Review, part1 – The Sealed Esoteric History -moon- (秘封活動記録-月-)

You probably already read it on the Maidens of the Kaleidoscope forum but I’m reposting it here for better clarity.

The Sealed Esoteric History -moon- (秘封活動記録-月-), part1 (contents and presentation)

After all that time waiting, I finally had a chance to watch the awaited animation by Chinese circle Kyoto Fantasy Troupe, The Sealed Esoteric History -moon-.

Indeed, I wasn’t stupid enough to wait for downloads to pop up on the net. I ordered it from Melonbooks with help of a proxy, and did so on December 24th 2015. I just got it on January 18th.

In case you missed them, here are all the buying options I listed for that animation, as of January 22th 2016 (indeed, if reading this way after its publication date, chances are that all these links will be obsolete or the product out of print):

Melonbooks: (out of print)

Toranoana: (out of print)

Akiba Hobby, through Buyee:

Otaku Republic: (out of print)

Suruga-Ya: (JPY250 as of January 27th 2019! It might be gone very soon!)

Now, here are all the questions you might all ask to yourself while reading this text:

– How does it compare to the two other existing animated series (A Summer Day’s Dream and Fantasy Kaleidoscope)?
– What is the story like?
– How is it close to canon?
– Does it have any fan service?
– How is the overall tone of the anime? And its pace?
– Does it use any lazy tricks/shortcuts?
– How good are the music and sound effects?
– How is it presented? Does it have voices? Subs?
– How good is the animation, character design and backgrounds? And compared to the other series?
– How is the sound/picture quality?

Throughout this review, I’ll try to answer all these questions… I said “I’ll try”. Because I’m hardly a Touhou expert, especially canon-wise, I’ll leave my opinion as someone who discovers it with a fresh eye (and not a stupidly biased and jaded view like 4chan folks had on that thread they did).

So, what are going to begin with first? To put it shortly, this animation puts A Summer Day’s Dream to shame. I watched episode 2.5 the other day… Umm, well… such concentrate of laziness is amazing. On the other hand, Fantasy Kaleidoscope still has its own arguments to present. But we’ll see all that at the end. Let’s look at the package first.

/!\ WARNING /!\
Before starting this review, I’d like to inform you that I failed to have permission from the circle to show video and picture content (I only got a quick response from their part redirecting me to their already existing teasers). Also, they really do not want anything to leak from their DVD, including goodies. It is clearly stated in their readme file and the answer I got after mailing them clearly goes in that direction, even though they didn’t give me a clear and frank response. So you’ll have pictures of my old CRT TV (Sony 29” Trinitron SDTV) instead of high-def screenshots. I can’t do anything about that, I’m sorry.

What are the contents like?

First surprise, the DVD comes in a standard Amaray box, not a slim one compared to other existing OVAs. Second surprise, unlike what the box artwork suggests it, this is not a Video DVD. If you put that in a standard home DVD player, it won’t play. As the following screenshots show, this is a data-only disc:

The first folder contains goodies (wallpapers). The second one contains our movie. Not one file… four files!! Technical details will be given later but the animation is presented in two resolutions, 720p and 1080p and both with and without (Japanese) subtitles.

Back to the box, you also have a nice booklet inside detailing all the staff with very nice artwork. I really appreciate that, as that was lacking from the other two. As you may have guessed, I’m reviewing the regular version, not the collector set.

Now let’s talk about how it watches and how it is presented

As it was more or less obvious from their previous blog entries, it is presented in the same exact fashion as Fantasy Kaleidoscope. It feels like a regular OVA episode with animation backed up by music and sound effects, but doesn’t have any voice. The interesting part is how it watches compared to the latter. To be honest, as this relies a lot on dialogue to tell the story, even more than its competitor from Manpuku, you might find that disturbing and awkward. Some scenes are almost completely silent with sometimes quite long lines “expressed” by a character. But the good thing is those scenes are generally short and not in significant number. The rest of the time, we have a very nice atmospheric music that goes alongside. Now, the fact that this lack of voice, even if awkward at times, is what adds its charm and cachet to it is completely up to you. You may like it or find it jarring or not give a damn about it. Personally, I wished they would have taken that more into account when making the episode. Keep in mind full voice was considered and kept in storage as an idea within the circle (remember the survey they did in February 2015).

Edit, January 27th, 2019: I forgot to mention but it did get a voiced version in April 2016 which I talked about in this blog article.

Compared to Manpuku’s attempt, I was pleased to see that it watches very smoothly, even with no voices. It’s not fast-paced, obviously, but it’s not the soporific we had with Maikaze’s attempt either. It’s in-between. The half-hour this OVA lasts won’t feel long and boring.

The overall mood is also completely different from what we watched before. It presents itself as relatively serious with only a few tidbits of funny attempts (you won’t see a grimace fest like in Fantasy Kaleidoscope). I also like how it tries to put the storytelling very upfront by developing relationships within characters and events that occur. Unfortunately, if you’re a bit lost behind regarding canon and can’t speak Japanese (just like me), this may feel a bit complicated to follow. Like in Fantasy Kaleidoscope, character psychology seems okay and tangible enough (compare that to the caricature we had in A Summer Day’s Dream). You might find all those characters endearing.

One quality I like about it over Fantasy Kaleidoscope is how low it relies on fan-service and some lame and dated puns. You won’t find any of these here. For some people, that may be a huge plus. Also, it doesn’t feel as cartooney as Manpuku’s anime.

To be continued on part2 (artwork and story)

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