Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 5th 2005
Kai Doh Maru
During Japan's Heian era, a young girl named Kintoki, who had been raised as a boy to carry on her family's name, is forced to flee to the mountains after the murder of her parents by her seditious uncle. The harsh life there changes her, giving her a wild fierceness which earns her the name Kai Doh Maru (the meaning of which the anime doesn't make clear) from fearful villagers. Eventually she is rescued by Lord Raiko, who raises and trains her as a soldier. Now 17, she is a core member of the Four Knights of the Ministry of Defense, the guardians of the city of Kyo. She deeply respects Lord Raiko, and has secretly grown to love him—as he has secretly grown to love her. However, the dangerous politics of the time and a threat to all of Kyo from an insanely jealous former suitor of Kintoki put up a formidable barrier to the realization of their budding relationship.
Kai Doh Maru has all the story elements of a wonderfully intricate historical drama, including an intriguing set-up, interesting central characters, complex political maneuvering, and sharp action scenes. It fails to capitalize on its potential because it tries to pack the whole story into a mere 40 minutes. The result is a truncated featurette which would have fared much better at half again (or more) its actual length. Its story is unlikely to be fully understood unless some research is done into the time period and the character profiles included in the extras are consulted. The ending could have been satisfying with a proper build-up, but as it is the viewer is left feeling that some scenes are missing, too many things are not put into context, and a few too many things are left unresolved. It also suffers from some odd editing choices, such as black-screened cut scenes which are used frequently at scene transitions.
The artistry for Kai Doh Maru, which was produced by Production I.G, includes some of the most novel and distinctive stylistic elements you'll see in any anime. CG effects and visuals are used extensively, resulting in some scenes which are beautifully enhanced and others which are too grossly computer-generated to be properly appreciated. Most of the watercolor-based artistry has a faded color scheme and extremely washed out look which makes the whole piece seem like you're viewing it through a smoky filter. According to notes included with the DVD, the intent was to capture the look and feel of artwork from the time period in which the title is set. It's an interesting effect, but one that I could do without, since it makes it difficult to appreciate the quality of the drawings and character designs. In a very unusual move, the early scenes showing how Kintoki came to hook up with Lord Raiko are done almost completely in a crude black-and-white pencil-sketch style with only occasional computer-enhanced coloring. The effect, I'm guessing, is intended to imply that those scenes are all in the indistinct past, episodes which are best left forgotten. Many subtleties are supposedly worked into the artwork, especially effects meant to suggest changing seasons, but even after the supporting documentation told me what to look for I had a hard time spotting these effects. The supporting animation is very good, with many action scenes happening so quickly and smoothly that you may have to slow down the replay just to follow all the moves.
The soundtrack for Kai Doh Maru, which is infused with medieval musical themes, offers 2.0 and Dolby 5.1 options for both the English and Japanese language tracks. Subtitling options are separate from language options, which is always a plus. The subtitles themselves have some distinct inconsistencies, however. This is most notable in the case of Ohni-Hime, whose name is sometimes translated in the subtitles as “princess” and at other times just left as the original “hime,” with no apparent rhyme or reason as to why it wasn't consistently done the same way the whole time. The English dub is much more consistent about this, with a decision apparently having been made not to translate “hime” when used as part of her name. In fact, the English dub script is as faithful to the subtitles as any title I've seen, with the only differences being the removal of contractions and the addition of a few “filler” words to get the vocals to better match the lip flaps. This results in a dub track which sounds quite strained and stilted at times (which offers up a perfect example of why dub scripts should concentrate more on being faithful to original meaning rather than the most literal possible translation, but that's an issue for another day) and does an inadequate job of matching up words to lip flaps. The original Japanese vocals are actually worse at that, though, so this criticism isn't exclusive to the English dub. Substantial discrepancies can also be heard between the type of voices used in the Japanese and English vocal tracks; Kintoki has a lower-pitched and more male-sounding voice in Japanese than in English, for instance, and the character of Ibaragi sounds distinctly male in English but more androgynous in Japanese.
The DVD release of Kai Doh Maru shines brightest in its extensive and well-rounded set of extras. The profiles provided for all significant characters fill in some of the gaps in the story and include links to design boards and feature clips of that character in the animation. Character design boards and Manga Enterainment previews and information are also included. Another extra is a 9-minute long Round Table discussion involving the director, animation director, and character designer, which provides some insight into why certain creative decisions were undertaken. The most interesting and original extra is the CG Models feature, which does a visual review of key CG-animated settings and provides extensive details behind the creation of those elements. Fair warning: the text displayed during these reviews doesn't stay on the screen long, so unless you're a speed-reader you'll want to watch those parts with your finger on the “pause” button. The liner of the DVD case includes an attractive mini-poster of the main character and an explanation about some of the artistic elements.
Though it contains no nudity or sexual elements, Kai Doh Maru is still quite graphic. Limbs are severed, throats are cut, and people get stabbed, and this is absolutely not something that a horse-lover should be watching. Although the violence isn't excessive or particularly gory, this is not a title for younger viewers.
Finally about the name: although the subtitle text and credits list Kai Doh Maru as the main character's name, the extras, title screen, and packaging all list it as Kai Doh Maru instead. Which is correct is uncertain.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Excellent set of extras, good story foundation.
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