Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 10th 2005
Shura no Toki
DVD 1: Age of Chaos
Early during the Edo period, the paths of four individuals intersect. One is the legendary swordsman Mushashi Miyamoto, who constantly seeks the greatest challenge. He comes to the aid of Kisshoumaru, a young Master who is being sought by agents of an uncle who wants him out of the line of inheritance, but declines an offer to become the young Master's bodyguard. Instead he recommends a nearby young man named Yakumo Mutsu, who seems a simpleton but in whom Miyamoto senses great strength. Yakumo, it turns out, is in fact a practitioner of the legendary unarmed fighting technique known as the Mutsu Enmei Style, which makes him nearly invincible in a fight. Kisshoumaru is not all he seems, either. He is in fact really Shiori, a daughter raised as a son to take on the family inheritance, and her encounter with Yakumo leaves an indelible impression. The last of the four is Iori, the young “apprentice” to Miyamoto, who ultimately crosses paths with both Yakumo and Shiori. Miyamoto is also intent on finding Yakomo once again, for in realizing the young man's true ability he also recognizes a foe truly worthy of him.
Based on references in the first episode, Shura no Toki takes place sometime after 1610, a time period frequently used as the setting for samurai action series. The story is infused with enough actual historical figures and period circumstances to qualify as a work of historical fiction, but it is of a completely different style than Otogi Zoshi, the other major current historical fiction series. Whereas that one takes a more dramatic and artsy look at the events of its time period, Shura no Toki is much more a pure samurai/martial arts action series with a little dash of romance thrown in for good measure. I also get the impression from the style of the production and minimal amount of bloodletting that this one is aimed at much younger audiences than the more graphic and mature Otogi Zoshi.
This first volume packs five action-heavy episodes full of typical samurai posturing and warriors getting soundly thrashed. The spotlight alternates between Yakumo and Miyamoto, each of which gets his fair share of lead time and butt-kicking opportunities, though Miyamoto does it with his sword and Yakumo does it with swift, precision martial arts moves. Yakumo's light-hearted, free-spirited personality is strongly reminiscent of another lovable simpleton, Dragon Ball Z's Goku, and contrasts sharply with the more serious, focused, and conceited Miyamoto. Both are equally shallow and straightforward in their portrayals, however. Iori is your typical spunky samurai wannabe, albeit a remarkably perceptive one, who does a bit of fighting and would do a lot more if he were more capable. Though she doesn't do any actual fighting in this volume, Shiori gets a good share of the screen time as the girl who was always raised as a boy and so doesn't know how to behave or feel as a woman, which gets her completely flustered when she starts to fall in love with Yakumo. She is the one main character who has shown any degree of depth so far, and the storytelling is always at its best when focused on her. Otherwise the main reason for the existence of the series seems to be to deliver rousing action scenes—although admittedly the first volume does that quite well.
The character designs used are clean, simple, and obviously digitally-rendered, with a style strongly reminiscent of other anime series which skew towards younger audiences. Of the four main characters, all except Miyamoto are appealing designs. The artists tried to make him look a bit scruffy, which doesn't translate well into artistry of this style. (The historical Miyamoto was believed to have been less than diligent about his personal hygiene, so likely this was a legitimate attempt to portray him accurately.) Of supporting cast members, the most notable design is of Princess Yuki, who appears in episodes 4 and 5 wearing a striking red kimono and offers up an even more impressively-designed kimono to Shiori at one point in episode 5. The quality of background artistry varies wildly from scene to scene, with some scenes featuring very well-rendered digital designs (the artistry of sliding panels in the princess's home is particularly sharp) and others using what looks like amateurish water colors. The overall color scheme is very bright and cheery, a marked contrast to the drab surroundings normally depicted in period pieces. The animation adequately supports the fight scenes, which use some common stylistic gimmicks but are remarkably well-detailed for the genre. This certainly isn't top-end animation, but it does the job well enough.
The opener sets the tone for the series with an exuberant musical number, while each episode wraps up with an enthusiastic closer. The lively musical score keeps events hopping right along with gentler orchestrated numbers when focusing on Shiori and more energetic and often synthesized numbers during action scenes. The most impressive aspect of the scoring is that it doesn't seem to repeat itself within the first volume, but it also doesn't strike a single wrong note in its support of the tone of various scenes. Its only negative is that it's a little too loud at times when serving as background music to conversations. Even so, this would be a soundtrack worth purchasing.
The English dub left me with mixed feelings. Both the casting and performances are adequate and would probably satisfy dub-favoring fans, but in general the Japanese vocals are a little smoother. The English script takes a few more liberties than it needs to, which occasionally shifts the tone or attitude of something a character says and sometimes eliminates a character's declaration of who they are. This is also the second AnimeWorks title I have run across recently (Iczer-One being the other one) which fails to provide any English vocals during a review segment at the beginning of an episode (episode 5 in this case). What's up with that, AnimeWorks? It's very unprofessional.
Extras on this volume include only company trailers, a textless opener, and a rather limited art gallery, although the inclusion of five episodes in this volume makes up for that. All the extras are available from the main menu screen, a somewhat unusual approach. Setup options included a separate “English With Subtitles” option in addition to regular dub and “Japanese With Subtitles” options, and all roles which have an English vocalist credited (not all of them do) have the English and Japanese performers listed together under the character name.
The first volume of Shura no Toki isn't top-class anime, but it's good enough and interesting enough to warrant a look if you're into fighting-oriented and/or action-oriented anime. It has just enough romantic elements and historical context to have broader appeal than just action fans, though one should never forget that it is first and foremost a martial arts series. Don't let the severe cover fool you, though, and while the packaging says 13+, I feel that is too restrictive—it is clean enough and light enough that it could probably be safely shown to anyone age 10 and over.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Excellent non-repetitive soundtrack.
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