Gokudo (Volume 2: Magician Extraordinaire) Review
A little while back I posted a review of the first Gokudo DVD ('Swordsman Extraordinaire'), and at long last I've had a chance to do a write-up of some of the subsequent instalments in this entertaining comedy/fantasy series, released on six discs by Media Blasters (AnimeWorks). Volume 2 (aka 'Magician Extraordinaire') again provides a generous sampling of the show's quirky brand of madness, with five half-hour TV episodes that complete the second major story arc of the series and immediately get the third well underway. (It's true; Gokudo isn't a show that slows down to let you catch your breath, so hang on tight...)
Episode Guide (and Possible Spoilers)
6: 'Don't Let Women Fool You'
As those of you who read my review of the first volume may recall, when we last left our – ahem – 'heroes', Gokudo had somehow stumbled into a three-man race with the prize being the Parmettian Empire. Summoning Princess Coco to help him solve the riddle of the Sphinx, it soon becomes obvious (even to someone as thick as Gokudo) that she knows more than she's letting on. She finally spills that Parmette, whose biggest tourist pull and source of income is its wealth of exotic monsters, is in serious trouble ever since the kingdom's magical energy mysteriously started draining away.
Apparently the Goddess has disappeared, and the way Coco tells it, Gokudo's destined to be the one that brings her back and saves the empire. As you might imagine, both the audience and Gokudo himself have cause to be sceptical in the light of such an outrageous claim... but when the demon Ikkyu returns just in time with moondrop demanded by the Sphinx, the entire party is granted permission to enter the royal tomb and pursue the sacred relic that will restore magic to Parmette.
Naturally, all this has merely been a ruse by Princess Coco and her true love (Issa) to find a sucker to play the role of ritual sacrifice in order to save the kingdom, and our man Gokudo walked right into it. Cornered in a place where he can't even summon his magic sword (and, incidentally, captured by his arch-nemesis – yes, I refer to none other than the Dumpling King, to whom he still owes an exorbitant meal tab), things are looking bleak until Gokudo remembers the deal he struck with Ikkyu and has the latter devour Issa's soul.
Of course Coco is not amused at this turn of events and decides to take it out on Gokudo (as Ikkyu makes a sharp exit)... but before he's completely pummelled into submission, the mysterious third competitor in the race for throne of Parmette turns up and saves him, turning out to be none other than Rubette in disguise! (In a classic touch of Gokudo humour, she's not so much coming to rescue Gokudo as coming to give him a lecture, as she's been watching his progress and feels he doesn't deserve to be king.) However, when he, she, and the unicorn she's been riding actually manage to open the secret path to the inner sanctum of the royal tomb, the race is on to see who'll claim the relic first...
7: 'The Shocking Truth of the Third Man!'
Well, the title pretty much sums this episode up, but this wouldn't be much of a summary without a few details, so here we go... in that dumb-luck way of his, Gokudo manages to chance upon the sacred relic first, but is more than a little intimidated when he discovers it's guarded by a huge dragon! Fortunately for him, this is merely another of the alternate forms of Djinn, who has been moonlighting as a security guard to make a little extra dosh on the side. (In another of the show's trademark schticks, the core characters of Gokudo sometimes seem to vanish for a little while, but they always tend to return at a dramatic moment in an alternate guise. Funny, that.)
Rubette and her unicorn arrive on the scene and after a brief reunion between her and Djinn, it's revealed that the reason Gokudo can't summon his magic sword is because it's been sealed up in the sanctuary with all of the other royal treasures... so it's only natural that our 'man of action' will want to go get back what's rightfully his. Nothing's ever quite that easy in the Gokudo universe, though, so the trio soon find themselves face to face with a wall of guards, who have somehow got the idea that our lad is in cahoots with the Magic King to overthrow the Parmettian Empire. (Hrm...)
Handwaving the resultant battle for the moment, in the end it's Djinn who invokes his authority and runs a small trial to get to the bottom of the situation. In that ever-so-helpful fashion, he summons Ikkyu and forces him to release Issa's soul. This naturally appeases Coco, who orders the guards to permit Gokudo to retrieve his sword (and only his sword) from the sanctuary. Of course this is Gokudo we're talking about here, so no one is especially surprised when he has to be shaken down upon his exit and relieved of all sorts of treasures that 'accidentally' found their way into his pockets. Because he's such an obvious target, no one notices that Ikkyu seems to have got hold of a magic box and Rubette a fancy new ring... but they soon have a more serious problem to worry about.
