around him or trying to get him into the same to make she he is a “she.” These shorts crank the fanservice aspect up a few notches and don’t pretend to be anything but an excuse for such behavior.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Welcome to the future. 50 years have passed since World War III and the atrocities committed during it. Once such center of atrocity was Tokyo which had a large scale bomb of unknown origin dropped on it. The contamination lead to the area being abandoned by the rest of society and left as a gaping black hole in the recovery that followed that is known as Black Spot. The thing is that even though society may have abandoned Black Spot life didn’t-and life has a way of compensating for the most bizarre conditions in some truly remarkable ways. In this case life gives birth to a population of super powered individuals that the outside world comes to dub Needless.

The year is 2130 and a human resistance group that has banded together to fight a group of Needless that are part of the corporation Simeon that has just made a push into Black Spot are the beginning of the show as they attempt to rise up en mass. The resistance move is incredibly short lived as they are almost instantly wiped out by the Needless with only a brother and sister pair managing to get a way though they are pursued by four legged robot hunting machines known as Testaments. The older sister pushes her brother Cruz Schild into the sewer to escape and turns to use her power against the machine pursuing them as she disappears in a fiery explosion along with the robot. As Cruz runs through the sewer trying to come to terms with his loss one of the hunting machines breaks into the sewer and confronts him. With all other hope lost Cruz offers up a prayer to God.

It seems that life isn’t the only one not to abandon Black Spot as Cruz’s prayer is answered and he is rescued by a most unorthodox priest who wears a long black coat but no shirt. The priest then makes a spectacularly heroic but almost fatal stand and brings down the machine with some armaments he carries with him. One good turn deserves another and Cruz drags the unconscious and bloody priest back to his church where an older man named Gido praises the priest (Adam Blade) for having been able to make it back in the shape he was in after he has made contact with Blade’s eccentric partner Eve Neuschwanstein. As Cruz is queried he explains the situation in which the resistance was fighting against Simeon and their leader Adam Arklight (who is almost an exact twin of Blade) and the evils they were believed to have committed.

With the evils of Simeon laid in front of him Blade decides that his sense of justice will not let him sit idly by while the people of Black Spot suffer and Cruz is accepted as a member of the group who will know work to challenge the ruling power of the land. Through their journey the group will meet new allies who will join their cause while also meeting new opponents such as the Beautiful Girl’s Force and may wind up having to fight one of their own. Along the way challenges will be met with power and strategy as well as humor as the characters will display the ability to take even the most series situations with a grain of salt born of bravado or stupidity-and sometimes a combination of both.

Needless contains some wonderful designs for the series and characters that make it a really nice break from some of the standard bearers in the shonen action genera. The story is fast paced and at times almost breathless in pace as it speeds along its rails. The story may not be the most original thing ever put to disc but the use of the humor allows for some avenues many in the genera do not attempt and helps create a sense of “new” even in the old. Also the characters are a nice treat with their spinning between brilliant at points and utterly stupid at others that lends a great deal to the fun of them. The biggest negative of the series is that the pace is so important that the quiet moments used to really show off characters personalities when not fighting feel a tad underused. This is a shame as it would be nice to see these characters in a much larger series so that one can get to know them better-though perhaps some of the charm of them is in the limited moments we get to see them and their lack of time to wear out their welcome.

In Summary:
Needless is an almost frenetically paced series that manages to carefully walk the fine line between both reveling in the stereotypes common to the shonen story tropes but also mocking many of the same. The characters also often switch between modes where there are incredibly clever and outstandingly stupid and the series never really takes time getting bogged down in any given issue. It plows ahead throwing action, humor and fanservice-lots and lots of fanservice-at the audience as it spins its tale of a small group fighting against a large corporation of power users to free the land of their influence, and also to show off fanservice at almost every possible turn.

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B-
Video Rating: C-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A-
____
Lady Hermit

Vengeance may take time to enact but it doesn’t forget.

What They Say
From the vaults of the Shaw Brothers hails a film that showcases the legendary wuxia masters' talent like a blood-soaked prize. In a performance celebrated as her magnum opus, Cheng Pei-Pei (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) memorably demands body parts from her foes in a vengeful rage.
Cheng is the Lady Hermit: a paragon of poise and stealth, in hiding for years, plotting revenge ever since her injurious run-in with the sinister Black Knight. Shih Szu (Shaolin Handlock) is a lethal go-getter with wicked bullwhip skills who begs Cheng to teach her, hoping to stay the demon herself. The Black Knight's days are numbered as the Lady Hermit and her protégé perfect the technique to take him down - call the Flying Tiger.

The Review!
Audio:
The feature contains both an English and Mandarin mono language track. For the purpose of this review this review the Mandarin language track was used. The track is a basic one with dialogue and sound coming from the right and left front speakers and with no center speaker presence. The track contains no distortions though dialogue spoken off screen can drop to a level that almost approaches a dropout in a scene or two.

Video:
Originally created in 1971 the video is presented in 16:9 matted widescreen format. The feature itself contains grain, noise and is a bit soft in its presentation though it does present colors and handle action scenes well without any major issues.

Packaging:
The front of the DVD slipcover features the titular character of the Lady Hermit against the background of a large blue-green pagoda and a goldenrod colored sky for the top portion of the cover with a white banner just beneath that which appears to wrap around to the back and contains the title. Under the banner is a monochrome colored still of the Lady Hermit in action from the film. The back has the Black Demon in a fight ready stance with a deep orange Kanji and English logo for the series set against a goldenrod colored background. The back also contains an image of the original theatrical poster and the date, director and four stars named as well as the feature copy inside a white banner. Along with that it also has five stills from the feature but this release did not have the slip cover some previous Shaw releases have had. It does retain the Shaw Brothers print on the back of the DVD cover like other Shaw releases, this time in a greenish-blue color. The DVD label uses the top image from the front cover of the DVD slipcover.

