Night Warriors Volume 1: Darkstalkers' Revenge - Alpha Review
I was going to kick this review off with an entire spiel on the merits or lack thereof for videogame-to-movie adaptations but given my fleeting knowledge of the game this anime is based upon I could hardly justify such a rant without any form of detailed comparison between the two. Instead I shall briefly mention how Night Warriors is based upon the characters found in the Capcom arcade beat-em up of the same name, a game that essentially took Capcom's tried and tested Street Fighter 2 formula and placed it within a dark fantasy setting where the combatants were based upon various mythical creatures of the night.
For this four-part original video animation (OVA) series (of which the first two episodes are located on this DVD) directors Masashi and Satoshi Ikeda, along with their team were faced with the inevitable challenge of incorporating a large selection of characters from the most shallow of videogame genres into an entertaining, action packed and most importantly, coherent story. Their success in doing this can only be truly garnered by those who have seen all four parts. As I have not this review will focus solely on the content of this disc that is best watched in one sitting. The reasons for why will soon become apparent as episode one (Return of the Darkstalkers) is almost entirely devoted to introducing the major characters leaving almost zero room for any semblance of a plotline, while episode two (Blood of Darkness, Power of Darkness) continues with the character introductions but manages to weave them into a simple but much needed story that plays off the character introductions already witnessed.
On earth we see that the human race lives in fear of the ever-increasing number of creatures known as Darkstalkers. Though it is not the threat of these beasts that causes the greatest of troubles, instead it is the reign of absolute darkness they bring with them that has led to the complete blocking out of our most important natural resource, the Sun. With nothing to lose the humans of one such devastated locale attempt to rise up against a powerful vampire Darkstalker known as Demitri Maximoff. Defeat though is inevitable as we see Maximoff is merely humoured by their feeble efforts, for his banishment to the human world has taught him much of how to act like a true beast. With a 100-year exile from his demon home world drawing to an end Maximoff has plans to use the power he has gained within our presence to overthrow the rulers of the demon realm so he can take what he sees as his rightful place on the throne.
In the meantime we are introduced to Lord Raptor, a zombie rocker who takes his human audiences to the peak of pleasure via his power chords only to ask for their souls in exchange, while Felicia is a Cat woman who merely wears a skimpy costume and appears to be a quite harmless Darkstalker at this stage. Of far more interest and importance to the series is the introduction of our next two characters who we can safely assume are the heroes of this tale. Donovan is a vampire hunter at battle with himself for he has Darkstalker blood running through his veins but chooses to hunt them out in an attempt to restore the earth to its former self. To do this however he must call upon his Darkstalker powers that both taint his self-image and see him cast out amongst those he fights for. Accompanying him is a little girl by the name of Anita who follows Donovan but does not believe in his quest. Almost completely devoid of emotion yet brimming over with Darkstalker powers she is quite obviously an integral player in the overall scale of things, how exactly is another matter entirely.
To be perfectly honest, with the exception of a few scenes in the opening episode I was left cold and found the 40-minutes dragged badly, almost sleep inducing at times. The major problems being the introduction of several characters you care little for and who are lacking any kind of visual or comedic hook to entertain you otherwise, which leaves it to Donovan to pick up the pieces for the latter half of this episode. Moving into the second episode saw the series really begin to settle and open up into a story where its focus was more controlled, concentrating on the heroes tale allowing for characters that I found visually interesting to be developed without interruption. Better yet is the introduction of a second pair of 'heroes' in the form of Chinese sisters, one living and the other a traditional Chinese vampire. These two are not only an impressive duo on the battlefield but they add some much needed humour to the proceedings of what up till this point was a relatively straight-faced show that deals with subject matter only children will swallow when delivered as such.
These additions and story developments found in the second episode turned Nightwarriors into a show that I could appreciate far more than my impressions from the first episode had led me to believe. There were even signs of intelligent scripting that brought an added depth to the major battle sequence found in the second episode. That in turn led me to having a genuine interest on the outcome of a battle for the first time in the series. The only real weak side of this generally impressive second episode proves to be a double edged sword as it pertains to the complete lack of focus on any of the other characters introduced in the opening episode, though if it had continued down this muddled path of jumping between too many individuals I would surely have been bored to tears. What this results in is an episode that flows very well and proves to be highly entertaining, but also highlights the lack of character development seen in the first episode as several characters who were merely outlined have been completely forgotten about at this stage.
