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Buried Treasure
Twilight of the Dark Master

by Justin Sevakis,

Akiyuki Shinbo, under most criteria, is not a director that has really established himself as much of a visionary. Really, most of his catalog consists of shows that most people would consider "just okay". Hidamari Sketch. Pani Poni Dash!. Petite Cossette. Surely they're entertaining, but let's face it, this is nothing that would set the world on fire. Indeed, I only bothered buying the DVD of of one of his titles: the enthralling Twilight of the Dark Master.

Twilight of the Dark Master is no masterpiece. I know that. Its silly world of big flesh-tearing monsters, seedy sex and biseinen guardians is more than just a little hard to swallow, it's a basic jumble of anime and manga plot devices. And yet, there's something I find uniquely compelling about it, a kind of kitch value that rises above producing chuckles and becomes enthralling in its own right. If one can only take its world, its stupid, stupid world at face value and go with it, one can find a stunning work of anime performance art, awash in atmosphere and intrigue. It's a guilty pleasure of mine.

Twilight of the Dark Master

It started as the happiest night of Shizuka's life: the night her boyfriend Eiji, a nice man with a good job at a pharmaceutical company proposed to her. Then he turned into a giant beast, ripped her apart and ran away, leaving her to bleed to death. The beast escapes into the night, and is being pursued by the military when a rogue tactical team intervenes. The man in charge of this team, Kudo, is given orders by a mysterious pair in Chinese clothes, telling him the creature should be kept in his night club. He's not happy.

Months later, Shizuka has recovered. Her life a shambles, she has but one goal: to kill the demon that did this to her. By chance, she runs into a guy named Tenku, who introduces her to his mysterious boss: a (very pretty) man named Tsunami Shijo, who is something of a connoisseur of things demonic. She asks him to find the demon, so that he might kill him. "That's my job," he explains. but he accepts. He soon finds the nightclub where her fiancée is being kept.

I love the "sex club," although it's so over-the-top and silly that it completely takes me out of the story and makes me laugh. The "Crystal Box" (its sign is literally a bent-over woman's butt) seems to be a bunch of rooms where rich people pay to be sucked on by genetic mutations with tentacles and wires. I suppose, given what I've heard goes on among the über-rich in certain parts of Tokyo it's not that farfetched, but it's so far removed from anything resembling reality that it's hard to take seriously.

But never mind that. Shijo stops in to visit Kudo and make it clear he's after the demon being kept there. Kudo has him followed by hit-men armed with muscle enhancement drugs... that happen to be infused with demon seed. This drug (remember the pharmaceutical company?) is part of a plan to resurrect the master demon currently known as a man named Takamiya. Demons must be hunted, and Shijo is a guardian. And they both have a past.

See, like I said, there's nothing really that great here in terms of story. What's amazing is the artistry, including gorgeous character designs by Hisashi Abe (Chobits, Devil May Cry (TV) and some of Madhouse's finest OAV work of the era. The music by Keishi Urata is haunting and like everything else, creepy while stylish. (I especially adore the ending theme.)

This feeling of the stylishly creepy is only enhanced by the dub, which is much more adaptation than anime fans are usually willing to accept. Written and directed by Jack Fletcher (Princess Mononoke, The Animatrix), this adaptation comes more from the Streamline Pictures school of anime dubbing. That means, of course, lots of added dialogue. While purists will wince at the mere thought of this, I actually felt the net result was a significant improvement over the original. Fletcher fills in the cracks of the story, playing a sleight-of-hand with the details and filling in background where there was none. Where the original felt slightly unsatisfying, the additional background (even if it's not really part of the story) satisfies the brain's minimum requirement to not feel lost. More importantly, this improves the overall pacing of the film ever so slightly. There are fewer awkward pauses.

The dub also greatly enhances the creepiness. Most characters speak in hushed, ghostly whispers and, in the case of Huang Long and Chen Long, redundant riddles. In fact, it's only Tenku (Matt Miller) that speaks like a normal person and in a tone far more jokey than one normally gets from anime such as this, which makes him something of an oasis of cheer in a sea of dark bloody noir. There's occasionally a subtle joke mixed in for good measure.

It's difficult to describe the net effect. For me, it's like a light show or a really cool concert, where one simply gets lost in the atmosphere and the excitement to the point where one barely even notices the story. There's nothing inherently wrong with cheesy gothic noir, especially when it's done like this.

Twilight of the Dark Master is visually lush, ambitious and moody. It's like a lot of anime, and does a lot of things better than many I've seen. It ultimately can't quite overcome the inherent weakness of its story, but looks so pretty in the process of failing that it's hard to fault it. Sort of like how you give someone really good looking a pass when they're trying to engage in a philosophical conversation and end up saying something stupid. Well, at least they tried to be deep, and at least I got to watch!

A Abundant. Available anywhere that carries anime.
C Common. In print, and always available online.
R1 US release out of print, still in stock most places.
R2 US release out of print, not easy to find.
R3 Import only, but it has English on it.
R4 Import only. Fansubs commonly available.
R5 Import only, and out of print. Fansubs might be out there.
R6 Import long out of print. No fansubs are known to exist.
R7 Very rare. Limited import release or aired on TV with no video release. No fansubs known to exist.
R8 Never been on the market. Almost impossible to obtain.
Adapted from Soviet-Awards.com.

How To Get It:

The DVD from Urban Vision is still in print, and can be found online. It's old enough that most brick and mortar retailers have long since stopped carrying it, but shopping online makes it easy. The disc looks decent for its day.

Screenshots ©1997 Saki Okuse/Shonshokan/Toei Video/Goodhill Vision/BMG Japan. All Rights Reserved.

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