Menus:
The main menu features the close up image of the Lady Hermit and pagoda from the front slipcover with the same colors as well as a white banner with the logo and the selectable options while a bold audio track plays in the background. The scene select screen features the image of the Lady Hermit fighting taken from the front cover in a reddish purple and white color scheme and little stills representing the chapter stops while the audio select screen uses the blue-green wallpaper from the back of the DVD slip cover.

Extras:
This feature contains no extras.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The feature opens on a foggy night in Baijiang Town as the remains of the rain storm earlier in the day still lie in puddles on the street and drip off the eves of the roofs. The night is not still as two figures first meet on a bridge and then one prowls in front of the homes by the river. He passes by houses with talismans hanging on them until he finds one that does not have them. A close up reveals a face that looks to be from the grave as he enters the home via the window and shortly after a scream is heard followed by a splash of blood.

The scene in Dungan Town the next day is far more peaceful as Miss Leng Yushuang-a servant in the local Da An security company- is out shopping for supplies and stops at a stall selling chestnuts. The bustling but peaceful scene is broken as a man wearing peppers and shaking a bell enters. Nothing escapes Miss Leng’s eyes though as she sees him focusing on a man and his stack of silver ingots at another store. As the man with the ingots is accosted and being robbed by the man creating a disturbance Miss Leng reaches for the jar of chestnuts when a young woman confronts the would be thief and stops his actions. The thief is not alone as two of his friends come out of the crowd to confront the woman who unleashes her whip. With her skills with the weapon the thieves appear to be driven off though it is clear the young woman received some assistance in her task with some appropriately thrown chestnuts that helped to even the odds.

The young woman (Cui) is shown to the security company and is introduced to its head Mr. Wang. Cui states that she has been looking to learn martial arts and has heard rumors that the renowned Lady Hermit has been seen in the area. She is told that the Lady Hermit might be in Baijiang a short distance away and decides to head there in the morning as the security company has a load they are escorting heading there then as well. Since Cui is the daughter of Mr. Wang’s friend he offers he a place in the compound to sleep for the night. As she prepares for bed she gets to talk with Miss Leng and express that she wishes to defeat the man known as Black Demon and someday become the number one martial artist in the land. Miss Leng expresses some reservation as to Cui’s motives but stays pleasant until she clutches her waist in pain as she is leaving and after Cui expresses concern Miss Leng says it will go away with some rest.

The night will not be a quiet one however as the thieves from earlier in the day infiltrate to exact their pound of flesh on the woman who foiled them. Cui manages to fight them off though she seems a little oblivious that she has a guardian angel helping her in secret with some well placed thrown blades. Miss Leng talks with Mr. Wang later that night and heavy allusions are made as to her more famous nom de plume as she mentions she will have to be leaving. The events in Baijiang that lead to the rumors of the Lady Hermit turn out to be a scam being run by Black Demon in her name in an attempt to draw the Lady Hermit out of wherever she had been hiding for the last few years. Cui sees through the scam and decides she will not allow this injustice and will defend the name of the women she dreams of calling master out of principle.

The trap works though as Cui along with Changchun from the security company (who also has feelings for Miss Leng) become outnumbered and perilously close to overrun when trying to expose the fraud being committed. They are saved by the real Lady Hermit but the act of saving them exposes Miss Leng’s identity and she attempts to run from a very persistent Cui. After a long chase Cui does finally persuade Miss Leng to take her on as her disciple and Miss Leng teaches Cui the technique she created to counter Black Demon’s style. Their days of tranquility will be short however as the love of the same man may split their master/student relationship forever. Despite this impasse Cui decides that she will not let her master’s name be tarnished and sets out to challenge the Black Demon. With her student traveling into a situation where she will be facing impossible odds the Lady Hermit must don her garb and hope her injury will hold up and allow her to save those she has grown to love from the person she despises most in the world.

The Lady Hermit is a great example of two of the best women martial artists in the Shaw Brothers’ fold as they go about their various objectives of training and vengeance but also throwing in some moments of conflict born of a shared love for the same man. Some of the set ups such as the demons in the city at the open of the feature are brilliant ploys to try to bring the Lady Hermit out of hiding and showing of the clever nature of the Black Demon and great writing techniques. The feature also contains some impressive choreography including an impressive fight up and then decent of a pagoda from the outside. On the down side the Black Demon doesn’t seem to be a practical threat as much as he should given the level of intelligence he displays and some of the special effect tricks are a bit obvious in nature. Those aside this is a truly fun film.

In Summary:
The Lady Hermit is a wonderful example of the ladies getting a chance to shine in the martial arts film world and showing off their skills as being the equal of their male counterparts. The film also has a spectacular sequence of a fight being staged on a pagoda and there is impressive work making the ascension and descent from the outside look stunning. That the film works in a tale of love requited and not amidst the interplay without losing a step is a tribute to the writers and actors involved. Hopefully this isn’t the final Shaw Brothers film FUNimation releases as it is the end of what they have announced having signed, but if it is they are taking their license out not with a whimper but with a heck of a bang.

Features
Mandarin Language, English Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

Grade: B+
Audio Rating: C
Video Rating: C+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
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