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Manga presents
Shadow Skill (1995/1996)

"She must uphold the Karuda name. A Sevalle can never abandon a competition."
- Scarface (Akio Otsuka)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: November 27, 2001

Stars: Megumi Hayashibara, Akio Matsuoka, Akio Otsuka, Yuko Mizutani, Ikue Otani, Joanna MacInnes, Mathonwy Reeves, Nathan Keeble, Elly Fairman, Robert Chase
Other Stars: Ippei Yamaguchi, Bin Shimada, Tamio Oki, Fumihiko Tachiki, Kiyoyuki Harida, Satohiko Nakajima, Takehiro Murozono, John Jay, Laurel Lefkow, Stephen Lyons, Roger May, Daniel Marinker, Holly Rivers, Sarah Wateridge
Director: Hiroshi Negishi

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Brief nudity, strong language, violence)
Run Time: 02h:11m:40s
Release Date: November 27, 2001
UPC: 660200408121
Genre: anime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+BA- C

DVD Review

Shadow Skill is a martial arts anime, based on the five-part manga created by Mugumu Okada in 1992, later rereleased in three chapters. The anime is divided into three series, comprised of two OVAs, produced in 1995/1996, which are included here, and a 26-part TV series which aired in 1998. Shadow Skill was directed by Hiroshi Negishi (Tenchi Muyo, Amazing Nurse Nanako) and features character designs by Toshinari Yamashita (Amazing Nurse Nanako, Burn-Up W). At the suggestion of anime fans, Manga has changed the running order of the two programs contained on this DVD from their original VHS releases. The second OVA, which comprises three acts, is presented as a movie and now runs first, while the first OVA becomes the epilogue.

The Movie (01h:19m:56s)

They live in a kingdom of mercenaries, the land of Kanuda. Here, fighters gather in the arena to test their skills, and vie for the honor of becoming a Sevalle, which only 59 people have been able to attain in their history. Elle Ragu (Megumi Hayashibara) is that 59th Sevalle, and as the film opens, she is fighting the demon beast Barsalf, as her adopted brother Gau Ban (Akio Matsuoka) and friend Faurink "Faury" Maya (Yuko Mizutani) look on with a crowd of spectators. Elle's technique as a Shadow Skill is formidable, and she hopes to impress another high Sevalle, the legendary Vy Low, better known as Scarface (Akio Otsuka), who is the best fighter in the land, and heir to the throne. Gau Ban is training in the Shadow Skill, but has yet to master the fighting style. Scarface has an interest in the young boy, for he is without rival, and for warriors the thrill of the fight is the meaning of their lives. While Elle is a master fighter, she does have one weakness: her affection for her brother, whom she adopted when he was orphaned many years ago. As the story unfolds in three acts, we learn the backstory of Elle, Gau and their friends as they meet up along the way. The world is full of enemies, from rival warriors to many demon beasts. Always in the mood to take on an adversary, their secret fighting skills make them formidable opponents, and anyone or anything that stands in their way had better be willing to bet their lives for the challenge.

Epilogue (51m:44s)

In part two (which was the original OVA), the story of Gau's history with his adopted sister and the secrets that make up the shadow skill unfold. The pair make their annual return to the gravesite of Gau's parents, where his growth and progress as a warrior can be exhibited for them. Gau has come along way in his training as a Sevalle under Elle's mentorship, but there are those who wish to find a way of eliminating them, just waiting for the right opportunity to mount a deadly attack. As the travellers make their journey, their family bonds and skill will be tested. Opponents are many, and battles are fierce, but Gau's training also entails taking on his sister in battle, and fully embracing the skills he must learn to defeat his ultimate opponent.

The revision in the running order of the two OVAs will greatly affect the impression of the story as, had I not read up on the series, I would not have felt Gau to be the central character until the epilogue. Also, the characters of Faury, Kyou, Vy and especially White Lightening (who gets no introduction at all in either OVA), are completely glossed over in the epilogue, making the movie version more important for understanding what relation these people have to Elle and Gau. Both stories feature plenty of action, lots of brutal, high-flying aerial combat, spell-casting and graphic violence. The story is engaging, and the twists and turns keep things from becoming too predictable. The music for both OVAs adds a lot to the presentation, with great opening and end themes and a memorable score. The rather pointed character design took a little getting used to, and the animation style features a lot of still shots. There were a couple of timing miscues in the subtitles, and although I enjoyed the show quite a lot overall, I wouldn't place it amongst my favorites, primarily due to somewhat underdeveloped characters, and the look of the animation, which, if intentional, I found lacking in depth and color. Certainly worth a look for fans of fighting anime.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image shows few signs of any compression issues, limited only to a few deep blue sequences. Colors are generally subdued, though this may be intentional, as some scenes are vibrant and rich looking. Black levels are also variable, which I'm also not sure if this was meant to be intentional or not, but it does leave a low contrast and somewhat washed out appearance to the scenes that I wasn't all that impressed with. Jaggies are minimal, and rainbows are nowhere to be found. Sharpness is good overall, with a few softer scenes.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Japanese, Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Original Japanese audio is available in stereo, which has a nice soundstage, appropriate directionality and a smooth, even frequency response, extending well into the lower region. For the English dub track you have a choice of stereo or 5.1 mixes. Beside being louder, the 5.1 mix is more enveloping, but at the sacrifice of some of the lower frequencies, which are more dominant in the stereo mix. The dub varies from the sub track extensibly. There were no technical flaws that I could detect.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Blood, The Last Vampire
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
  2. Character bios
Extras Review: Both OVAs feature two sets of credits, though only the movie has these in Japanese, with English cast lists following. A trailer for the second Shadow Skill OVA is included, though interestingly, it features footage from the first.

A set of character bios is included both on disc and on the insert, though these do contain spoilers.

A 14-image photo gallery is also included.

The rest of the extras are promotional fluff for Manga's other titles and associated merchandise. A Manga trailer features a compilation of clips from a number of their releases, including Ghost In The Shell, Ninja Scroll, Perfect Blue, Patlabor, Street Fighter and X.

The Manga DVD catalogue is a collection of screens with the promo blurbs for the discs and their associated packaging, accessable through an index or by framing through while viewing title details.

The Manga merchandise section is a slideshow of Manga product with pricing and order details. An easter egg in the Manga logo features a trailer for Blood, The Last Vampire.

A Sputnik 7 promo can be accessed through their logo, and the Palm Pictures icon has a promo clip for The Mad Capsule Markets OSC-Dis DVD and VHS. Weblinks are also included to the company websites via an HTML page accessable by DVD-ROM, or by entering the onscreen addresses into your browser.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Packed with flying martial arts combat, menacing monsters, and blood-soaked battles, Manga brings us the complete Shadow Skill OVA collection on one DVD. While extras are light, the two OVAs combine to tell an interesting and exciting story of a young boy and his quest to become a master in the fighting style known as the Shadow Skill. The characters are likeble, if not fully developed, and the animation is fairly stylized. Entertaining, but the transfer was a bit wanting, and the story not encompassing enough to stand out on its own. Those interested in fighting anime should enjoy it, but this would probably serve better as an introduction to the TV series.


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