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Witch Hunter Robin: Complete Collection [6 Discs] (US) (DVD Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000107956
Added by: Jitendar Canth
Added on: 18/9/2008 15:15
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    Witch Hunter Robin: Complete Collection [6 Discs] (US)

    8 / 10


    That exchange rate is dropping again, it seems the heady days of the $2 pound are behind us, and there will be fewer of the bargains that I have so eagerly pounced on this summer. However, this Witch Hunter Robin Collection, which gathers all six discs, is still available in some quarters for under the import limit. When you consider that getting the UK releases will set you back £60 even with the most generous of discounts, you have to wonder why we even bother with a UK anime industry. At least I briefly ask myself that, before looking at all the Region 2 anime bargains I've snagged over the years that put even the US to shame, as well as the convenience of popping down the local stores for anime, the exclusive extra features that some Region 2 releases get, and the love and care that some titles like the forthcoming Wolf's Rain boxset receive that have even US anime fans green with envy. But, it's always nice to save money, and Bandai's Anime Legends series in the US is a great way to get classic, top-notch anime at excellent prices. I've personally grabbed hold of Cowboy Bebop and Planetes this way, and you can also pick up the .hack RPG series, Escaflowne, Infinite Ryvius, plenty of Gundam, and many more of their back catalogue titles. It's something that Bandai's European incarnation Beez really ought to pick up on.

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    We're not talking witches and wizards as in Harry Potter with Witch Hunter Robin. There are no spellbooks and potions. The witches in this show refer to those who exhibit strange paranormal abilities, whether it is telepathy, telekinesis, precognition, or something even more arcane. And it seems that people like this who strayed outside the norm in mediaeval times were those who were indeed hunted down and persecuted as witches, and it's a useful catch-all term for a variety of abilities. Witch Hunter Robin takes place in a world where there are people with such abilities, genetic mutants who could conceivably threaten those around them. It's where the STN-J comes in. The STN is a group devoted to finding and cataloguing those with abilities outside the norm, they keep an eye on families that have shown odd genetic traits, and they act when ordinary people are threatened by eliminating the witches. The STN-J is the Japanese branch of the organisation, odd in that they rarely apply lethal force when apprehending their targets. They make use of the mysterious substance Orbo to dampen the abilities of the witches, and it also protects them against their attacks. They also have witches in their own ranks, people with abilities that can help track and counter their opponents. Those they apprehend are taken away and incarcerated by the mysterious 'Factory'.

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    Robin Sena is the newest recruit to the STN-J, an orphan who was raised in an Italian convent, she's returned to Japan where she was born. She has the ability to create fire, although her aim could use a little work. She's a belated replacement for a former member, and she isn't exactly welcomed with open arms by STN-J's top operative Amon. Also among their ranks are Miho Karasuma, a person who can extract emotions and impressions from objects, hacker Michael Lee, rich kid Yurika Dojima and eager young recruit Haruto Sasaki. Takuma Zaizen commands the group.

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    26 episodes are distributed across 6 discs.

    Disc 1: Arrival
    1. Replacement
    2. Addicted To Power
    3. Dancing In Darkness
    4. Stubborn Aesthetics
    5. Smells Like The Wandering Spirit

    Disc 2: Belief
    6. Raindrops
    7. Simple-mind
    8. Faith
    9. Sign Of The Craft
    10. Separate Lives

    Disc 3: Inquisition
    11. The Soul Cages
    12. Precious Illusions
    13. The Eyes Of Truth
    14. Loaded Guns

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    Disc 4: Fugitive
    15. Time To Say Goodbye
    16. Heal The Pain
    17. Dilemma
    18. In My Pocket

    Disc 5: Determination
    19. Missing
    20. All I Really Ought To Know
    21. No Way Out
    22. Family Portrait

    Disc 6: Vengeance
    23. Sympathy For The Devil
    24. Rent
    25. Redemption Day
    26. Time To Tell

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    Witch Hunter Robin gets a 4:3 NTSC transfer, which on European players offers all the benefits and drawbacks of the format. It's clearer and free of the ghosting that NTSC-PAL transfers suffer, although you may notice a smidgen of aliasing and flicker, as well as the slightly lower resolution. In terms of clarity and artefacts, Witch Hunter Robin would be a top-notch transfer, were it not for the rare moment of softness in the image.

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    It's a show that deserves a good transfer too, as it is probably one of the more atmospheric series I have seen of late. The world is portrayed in earthy, moody shades, with a lot of browns and understated tones. The character design is first-rate, with an eye on realism, and the animation is excellent. There are no lowered frame counts, or freeze frames here. It is stunningly enveloping and evocative, and the attention to detail and world design is subtly effective.

