Reviewby Theron Martin,
Shuten Doji 1-2
A huge oni arrives on Earth carrying a precious cargo: a baby boy, which he leaves with a young human couple with the instructions that they are to raise him as their own until the oni returns in 15 years. The boy, named Jiro Shutendo after an old legend, lives a normal life until age 15, when attacks by oni, dark cultists, and their minions help him to discover his true power and identity: he is the legendary Shuten Doji reborn! Though both human and oni protectors rally to his cause, Jiro and his girlfriend Miyuki must ultimately join the allied oni Goki and Senki in an extradimensional journey through both the past and future to confront the lord of the oni in a battle that could determine the fate of the universe.
This 1989 vintage OVA series was originally released on VHS in a subtitled-only version in 1996 and a dubbed version in 2000, both by ADV. The two volumes of this 2005 release, which each consist of two 50-minute episodes, mark the first appearance of the series on DVD. Unlike other older titles ADV has rereleased in recent years, nothing special was done for this one; the original subbed and dubbed versions were slapped on a pair of DVDs along with some trailers and menu screens and that's it. These are as no-frills as ADV releases get.
Shuten Doji is the brainchild of Go Nagai, so one can expect certain things of it: two or more of extensive graphic violence, gratuitous nudity, and scenes of women being treated badly will be present. Shuten Doji delivers quite heavily on all three. Not an episode goes by without poor Miyuki ending up naked at some point, but the entire point to her existence in the series seems to be to get her clothes ripped off and be victimized by the bad guys – a phenomenon hardly unique in Go Nagai-inspired works. Three of the other five female characters of any significance also get their turns appearing in the buff (two by choice, one not), but at least they have some purpose beyond being just victims and at least most of them are quite capable of fighting back.
The fan service pales in comparison to the graphic violence, though. Oodles of oni pop up throughout the series to lay some serious smack down on both humans and each other, although Jiro and his human allies also find themselves on the delivering end of extensive bloodletting. Blood sprays are frequent as heads get ripped off, limbs are severed, and bodies are crushed, impaled, or cut in half with great frequency. While there is quite a lot of it, the gory violence generally lacks the intensity and refined detail of a title like Elfen Lied, Gantz, or Ninja Scroll (with the exception of one ugly scene involving an airlock door on a spaceship), but it isn't for lack of effort. Perhaps it's the absence of realism that fails to fully sell the violence, as the heroes amazingly never get a speck of blood on them despite the massive splatter potential.
The basic premise borrows from stories told of the legendary 10th century Japanese warrior Minamoto no Raikou and his great defeat of the supposed demon Shuten Doji, but it strays vastly from the old stories by having “Shuten Doji” instead be the title of some mythical bringer of light whose destiny it is to defeat a great oni lord. Things become muddled further as the series uses weak excuses to jump between 10th century Heian-kyo, late 20th century Japan, and a spaceship circa 2100 A.D., sticks a cyborg into the mix, and comes up with a creative way to explain the existence of Shuten Doji and the oni world which makes less sense the more one thinks about it. Although a good mystery about one character is set up, plot execution is not one of the stronger points of the series. In fact the best-written episode, where Miyuki is stuck in the past and Jiro is on the spaceship, actually has the least to do with the thin overall plot. Do pay attention to the scenes shown during the opening credits of the first episode, however, as they come into play later.
The artistry sets the mood by heavily favoring a dark color scheme. Although some nice backgrounds and wall art can be found, the artistry as a whole is not particularly sharp or refined.The oni have very generic looks for their type, while one cannot look at Jiro in his Shuten Doji form without thinking of the Super Saiyan version of Goku. Some of the human character designs also look remarkably simple and goofy for this being such a serious series. As is typical of '80s OVAs, the fan service favors more realistic proportions and body forms than the “hard body” approach commonly seen in more recent fan service fests. Animation quality is respectable, as one would expect of an OVA release, but it does employ several standard fight scene short cuts.
Perhaps the series' strongest technical merit is its soundtrack, whose mix of haunting vocals, gentle piano-driven pieces, and ambitious fully-orchestrated scoring sounds like something that might come with of a Hollywood film. Sound effect usage is also particularly effective. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the English dub. All of the English VAs are ADV second-and-third-stringers, and the lack of experience and talent shows. Performances in the first two episodes range from awful (especially Jiro's father) to decent (some of the villains), but are often too wooden and/or oddly-accented to be effective; in one case a performance even substantially alters the attitude of a character. The dub quality improves significantly in the third episode as a different VA takes over the title role and episode-specific roles are just generally performed better, but it drops off again for the fourth episode. The first episode in particular also takes extreme liberties with the original script, in some places completely rewriting scenes and/or changing significant details. The dub script becomes more accurate as the series progresses but is never entirely free of major inconsistencies with the subtitles. The subtitles themselves also show their age, as they use some grammatical conventions not in common use anymore. (Heiankyo instead of Heian-Kyo or Shuten Doji as one word, for instance.) All-in-all, it's one of ADV's weaker dubbing efforts.
Shuten Doji is not going to be a particularly satisfying title to anyone seeking historical perspective or further insight into the legends surrounding the historical Shuten Doji. It will also disappoint those expecting depth or quality writing. If a dark, bloody, and fan service-laden piece of escapism is all you seek, however, then it might fit the bill.
Overall (dub) : D+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B+
+ Solid musical scoring.
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