Shigurui – Review

Title: Shigurui
Episodes: 12
Company: Madhouse
Genre(s): Action, Drama
Air Dates: 19 July 2007

Synopsis: In 1633, the Shogun has declared that a combat tournament take place and famous swordsmen from around Japan all travel to the palace to take part. The structure of the tournament is set up so that fights are a duel to the death, which suits the first combatants of the tournament just fine due to their past history with one another. Fujiki Gennosuke had been an assistant swordmaster at the Kogan Ryuu Dojo and the one to succeed as the Headmaster until he was unseated by Irako Seigen, an upstart who successfully bested Fujiki in combat. Fujiki’s dethroning triggers the start of a bitter rivalry which would result in much bloodshed and can only be satisfied by the other’s complete annihilation.

Pros:

  • Excellent animation during the combat sequence
  • Atmosphere is very absorbing
  • Characters are pretty well-developed

Cons:

  • None of the characters are particularly likable
  • Plot’s pace is very slow, moving as quickly as molasses at times
  • Conflict between the two rivals don’t really get resolved

Review: Shigurui stands out as an odd bird. First off, the story revolves around a vendetta between two swordsmen and the events that lead up to this rivalry and hatred which leads to senseless, graphic violence. Secondly, the characters, while fairly well-developed, are molded in such a way that none of them are really all that likeable or even sympathetic. But just because a series has such characteristics does not make it a bad show and despite the odds, Shigurui manages to create a strong impression through its ability to tell an excellent, albeit slow, narrative and by creating an atmosphere that is both absorbing and compelling through its animation.

One of the first things the viewer will notice is that this show moves really slowly. At the beginning, they bombard you with a lot of historical facts that have little relevance to the overarching rivalry between Fujiki and Irako. Because of this, you may be misled into thinking that the emphasis is on the duel at the palace when it is not. But once the narration finishes up detailing how Irako is accepted as a student at the Kogan Ryuu Dojo, the events, which had unfolded at a snail’s pace, falls into place rather quickly. The story becomes really gripping and the tension becomes so thick that you can cut it with a knife. This tension is accentuated further through the tense, slow buildup to the fight sequences which can also get irritating, but the ensuing combat is a joy to behold for reasons that I will explain later. Unfortunately, the ending leaves the viewer hanging by not taking steps to resolve the duel between Fujiki and Irako.

The story does an excellent job of describing the characters. Although the viewer gets a very good impression for how the characters think and feel, none of the characters are particularly likeable. Fujiki Gennosuke harbors grudges intensely that it’s impossible for him to put his pride aside and Irako Seigen is a man of passion who lets it take control of him, bringing him to his downfall. As for the side characters, they are, by and large, thugs and brutes who delight in violence and vengeance more than anything else and are absolutely loyal to Master Kogan who himself is a brutish, violent man. So with characters filled with jealousy, arrogance, and a delight for brutalizing others all gathered in one convenient spot, it’s easy to see why things turn out bloody. While their motivations are very clear, viewers will be hard-pressed to find any sympathetic characters.

To make the mood of the show match the grim situation, Madhouse has done an excellent job creating a dark and gritty atmosphere. Furthermore, the animation is extremely fluid, especially during the combat sequences. The scene in which Fujiki and Irako go off to kill two twin brothers from a rival school will forever remain etched into my memory as to how detailed the destruction looked. The same can be said of stark-gray scenery during Irako’s downfall where the coloration used matched the mood and tone perfectly.

Make no mistake about it. Shigurui’s petty rivalries that lead to senseless violence and a cast of characters that’s utterly unlikable and despicable makes this show seem like one to avoid. But do not judge too quickly because in spite of all that, it hides a sort of strange beauty that stems from its artwork and its compelling storyline. So while the casual viewer should be aware what he or she is getting into, also understand that Shigurui is definitely worth watching to the end.

Score: Decent

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Anime Instrumentality's Founder and Editor-in-Chief. As you can probably guess, I'm a big anime music junkie with a special love for composers who've put out some beautiful melodies to accompany some of my favorite anime series. I tend to gravitate towards music in the classical style with Joe Hisaishi and Yoko Kanno being a few of my favorite composers, but I've come to appreciate jazz and rock as anime music has widened my tastes.

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