Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 15th 2011
DVD - Set Two
Yoshimori's older brother Masamori has returned home for a visit, much to Tokine's delight and Yoshimori's consternation. As leader of the Shadow Organization's Night Troops, though, Masamori's visit is anything but a casual one: he has come in part to secretly evaluate Yoshimori's competence at protecting Karasumori. A later encounter with a deity who needs his bed fixed (a dangerous job only a Kekkaishi can do) convinces Yoshimori that deep secrets lay at the foundation of Karasumori, and he must learn those if he ever hopes to permanently shut the site down. Before he can advance his plan too far, though, the Kekkaishi start to get wind of a scheme by a mysterious, seemingly organized group of Ayakashi who are indirectly targeting Karasumori with probing attacks. Partly to fortify Karasumori's defenses, Masamori assigns one of his Night Troops, the half-Ayakashi teen Gen, to help Yoshimori. Though Gen proves quite strong, his standoffish personality makes working with Tokine and especially Yoshimori difficult at first. The trio must quickly learn to work as a team, though, because as they gradually learn, the Ayakashi organization called Kokoburo is also progressively ramping up its own efforts towards seizing Karasumori for their own.
This run of episodes, which covers episodes 14-26, marks the stretch where the series starts showing that it can be more than just a string of monster-battling adventures and comedy routines. To be sure, a lot of that content continues to go on; fighting monsters, watching Yoshimori gradually grow into his destined role, character development filler, and all of the side jokes are the core elements that the franchise is based upon, after all. However, during this run the story also starts dropping regular hints about the Bigger Picture. Interesting questions raised about the true nature of Karasumori are doomed to ultimately go unanswered within the boundaries of the animated content, but the other major ongoing plot thread – the one about the Kokoburo and what they are up to – becomes the foundation of the rest of the series.
Just as important as the rise of the Kokoburo is the introduction of Gen Shisio, a character who has appeared in the opener since episode 1 but only first makes his appearance in the actual episode content in episode 21. Claiming that Gen's addition enlivens the cast would be overstating the case, as Kekkaishi has never been short on colorful, enthusiastic characters, but his more calm and sullen “lone wolf” disposition does stand in marked contrast to much of the craziness that goes on. Even so, he never quite gives the feel of being the typical bad boy; in fact, various scenes focusing on Gen instead suggest that the distance he keeps from others is more because he simply does not know how to interact socially. He is, however, someone who can actively push Yoshimori and expand the series' personality pool, as well as providing the kind of hand-to-hand combat prowess that Yoshimori and Tokine have sorely lacked. The scenes where Gen and the Kekkaishi finally start coordinating their efforts mark some of the best content in the series' first half.
Gen and the Kokoburo aren't the only new recurring additions, either. Heisuke Matsudo, an old Ayakashi specialist whom Yoshimori's grandfather consults on one matter and with whom he clearly has a turbulent history, adds a smarmy and vaguely sleazy charm in a role that will become more prominent in the second half. Amongst established cast members, spirit-sensitive girl Yuri continues to pops up on a regular basis to apply a fun and usually light-hearted outside perspective on Yoshimori's world; she even gets a feature episode involving her efforts to dissuade a classmate from taking a romantic interest in Gen, who strikes Yuri as being quite dangerous. Yoshimori's younger brother Toshimori also gets a feature episode, albeit a less interesting one.
For all the effort that the series puts into building a lively cast, though, the action component is still the emphasis of the series. That it largely succeeds in producing encounters that are at least mildly entertaining is a credit to the variety of foes which pop up to be defeated and the creative ways that Yoshimori and Tokine come up with to combat said foes. Watching the way Yoshimori grows and develops during these fights is, of course, part of the appeal, especially when contrasted to the more juvenile behaviors he sometimes demonstrates. The whole “he's one of those rare individuals who can evolve in the middle of a fight” commentary is a little much, though, and even at its best the action is nothing more than a bit creative.
The overall production effort by Sunrise does nothing special beyond an occasional sharp Ayakashi design. Gen may impress with his combat skills but his regular appearance is perfectly ordinary, while many of the other characters lean more towards caricatures then conventional looks. Action scenes take a heavy number of shortcuts and rarely show sustained animation of any kind, making this one of the least of Sunrise's efforts from the past few years; its artistic merits certainly do not stink, but Sunrise is definitely capable of better. The use of kekkais and banishments makes the material nearly completely devoid of graphic content and not even a whiff of fan services touches this one.
The musical effort does better, as it does suitably heighten the mood in key action scenes and makes reasonable efforts to play up the comedy and drama. It suffers more than most from repetition, however, which can make it sound blander than it actually is. This release offers the full version of the peppy standard opener “Sha la la – Ayakashi Night,” including its recap lead-ins, and all three of the closers: original closer “Red String” gets replaced in episode 16 by "Sekaijū doko o Sagashite mo,” which lasts only through episode 23 before it gets replaced by “My Mirai.” None of them stand out.
Viz Media's English dub is strongest in its accuracy at casting actors for the roles. Nearly every character sounds about as close in vocal style to the original performance as can reasonably be expected, although in some cases that effort at mimicking makes certain characters sound more annoying in English than they would have if given their own sound. (Colleen O'Shaughnessy's rendition of Yuri is the best example of this.) Yoshimori's personality similarities to Edward Elric make Vic Mignogna an ideal fit for Yoshimori, while Laura Bailey acquits herself adequately well as Tokine and Grant George (Hawk in Initial D, Keiichi in When They Cry – Higurashi) gets Gen's attitude just right. David Lodge and Barbara Goodson as grandparents Shigemori and Tokiko also are great fits, although the former's delivery sometimes sounds just a little stiff. The English script stays tight, too, making this an overall solid dub.
Viz's release of this set spreads the episodes across three disks, with the Extras on the third disk. These include clean opener, clean versions of the first two closers, a series trailer, production art sketches of several important characters, limited sets of storyboard art from episodes 14 and 17, and a series trailer. Curiously, the Extras are also the place where one will find the Japanese cast breakdown.
Kekkaishi is not a series that is going to strike out into any dramatic new territory as shonen action series go, but at least in this stretch it is showing greater signs of having some potential.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Improving plotting, good dub casting, Gen is a strong addition.
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