24 Aug 2009
Abraham Lincoln's famous quote “you cannot please all of the people all of the time” might have been a phrase to best mention to the creators of Shigurui: Death Frenzy.
Set in early 17th century Japan, amidst the time of the Tokugawa Shogunate, this 12 part anime adaptation of the currently ongoing manga series by Takayuki Yamaguchi. The story tells the feud between Seigen Irako, a power hungry samurai who is embittered towards the Kogan Ryuu sword fighting school. Whilst trying to manipulate the school to further his own career, he is blinded by its mentally unbalanced master, Kogan Iwamoto. The other, Gennosuke Fujiki, is the very paragon of a samurai – utterly ruthless, utterly loyal to the kogan school, and utterly emotionless, caring nothing more than his loyalty to his mercurial leader.
During the duration of this series we find out via numerous flashbacks, how the schemes of Irako, and the unsettling ruthlessness of Kogan to continue the school even if it means sacrificing the sanity of his daughter Mie, and his cruelty towards his concubine, Lady Iku. It paves the way towards Irako and Fukiki's eventual battle at the foot of the twisted noble Tokugawa Tadanaga.
As you can probably tell there are no real good guys or bad guys in this series – in fact at times I found that the series played out more like an oriental Shakespearian tragedy, with scheming, death and betrayal and more sex, CGI blood and intestines than you could shake a katana at. In fact at times it seemed that Manga have taken a leaf out of their 1990's counterparts handbook as to what makes a good series.
But that isn't my chief complaint about this series, no siree, I’ve barely even begun. This is where my quote at the top of this review comes into play.
Firstly as a samurai series, the fights, although bloody enough to keep the gore fans entertained, are seemingly over in an instant. A fact which although realistic will leave many shonen fans expecting exaggerated moves and fights to be greatly disappointed.
Secondly the series itself is unbelievably dark, with the two lead female characters Mie and Iku reduced to nothing more than victims and sexual objects – again expect no light moments in this series. I also found at times that I needed a university degree in Japanese history to understand what was going on, due to the large amount of references to parts of Japanese samurai culture and Japanese life in the 17th century – a guide book to some of these references included with the DVD would have helped to add to the experience.
Thirdly, the flashbacks themselves are at times are disorientating and at worst disruptive to the flow of the plotline – trust me if you hated Lost for doing that you won’t like this.
Finally, and this was the problem of this release, was the fact that after 12 episodes, and a titanic cliffhanger of an ending the series simply just stops. No real resolutions to any of the plotlines, heck we don't even get a resolution to the samurai fight at the beginning of the series.y
In the end the series tries to be everything to everyone, yet fails in all counts. Instead it leaves the viewer at best confused and at worst bored or angry at the abrupt ending of the series.
If on the other hand you want a samurai drama with a heavier emphasis on the drama and backroom politics of samurai life over the actual fights themselves then this may appeal to you - just don't mind the abrupt ending.
One of the few saving graces for me with this release is the extras - with two episode commentaries, artwork from the series and building and character sketches. The only thing missing curiously enough was a trailer reel of Manga Entertainment's other series.