As Rubette wasn't actually the third candidate in the race for the throne, Ikkyu points out that it was none other than – drum roll, please – the unicorn she was riding (who has of course mysteriously scarpered by this point). More importantly, the unicorn was merely a disguise for Niari, the Prince of the Magic World... and guess who's made off with the sacred relic while Team Gokudo was chasing after his sword? Oops.
8: 'The Rose Prince, the Charming, Winning Smile'
And so the show gains yet another recurring character... the handsome rogue, Prince Niari, who's defining trait is his womanising nature. Apparently tempted to the mortal plane as he was bored with the girls in the Magic World, he swans into the Parmettian palace, kidnaps all three Princesses, and lays waste to the place after smashing the royal relic that everyone had spent so much time hunting. (Yes, just as the DVD case advertises, Niari is 'tall, dark, and evil ta boot'.)
But all is not lost for Gokudo and Company! They manage to find the Goddess after all (who is typically small, cute, and fairie-like), but unfortunately she seems to have forgotten everything, including the fact that she's a goddess. While at first it seems the only way she can regain her powers is if a foreign hero sacrifices his flesh for her, Gokudo's having none of that, so the gang end up chasing after a different solution (and get a snazzy new form of transportation – Pegasus – into the bargain). While they're chasing after the source of her magic, Djinn casually explains that the ring Rubette nicked allows her to talk to animals... which, yes, will come in very handy later on, I'm sure.
The Goddess leads them to Niari's hideout, but it's shielded by an impenetrable forcefield. However Ikkyu, knowing Niari's weakness, makes short work of that by shouting out to the Prince that Rubette is desperate to see what he really looks like... which naturally lures the vain (and yes, quite cute) Niari out into the open. When he discovers that Rubette won't so easily succumb to his charms, a wonderfully-silly Gokudo-style battle follows, with the Prince's hideout abruptly converting into something out of Transformers. The animators go all-out for the mecha homage, with the structure assuming the form of a ridiculous giant robot, firing off missiles, etc... it's very amusing.
In the middle of all of this anachronistic action, the Goddess works out that she can regain her powers with just a kiss from Gokudo, who enthusiastically complies... and then collapses in shock as she sheds her cute fairie form and reverts back to... yes, you guessed it, the old hag from the show's very first episode! She then handily destroys Niari's 'transformer' and essentially grounds him (as, if you'll recall from my last review, she's actually the Queen of the Magic World, and therefore Niari's mum). As further punishment for being 'a very naughty boy', she removes almost all of his magical powers... basically resetting him to the level of a mere novice once more. So the gang move on, with Pegasus and Niari (apparently Gokudo has been assigned his parole officer!) in tow, which means our little team of adventurers has grown slightly larger, with all the more chance for merry chaos in coming episodes.
9: 'When in the Unimaginable Ryuga Castle...'
And so we begin the third story arc of Gokudo. Frustrated at having come out of his desert race with no more than a dusty old box, he pops it open and is instantly turned into an old man. Niari works out that the box is the property of the Princess Otto, related to the Dragon God and therefore (alas for Gokudo) immune to both his and the Djinn's magic. Though Niari seems keen to dump Gokudo altogether, Djinn cajoles him into accompanying them to the island of Inaho (where the Dragon God is worshipped)... primarily by mentioning how beautiful the princess is alleged to be.
On the way there, Djinn explains that the Magic World and the realm of the gods are mortal enemies, so he, Prince Niari, and Pegasus will have to camouflage themselves as humans during their visit. (So for a while at least, Djinn will assume his pretty-girl guise again and Pegasus will take the form of a rather scrawny looking guy.) Of course, getting to Inaho proves a real hassle, especially when you factor in the appearance of a giant talking turtle whom Gokudo abysmally fails to talk into introducing him to the Dragon God.
Things go even further south when Gokudo drops any attempt at diplomacy and takes said turtle hostage, which only lands the entire group in hot water (so to speak) when they are (fairly quickly) captured and dragged before the court of the Dragon God for summary judgment. Luckily for them, the god recognises the magic box and gives them a quest in lieu of punishment... namely, to retrieve a stolen magic sphere. To give Gokudo a fighting chance, he restores the latter's youth for one week and promises to remove the curse permanently if our heroes return victorious.
While the Dragon God is recommending they seek more information on the theft by paying a quick visit to his sister the Sun Goddess, Niari shows so much interest in the absent Princess Otto that she is summoned and falls for Niari more or less immediately. Just one problem... she's hideous, of course!
