Getting thrown into the middle of a film or television series is a daunting task, especially when you can’t just reach out and grab the source material. For example, today’s review are three films that are set after a manga book collection as well as a 13-episode television series that is available on Blu-ray, but by another production house and would cost me thirty bucks. Hardly an ideal situation, but one I wasn’t going to back down from. Donten: Laughing Under the Clouds – Gaiden is our review today and tries to tell us in nearly three hours what happens after the Yamainu take down the Orochi and the struggle to lead normal lives in the wake of such a cataclysmic event.
Film One: One Year After the Battle –
It is 1879, the 12th year of Meiji. Crime is rampant and even though the master serpent Orochi was defeated by the group known as the Yamainu, the nation is not at peace. We watch as Soramaru and Chutaro thwart a couple of criminals who robbed an old man. We also learn about the squad who defeated Orochi and their life after the great battle. Some of them joined the military to serve the country, while others stayed home to tend to their family or others.
However, one person in particular, Tenka, spends his time remembering the death of his parents as he visits their grave sites. In addition, he is also wheelchair-bound due to injuries sustained in the battle with Orochi. But Tenka can’t think about his own plight for very long, as he must take care of Soramaru and Chutaro, who are his younger brothers. As Soramaru and Chutaro are growing up before Tenka’s eyes, will he able to overcome his own grief and set them on a path to achieve their own goals?
This first film sets the mood for this trilogy and deals with the aftermath of the events from the Meiji Restoration. We know that the show is going to focus on the three brothers of Tenka, Soramaru and Chutaro, but we also get insight on various members of the Yamainu who all have to find their way. There isn’t much fighting outside of an extended flashback sequence, and this is more about grief and Tenka’s path. Things will certainly need to pick up as we move forward into the other two films.
Film Two: The Tragedy of Fuuma Ninja Tribe –
The second film explores the relationship between the two twin brothers known as Isuke and Isame. Isuke is part of the Fuuma Ninja Tribe, a clan of proud ninjas led by a chief who more resembles a madman than a governing presence. Meanwhile, Isame was supposed to be killed at birth and is considered a curse to the Tribe if he is allowed to live. Therefore, he lives in seclusion, protected by his parents and not allowed out under any circumstances.
The Ninja Tribe as mentioned is led by a madman who decides the targets for the Ninjas to assassinate. However, as part of growing up, he decides to choose targets that are close to the assassins in trying to create the strongest ninjas for his clan. When the chief decides on a target that is extremely close to Isuke, it starts a chain of events that can’t be reversed. The decisions made by both brothers alter the very makeup of the clan and set their future in motion.
I have never been one for honor films. The idea of blindly following your leader and doing whatever they say even when it endangers those close to you never sits well with me. It is one of those moments where I’m talking to my television and just annoyed as the action unfolds. Like the first film, there is an end credits scene that sets up the next film, but this felt disjointed and really didn’t follow the first or third film in theme or execution.
Film Three: Conspiracy of the Military –
This final chapters unveils the ongoing story that’s been in the background for the first two films. Apparently, there are experiments going on with cells from the dead Orochi and test subjects that have led to some frightening results. One warrior in particular, test subject number 40 also known as Tora, has now escaped from his prison and is seeking out Tenka. Unfortunately he runs into Tenka’s brothers Soramaru and Chutaro as well as Takeda, the youngest member of the Yamainu.
Eventually, Soramaru, Chutaro, Takeda and Nishiki (Soramaru’s girlfriend) set out on an adventure that will uncover the controversy of these experiments on humanity. They can’t trust anybody, not even the former members of the Yamainu who have gone their separate ways. As Soramaru grows up and begins his transformation into a proficient warrior, he must uncover deadly secrets and realize who the true enemy really is.
In this final story, events finally come together, and we realize that Soramaru is more than just some child who wants to learn martial arts and how to fight with swords. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Tenka and defend his family against anything that stands in their path. However, the forces that stand in the way are many shades of gray and really make the characters decide which side they want to be a part of.
This third story almost makes up for the other two hours. It is so strong that I wish the first two films would have spent more time developing Soramaru as well as Chutaro and Nishiki rather than waste time with Tenka’s grief or the two twin brothers. That would have made me seek out the source material; that would have me singing the praises of this collection. Instead, these three films fall flat for me and represent a missed opportunity.
These films are shown in a 1.78:1 widescreen format. To be honest, these look to be about the same quality as the television show from the information I could pull up, maybe slightly better due to the Blu-ray format. It’s not horrible, or even bad mind you, with good colors and some depth for the exposition scenes and even when they are locked in combat. Unfortunately, it’s not going to wow you or provide you very much to look at. The strength of this is going to come from the show and not so much any visual spectacular.
The audio tracks are DTS HD 2.0 in Japanese and English (despite the back of the package listing 5.1). Typos on the back art aside, this is a rather hollow soundtrack. Dialog is reasonable enough, and there weren’t any obvious issues with understanding the conversations. However, surrounds and effects were tepid at best with just enough to get a decent rating. It’s really frustrating and shows not enough attention. Subtitles are provided in English for the original Japanese soundtrack and English SDH for the English Soundtrack (this has been a reoccurring problem in some Shout titles where the Japanese soundtrack has forced English subs and we can’t select traditional English Subs for the dub track)
Japanese Trailers & Teasers 7:10: For the first film, they include a 30-second and minute trailers. The second gets the most with a 15-second teaser, 30-second, minute, and full two-minute trailers. The last gets a 15-second teaser, 30-second, and minute trailer. It’s all over the place and quite frankly a mess of an extra.
Three Mini Posters : These three mini posters show off various art from the three films. If you knew what you were doing, you could get one of those frames with three parts and come out with a decent piece of art for your wall. Whether anybody will actually go to the trouble of framing these correctly is another matter.
Notes: A DVD was also provided in the combo package. I would suggest for future releases they consider clear Blu-ray cases so we can enjoy the interior art.
Interestingly enough, they attempted to make this series into a live-action film in 2018. Somehow they thought it was a good idea to try and translate this massive story into 94 minutes. From the reviews I could find, it did not connect with the audience, and this was best left to its printed material and television series. For me, the three tiny movies included here didn’t work and did not leave me with a desire to seek out the source material at all. The second film in particular feels completely out of place, and it’s a shame that they didn’t create a bridge between the first and third short films to bring it together (and then maybe piece in material from the second).
The disc is something of a mess with average video and such poor audio that Shout couldn’t even it label it correctly on the box. The extras aren’t consistent and barely even worth mentioning. If you have watched the television show or read the books, then perhaps you will find some interest here. But that is the only group of people I can really recommend this to, and even then I did not find the story very captivating or able to hold my interest. Enjoy.