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  Specs
  • Full Frame
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  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • Japanese: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
    English
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Photo gallery

Shadow Skill - The Movie

Madman Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 130 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
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Based on a five-part manga created by Mugumu Okada in 1992, Shadow Skill is a tale of unarmed combat and high adventure in the mythical kingdom of Kanuda where skill in dealing death is rated amongst the highest of a citizen’s virtues.

Directed by Hiroshi Negishi (Tenchi Muyo) and featuring character designs by Toshinari Yamashita (Burn-Up W), Shadow Skill was produced as two OAVs (Original Animated Video) in 1995/1996, and a 26-part TV series which aired in 1998. The two original OAVs are presented here on the one DVD by Manga/Madman. Previously released on VHS, Manga has changed the running order of the two programs contained on this DVD - the second OAV, comprised of three acts, is presented as a movie and now runs first, while the first OAV is presented as an epilogue (confusingly, they are still marked ‘Part 2’ and ‘Part 1’ on the back of the DVD slick).

Part 2 (The Movie – 80mins)
In the land of Kanuda, fighters regularly gather in the arena to do battle, and vie for the honour of ‘Sevalle’ – the highest rank of their order. Elle Ragu, the latest to attain the title and the reigning champion, is the last in a long line of proponents of the ancient way of the ‘Shadow Skill’. Let’s just say, Elle is one lady you don’t want to meet in the arena, a darkened alley, or anywhere else for that matter. As formiddable as Elle is, she does have one weakness - her affection for her adopted brother Gau Ban, whom she took into her keeping when orphaned at the age of ten. Although Elle is training Gau in the Shadow Skill arts, he has yet to master the fighting style.

Presented in three rather disjoint acts, Shadow Skill The Movie follows the exploits of Elle and Gau as they travel the Kanuda countryside, beating the crap out of all manner of demon beasts and sorcerers. We learn a little of their back-story, in particular Elle’s weakness for drink and unquenchable lust for the thrill of battle, and as they meet and defeat new enemies, they also make new alliances. Soon they begin to gather around them a merry band of fighters.

Part 1 (Epilogue – 52mins)
It is time once again for Elle to accompany Gau on their yearly pilgrimage to the graves of Gau’s parents, murdered by bandits four years previously. With his Shadow Skills seeming to have hit a wall, Gau is frustrated that his aim of becoming the youngest Sevalle in Karuda history is slipping away from him. No matter how hard Elle tries, she cannot help Gau reach the final pinnacle of their art. Attacked by bandits, led by the demonic Wolfman, and saved at the last by the Karuda master Scarface, Gau realises that it is his sister Elle that he must fight in order to complete his transformation into formidable warrior.

So how is it? Well, straight off the bat I’d have to say that this is one for anime fans only. There is a tendency, where anime is drawn from a dearth of existing printed material, for the plot to be disjoint and hard to understand. Shadow Skill is a classic example. Although the animation is reasonable and there are some interesting set pieces (mostly one on one battles), the lack of characterisation creates little empathy for the protagonists. They win some, they loose some, but the audience doesn’t much care. There’s a good deal of meaningless ultra-violence and blood, but at the end of the day it all feels a little too hollow. I must admit that I found myself straying several times to the time display on my Toshiba. Although presumably garnering much enthusiasm in it’s home country from readers of the original Manga, Shadow Skill is a little disappointing for those not familiar with the material.

  Video
Contract

Produced for Japanese television, Shadow Skill is presented in full-screen on a single-sided, single-layer disc from Madman. Shadow Skill’s television pedigree is evident from the first frame, with animation that is reasonable, but only reasonable - all the typical television corner-cutting is in evidence, particularly the overuse of panning stills.

The artwork and characterisations themselves are well done, (and sport a very distinctive look similar to Burn-Up W) and they reproduced well by Madman’s transfer - these guys really know how to handle animation. Colours are vivid (most importantly the gushes and streams of bright red blood) and are well balanced with no posterization or grain in evidence. Blacks are solid, and there are no film or video artefacts on display. Sourced from television, the image does suffer from interlacing - an effect that I have absolutely no problem with (and can only detect using the pause button).

All in all no complains on the video front, Madman having done another great job with this release.

  Audio
Contract

In terms of audio, Madman have included the all-important original Japanese soundtrack (be it only Dolby Digital 2.0) along with an English dub in both 2.0 and 5.1 remix.

Although the soundtrack is not as dynamic as some other anime titles available in R4, the both the 2.0 and 5.1 mixes provide a good compliment to the film. Although surround separation and directional effects are minimal, and a good deal of enveloping ambient sound is generated, especially for gusts of wind and the crowds of the arena. The score is also well balanced between the front and the rear. Centring on hand-to-hand combat, Shadow Skill does pack the low frequency punch of other anime titles, yet the subwoofer is utilised subtly yet continuously to add body to the score and the many crashes, bangs and whallops that ensue.

The mediocre 5.1 channel separation means that both the English and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks compare quite favourably. At all times, in both the Japanese and English dub, the dialogue is clear and distinct. The English subtitles are yellow with a black border, and therefore easy to read.

  Extras
Contract

The disc itself features animated (non-anamorphic) menus, and Madman have provided a small number of extras to compliment the feature.

  • Character Bios: One page biographies are included for the five main characters, including Elle, Bua and the legendary Scarface. The bios provide a tiny portion of the back-story for the characters.

  • Trailer: Manga’s full-frame trailer for Shadow Skill. The transfer is equivalent to that of the feature itself.

  • Photo Gallery: 14 images, mostly cells taken from the production itself.

  • Manga Previews: trailers for five of Manga’s other DVD titles - Blood: the Last Vampire, X, Street Fighter Alpha, Perfect Blue and BlackJack. All trailers are non-anamorphic, but widescreen where appropriate.

  • Manga Catalogue info: sequence of stills indicating Manga’s current video catalogue.

All in all a fairly limited selection of extras, but reasonable given that Shadow Skill was produced for television.

  Overall  
Contract

Shadow Skill is typical of anime derived from print source. For those unfamiliar with the original material, it is a little hard to follow and the characterisations rely too heavily on pre-established back-story. There’s some good ultra-violent action, and blood a-plenty (earning the MA rating along with some strong language), but if you are new to anime this is definitely not a disc to cut your teeth on. If however, you’re a seasoned anime fan looking for another fix, then Shadow Skill may provide you with what you are looking for.


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      And I quote...
    "A good deal of meaningless ultra-violence, but ultimately one for anime fans only."
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • TV:
          Panasonic TC-68P90A TAU (80cm)
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
          B&W CC6 S2
    • Surrounds:
          JM Lab Cobalt SR20
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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