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Manga Entertainment UK release the first part of a CG-enhanced anime trilogy on the 24th of April 2006. Karas: The Prophecy takes us to the Shinjuku province of Tokyo, where Karas is tasked with keeping the peace between our world and that of the spirits and demons. Presented in a two disc set, with DTS and Dolby Digital versions of the feature on separate discs, is there enough promise here to leave us wanting the other two parts?

Karas: Part 1 - The Prophecy

Feature


”Well, one thing’s for sure. The truth is out there, isn’t it?”
Shinjuku, Japan. A war rages over the Earth, one unseen by the everyday folk that populate the surface. The current Karas is taking on Lord Eko and trying to prevent him from wreaking havoc on the living world. Lord Eko was a Karas once himself, but he turned against his responsibilities when he was overwhelmed by the anger at the virus that is Man not appreciating the world that they had. With humans ignoring the ethereal plain that they had once feared and lauded, Eko believes that we are undeserving of the privilege that is life. A bit harsh, but everyone deserves their point of view I suppose.

This Karas is no match for the old master, and the battle that briefly intrudes into our space—just long enough to produce a few casualties—is over. Who will stand against the scourge of Lord Eko?

Karas: Part 1 - The Prophecy
Three years later, and the Intervention Department of the Shinjuku Police is about to double in size with the arrival of Kure. Sagisaka—Intervention’s only other incumbent—seeks out the demons in the unexplained cases the rest of the force cannot solve, pushed forward to expose the truth by the mysterious deaths of his daughter’s class mates three years before.

Kure, though, has been laid low by a bout of something nasty on the long train journey to Shinjuku. To make matters worse, a toilet stop when he finally arrives at the train station brings him into close contact with water demons as they dispatch a reporting crew trying to do a little investigating of their own. Emerging from his cubicle to find only the aftermath of the chaos, and a single survivor, Hinaru, the bewildered Kure doesn’t realise that this is to be only the first of his close encounters with the spirit world.

Eko’s minions have been taking human form and infiltrating all walks of life, only revealing their true form right before they suck all the bodily fluids from their victims. The Mikura, as they are known, are hideous hybrids of machine and demon, needing human blood to replenish them. With Eko’s efforts gaining momentum is there anyone—or anything—that can stop him?

Karas: Part 1 - The Prophecy
Well, there’s the new Karas of course. With a fresh soldier chosen to fight the good fight, Yurine has to coax her new ward’s powers out of him while keeping Eko at bay. It does seem that one of Eko’s Mikura may be turning against the dark side as well, but can any demon once under the control of Eko be trusted?

The eighty minute runtime of this first episode definitely raises more questions than it answers, but then as this is essentially the first act of a four hour movie that is exactly what it should be doing. Karas’ alter-ego, Otoho, struggles to find his purpose, but when called upon by Yurine to take on the Mikura, his metamorphosis into the armoured fighting machine leads up to a fair few visually stunning fights. Seemingly inspired by Transformers—although not as colourful—the warrior also makes use of his powers to become a super-fast car or plane.

What I’m sure will be expanded upon in the upcoming episodes is the roles some of the peripheral characters. Sagisaka and Kure—the Mulder and Scully of the piece—will surely have a bigger part to play, and Hinaru’s escape from death in the opening moments will undoubtedly have some significance. Yurine is also something of a mystery, but then I don’t want to give too much away.

Karas: Part 1 - The Prophecy
The CG enhancements used bring a sheen and realistic quality to the animation, with the battles intense and quick, and together with the dramatic score performed by the Prague Symphony Orchestra they play a big part in the feel of this first encounter.

This is not the overtly intelligent sci-fi of the Ghost in the Shell series, instead taking the action route with a fractured narrative and the introduction of a slew of characters that will (hopefully) come together to make sense once all is said and done. If I was a betting man, though, I’d say the casting of Jay Hernandez, Piper Perabo and Matthew Lillard in certain roles plays up their significance in the coming events, but I suppose I’ll have to wait to find out.

Video


Presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen, those who like a little progressive flavouring to their DVD transfer will be a little disappointed that plain old interlaced video resides on the shiny platters in the set. Still, what is on show here is apparently free from edge enhancement (at least in terms of ugly haloing) and the picture is unsurprisingly nice and clean. Colours are strong and the digital processing used to give an extra dimension to the 2D animations is shown off here with aplomb.

Karas: Part 1 - The Prophecy
It isn’t perfect though. Using a bit more space for the video would have decreased some of the banding evident in the frequent smoke-and steam-filled areas, and the picture can become a little too ill-defined due to the overuse of that effect. For the most part, though, everything whizzes by that fast that you rarely have time to see any faults that may otherwise show up and the overall impression is of a solid—but not top-notch—transfer.

The solitary English subtitle track is easily read if you have it on—and you have to if you want to understand some of the on-screen text, so I find myself having to complain yet again about the absence of an isolated caption track on a Manga UK release. The opening titles are not completely translated on the full track but a little attention to detail for those that will listen to the English audio would have been nice, and having an impression of what the song in the middle of the film alludes to might have been an idea as well.