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    The Dolby trailer at the start of each disc promises much, but merely delivers DD 2.0 Surround Sound in English and Japanese. That's with the exception of Episode 1, which mistakenly has a vanilla DD 2.0 Japanese track instead. The sound design works with the visuals though, establishing a moody creepy atmosphere that is quite effective, and it's a suitable tone for the story. There is a nice bit of spacial separation when required, and the music and action comes across well. The theme tunes are toe tappers, very rock ballady, think eighties big hair group Heart.

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    You won't stop me from recommending the original language track, which is my automatic preference when it comes to anime. Translated subtitles are there as per the norm, as well as a separate signs track. I tasted the dub and found it to be most agreeable though, with the main characters cast well, and some decent performances to be had. You won't have any complaints watching the show this way.

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    All six discs are packaged in an m-lock case, nice, sturdy and compact compared to having six individual Amarays, but I don't think much of the case artwork, and it has been changed since I bought the set. There are a few extras distributed across the discs.

    Disc 1

    You get the textless credits here, and trailers for Love Hina Again, Infinite Ryvius, and Spirit of Wonder.

    Of more use are the STN-J Personnel files, pages of text and art that describe the main characters in the show.

    The Maelifica Compendium amount to the liner notes, and they go skimming through the world of Witch Hunter Robin, offering a look at the various aspects of the story that are useful to keep in mind.

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    Disc 2

    You'll find trailers for Infinite Ryvius, Geneshaft and s-CRY-ed.

    The STN-J Equipment Files look at the gadgetry used on the show, with special attention on Orbo and the weaponry it inspires.

    The Maelifica Compendium returns with more trivia about the episodes on this disc.

    Disc 3

    There is more from the STN-J Equipment files, this time the team's transportation, as well as a hefty amount of information in the Maelifica Compendium on the historical persecution of witches.

    The trailers on this disc are for Infinite Ryvius, s-CRY-ed, and Cyber Formula.

    The first of the Witch Hunter Robin Interviews is here. It lasts 9 minutes, and Bana talks about singing the theme tunes, while Taku Iwasaki speaks about scoring the show's music. There are one or two spoilers to be had in this featurette, so it may be worth leaving it until the final volume to watch.

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    Disc 4

    There's more from the Maelifica Compendium on this disc, as well as trailers for s-CRY-ed, Galaxy Angel, and Yukikaze.

    The second interview is with Japanese voice of Robin, Akeno Watanabe. This lasts 6 minutes and as you would expect, she talks about the show and her character.

    This is followed by the third interview with Kaho Koda (Miho Karasuma), running for a similar length of time, and covering much the same ground, although from a different perspective. There are no problems with spoilers in these interviews, and they can be watched with the episodes.

    Disc 5

    The Maelifica Compendium offers more witchy lore for the final time, while trailers for Galaxy Angel, Yukikaze and Dragon Drive show up.

    The two interviews on this disc last six minutes each, and Jun Fukuyama (Haruto Sakaki), and Kyoko Hikami (Yuriko Dojima) add their thoughts about their characters and the show.

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    Disc 6

    Here you will find the trailers for Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Dragon Drive and Galaxy Angel

    The final two interviews are here. Hiro Yuki (Michael Lee) speaks about his character, and as we're coming close to the end of the series, chooses his favourite moments over 6 minutes. It's all rounded off with a chat with Takuma Takuya (Amon), and it's interesting to hear him talk about performing as the voice of an emotionally guarded character. His seven-minute segment rounds off with a selection of thoughts from all the main cast.

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    What price a decent title? The first time I heard of Witch Hunter Robin, it barely registered on my consciousness before I dismissed it. It sounds excessively childish, ridiculous even, the sort of show that pops up on a Saturday morning, with eager young hunters trying to grab the rarest witch card before the bad guys grab it first, and they probably have colourful battles spouting magic spells at each other with all the élan of a Mortal Kombat finishing move. It took a bunch of enthusiastic recommendations, a compulsive need for a new viewing experience, and £20 burning a hole in my pocket to convince me to take a chance. I'd already figured out that it wasn't a kids TV show long before I placed the order, but what I wasn't expecting was a show that was stylish, atmospheric and moody, with a story aimed at an older audience, and more of an emphasis on provoking thought rather than delivering eye-candy. Witch Hunter Robin is impressive stuff indeed, an easy recommendation, and it's really only just one or two flaws that keep it from instant classic status.