10: 'Stormy Weather! The Selfish Sun-Goddess Explodes'
As Gokudo and Co set off - mercilessly leaving Niari behind to keep Princess Otto company - they are soon met by Nihi, a priest of the Hanishi (the followers of the Dragon God), who apologetically explains that Lady Nano (the Sun Goddess) is in a foul mood and that the suddenly stormy weather merely reflects this. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when they arrive on the scene she is nowhere to be found and they eventually discover that she's barricaded herself in the nearby Cave of the Gods and that darkness will hold sway until her mood shifts.
Gokudo, knowing he only has a week to succeed in his mission, is less than impressed with this news and tromps off to the cave to try and bust the goddess out. Of course, the first thing our heroes do is make a terrible faux pas when they devour the food the villagers have been laying out as tribute to Lady Nano. (Yes, even Djinn, whose initial harsh lecture dissolves into hearty participation the moment she spots the unattended flagons of wine sitting on the table.) This whole sequence is suitably over the top, with Rubette then gulping the 'happy drink' intended for the goddess and launching into a tone-deaf series of songs while the thoroughly-drunk Djinn goes into full cheerleader mode (yes, with pom-poms and everything) in support of Pegasus' unsuccessful efforts at breaking into the Cave of the Gods. Predictably, it's left to Gokudo to use his 'special attack' to make further headway.
As the door to the cave finally swings open to the sound of a little girl screaming about the terrible stench and accompanied by a blast of daylight that drives off the darkness, the Sun Goddess emerges and lays into the assembled, insulting each in turn before throwing an all-out temper tantrum when Gokudo balks at being renamed 'Stinky'. However she eventually does tell them of the Hotoke, a rival race of foreign gods who have started to encroach on the territories previously held by her and the Dragon God. And, taking much the same angle as Rubette did earlier in the series, Lady Nano decides Gokudo's interesting enough to tag along with for a while...
Picture, Sound, Menus & Extras
When it comes to a discussion of the video, audio, and menus on this DVD, there's not much to add to the comments in my review of the first disc. Basically, the picture quality is fairly solid, the only noticeable flaw being a persistent background grain. (Though no more pronounced than that present in the majority of animé DVD releases.) The animation is interesting and done in a variety of styles to suit the flavour of whatever the show is parodying - or paying homage to - at that particular moment. Similarly, there's nothing wrong with the sound quality in either the Japanese or the English track... but nor is there anything particularly exciting going on in the way of stereo separation or directionality. Fortunately, Gokudo's humour doesn't rely heavily on music or sound effects but rather visual comedy and amusing dialogue, the latter of which comes across very clearly in either language.
The disc menus are still nothing extraordinary, I'm afraid. Although the main menu screen is nicely animated and has a loop of the show's ED theme tune running in the background, the Scene Access sub-menu remains a pain to navigate and lacking in even something as basic as episode titles. Fortunately, the weird problem that robbed the Trailers section of its audio on the first volume of Gokudo seems to have been successfully corrected, so now you can play all four previews of other Media Blasters DVDs if you so choose.
One new item to report, however, is the presence of an easter egg on this second volume, which means that this disc actually has a special feature... something the first volume lacked entirely. The hidden extra is in fact the textless (original) OP sequence for the show, so it's a great thing for the company to have included. Nor is it particularly hard to find... just roam about the main menu with the arrow keys on your remote until you succeed in highlighting something that isn't text, and hit enter. I really enjoyed finding this and hope there will be more easter eggs in the remaining volumes of Gokudo.
Gokudo continues to be an absolute delight to watch. The show's strengths include its very imaginative animated sequences, tight scripting, homages to (and parodies of) contemporary content, hilarious dialogue (expertly delivered in both the original Japanese and the English dub), and truly mad levels of physical comedy. As for weaknesses, I suppose the only possible complaints some might raise are its utterly breakneck pace and its general coarseness. It certainly has the distinction of being one of the 'rudest' animé series I've ever had the fortune to see. Please note, however, that I do not say 'objectionable'... Gokudo lacks any of the things that cause parents to despair that modern animé is unsuitable for their kids: there's no nudity (not even any fan service, really), no foul language (despite Gokudo himself pushing the envelope here and there), and no gore (that is, battles are bloodless). I heartily recommend the series to anyone who enjoys a good laugh and who doesn't despise the fantasy genre.