Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 15th 2005
Shadow Skill - Eigi
DVD 1: Fight for the Ones You Love
Elle Ragu, aka Shadow Skill, has won the title of 59th Sevaal, becoming one of the youngest to hold the revered title granted to the premiere warriors of the land of Karuda. Though impressively-skilled in a fight, she also has a penchant for heavy drinking and destructive behavior, which perpetually leaves her in debt, much to the consternation of friend Faurink Maya and Gau Ban, her adopted little brother, who is training to eventually become a Sevaal in his own right. To make ends meet Elle takes an assortment of odd jobs whenever there isn't prize money to be won at a tournament, whether it's transporting supplies, serving as a barmaid, or helping the last survivor of a demon beast-hunting team get revenge on the demon beast who killed her companions. Her status draws the attention of the powerful in her country, however, and the less welcome attention of spies from foreign powers who view the Sevaals as a threat.
The 1998 Shadow Skill TV series is a remake of a one-shot OVA from 1995 and a three-episode OVA sequel from 1996 (released in some markets as a single 90-minute movie and sometimes called Shadow Skill: The Movie), both of which were adaptations of an earlier manga series. The TV series uses the same core cast, setting, and character relationships as both OVAs, but beyond that it resembles the second one much more than the first; it even heavily borrows the plot for its second and third episodes from the first two parts of the sequel. It deviates greatly from both in its tone, however. While the OVAs were more serious, dramatic affairs (especially the first one), the TV series is decidedly more light-hearted, almost more akin to something like Slayers. As a result most of the cast in the TV series are caricatures of what they were in the OVAs, most especially Elle Ragu, who drifts more into the stereotypical “powerful combatant who's perpetually short on cash and incompetent at most anything besides combat” mold. This causes the series to lose its distinctiveness as a hard-edged super-powered martial arts series, but it is still reasonably entertaining.
Evaluated solely on its own merits, the first volume of Shadow Skill does little to distinguish itself from a plethora of other fantasy and martial arts anime beyond mixing the elements of both. Though it has a bit more of an Eastern focus than most traditional fantasy, it has many of the common traits: monsters, a princess, magic, exotic nations, and odd naming conventions. (Some of the names sound like they were made by a random fantasy name generator, and I would swear that some of the core cast names have hidden jokes in them.) It also bears all the hallmarks of outrageously powerful martial arts series, with characters shouting out the names for signature moves. The most distinctive trait in this sense is the “martial arts language” stuff, which seems to be just an alternate method of powering up. And let's not forget the talismans that speak to explain what they are or the on-screen notices of what kind of attack form is coming, just to make sure the audience is clear on what's going on. Again, typical martial arts fare. Nothing about the characterizations is particularly distinctive, either. The plotting fares a little better, as there are hints of intrigue involving agents from rival nations, but the story is still in its “establish the main cast” mode in this volume so it's too early to tell on that. It's worth noting, though, that the original 45-minute OVA episode packed more depth than these 100 minutes of animation do.
Although the attempts at humor actually do work most of the time, the highlights of each episode are supposed to be the fight scenes. They have a lot of movement and fancy maneuvering, and of course the typical loudly-proclaimed finishing moves, but they also have lots of standard fighting-anime shortcuts. The animation beyond the fights scenes is much less impressive. The artistry of the series is also not its strong point, as backgrounds are fairly simple and character designs look almost as caricatured as the character's personalities are. And what's up with Kyo? Not only does she look much smaller and younger in the TV series than she did in the OVAs, but her outfit looks like she stepped straight out of Bavaria! On the good side, Elle is shown as being particularly muscular, which often isn't the case with kick-butt female action heroes.
The saving grace of the series so far is its voice acting, which produces solid dubs in both English and Japanese. ADV's English dub puts a little extra oomph into the comedic value without straying much from the original script, and the casting and performances of Luci Christian and Greg Ayres as Elle Ragu and Gau Ban fit the light-heartened tone quite well. Most other roles are appropriately cast and performed for the purpose the character is meant to serve. The inventive soundtrack also does a great job of complementing individual scenes as well as producing a respectable opener and closer.
Though somewhat graphic, the TV version of Shadow Skill is not as heavy as the OVAs or extreme in general. Fan service is also minimal, as are, unfortunately, the extras; only company previews and ADV's standard Next Volume preview are offered.
Fans of martial arts anime will probably find this version of Shadow Skill to be to their liking, and those who liked the original OVAs should at least check this one out to see if they can tolerate the more light-hearted focus. It's doubtful that it will garner much of a cross-over audience, however.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B
+ Solid voice acting, much of the humor does work.
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