The layer changes—at 1h03m24s at the start of chapter seven on disc one, and 46m10s at the start of chapter six on disc two—are both well placed in fade-outs between scenes, although the DTS disc doesn’t have any sound to be interrupted.

Audio


Manga have provided their usual array of audio tracks spread over the two discs, all of which showcase the wonderful score. The weaker Dolby Digital Stereo tracks (English on both discs, and a Japanese track on disc one) are still quite impressive, with a decent amount of clarity and bass provided by the 224Kb/s bit-rate that works well when expanded with Pro Logic decoding.

Karas: Part 1 - The Prophecy
The Dolby Digital 5.1 English and Japanese tracks on disc one obviously improve on the surround separation, with a good deal of front-to-rear movement. The dedicated bass channel is also used to good effect to reinforce the explosions and the heavier moments of the score.

Disc two improves on the other choices with DTS 5.1 tracks in Japanese and English, but it’s a close run thing with the Dolby Digital 5.1 offerings. All the elements are present here, but the treble is a touch clearer and vocals—which are pleasingly audible across all audio options, except for the annoying robot voice of one of the villains—sound a little more natural.

Whatever the capabilities of your audio system or TV, you should be pleased with the results.

Extras


The first disc holds the bulk of the extras, all of which are anamorphically enhanced, featuring Japanese Dolby Digital Stereo sound, and with English subtitles where appropriate.

‘Behind the Scenes Montage’ (3m41s) does exactly what it says on the tin—a short piece put to music from the film, showcasing the animators, digital artists and voice cast at work.

Karas: Part 1 - The Prophecy
‘Concept/Animation Comparison’ (2m39s) deconstructs nine very short sequences in the film, showing the various stages of animation from wireframe 3D graphics, to initial rendering without the effects, and finally the finished product. The benefit of these is that you see just how much the digital enhancements affect the look of the original 2D animation.

‘Original Japanese Trailers and TV Spots’ (6m33s) again somewhat gives away its contents in the title. There are two full trailers (3m13s & 2m49s), with the latter showing some seemingly unfinished animation and scenes not featured in this first part. The two TV Spots (16s & 15s) don’t really get a chance to show off much at all.

The ‘Japanese Voice Actor Interviews’ (2m12s) are—as the runtime suggests—merely a few choice words from Toshihiro Wada (Karas), Asuka Shibuya (Hinaru) and Kasume Suzuki (Yurine) and only really serves to show the faces behind the characters.

The final piece on disc one—the Easter Egg detailed in the link on the right notwithstanding—is ‘Sound Effects’ (20m05s). This is by far the longest and most informative extra here, with Sound Effects Supervisor Yasuyuke Konno talking us through the process of making Karas sound the way the director demanded. A few ‘tricks of the trade’ are also highlighted, including the items used to make the sounds of Karas’ armour.

Karas: Part 1 - The Prophecy
The only extras to speak of on disc two are the usual set of Manga Trailers, most of which have already appeared on previous Manga releases. A trailer for our star attraction is here, as well as the Manga catalogue sensory overload that is Art of Anime. We also get Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Heatguy J, Millennium Actress, Submarine 707R, Street Fighter Alpha Generations, Tokyo Underground and Tetsujin 28. The final trailer is for the very surreal-looking Survive Style 5+, featuring our very own Vinnie Jones!

Like I said, the only piece with any real substance is the ‘Sound Effects’ featurette. Overall it is a decent effort, given the relative obscurity of the main feature when compared to live action releases, but what is here could have been expanded on a bit.

One quick note—although the features on disc one are anamorphic the presentation does range from 16:9 enhanced 4:3, through to ‘window-boxed’ 1.85:1, with only the Easter Egg using the full anamorphic frame (though that is due to the footage being from the actual movie).

Karas: Part 1 - The Prophecy

Overall


Karas: The Prophecy is a decent opening salvo in a promised trilogy. There are certainly influences from Spirited Away with the spirit world’s interaction with the real world, and The X-Files parallels are there in the corruption of the higher levels of society by the Mikura and the Intervention Department’s Sagisaka and Kure. It does leave a lot of questions unanswered, but as we’re only a third of the way through the story that can be forgiven. Having said that, with a release date not yet announced for the second part— Karas: The Revelation—splitting it up in such a way may harm the overall effect that the story could have.

The “Sensational hybrid 2D and 3D/CGI animation technique—never seen before in Anime” quote that appears in all the blurbs for the film does seem familiar though, and isn’t as unique as it makes out with Ghost in the Shell: Innocence certainly displaying much the same techniques, in some cases with more clarity. However, this is definitely visually impressive and the transfer offered here does it justice with only a few minor drawbacks.

Audio is almost faultless, but the extras are a little unrewarding and bring down the package a little. I’m still a fan of the splitting of the audio options over two discs, as this does no harm at all to the space available for the transfer, but with around 3Gb to spare (1Gb on disc one and 2Gb on disc two) knocking up the average bit-rates on each disc, offering a full-rate DTS track or putting a few more meaty extras in wouldn’t have gone amiss.

An above average piece of Anime that should make for a satisfying complete saga.

Karas: Part 1 - The Prophecy
To keep track of this and future Karas releases you may want to pay a visit to the official Manga site, or of course wait for more news on this very site.


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