MÄR (Märchen Awakens Romance): 2 – The Return of Phantom

Ginta, Babbo, and Jack are back for more adventures in the land of MÄR Heaven. The Chess Pieces are on the move and their commander, Phantom, is rising from his grave. Alviss warns Ginta of the Chess Pieces, but only a real battle will convince him of the danger. Meanwhile, a princess (who happens to look a lot like Koyuki) is trapped inside a castle while the Chess Pieces threaten to take her back to the evil Queen. The trio are about to join an adventure far bigger than they ever imagined. Based on the manga by Nobuyuki Anzai (Flame of Recca) comes MÄR (Märchen Awakens Romance): 2 – The Return of Phantom from Viz Media

Stats
DVD: MÄR (Märchen Awakens Romance): 2 – The Return of Phantom
Release Date: 8/7/2007
Release Studio: Viz Media
ADR Production: PCB Productions

MSRP: $19.98
Audio: English 2.0 DD, Japanese 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English
Episodes: 4
Runtime: 100mins
Extras: Production Art, ÄRM dictionary

Notes: Review is based on a Screener copy of the final product.

Episode five opens with Alviss confronting Ginta. Ginta instantly recognizes the voice of the person who brought him over to MÄR Heaven, Babbo. But before Ginta can thank him, Alviss traps Jack in a cage and transforms him into a bird. Alviss proceeds to attack Ginta and Babbo, and neither understands why. Babbo, without his memory, doesn’t know that he is really the ÄRM for Phantom and has been used to kill many members of the Cross Guard force. Ginta can’t believe this horrid tale and refuses to hand Babbo over to be destroyed. Alviss attempts to attack Ginta, but in this world Ginta isn’t the weakling he was on Earth.

Episodes six and seven introduce Edward, the talking dog, who needs his princess saved. Edward and Princess Snow fled the land of Lestava when her life was in danger. Now she’s trapped inside an iced-over castle while the Chess Pieces try to capture her. Naturally, this is a job for three men wanting to be heroes. The group travels through the snow and into the castle where possible danger lurks around every corner. They sense a human with magic nearby when a mysterious woman pulls out a knife to slice Ginta’s throat. Luckily, Dorothy recognizes Ginta in time and is thrilled to see him again. Dorothy came looking for ÄRMS, as usual, and wishes Ginta’s group luck on their journey to save the princess. What she doesn’t tell him is that there were several people waiting to attack him. Fighting off the low-level Chess Pieces, Dorothy has bought Ginta’s group a little more time to take on what awaits at the top.

Ian and Loco are waiting in the Princess’ chamber with poor Snow trapped inside a block of ice. Ian is only a Rook, but Ginta’s fighting skills aren’t very high yet. Loco, on the other hand, appears to be a young girl, but it’s obvious that looks can be deceiving. As the battle looks hopeless, Edward begs Jack to knock him out. Jack doesn’t understand why but tries to fulfill Edward’s wish, anyway. From the back of the room Alviss watches to see what Ginta will do next. Ginta transforms Babbo into a huge ball and slams him down at Ian. Ian manages to get out of the way, but not before his arm is broken. Behind Ginta, Edward is down, knocked out by the blast. As they watch him, Edward transforms from dog to human to join the fight.

The final episode provides more background details about Phantom, the Chess Pieces, and the Cross Guard members who defeated Phantom years ago. Ed and Princess Snow head toward Pelica with Ginta, Babbo, and Jack tagging along for the journey. In awe of her beauty, Jack and Babbo would probably march into hell itself if Princess Snow asked them. Resting at a tavern later, Ed begins to explain the troubled past of MÄR Heaven. Snow’s step-mother, the Queen, is a vile woman who wants to control all of MÄR Heaven. Phantom and the Chess Pieces work with the Queen in order to pursue their own personal agendas. Once, long ago, a man from Ginta’s world travelled into MÄR Heaven and defeated the Chess Pieces. Now, with the Chess Pieces’ revival and Ginta’s arrival, there’s a hope that Ginta will become strong enough to defeat Phantom like the last stranger from a distant world did. Meanwhile, Dorothy finds herself following the group as they continue their journey towards Pelica. Now the question is: does she follow for Ginta or just his rare ÄRM?

MÄR (Märchen Awakens Romance) has its positives and, with a little more character development, will be a decent series to follow. The character designs are still a bit mixed, but Edward isn’t too bad and Princess Koyu… err, Snow is downright cute. Add to this Dorothy possible becoming a regular and we finally have something entertaining to watch rather than the Cloud Strife clone and his shovel-swinging monkeyboy companion. The Japanese cast is working out a bit better with Motoko Kumai giving a decent performance as Ginta. Ai Shimizu returns as the Koyuki-look-alike Princess Snow and is as adorable during her first appearance as Koyuki. Koichi Sakaguchi is amusing for Edward, though I hope for more man and less dog in the future. Meanwhile, Saki Nakajima seems to be having fun playing the emotional range of Dorothy the witch. The English production from PCB Productions takes a hit moving from mixed to fairly poor as script, music, and direction changes plague the title. The caricatures continue as we add in more minor characters. Spike Spencer’s Ginta goes downhill as the episodes continue. In comparison to the first volume, I would say he’s gotten worse rather than better. Wendee Lee can still be a bit too rough at times for Dorothy, but it’s one of the better performances in the series. Naturally, Michelle Ruff ends up voicing the Koyuki-look-alike Princess Snow with subtle perfection of the cute-voiced character. The rest of the cast tends to slide downhill from a halfway-decent Loco to the downright cheesy Chess Pieces. Listen to the Japanese or just tune in for Michelle Ruff’s Snow performance; skip the rest if you want to preserve any happy thoughts regarding this series.

MÄR (Märchen Awakens Romance): 2 – The Return of Phantom is worth grabbing for a rent along with volume one to test out the series. If the plot can make a major move forward within the next disc or two, it should be fun to watch for several volumes (unless they ditch Snow and Dorothy, of course). MÄR can’t survive on Ginta, Babbo, and Jack alone. Despite having a good price for four episodes, the series is hampered by the altered opening/closing video and music, the changed episode music, adding another overlay, and the lackluster English-dub. So, renting before buying is what I stress for the show for now unless some major changes happen. The video is otherwise clean and the subtitles contain only a couple minor spelling errors. The DVD extras are some production art and an ÄRM dictionary. MÄR (Märchen Awakens Romance): 2 – The Return of Phantom is still more of a rent than a buy series unless you’ve already taken the time to catch it on Cartoon Network’s Toonami. While there are issues on this DVD, there is still time to make some easy fixes and produce a decent series in the next volume or two.