Mike wonders aloud which anime would be a good fit for the prestigious Criterion Collection.
Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jan 28th 2007
Finally aware of the nullification of the enforced truce, Gennosuke leaves the village of the Iga and his fiancée Oboro behind, in the process unleashing his deadly dojutsu. As the high officials of the Shogunate discuss the course of the death-battle between the clans, Gennosuke makes the decision to travel, along with the survivors of the Kouga Ten, to meet them and, ostensibly, reinstate the truce. Before doing so, he sends word of the impending journey to the Iga, an obvious challenge that initiates a deadly running war. Meanwhile, Oboro demonstrates the lengths to which she will go to avoid a lethal confrontation with Gennosuke.
As the first scenes of the show will attest, the initial draw of Basilisk is the same as that of other ninja-oriented shows such as Ninja Scroll or even Naruto: weird, way-out ninja-fightin' action. But, as the numbers of living ninja in the show drop ever lower, so does the action quotient. This volume features no more than a handful of actual combat sequences, yet remains as—if not more—engaging than previous volumes due to the skill with which the show keeps the roundelay of murder and mayhem turning, raising the stakes—both narrative and emotional—with each new battle.
Most of the earlier fights involved shallowly characterized cast members fighting for strategic reasons (or no reason at all) but, beginning with Okoi and Nenki's battle in the previous volume, the fights have suddenly become exceedingly personal, a series of all-too-understandable vendettas to avenge past brutalities. The violence is often perversely satisfying (as well as packing a number of visceral thrills), but it is endlessly self-perpetuating and the consequences, both immediate and delayed, tend to be soberingly cruel.
It also helps that the characters are slowly growing. While not particularly deep, their personalities and motivations are now clearly delineated, creating a show that has not only shown a willingness to kill off its characters, but is also populated with characters that deserve to live (as well as some that you desperately wish wouldn't. Die green slimy thing, die!). As a result, the slowly spiraling war of attrition is as unbearable as it is compulsively watchable.
Impatient viewers and gorehounds be forewarned though: this volume finds Basilisk in full buildup mode. It is composed almost entirely of heightening tensions, discussions (episode 10, a recap, is 100% discussion), and slowly evolving conflicts that will bear fruit only in future episodes. The ninja action, while bizarre, bloody, and occasionally possessed of a grotesque beauty, is quick and relatively infrequent.
There isn't anything on par with Okoi's arboreal adventures in this volume, but it does have its own highlights: Gennosuke's dojutsu (those eyes!), a single instance of Nenki's hair-manipulation, smaller details such as a memorable decapitation, and some well-placed camera movements during Oboro's romantic recollections. The Gonzo brand of 3D CGI is minimized, limited in this outing to a few water effects and Hotarubi's butterflies. Some of the clumsier elements of earlier episodes—specifically, the stiffly animated gooey liquid man-thing—are absent (barring flashbacks). Enjoyment of the character designs will hinge heavily on one's tolerance for the outrageous grotesqueries of the more freakish ninja (and Tokugawa's repulsive, deformed chin). Normal characters, though, are attractive, with dark, distinctive hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes. Gennosuke in particular is a perfectly modulated blend of masculine beauty and fearsome strength. Rain-drenched landscapes of mud and grime make for a grim palette of dank greys and browns that matches the dark mood that predominates. Buildings are detailed and textured such that they successfully evoke a medieval atmosphere (particularly Tokugawa's castle).
The soundtrack, laden with eerie chants and trilling vocal melodies demonstrates, once again, that one of the finest instruments available is the human voice. Sad, unsettling, melancholy, and rousing, the music matches the show at every turn, used ably (if somewhat unimaginatively) to support the visuals. It tends towards omnipresence, but is also aware that a little silence or falling rain can speak volumes that no music could ever hope to communicate. The opening and ending are mildly rocking tunes of questionable appropriateness and only mild interest; not bad, but not particularly memorable either.
Those familiar with Funimation's methodology will know what to expect from the dub: a script that sacrifices fidelity on the altar of natural flow, smooth delivery, fine acting, modified episode titles. The dub is, in terms of acting, almost equal to its Japanese predecessor (with the possible exception of Oboro), and despite some anachronistic speech patterns, sounds natural and unforced. There are some puzzling modifications in the English script that seem too extreme to be reasonably included under the banner of necessity. They never cross the line to become actual revisions as they don't betray the feel, purpose or outcome of any scene (other than slightly softening Tenzen's scheming nature), but they will drive sticklers for accuracy quite mad. Songs are not dubbed into English (as Funimation has done in the past).
Textless songs and trailers aside, the only extras on this volume are the original Japanese extras. It's a solid hour of select cast members recollecting and reflecting on Basilisk and just goofing off. It isn't terribly informative, but is fun enough to be excused for it.
Now that the cycle of violence is fully underway, Basilisk feels less like some freakshow variation on the WWF and more like a purposeful narrative. Now the gaps between fights reveal important aspects of the survivors' mentalities, and each confrontation is, if not rife, at least tinged with meaning and purpose (at the very least as one more cog in the meathouse grinder of fate). It isn't—and never will be—anything more than a historical drama, but at least it isn't just ninja killing other ninja any more.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Evolution from ninja smackdown to evocation of a vicious cycle of violence.
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