Gokudo (Volume 4: Witches Extraordinaire) Review
Onto the fourth disc of six in the 'epic' saga that is Gokudo. In case you've been wondering, there actually is some rhyme and reason to the odd naming convention used for the individual volumes of this Western DVD release... even if in many cases the link seems a bit on the weak side. Just as 'Swordsman Extraordinaire' introduces a swordsman (Gokudo), 'Magician Extraordinaire' the Prince of the Magic World (Niari), and 'Goddess Extraordinaire' a bona fide sun goddess (Nano), 'Witches Extraordinaire' does indeed come through with the goods again, in the form of two 'notorious evil witch sisters' (Rayuka and Shikinka).
On a not-entirely-unrelated note, it appears that Media Blasters (Anime Works) may have missed a perfectly good opportunity to break the various plot arcs of Gokudo cleanly into individual DVD volumes. This would have benefited not only the casual animé viewer - who may only buy one disc at a time - but also dedicated fans of the series, who would be saved the trouble of having to swap DVDs part-way through a specific storyline. Certainly, this would have made the episode count per disc a bit lopsided (three on volume 1, five each on volumes 2, 3, 4 and 5, and three again on volume 6), but the special features could easily have been distributed between the first and last DVDs to preserve a suitable encoding bitrate. More of an observation than a criticism, but it was something that occurred to me as I prepared the last couple of Gokudo reviews.
Episode Guide (and Possible Spoilers)
15: 'Temptation of the Deadly Gorgeous Sisters!'
So the gang are all still where we left them back in episode 14... which is to say, amidst an identity crisis as all of them have inexplicably switched bodies. The unsightly creature Rubette has accidentally turned herself into cannot speak, and she's having no luck communicating her plight to (the not-very-observant) Gokudo. He in turn - hoping to find some way to revert Ikkyu back to his original evil self - uncorks a phial he nicked from Master Tei and instead gets a neurotic talking panda for all his trouble!
They soon stumble across Rayuka and Shikinka and fall for their 'drugged food' trick just as readily as Djinn did before them. Upon waking, the two are reunited with Djinn, who recognises Rubette despite her monstrous guise. However, before Gokudo can really get his fill of teasing her, they are struck by the disturbing realisation that the witch sisters have in fact imprisoned them and shrunk them down to doll size... apparently in preparation for feeding to their 'pet'.
Gokudo tries to get the panda to help them out of this predicament and - despite balking initially - the latter eventually hands over a magic mirror that absorbs magical creations. By using the mirror the wrong way round, they magically convert the witches' house into its true form... a gigantic plant that demands to be fed. (Ah, shades of Little Shop of Horrors.) However, Peaches (yes, the plant) seems to be indiscriminate as to whom it will gobble down and everyone flees its hunger, with the witches summoning a cloud car that the others manage to grab onto so they all manage to escape.
The witches agree to take Gokudo, Djinn & Rubette to the gods on Horai Mountain, who may be able to restore their height and their bodies... but only if they can elude the ravenous and psychotic Peaches, which has against all reason learned how to fly and is dogging their cloud car in aerial pursuit. When things look bleak indeed, it's the panda who again comes to their rescue with his magic mirror, trapping Peaches inside.
16: 'Me, Myself & Monkey!?'
The smaller part (no pun intended) of their troubles is resolved when the lot of them end up falling into some magical hot springs (no, not those magical springs) and have all of their bodies revert back to normal size and shape. Alas, the body-switch curse hasn't lifted, and it's only after Rubette threatens drastic measures that Djinn's magic is used to alter her form into a cute female iteration. The downside of this is that the panda, enamoured of her new shape, tries it on with Rubette. Spurned, he decides to go off and take over the world (as you do), though not before revealing that only a chosen few can enter Horai Mountain and that they'll need the counsel of Jiki the Sage.
Our stalwart adventurers discover Ikkyu masquerading as Jiki the Sage, allegedly under orders from the Queen of the Magic World (you know, 'granny') to round up Djinn, Niari, Rubette and Gokudo as they can't get back into their correct bodies until they're all in the same place. Rather inconveniently, about then Gokudo's body turns up, but it's clear that it's occupied by a monkey. Resolving to get this situation sorted out as soon as possible, the gang takes a secret shortcut to Horai Mountain.
When they arrive the place looks pretty desolate, but they are greeted by the scent of... dumplings? Ah yes, the Dumpling King has relocated and once again comes after Gokudo (or at least, his body) for that unpaid meal tab. Even worse, when he spots Niari's body he notes the resemblance to a 'Wanted' poster he saw earlier, and shops Djinn (in Niari's body, remember?) in to the Captain of the Guard. Predictably, nice-guy Gokudo manages to blag the reward money for himself.
Using the panda's crystal ball, our heroes discover that Niari's soul is actually in the body of the dreaded monkey/monster, called Gokuu. Things all begin to make more sense when they then work out that: 1, Gokuu's currently located in the Yama Palace Garden; 2, the Prince of Yama is none other than Master Tei; and 3, Master Tei is Rayuka's missing fiancé. Planning how to sneak into the palace, Ikkyu devises a master plan that involves Rayuka, Shikinka, Rubette and Gokudo masquerading as a girl-band: the Chingensai [baby bok-choy] Sisters.
17: 'The Trembling Debut of the Bok-Choy Sisters!'
