Review

by Theron Martin,

Hakyū Hōshin Engi

Blu-ray

Synopsis:
Hakyū Hōshin Engi Blu-ray
Takibo was born human, but as a young boy he lost his clan to the machinations of Dakki, the Emperor's wife. He was taken up to Konron Mountain, where he was trained for decades until he achieved the level of a Sennin. However, he became bored with endless training, so Genshi-tenson, the leader of Konron Mountain, sent him out on a mission to complete the Hoshin Project, an effort to imprison Dakki and her minions in a sealed world between the Human and Sennin realms. Despite the help of a spirit beast, Takibou quickly gets in over his head, and Bunchu, a dedicated immortal defender of Yin, may have something to say about his mission.
Review:

This 23-episode series from 2018 is the second anime adaptation of the late '90s manga by Ryu Fujisaki, which was itself a loose adaptation of the classic Chinese novel Investiture of the Gods. That novel provided a mythological version of the events surrounding the downfall of China's Shang dynasty (here referred to as Yin) and the rise of the Zhou Dynasty, which would date to around 1046 B.C. That's significant for reasons that I will get into later, but suffice to say for now that deep historical accuracy is clearly not a goal.

That being said, the story portrayed does capture at least the basic story beats of the original: an emperor becomes so besotted with his wife that he neglects his official duties and the country falls to ruin as a result. That the story was originally intended as a cautionary tale to men of power about getting too distracted by their women is an impression that's hard to avoid, with the empress being possessed by a cunning fox spirit providing a supernatural explanation for the emperor being too weak-willed to rule his kingdom. However, this anime version has no such introspective aspirations. Dakki is a conniving sexpot who uses the emperor as her plaything and destroys lives for fun, apparently with the ultimate intent of running Yin into the ground, while the immortal Bunchu is her opposite in his fierce devotion to preserving Yin at any cost. This is the mess that Taikobo blunders into when he comes down to the human world on his Hoshin List assignment.

That should make for a rousing adventure story, but one of the fatal problems is that director Masahiru Aizawa never firmly settles on what tone the series should have. That contributes greatly to a choppy result where lighthearted and seriously dark elements have a bad habit of getting in each other's way. In individual scenes, the drama can come together fairly well, but the series routinely shoots itself in the foot right after having such successes. The execution problem is also evident in many places (especially early on) where the action skips wildly between different locales and advances the story without sufficient connective tissue, giving the impression of content being skipped. In another example, the length of time spent on a protracted series of battles between forces of the two main Sennin strongholds would be more appropriate for a series double or more the episode count of this one. My guess is that the script is skipping a lot of content in order to have more time for that sequence of battles, and overall it doesn't work.

The series is also a world-building atrocity. Some anime have shown that elements from disparate eras and ideologies can be mixed with at least some success (see Gintama), but this is not the way to do it. Architectural and artistic standards for the human settings strongly speak to an older Chinese style, appropriate for the period in which the series is set, but then Dakki sports an outfit that looks more fitting for a stripper from the '90s, other characters wear modern jerseys, and one even walks around with a cigarette perpetually in his mouth. Later stages of the series indicate that the Sennin are technologically advanced at a level that would qualify as sci fi even in our era (and thus the implication lingers that a lot of their spiritual powers are actually advanced technology), and that aliens are also involved, presumably just because it would be neat to have an ancient aliens plot thrown in there. The Sennin are a random sampling of characters from just about every era and genre of anime history, including one who sports modern boxing gloves and another who's functionally a cyborg. At least some attempt is made to establish a standard for Sennin in their dress and use of custom tools and Spirit Beasts for mounts, but the series simply doesn't make a diligent enough effort to justify all of this incredibly anachronistic variety.

The series' art style is unlikely to excite anyone not nostalgic for its distinctly '90s designs. Sharp noses are a common feature from that era, as are the elaborate bulky outfits and pointed-toe shoes sported by some of the Sennin, but this title distinguishes itself from others of that time with its hefty use of oversized feat and hands. I do not consider that a positive aesthetic contribution, but your mileage will vary. The artistry is at its best in the designs of the emperor's palace and some of the interiors of the Sennin strongholds, but overall the artistic effort is at the level of a mediocre shonen action series at best. The series also offers little to excite on the animation front; power displays look fine, but hardly any of the battles are especially dynamic.

Fortunately the series comes off better on the audio front. Maiko Iuchi, who is probably best-known for the A Certain Magical Index franchise, does what she can to enhance the material, providing a mix of symphonic orchestra, piano, electronica, and even rock numbers whose eclecticism is a good match for the eccentricities of the story. Her numbers are the main reason that the most dramatic scenes carry any gravitas. A new pair of opener and closer replace the originals in the early teens for episode count, but while all are decent numbers, none particularly stand out.

Funimation's English dub of the series is a serviceable effort that provides mostly-appropriate sounds for the characters. The weak point is Tyler Walker's interpretation of the mount Supushan, which makes the character sound whiny, but I am not sure how much can be done about that. The high point is arguably J. Michael Tatum's interpretation of Bunchu, but he has always been good at voicing arrogant characters without going over-the-top. Extras on the Blu-Ray/Digital release include clean openers and closers, promo videos and commercials, and the OVA episode “Blood of the Koh Family,” which is only available in subtitled form.

Hakyu Hoshin Engi was not elected for weekly streaming reviews on ANN when the series debuted during the Winter 2018 TV season, and after seeing the whole thing, I don't think much discussion potential was missed there. In an era less densely populated with releases, this might have been a passable series, but there's just too much better content out there for this one to merit a recommendation.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B

+ Some sharp architectural designs, story occasionally has its moments
Terrible pacing and flow, confusing world-building

Director: Masahiro Aizawa
Series Composition: Natsuko Takahashi
Script:
Rintarou Ikeda
Yoshiki Ōkusa
Natsuko Takahashi
Storyboard:
Masahiro Aizawa
Kahoru Fujiki
Masato Jinbo
Naoyuki Kuzuya
Kazuhisa Takenouchi
Masafumi Tamura
Masaki Watanabe
Episode Director:
Masahiro Aizawa
Toshinori Fukushima
Naoki Hishikawa
Kazuya Iwata
Masato Jinbo
Kana Kawana
Masahiko Matsunaga
Hirotoshi Rissen
Masafumi Tamura
Yorifusa Yamaguchi
Music: Maiko Iuchi
Original creator: Ryu Fujisaki
Character Design: Yoshimitsu Yamashita
Art Director: Yoshito Takamine
Chief Animation Director:
Yukiko Ban
Asami Watanabe
Yoshimitsu Yamashita
Animation Director:
Yukiko Ban
Mariko Emori
Daisuke Endo
Kahoru Fujiki
Mari Futamatsu
Chuuichi Iguchi
Tomoaki Kado
Yuji Mukoyama
Mayumi Oda
Yuuta Ootaka
Yoshiko Shimizu
Risa Takai
Yukari Takano
Jo Tanaka
Shuuhei Tsukagoshi
Asami Watanabe
Keiko Watanabe
Izumi Yamanaka
Art design: Toshiaki Amada
Sound Director: Jin Aketagawa
Director of Photography: Yousuke Motoki
Producer:
Kazuhiro Kanemitsu
Keita Kodama
Mika Sugimoto
Toshihiro Suzuki

Full encyclopedia details about
Hoshin Engi (TV 2)

Release information about
Hakyū Hōshin Engi - The Complete Series (Blu-Ray)

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