Reviewby Carlo Santos,
The warring ninja clans of Kouga and Iga continue to race towards the palatial city of Sunpu, hoping to speak with Hattori Hanzo about the do-or-die battle that has reduced their numbers to just four on each side. Star-crossed lovers Gennosuke and Oboro have both blinded themselves, rendering their vision-based powers useless, but the other ninjas continue to fight. Shapeshifting Saemon has some plans for Iga warrior Tenzen, while Kouga's seer Hyouma takes on Iga's whirlwind-user Koushiro in a battle of the blind against the blind. The true purpose of these fights, however, will not be revealed to the clans until the godmother of the next shogun-to-be happens to make her way to Sunpu...
As far as fighting action goes, the penultimate volume of the Basilisk manga might be the best in the series. Four-a-side combat seems like the perfect ratio: enough fighters left to feature a variety of styles, but not so many that it gets confusing. This strong focus on fighting is about the best you can ask for, as that's the aspect of Basilisk that makes it shine. Sure, there are still a few cases of ill-fated love floating about, and there's at least one death that results from star-crossed carelessness, but ninja warfare is the real name of the game here, and it's a game that's played at fever pitch. No doubt, the road to Sunpu will run with blood before this story arc is over. But first, a little interlude.
This volume starts out in an unexpected way: a bonus chapter that flashes back to an idyllic life among the ninja clans six months ago. It's a throwaway, lightweight piece, but it helps to get a little perspective on the story so far, reminiscing on characters long gone and reminding us of the troubled love between Gennosuke and Oboro. After that it's right back into the action, which unfortunately also highlights the series' weaknesses: they fight, someone dies, someone else fights, someone else dies ... repeat as necessary. Along with this repetition, the romantic aspect also falls flat, relying on the time-worn heart-wringer of "Well, she was in love with him, and then one of them died," although that situation does set up one fantastic surprise attack. As far as love stories go, though, this series keeps trying and failing; ninja battle mode is clearly its main strength.
But oh, what a strength it is. The straightforward tournament format may be lacking in plot depth, but there's no shortage of hot-blooded excitement. The reduced number of characters allows each individual fight to go into greater detail; instead of mass melees, we're now treated to a series of intense one-on-ones. The Hyouma-Koshirou showdown is the highlight of this volume—two blind warriors pulling out all the stops with their other four senses, and after it's all over, one fatal (if perhaps predictable) surprise. The arrival of shogunate matriarch Ofuku towards the end of this volume slows the pace down, but her role in the plot is still necessary to the story's historical trappings. Meanwhile, the last chapter provides one more big shock and a strong burst of momentum going into the finale.
Masaki Segawa's art is as rich and memorable as ever; however, with most of the characters now dead, he doesn't have as many opportunities for creative design as before. Among the remaining combatants, though, it's still easy to remember who's who, with unique outfits, hairstyles, and even facial expressions. The fight scenes have also lost some of their creative opportunities—fewer crazy fighters with bizarre physics-and-biology-defying attacks—but what you do get to see is still intense. Big-paneled layouts swing effortlessly between extreme close-ups, rapid action poses and striking panoramas. The shading and effects are highly detailed as always, but with some niggling quirks: it's nighttime for this entire volume, so everything is very gray, and this also intensifies the odd "glowing" effect that all the characters have. As long as you don't mind the art's idiosyncrasies, it's still a treat for the eyes.
Because of the series' historical setting, the dialogue takes a slightly archaic tone, one that comes through in the translation. It's no surprise to see talk of "avenging death" and making "safe passage" to Sunpu, things that make the most sense in the feudal world. Most of the characters aren't too talkative, so the script flows freely and quickly through the story. Sound effects are left intact, with small, plain translations placed next to them, and readers might be surprised to know that the cultural glossary only takes up one page this time. (Apparently, with the setting now well in place, there's no need for much historical or geographical context.) The larger-than-usual print size, plus a handful of glossy color pages, give this volume a nice "premium" feel compared to typical manga.
By the time this installment of Basilisk comes to a close, the deadly clan war for the future of Japan's shogunate will be four-fifths over. If you're not hooked on it by now ... well, maybe this just wasn't the right kind of story. But for those who can get into a good fight series with twists and turns and betrayals and revenge, this one is a solid pick, with Volume 4 streamlined to just a handful of combatants, and guaranteed to bring plenty of excitement. It may not have the visual "pop" of the first three volumes, and it doesn't have much in the way of characters and relationships (if it ever had any in the first place), but what it does have is plenty of blood, guts, and insane ninja powers. The numbers go down, the momentum goes up, and the Kouga and Iga clans head irreversibly towards a brutal, bloody fate.
Overall : B
Story : C+
Art : B+
+ Ever more intense fighting as both clans are whittled down to their essential members.
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