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    The premise is an instant grab, taking the line that the witches persecuted in centuries past were essentially different from the rest of humanity, actually had special abilities and powers due to their genetics, rather than just being hapless victims of the local 'mob with torches' brigade. Genetics working the way they do, such traits continued down through the centuries, and what were once considered to be demons and warlocks, were given the more scientific nomenclature of telepaths, precognitives, and telekinetics. 'Witch' just remains a convenient label. But where the show becomes interesting is that the sense of history and mythology carries through to the modern day, you see runes and relics, Ogham writing being associated with witches, while those who hunt them and persecute them are affiliated with the church that so hounded similar people in years past.

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    When Robin joins the STN-J though, it appears that the days of persecution are long gone. The STN-J looks like the police that handle the other crimes, those that can't be explained by normal means. They and their parent group have records on witches, keep tabs on people with powers and the potential to develop powers, and their services are only called on when a witch crosses the line and breaks the law, using their powers for immoral purposes. They are also equipped with the wonder substance, Orbo. It's a odd green liquid that serves to protect them against witches' powers, and can be used in projectile weapons to subdue their targets. The witches are taken alive, no longer burned at the stake, and most tellingly the STN-J recruits and uses witches to help in their mission to keep the peace. It all looks like a shiny, happy organisation, doing good in the world, but the cracks quickly begin to show.

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    There is a distinct lack of trust in the higher ranks of the STN-J, communication is lacking and secrets and conspiracy seem to be the order of the day. Robin is an eager young 15-year-old girl who wants to please, and she quickly gets involved in some tricky cases. However, the irony of a witch being set to catch other witches isn't lost on her, and as she gets more involved in the cases she investigates, she begins to question whether she is in the right or not, especially when the targets start looking more and more like victims. Of course the allegory is pretty hard to miss, the persecution of a minority group has been repeated so often in history that it's easy to apply elements of the story to real world situations. Witch Hunter Robin never beats us over the head with it though, remaining focussed on its own universe and its own set of rules throughout.

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    It does take a good while to get going though, which is down to its first flaw, its episodic nature. While there is always something overreaching going on in the background, the early episodes are very much Witch of the Week episodes, as the STN-J take on another supernatural miscreant. These episodes are almost stand-alone stories in the Vampire Princess Miyu vein, with each one centring on a different antagonist and his story, which the group has to work together to defeat. There are character moments certainly, and as I said, you'll appreciate the odd snippet of conspiracy, especially the second time you watch it, but after a run of ten or so such episodes, the repetition does begin to weary. It's when the inevitable reversal comes that the show comes alive. Eyes are on Robin for far more serious reasons than just evaluating her performance as a hunter. When she learns that the powers that she possesses aren't just a curse but a legacy, her worldview begins to change. The STN-J are no longer the good guys, but the latest in a long history of persecutors. Suddenly she is no longer simply following orders, but she's questioning who she is and what her existence means. It's what those in charge do not want, and as her benefactors from the Solomon group turn on her, they take the opportunity to turn on the STN-J as well.

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    From this moment the show completely changes tack, and while it still remains unashamedly episodic in nature, there is a far stronger narrative running through the second half, and a greater emphasis on the back story, overarching conspiracies, and plot development. This is where that second flaw becomes apparent though, that of predictability. With a show like Witch Hunter Robin, that revels in plot and conspiracy, the audience really needs to be surprised, shocked even at the plot twists and narrative surprises. That did happen a couple of times in the show, with one revelation completely out of the blue, while another character developed in a completely different way from what I was expecting. But far too often with this show, and especially as it headed towards a climax, I was already a couple of steps ahead of the plot. The main character arcs were signposted well in advance, and I had even guessed the big shock of the story way back in the first couple of episodes.

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    Still, for a predictable episodic show, Witch Hunter Robin certainly worked its charms on me. The artwork is gorgeous, the animation top-notch, and with the music it becomes an atmospheric and enchanting experience. The dark and moody feel to the show, the somewhat measured pace, and the emphasis on drama and character as opposed to action and eye-candy make it a totally immersive experience, presenting a world that it is simple to buy into. And the characters make the show complete, with well-written, deep and layered protagonists. The performances capture their complexity, and I wound up investing in them, believing in their world.

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    Witch Hunter Robin may not be the instant classic that I was looking for, but it deserves to be up there with the also-rans. It's stylish and effective, and an utterly rewarding watch. The price at which this Region 1 collection retails makes it a safe investment. Take a chance as I did, and let Witch Hunter Robin cast its spell over you.

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