Reviewby Hope Chapman, Jan 16th 2010
Nabari no Ou
DVD - Season 1 Part 2
Miharu has abandoned the protection of Tobari and the Banten clan to join the Kairoshu and find a way to unlock the power within him and fulfill his promise to Yoite. However, he soon finds it impossible to trust anyone as alliances shift and horrifying conspiracies come to light. The Kairoshu no longer care what happens to Yoite or Miharu once the power of the Shinrabansho can be ripped away from its vessel and give their clan the power to revolutionize the world. Yoite is running out of time and Miharu still has no idea how to use his powers, but they only have each other to rely on. Foes, allies and unknown forces close in wielding powerful forbidden techniques, the kinjutsu, that combined will have the power to unleash the forces sealed inside the fugitive Miharu, and change the world of Nabari forever.
With nearly every ninja clan roaring after our protagonist's blood, you'd think that the plot would have accelerated from its lazy norm to explosive new heights, regardless of Miharu's cold apathy. The funny thing is that Miharu has started to care, quite passionately, about one thing: Yoite. Their relationship has evolved from one of obligation and dependency to a kindred bond where they each value the other's life over their own. The series worked surprisingly well when Miharu was an emotionless stone in the face of peril. Even if the “humor” of the predicament missed the mark sometimes, the balance gave the show novelty and breathed life and direction into its slower pacing. Now Miharu is on the lam, making emotional and irrational new choices in hopes of saving Yoite rather than erasing him, and this can only mean a better, tighter-paced series, right? Actually, all it means is that a new problem has arisen. Miharu's apathy has now bled over into the series on the whole, turning it into an emotionally overwrought bog of narrative chaos with twenty different characters whose subplots don't matter one iota running from one episode to the next with no clear destination in sight. If this sounds hectic, that's the funny thing: it is horribly sluggish, slower than the first half ever was.
This is a shame because the series' high points have more than proven that there is a great story hiding here. Still, what plays out is far less than what Nabari had started with. Miharu and Yoite's relationship, while still characterized well in scenes like Yoite's escape from the hospital during a Christmas blizzard, becomes so overwhelmingly the focus of the series that every other plot thread gets dropped on its backside. The side characters still have screen time to fill, however, so they spend the majority of it talking. The number of fights in this volume is painfully lacking even by the standards set by the first half. Although a great deal eventually happens, it comes at the cost of so many stern conversations from an inactive supporting cast that the end result comes off as being bored with this ninja apocalypse that it will get around to showing later.
Except that it doesn't. Nabari's greatest problem lies in its finale. Thanks to its rich characterizations and enticing visuals, the slow climb to the series climax will hold the interest of some audiences just fine, but it's hard to imagine anyone being pleased with its ending. All of the side characters' dark ambitions or soaring dreams for using the Shinrabansho seem to have been forgotten. Characters from every arc of the series converge on one battlefield, but all anticipations for what might occur are left in the dust as they spend most of the climax, once again, watching and talking. (The abandonment of Aizawa and Kotaro's arcs is particularly maddening.) It's not an ending where nothing happens, by any means, but it gives off that vibe. Miharu's desire to remain neutral, and the inability of any character to change this, kills the momentum of what might have been, and it just isn't fulfilling on any level save for Miharu and Yoite's relationship. This was once the series' greatest point of intrigue, but at the cost of every other plot development, it's hard to make us care about it anymore.
Visually, the standouts of the series are still the distinctive backgrounds and appealing character designs, to say nothing of the juicy fight animation. (Fights are few, yes, but when they do occur, they deliver well.) A few cheats pop up here and there like blurring between extremes rather than drawing in-betweens, but overall the fights are fluid, well-choreographed, and full of rich details like the style differences between Raikou and Raimei's swordfighting. The further emergence of the Shinrabansho produces a blend of CG and texture mapping that is nothing special on a technical level and sometimes appears disjointed when the 2D and 3D elements blend, but is certainly entertaining to watch as kanji crawl, melt and dribble all over and around Miharu and bright green auras lash out violently in all directions. The score continues to function well, particularly in the quiet denouement of the final episode with its tender melodies and resounding chords. It is an excellent-looking series beginning to end and sweet on the ears to boot.
Funimation's exceedingly liberal reversion helped rather than hindered the series in its first half, but in its more spastic second half, the writing tweaks downright rescue the series from a pit of writing cliches. Where the original script again wallows in repetitious expositonal dialogue, the English script smooths over every exchange with natural dialogue rich in character voice and adds insight to the long conversations rather than distorting them. Several embarrassingly cheesy one-liners and spiels on the part of baddies and companions alike are also taken out in favor of more genuine-sounding speeches. All the while, no key information is lost, and the integrity of the characters' motivations is preserved if not enhanced. This is the saving grace for part two of Nabari, which is composed almost entirely of dialogue.
The big exception to this is a key scene in which a samurai makes it clear that he wishes to commit seppuku but changes his mind after losing respect for his master…at which point his second violently tries to enforce the ritual. The dub oversimplifies this cultural element by implying that the second is more of an assassin and severely downplaying the allusion to ritual suicide. This may have been too substantial a change, but in light of many other drastic improvements, it's forgivable. Acting performances remain strong in both languages with no singular standouts apart from perhaps Joel MacDonald's subdued but intense Yoite.
DVD extras include the standard load of trailers and clean themes, along with a very entertaining English voice actor commentary. They discuss several series along with Nabari and settle all those rumors about the “special” relationship between Miharu and Yoite by confirming each and every one. (Also, newbie VA Joel MacDonald shares an anecdote that implies he'll be at many conventions in the future, but could be very difficult to find...)
Nabari no Ou has had trouble finding its audience since the beginning, but the novelty of its softer approach to ninja warfare was well-executed and made it stand out from the crowd. It's too bad that “different” doesn't always mean “better,” at least not here, and the further the series has slipped into emotional turmoil at the cost of good storytelling, the more the protagonist's token apathy relocates to the viewer. Sure, it's pretty, but…why should we care?
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Rich character relationships, visually luscious, improved English script
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