Judge Jeff Andreasen swears he heard Charlie Brown's voice swearing to pay his respect to the temple.
To kill crowds of wide-eyed toons in blood-splattered carnage or not to kill crowds of wide-eyed toons in blood-splattered carnage? Decisions, decisions…
Orphaned as a child when his parents are murdered before his eyes, our young hero trains himself to wage relentless war on the criminal element as the dreaded…Peacemaker! Bet he doesn't wear a cape and pointy ears, though. Yes, Tetsunosuke "Tetsu" Ichimura is back, and he's still trying to convince the hierarchy of the Shinsengumi that he's one of the few, the proud, the guys who can wield a sword and kill lots of rebels. Especially lots of the Choshu rebels that slaughtered his family. But some in the Shinsengumi believe that he isn't really cut out for the killer's life in the first place. Cleary, Tetsu has some issues to overcome in Peacemaker Volume 2: Of Swords and Strength.
Facts of the Case
Of Swords and Strength chronicles Tetsu's efforts to reconcile his desire for vengeance with the trepidation he feels at the prospect of taking a human life. He desperately wants his sword, and appeals to just about anyone who will listen to get it. And he wants to be trained, to be given the strength to wield it. Vice Commander Yamanami wants to hold off on giving Tetsu a sword, fearing the boy will merely be turned into a soulless killing machine. Tetsu's master, Vice Commander Hijikata, the bad ass of the bunch, won't let Tetsu have a sword for any reason. Meanwhile, Commander Kondo wants to give Tetsu the sword and let him make his own decision, which is all Tetsu wants…that and to be able to get out there and kick some ass. At the end of Episode 8, Shinpachi gives Tetsu his short sword, but Tetsu refuses, telling his buddy that he appreciates the gesture, but he's willing to take the necessary steps to get one for real, and not under the table.
This DVD showcases episodes five through eight of Tetsu's struggles with himself and his Shinsengumi masters.
"Episode 5: Moon"
"Episode 6: Warrior"
"Episode 7: Suzu"
"Episode 8: Love"
Of Swords and Strength wasn't what I was expecting from this DVD. I've read some manga and seen some of the more sanguinivorous anime out there, and when I hear a title like Peacemaker, well, I'm expecting someone to be walking softly and carrying a very sharp and very gory sword.
But there's almost no violence in these episodes. Sure, it may be coming in later entries, but these four chapters of the Peacemaker saga restrict themselves to character building and, in the instance of the spy Susumu and his sister, furthering the grand scheme of things. If you have the first DVD, Peacemaker Volume 1: Innocence Lost, you'll be well-versed in Tetsu's history and the conflict between the Shinsengumi and the Chushu rebels hoping to end the Shogunate's rule. If you picked up this disc cold, you'll be hopelessly lost. The Shinsengumi appears to be a children's home for wayward street urchins and the Choshu are nowhere to be found, except for a few of their female ninja assassins who try to slice and dice Susumi.
And without action to drive a confusing plot, this DVD will quickly drive the casual viewer into boredom. Sure, the video quality is impeccable. Every line is sharp, the CGI blends well with the animation (something that cannot be said of many America cartoons that attempt to employ the same trick), and no colors bleed outside where they're supposed to be. The audio is excellent, though curiously the English Dolby 5.1 dub has a much more dynamic sound than the original Japanese track. I guess they know what we like here in the States: Sturm und Drang, man. Sturm und Drang!
But it's wasted here. The characters are not compelling in the slightest. Tetsu is the most annoying brat protagonist since Edward Furlong's John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I kept praying for the Choshu assassins to strike during the festival and whack this shrieking punk. He carries on endlessly and is so grating that his internal conflict comes across as shamelessly contrived. Actually, for all the utter disrespect and wanton behavior he displays to the Shinsengumi's head honchos, he would, in actual history, long since have been decapitated.
The other characters are either not around long enough to remember, or are so vapid they're not worth remembering. I made it through the entire DVD and came through it confident with only three names: Tetsu, Saya, and Hijikata. All three are mentioned a hundred times. The rest of the characters come and go and do nothing of particular note, and are summarily forgotten as soon as they are offscreen.
The only other creation that stays with the viewer is a pig, Saizo, who jets around from time to time for no apparent purpose at all. A pig! The filmmakers try to inject humor and personality into their characters by giving some of them ridiculous southern accents, but this only succeeds in being insulting, as only the poor and lower class characters are burdened with this Georgia twang. This is surely no way to run an ongoing series.
In the supplemental material department, the disc comes with a reversible cover; a fold-out insert with some character information, interviews with the writer and director, and an original Peacemaker story; opening and closing titles without the credits, so you can enjoy the music and animation without all that pesky lettering; production sketches, original Japanese DVD spots, a short character minute of Tetsu explaining his motivation, and a commentary track on Episode 7 by the ADV English voice actors.
Not a bad value for money.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's always value in a story that doesn't feature a tragic character bent on revenge who flies headlong into vengeful carnage. The fact that Tetsu himself opts to wait and put aside the imminent act of vengeance until he can fully comprehend all the consequences of his decision is praiseworthy. Anime is a particularly brutal venue and I have no doubt that the Peacemaker series will soon have more than its fair share of blood and guts. But this DVD has none of it, only a lot of soul searching on the part of the main character, who you know will be around till the end. If you can bring yourself to endure the dullness of episodes like the four presented here, it may be worth the payoff come Episode Omega.
A good disc from ADV, and a worthy effort from filmmakers wanting to show that even the best causes for vengeance aren't necessarily the best reasons for it. Alas, the lesson is lost with the incessantly irritating Tetsu, whom most viewers will probably wish would just go away.
If you're going to make a run for it, make sure to watch Peacemaker with the English subtitles on. It'll be the only way you can keep track of the characters.
ADV is found not guilty on the grounds that they delivered a technically fine product. Good audio and video and a fair amount of extras for the money. Gonzo is found guilty of attempted murder by boredom, and sentenced to retreat to a remote Buddhist temple, there to pound out a more involving scenario that may make viewers want to return, and to construct a main character whom viewers will not want to see decapitated with extreme prejudice.
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