Now from the ashes of destruction, a hero appears to defend the people...Judge Steve Power! Fear his blade.
Legend tells of a secret army…The Amen-Osa, The Phantom Masters.
Blade of the Phantom Master is billed as the first theatrical collaboration between Japanese and Korean animators. It is yet another in a long line of features with scant runtimes based on epic length Manga graphic novels. Anime fans may enjoy the hodgepodge of fantasy action, post apocalyptic wastelands, and phantom armies, The action is certainly tight, but several elements conspire to make this one a little less than the sum of its parts.
Facts of the Case
The ancient Empire of Jushin has fallen, leaving behind only the tattered remnants of its once glorious cities and vast wastelands. The ruined world is now home to all manner of freaks and mutations, and what's left of humanity struggles to survive. Wandering the wastes is Munsu, member of the consummate anime badass society, a walking lone wolf cliché armed to the teeth with blade and bullet. Turns out he's the last living member of the Amen-Osa, feared secret police of the Jushin, and master of a phantom army. He just wants to carry out his quest for vengeance, but that damn conscience of his keeps getting him into situations where he has to help the hopeless people he encounters.
Throughout my time with Blade of the Phantom Master, my mind kept going back to Fist of the North Star—a gem of karate violence and exploding heads in a post apocalyptic wasteland which has been impossible to find on DVD until recently. Both films share a bleak landscape of ruined cities, harsh deserts, lone wolf anti-heroes, and crazy violence. It sounds awesome on paper, and in spite of being a walking anime cliché, the protagonist is a solid enough character to pin the story on, but none of the elements ever really come together to form any kind of cohesive whole.
The show is split into easily discernable acts and plot threads that run strongly through one may get tossed to the wayside in another. The show also shifts tone rather abruptly, going from action to mystery and back again. It feels like an aborted series, like they took three random episodes from a sampling of six or seven and spliced them into a feature length film.
Being a theatrical feature released in 2004, the quality of the animation is pretty good, but it does suffer from that "a touch too digital" look that you see in more recent series. The traditional line work looks anything but hand drawn (though, in truth, it probably was), and combined with the less than imaginative character designs; the whole flick has a sort of generic look. There are a few set pieces that boarder on awesome, but the overall package is neither particularly good, nor really what I could call horribly bad.
This is Blade of the Phantom Master's second bow on DVD, and it's basically a repackaged version of the old ADV Films release. The transfer is fine, looking generally sharp and clean without much to complain about. The image looks a touch soft, and the digital source's relatively low resolution (I doubt this was a High Definition master) does make for some color banding, but I'd reckon that has more to do with the source material, and I can't really fault the DVD. The audio is pretty punchy, and the ADV-produced dub of the series works well enough, with their stable of voice actors matching the tone of the original Japanese audio pretty closely (though some humor has filtered into the script). Whether you get into the Japanese audio or the English, the sound field is well separated and there's enough 'oomph' to please the ears, but it's really nothing too exceptional.
For extras we get a 10-minute look at the crafting of some of the films CG scenes, which certainly managed to impress me. Beyond that, you get some cast bits, a look at some storyboards, and some production sketches and trailers. It's all pretty standard fare for an anime disc and lacks any significant amount of production, which makes it feel pretty dry. Still, compared to many discs, it's more than one would typically expect.
Blade of the Phantom Master manages to trudge along and, when the action hits, it's competent enough. It's certainly derivative of other better features, and shoddy plotting and execution keep it from truly making any sort of lasting impression or really being memorable.
Guilty of being completely average. An interesting premise and sharp
influences get swallowed up by anime cliché and poor plotting. It's not
horrible or anything, but I can't recommend it.
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