by Theron Martin,


DVD - Set Four

Kekkaishi DVD Set 4
Still reeling from Gen's death, Yoshimori and Tokine struggle to deal with the emotional fallout and the way their lives as Kekkaishi are so far removed from their lives as students. Yoshimori soon settles on a plan: get to Kokuboro however he can, find Kaguro, and avenge Gen's death. To that end he trains more determinedly than ever before, while Tokine's grandmother works on making a mystical passage to the realm of the Kokuboro and Masamori plans for future fights against the Kokuboro by moving the headquarters for his Night Troops to Karasumori – much to Yoshimori's consternation. The plan proves fruitful, as Byaku orders Sakon to lead another assault on Karasumori, although this time it is more a diversion for his real intention: to capture a Kekkaishi and bring him/her back to Kokuboro to shore up the crumbling castle. Yoshimori allows himself to be taken because he sees it as an opportunity to find and confront Kaguro, but Tokine isn't about to let him go on his own. In Kokuboro theirs and other final confrontations are waged as the whole place crumbles around the combatants.

Kekkaishi has rarely shown any inclination to exceed its shonen action roots, and that does not change much in its final quarter. The hero is still struggling to get stronger, still yearning to confront an established nemesis whom he must beat before he can advance, still feeling that he has to protect everyone, still acting in an immature, bull-headed fashion (although occasionally Yoshimori does show some actual thought and discipline), and still manifesting new powers – or, more accurately, new aspects to his established powers – when a power upgrade is needed. Naturally villains must have a chance to expound on their motivations and background before they get offed, too. A plethora of new characters with new powers adds a little extra dynamism to some of the fights, but that doesn't refresh by much the stale air that has always lingered over the series. Having the two main leads spending the bulk of five episodes running around a massive, elaborate castle looking for each other is not an endearing framing device, either.

And yet these last thirteen episodes do have their moments, and those moments are good enough that they make this run at least tolerable and occasionally better than that. Surprisingly, some of the best content involves one of the aspects of long-running shonen action series that followers of shonen series often detest: the full background dive into villains who are shortly going to meet their demise. Episode 47, which entirely focuses on Byaku's confrontation with the resurfaced Heisuke Matsudo and the backstory between them, is arguably the best full episode of this quarter despite not having a single second of screen time for either of the main protagonists. In efficient fashion it lays bare the true character and motivation of each man as it shows the back-and-forth fight between them and their different perceptions of the woman who stands at the core of their conflict. Other late episodes reveal the backgrounds of the Ayakashi scientist Aihi and (much less interestingly) Kaguro, in each case making their motivations much clearer without devoting an undue amount of time to the subject and, in the former case, making Aihi quite a bit more sympathetic.

The whole “battle at Kokuboro” sub-arc, which effectively spans the last seven episodes, and the content leading up to it have other ups and downs. Yoshimori and Kaguro have a sizzling duel at first in the episode's climactic battle, but it eventually gets bogged down by Kaguro's nihilistic philosophizing and ends rather anticlimactically. Tokine gets to show off her skills in solo battle, but the caliber of the opposition is disappointing. A thrilling escape scene near the end balances out a mostly lame “assault on Karasumori part 2” battle earlier on. The fox princess gets to do a little more here than just lounge around helplessly, including a neat late scene with Byaku which suggests that his claim about having never loved anyone isn't entirely true, but Yurina barely appears at all. Tokine and Yoshimori both learn some tricky new applications for their powers, and the elder Sumimura and Yukimura casters show off some tricks of their own, but the only bad guy who shows any truly new and interesting tricks is Aihi. The fall-out over Gen's death is handled reasonably well, as are the characterizations of Kaguro, Shion, and Heisuke, but most of the Night Troops come across as one-note jokes and a scene where several characters are in transit to Kokuboro via an interdimensional tunnel seems interminable.

Sunrise's artistry and technical merits do hold steady for all but the last minute or so of this span, however. The character designs may not always be the most appealing, and the silly look of the lesser Ayakashi leaves a bit to be desired, but they are well-rendered nonetheless and accompanied by some great architectural design in the Kokuboro scenes. The artistry breaks down big-time during the last minute, however, with characters taking on distinctly different appearances and the artistry overall having a less refined look. Key fight scenes are well-animated as series animation goes, with Yoshimori's fight with Kaguro looking especially impressive. CG effects are used well with the kekkai, certain aura effects, and the shadow monsters generated by the one Night Troop member but looking more prosaic in the interdimensional rift scenes. Graphic content is minimal but present, primarily in Kaguro's flashback scenes.

The musical score has consistently been a strength for the series and that doesn't change here. Though its core themes continue to be bland, the more poignant piano and orchestral themes used in some scenes give the series at least some emotional weight and help enhance the tension of key battle scenes. The original opener (here in full form, as compared to the truncated version shown on Adult Swim) remains in use through to the end, while the closer, for inexplicable reasons, alternates between all four of the closers used earlier in the series.

Viz Media's English dub continues to be strong on its casting choices, with the most distinctive and impressive job delivered by Michael McConnohie in giving Heisuke a speaking style in English that is just as idiosyncratic as the Japanese version's. Amongst other prominent roles not brought up in earlier reviews, Roger C. Smith's dry, mostly emotionless take on Byaku may actually even improve on the original Japanese performance, while the normally soft-spoken Stephanie Sheh is nearly unrecognizable as the sultry-smooth fox princess. The voices of some of the Night Troop members and bit part Ayakashi lean towards the silly side, but they aren't characters meant to be taken seriously anyway. The English script is loose and smoothly-flowing but not needlessly so.

Viz spreads the 13 episodes across three DVDs (a Blu-Ray version is not offered), with the Extras all being on the third disk. They include clean opener, clean versions of two of the closers, some production art, and a few pages of storyboard sketches each for episodes 51 and 52 – nothing special, but at least it's something. Irritatingly, Viz does not set the opener off into its own separate chapter, so unwary viewers who do not want to watch the opener every time may find themselves accidentally skipping to the middle of the episode.

Kekkaishi ends with its Kokuboro arc neatly wrapped up but its larger plot thread – i.e., Yoshimori's efforts to delve into the mysteries of Karasumori and a way to ultimately seal it for good – not even close to completion and, indeed, feeling largely ignored by the ending. Nothing has ever been announced about more of the manga being animated, though, so for now those wishing to see more will have to resort to the manga.

Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+

+ Heisuke/Byaku showdown, musical score, some nice action and characterizations.
Drags out some aspects, inconsistently entertaining, disappointing threat level in Kokuboro.

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