Review by: Clive Owen
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $59.98 US
Running Time: 275 minutes
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now
The honored art of bloody, gut-spilling vengeance.
At last, an anime series where you will not be rooting for the good guys or the bad guys. In fact, there are no good guys here … only men who relish in slicing another man’s face off or abusing women in ways that are sadistic even back in the Feudal era of Japan. You will not like the men that make up Shigurui: Death Frenzy as The Complete Series chronicles the lives of two master swordsmen in the 12-episode series based on the novel by Norio Nanjo as well as the serialized manga.
When we first meet Gennosuke Fujiki and Seigen Irako, one man duels with one arm while the other duels completely blind and crippled. They are displaying their sword skills before the Lord of a well-honored clan in a traditional (if you can call it that) duel but this fight is personal. You see, these two men go back a long way. You can say that their personal histories have left a bitter taste as well as a trail of bodies.
Several years ago, Fujiki – once considered the best swordsman of the famous Kogan clan – is challenged by a wandering swordsman named Irako whose only wish it to join the clan to learn its fighting style as well as marry the daughter of the sensei in order to become heir to the Kogan style. This is a defeat that Fujiki takes personally to the point that he even refuses to eat as he thinks how this complete stranger can just walk into the clan and try to marry into the family. In his own way, Fujiki actually does have feeling for Mie, the sensei’s daughter that is viewed only as “the vessel” born only to provide a baby that will continue the bloodline.
While not getting along for several years, the series jumps forward into time when both men find a mutual respect in the other’s skills. They even become known as the “Two Dragons.“ The two concentrate on their fighting styles, ignoring their clan brothers who spend their days cutting of heads and spilling the steaming guts of anyone who speaks ill of the Kogan style. Yes, we know that in this era the brutality displayed by these men was common but so was the great mistreatment of women as well as sexual practices (same-sex love) that become activity that was frowned upon in a later period. Speaking of the mistreatment of women, there is a lot of it in this series that will make you cringe.
As the series continues to jump into various different years, we find that Mie does not accept Irako despite her father’s demands on her. She starves herself in hopes of dying before the sexual ritual to conceive a child with Irako and, later, she even puts up a fight. We don’t blame her but then again her father is a seriously frightening man. The sensei, you see, suffers from a strange demented state that makes him resemble a zombie who turns “normal” and coherent for a few days only. How can you not fear a man who can turn you into a human Pez dispenser within seconds or slice the skin off your back if you irritate him?
In the years that follow, both Irako and Fujiki are banished from the clan, which is a major insult to these two men. Their response, of course, is to prove themselves better than the Kogan when Irako goes on a horrific killing spree that begins with the beheading of a young pupil named Kondou. He works his way to a bloody showdown with none other than the sensei himself. All of this leads back to the beginning when these two vicious men confront each another.
Shigurui is certainly not a series for the squeamish seeing as the blood isn’t the only thing that flows in the series but there’s also plenty beheadings, guts are spilled frequently and limbs are mutilated. Director Hirotsugu Hamazaki and Art Director Hidetoshi Kaneko display a frantic, flashy and occasionally intriguing visual style that works for the first few minutes until it stops being interesting and starts feeling like it’s trying too hard to be genuine. Sorry, gentlemen, but Kurosawa and Lynch you are not.
The Complete Series of Shigurui: Death Frenzy isn’t for everyone but, for those interested, it does manage to do justice to Nanjo’s novel as well as the manga. It also offers a peek into the brutality that comes with wielding a sword but for everyone else this is a somber story that’s dry and as emotionless as the characters that make up this drama.
DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN
Two highly skilled swordsmen compete for the right to marry into a clan known for its honored sword fighting style only to be punished and banished to the point of returning for bloody revenge. It’s also the story of ugly, vicious men that slaughter and abuse women for the mere pleasure of it. You will not like any of these characters.
VIDEO QUALITY: B-
The series manages to pull off some gruesome killings while doing it in a style that might be familiar to those who seen one too many David Cronenberg movies. Still, much of the series visual style is way too overused.
AUDIO QUALITY: A-
The original Japanese voice work is definitely the way to see this series, although the English dub contains some talented voices that do the characters justice. Even better is the original score by Kiyoshi Yoshida that certainly deserves a round of applause.
There’s audio commentary for Episode 4 and Episode 10 and Production art included in the second disc that covers some of the notable characters as well as the setting. You’ll also find trailers and clean opening and closing songs but the best addition has to be the 24-page guide book with plenty of information on the period as well as some interviews.
If the work of novelist Norio Nanjo appeals to you then Shigurui, The Complete Series, will certainly appeal to you but everyone else will find it overblown and over-stylized to the point of making it a series that could have been good but just doesn’t make the cut.