Abruptly, the Chingensai Sisters are number one in the Hellish music charts and perform live from the Yama Palace Stadium, introduced by MC Ikkyu. When Gokudo ('Gon-Gon' to the adoring crowd of demonic creatures) comes back on stage there's a complete ruckus and the audience rushes forward for autographs, leaving them no choice but to more or less fight their way out into the surrounding forest. Just the sort of place where you might run across a huge, talking tree named Jyoka the Sage, right?
Inside her trunk we learn some more about Jyoka from the witch sisters. She is the Tree of the Sages and once every 900 years she bears a miraculous fruit. Anyone who eats it becomes a mortal sage, invincible to everything... but if an unqualified person drinks the nectar, who knows what will happen? Of course, Gokudo is quite taken with the idea of being invincible and has already taken a sip before anyone could stop him. He then starts to burn up until he eventually collapses.
When he finally does recover from the draught, he wakes up to find all of his friends missing and only the monkey/monster Gokuu (still occupying Gokudo's body) for company. Leaving Jyoka's protection, he is accosted by a strange blue bird-like creature that seems to be a minion of Sanzo the Monk. It is only through the intervention of Jiki the Sage (who, as is standard for this series, shows up at precisely the right moment) that Gokudo is saved, and the rest of the gang show up pretty soon afterwards.
Back in Jiki's cave, the sage tells the story of Gokuu, who stole the peach of immortality and achieved godlike powers. The sages gathered together to imprison the mischievous monkey demon inside a mountain, but when a meteor recently crashed into it, Gokuu escaped. Apparently Sanzo the Monk is gathering a squad of monsters together, planning something big and evil. Our pal the magic panda shows up again at the very end of the episode, revealing that he's finally located Niari (in Gokuu's body).
18: 'The True Identity of Me, I'll be a Monkey's Uncle!'
Using Gokudo (in the pop star persona of Gon-Gon) as bait, the gang manages to infiltrate the secret monkey encampment ruled by Gokuu (or, as is currently the case, Niari - who has been unable to escape the watchful eye of Gokuu's gorilla-esque, shrewish wife). After a close call, Niari is rescued and things are beginning to look up for our heroes. (Niari even takes the opportunity to magically alter his body from monkey to man-form.)
Unfortunately, there's been an imposter lurking in the ranks, and it soon becomes apparent that what they had taken for Gokuu is in fact Sanzo the Monk in a copy of Gokudo's body (the real one sequestered away at some undisclosed location). He's been watching the lot of them ever since they unintentionally brought destruction down upon Inaho (in episode 13), and has lured them all to this place to serve his own dastardly ends. A battle naturally ensues, but the gang is outclassed by Sanzo's trickery... not to mention a magical 'damage redirection' spell.
Sanzo then says he's going to send them all to Hell (cue maniacal laughter). A few bolts of lightning later and Gokudo & Co do appear to be in Hell - or somewhere where there's a lot of extreme weather conditions, anyway. Jiki speculates that they're in the Teralarian Desert, a special realm where everyone's real self is revealed. (For example, Jiki becomes a turtle and the two witches become snakes, while the others all seem to remain the same.) They do find Djinn - in Niari's body - and Pegasus, but both of them seem to have lost their minds, only repeating 'Teralarian' over and over... apparently the effect of remaining too long in that accursed place.
Picture, Sound, Menus & Extras
As with the previous volume, the picture quality on disc 4 of Gokudo exhibits slightly more background grain than the first two DVDs in this series did. Again, this isn't a big problem and isn't going to spoil your enjoyment of the show... it's just a little odd seeing as it's counterintuitive to expect the video encode to be marginally better on the discs that had to squeeze in five episodes rather than four.
The sound quality across all of these Gokudo DVDs has remained pretty constant, with no obvious problems of any kind. Certainly the dialogue comes across crisp and clear with no dropouts or other audio flaws. However, some of the characters introduced on 'Witches Extraordinare' (particularly the panda) sound really cheesy in the English dub and put me off watching the whole disc in that language. The VA playing the English version of Gokudo is still great, and so is the woman playing Rubette, but their performances aren't enough to counteract some of the other goofy voices on the dub, so I'd personally recommend watching these episodes in the original Japanese.
Nothing new to report on the menus front, which are fast and efficient enough with the sole exception of the near-useless 'Scene Access' sub-menu. However, the special features on volume 4 substitute a textless ending sequence of the show for the textless opening that was provided on both discs 2 and 3. This was a thoughtful addition and it's great to have both the creditless OP & ED for Gokudo. (Please note, these are completely text-free sequences, so you won't see the original Japanese credits scroll either.) There's also a gallery of 18 pages of production sketches, but unless I'm mistaken these are the same exact images that were included in the gallery on volume 3, so that's a minor disappointment.
Things are still going strong in the wacky universe of Gokudo. While some of the latest additions to our band of adventurers aren't particularly inspired (Jiki and Jyoka being cases in point), this is more than made up for by the two witch sisters and the talking panda, who have quite amusing personalities that add a lot to the madcap party dynamic. One thing that is a little different is that the end of the series' fourth story arc doesn't feel as satisfying as the ones that came before, partly because the show launches without even a breather into the fifth. The main antagonist, Sanzo the Monk, seems to hold all the cards at this point and it looks unlikely that our 'heroes' can ever stop him. Still, this feels less like a plot hole and more like a suspense-building device, so we'll see how things pan out in the last two DVDs. (Keen-eyed fans may also spot what appears to be a brief homage to the character Ten from Urusei Yatsura, albeit with red hair!)