Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Feb 25th 2007
The Iga board a ship, aiming to head off the traveling band of Kouga survivors. Unbeknownst to them, Gyobu has followed them on board, hell-bent on destroying them all. Oboro's determination to avoid confronting her beloved Gennosuke raises Tenzen's ire, starting him on a rash and ugly course of behavior. A flashback reveals that Gennosuke and Oboro's relationship goes further back in time than either of them lets on.
As Basilisk racks up its episode count, the advantages of its revolving death-match structure become ever more apparent. As time passes, the surviving members of the Iga and Kouga clans become ever more sympathetic, growing in character, and growing on the audience. As Basilisk's excruciatingly drawn-out war of attrition drags on, each confrontation is even more tense than the last, as the players involved have each had more time to establish their rapport with the audience (and each other).
Therein lies Basilisk's greatest strength: a tragic self-perpetuating cycle of violence, with ever-escalating emotional stakes. And it knows it. This volume kicks off with a heart-wrenching confrontation between Saemon and Hotarubi, and hardly loosens its grip until the disc's final episode. It spends as much time layering its remaining cast members as it does on ninja violence. One can't help becoming attached, even to previously unlikable characters (who'd've guessed that slimy man-thing Jingoro would ever arouse one's sympathy?). Not every attempt is entirely successful—the revelation of wall-traveling Gyobu's tragic past will please his fans, but is unlikely to win over any converts—but others succeed spectacularly; Oboro's continued recollections of her love of Gennosuke, Akeginu's unexpected attachment to Jingoro, and a visceral demonstration of the depth of Koshiro's feelings for Oboro all make their prospective fates even more unbearable, given the show's demonstrated willingness to brutalize even the most sympathetic of characters. And the director knows how to milk this tension for maximum suspense, drawing out horrifying developments (most memorably a squirm-inducing rape scene) until they have been stretched to nerve-shredding lengths.
Capping it all off is a flashback episode whose light-hearted nature can't entirely erase a pervading melancholy brought on by observing deceased characters enjoying life during happier times, oblivious of their ultimate fate. Watching Oboro play on Tenzen as a toddler is simultaneously funny (given how valiantly he tries to ignore her) and chilling (given future developments). Watching Oboro and Gennosuke's history (as well as Oboro's single-minded devotion to her paramour) gives their love a depth that it had previously lacked. As impossible as it to not enjoy watching everyone frolic in the sun-bathed happiness of the past, every smile and chuckle will almost inevitably be paid for in pain. If that doesn't sound like your idea of a good time, then Basilisk probably isn't your cup of bitter tea.
Those in it for the gory ninja action will be pleased to hear that the action quotient is higher this volume. There is enough impaling, chopping, and dismembering to keep most gorehounds sated, although there's no dojutsu this volume (curses!). As before, action scenes are the animation highlights, even if subject to action-enhancing shortcuts such as speedlines. However, splattering blood and rushing swordsmen may demand more attention, but smaller, yet no less important details get just as much attention: the predatory way that Tenzen smiles, Oboro and Gennosuke's intent gazes, Koshiro clawing the ship's deck in emotional agony. The show is heavily seeded with moments that subtly imprint themselves on the retina. This volume's "Now That's Gonzo" prize goes to young Gyobu's shuriken winging their way through a forest of 3D CG trees.
Another advantage of the short life-span of Basilisk ninjas is that eyesore ninjas seem to have a higher mortality rate than attractive ninjas. By this point in the series, most of the truly hideous characters are dead (though if you miss them, they all return for episode 16). Even Tokugawa and his mutated chin stay out of the mix. Those that remain are blessed with distinctive features, striking eyes, and a combination of thick eyebrows and lashes that is unique to Basilisk. Gennosuke is a strong contender for best looking male lead of the year, Oboro is no slouch herself, and their childhood selves are almost incongruous in their squeezable cuteness. The muddy countryside of volume three has been traded in for riparian vistas, deceptively beautiful seas, and a dark, oppressive ship's interior. Regardless, the quality and detail of the settings have yet to wane.
Kou Nakagawa has compiled an appropriately, but not slavishly, period-sounding score; which is another way of saying that it is an electronics-free instrumental soundtrack. It unobtrusively supports the visuals, and the director knows when to let the music fade in favor of ambient noise and when to strive for the heartstrings or gut with some well-placed, quietly affecting vocals, or thundering action themes.
Funimation's dub retains its superior quality, even toning down some of its script tinkering. Oboro has improved noticeably, handling the more intense scenes with surprising aplomb, the rest of the cast is still excellent, and the script, aside from the occasional misstep, flows naturally and avoids obvious anachronisms: yet another success for Funimation's particular brand of dubbing. Pickier anime fans should note that, even when toned down, there is still considerable creative license taken with the original script.
As with previous volumes, this volume contains two installments of the ongoing talk-show-esque extras in which various Japanese voice actors talk about their experiences with and impressions of Basilisk. And as always, it provides for an hour of light entertainment and interesting altenate takes on the Basilisk experience. Highlights this volume: Onmyo-Za's (the band that sings the opening and closing themes) idea for a high-school story version of Basilisk, and some absolutely bizarre merchandizing ideas.
It is still a simple historical adventure with some interesting points to be made about the perpetuation of violence, but Basilisk is steadily intensifying, walking a path that, if trod correctly, will lead to an absolutely devastating conclusion. Here's hoping that it makes it.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Steadily improving characterization; intensely suspenseful.
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