As if to add insult to injury yet another character is introduced at the latter stages of episode two, though he actually gives the story some kind of overall purpose by becoming the ultimate evil. Pyron is the name given to what is a megalomaniacal creature intent on ruling both the humans and the Darkstalkers, which in turn leads to the outline of what to expect from the final episodes in this series as we learn it will take Darkstalkers working together and fighting against Pyron to save themselves and the humans. At this halfway point I find myself interested in the outcome of the series though I'm not exactly rushing to the nearest store to pick up the final instalment. However, I am happy to say that after enjoying the second episode I found going back to the first is an easier and more rewarding experience...though still not quite what it should be.
Presented in the original 4:3 Full Screen aspect ratio the transfer here is for the most part a solid effort though it lacks that sheen we are beginning to see with today's high quality anime DVDs. In terms of the source used everything is fine with no sign of damage to be seen, this in turn helps to keep the detail levels high while colours are handled well with little signs of colour bleed present, though as I already mentioned they lack the vividness of today's efforts and appear quite washed out in comparison. Black levels are handled particularly well which given the dark nature of the show is a good thing and only leaves a few compression glitches to let this transfer down. In this area the main fault is the presence of jaggies that sometime plague the character and object outlines. At times I did find this slightly distracting but fortunately this problem is not present throughout so most will be able to overlook it and appreciate an otherwise decent transfer.
The original Japanese audio is presented here in a superb Dolby Digital 5.1 track that really adds to the shows appeal as it makes the often-frenetic action sequences overflow with spatial effects and thunderous bass. Dialogue is handled with care and for the most part is projected via the centre speaker though when required the surrounds are put into use for that added sense of depth, while the musical accompaniment is well balanced across the sound stage creating a fine ambience.
An optional English dub track is also present and for a change despite any personal preferences in terms of dub quality I think everyone should opt for the original Japanese language track as the English dub is presented in a rather stale DD2.0 Stereo track that just cannot compete against the superiority of the Japanese 5.1 mix.
The optional English subtitles are presented in an easy to read white font and as you might expect showcase zero spelling mistakes. The bad news here is that the subtitles are based on the English dub leading to a few occasions where even I can tell they are not literal, but even worse is the quite hideous use of punctuation that on several occasions throughout the first episode really hurts the show as it is just awkward to read. The best description would be a lazy mans English where they use "dat" instead of "that" and "'em" instead of "them", along with various other shortened words several times in the same sentence. Unfortunately these subtitles stem from the script found in the English dub with the only saving grace being how most of the characters speak properly, while the second episode in particular is thankfully almost entirely free of such abbreviations and is all the better for it.
All of the bonus material is located in the 'Tome of Knowledge' section of the disc. In here you will find a variety of extra features though most are of the static kind and will only be browsed by the minority. First up is a Character Biography Gallery that includes pictures and mini-biographies for eight of the characters seen in the series. This is actually quite useful as in most cases we learn more about the individuals than we do from the episodes found on this release, including several of the unnamed characters names.
The Notes from the Crypt section includes a text based interview with one of the series directors (Masashi Ideka) that is taken from Animerica magazine and sees Ikeda discuss the show and the challenges involved in translating a videogame to anime. Also present here is an Image Gallery featuring stills from the series and a more interesting Conceptual Drawings gallery that features original artwork for the character designs. Finally in this area of the disc you will find a detailed Cast & Crew credits listing.
Glorious Fights is a section that allows you to jump directly to the various battles we see during the two episodes found on this disc, while a Trailer Park section houses four trailers from the series and a further 13 trailers for other Viz anime releases.
Despite an uninspired opening episode Nightwarriors has managed to develop into a series that is currently entertaining enough to want to see more, though quite whether it is worth your hard earned cash is very hard to say as there are plenty of better series to be had. If however you are looking for an anime that will offer similar thrills to that of another Capcom videogame adaptation by the name of Streetfighter 2: The Animated Movie then this could well be for you, though at this stage it has a long way to go to match the charm of said movie.