Legends of the Dark King: A Fist of the North Star Story Blu-ray Review

by Mark Botwright
Movies & TV Review

Legends of the Dark King: A Fist of the North Star Story Blu-ray Review
SRP: £43.39

Picture

Legends of the Dark King comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution encoded using the VC-1 coded and framed within a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is locked to region A.



This represents only the second Blu-ray release by Sentai Filmworks/Section 23 after Appleseed earlier in the year. That title suffered from a few issues that dragged its overall image quality down, so the pressure was on for their second effort to rectify some of those early mistakes – sadly, it doesn’t. Starting off with the instances where the studio has got it right; blacks are deep and some of the colours are striking with reasonable fidelity, bleed is minimal and line work can be very crisp on close-ups and uncomplicated artwork.



The problem you’ll note from that previous sentence is the inclusion of the words “some” and “can” – these do not necessarily represent the majority of the visuals. What strengths the image has is sadly outweighed by the plethora of blights upon it. The first thing that strikes you is the softness of the finer linework and the overall lack of truly crisp delineation - now I’m not prone to labelling discs as upscales, but this definitely seems in the ballpark. When there is complexity, and the image aims for crispness the result can be quite pleasing but it also highlights the picture’s struggle with that dreaded stair-stepping effect – aliasing. Perhaps this explains why it so often errs on the softer side.



As previously mentioned, blacks are as dark as I could want from an anime, but it is the rest of the colour scale that is of concern. Sporadic noise creeps into blanket hues of any delicacy and banding is almost guaranteed in anything approaching gradation and there are one or two occasions where small squares of pixels merely black out for a split second. Top it all off with some judder on pans, including the most uneven scrolling of end credits I’ve yet seen, and the sum total is a picture that falls well short of demanding users upgrade to a high def format. If, like me, you’ve long dreamed of watching a Fist of the North Star projected in 1080p, you may just want to wait a little longer.
Legends of the Dark King: A Fist of the North Star Story

Sound

There are two sound options on the disc – English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1.



It may not please anime traditionalists to be forcibly swayed to using a new dub, but there are many examples of such translations being good – unfortunately this isn’t one of them. The majority English language voice cast sound like they’d be more at home on a Saturday morning kids TV cartoon than a dark and brooding vision of a bloody post apocalyptic future. However, due to the low bit-rate Japanese alternative many may feel that this is their only real choice.



Luckily, comparatively speaking, this is actually a fairly straightforward sound mix and as such the gulf between lossless and vanilla soundtracks isn’t as great as it might have been. It’ll likely be scant recompense, but it does mean that the far better Japanese dub feels less of a step down than it might have been. Both are fairly aggressive when the music starts pumping, and the Dolby Digital track makes up for a lack of finesse by adding a bit more oomph to its arsenal through the fronts in terms of overall volume, but it lacks the depth of LFE the Master Audio track can amass. There are few pans to speak of and those that are present are arguably not worthy of the extra bit-rate that lossless audio affords them.



The lossless option integrates the speakers a little better, with a more cohesive soundfield, but both can be flat across the fronts with the ability to swell, filling the room, when there are a multitude of sounds combining in the thick of the action. Ultimately this may feel like a case of Hobson’s choice – lossless English dub complete with bad voice acting or the original Japanese in a format you’d hoped would have stayed on DVD. The fairly plain soundmix makes it less of a jarring leap, and the animated nature of the series means that any loss of subtlety is arguably well within the realms of the material’s style, which may just make it feel acceptable for you to listen to the significantly lower bit-rate option as I found myself doing.
Legends of the Dark King: A Fist of the North Star Story

Extras

Clean opening – 3:03

No sniggering at the back please! This is the standard anime extra of the opening title sequence shown without the text or subtitles. It is however of pretty dire image quality, showing copious amounts of combing and aliasing that is frankly highly distracting. Considering the audio options in the series itself allowed for a lossless opening sequence, it is hard to fathom why we are given it here in Dolby Digital considering it remained in Japanese on both audio tracks anyway.




Clean closing – 1:32

As per the clean opening, but with the closing credit sequence.



Behind the scenes of Legends of the Dark King - 28:06

“This DVD feature is a re-edited version of the program that was aired in September 2008 on the Kyoto Channel (Sky Perfect 726) as part of The Hobby World Perfect”. This appears to be a children’s show of sorts, complete with cartoon effects and wacky noises, where the presenter, actress Ayumi Beppu, meets some of the people behind the series’ production. It is mainly played for laughs and there is little insight to be gleaned from it, but there are a few interviews with voice actors and the executive producer that include a titbit or two that may be of interest.



Disc credit

Text showing who worked on the production of this disc.
Legends of the Dark King: A Fist of the North Star Story
Legend of the Dark Kings is in line with the original Hokuto No Ken series in so many ways – it has the same incomprehensibly pompous dialogue, one dimensional villains for the protagonist to dispose of and characterisation that turns on a tanner. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the same level of stylised violence. Yes it contains more blood, but the death scenes just aren’t as iconic without the polarized effect of the original series and as such it feels strangely impotent at times, lacking the explosions of bodies and head poppings fans came to love. If you can make it past the first three episodes, things start to gather apace and the introduction of known characters makes all the difference to the experience for those familiar with the story.



The disc is flawed in several ways. Being region locked, having an image plagued with issues, no lossless Japanese audio track and a paltry set of extras, it is unlikely to find many jumping to upgrade from the DVD. Still, it acts as a bite-sized and vaguely appetising morsel to fill a gap until some saintly company with too much time and money on their hands decides to remaster the full 152 episodes of Hokuto No Ken and its sequel series and put them onto Blu - who knows, pigs might fly!

Scores

Movie

.
.
.
.
6

Picture Quality

.
.
.
.
.
5

Sound Quality

.
.
.
.
6

Extras

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
3

Overall

.
.
.
.
.
5
5
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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