At the beginning of the Edo Era, when people enjoyed a time of peace, Lord Tokugawa Tadanaga holds a fighting tournament. In the past, matches were fought with wooden swords. This time, real swords will be used.
One-armed Fujiki Gennosuke and blind Irako Seigen will fight each other in this match. Both are disciples of Iwamoto Kogan, who is known as Japan's greatest swordsman. Each of them are determined to prove himself the successor of Iwamoto's school. However, there can only be one champion.
So begins a story of intertwining fates, conflict, and strange destinies.
Popular to contrary belief, Japan's Tokugawa (or Edo) period, wasn't all about fancy clothes and fairy tales at all. It was a time when honor and loyalty ruled in a man's world. Where women were treated as mere objects and held rather little to no power. And being formal with your enemies was as common as wielding a blade. This story basically follows the trials and tribulations of two warring clans rife with sex, lies, and deceit.
Don't get me wrong, Shigurui isn't a complete historically accurate show, but it's damn close. Starting off with the music, its very reminiscent of something you would hear
straight out of a Japanese stage opera and sets the mood and pace perfectly for this show. If you turned off your monitor you swear you were watching a Japanese play unfold before your very ears its all a beautiful experience. Even the cold silence can emit a feeling unlike any other.
The actual sound effects of the show are also very play-oriented. It's usually silent with the exception of the actors playing their role, but when there are sound effects they are usually very subtle, environmental, sound effects like wind rustling, or flames snapping, or even the sound of gravel being undisturbed beneath a warriors feet. Less sound in this instance is good as it gives immerses the viewer in to such an intriguing drama.
The voice acting are all top notch as well. I'm not a big fan of a mostly male seiyu cast, but all the voice actors play their part with such passion and seriousness that I am not very accustomed to. Albeit its not very hard to act as a badass or a madman with very little lines in every episode. Compared to all the cute loli anime being released in droves recently, this is a very welcome change of pace.
From the beginning of the opening credits, one can already see that they are in for a visual treat. Its not often that you get to experience something like this. EVERY scene in this show is so beautiful that each cel can be a masterpiece in its own right. The background art is so pretty you swear you've seen the art off a history text or a museum its that immaculate. Even every camera angle has its own beauty and flair. To add to its historic feel colors are pretty limited to a neutral tone (brownish green tinge) more reminiscent of tapestry paintings of the time. Apart from the background art, the character art has its own beauty and uniqueness not found anywhere else. Each character (including stand-in's) are all drawn with the utmost care. Wrinkles, shadows, beards all drawn in with large detail. Each person looks completely unique from their eyes hair and face, all the way down to their clothing (with unique patterns and colors) and sandles. Little forewarning there are a lot of adult situations including violence and sexuality, but they are all there for reason. Even if its only there to show how brutal and harsh (yet elegant) the Edo period really was.
The story itself is a rather hit and miss mostly because of the "Tarantino" effect they did with the main story. After a few episodes you almost forget about the main story. But how they skillfully use art and sound and voice acting in every episode the viewer is more drawn to the situation at hand rather than what happened 4 episodes ago. It can be intriguing for some and a turn off for others. But I really appreciate the detail and accuracy they try to pull off with this show. Now I'm no expert in the Tokugawa period or Japanese history in general, but I am a decent history buff and know more than enough to truly appreciate an epic such as this.
For you kiddies expecting to watch something like bleach or samurai champloo or even Inyuasha, i highly recommend reading up on some good Japanese literature. Namely, Amaterasu, List of Divinities, or Kojiki (they were required reading for my uni). Or wiki up some Tokugawa period history (specifically Kan'ei) if you don't feel like reading up on such historic pieces. As for everyone else, I highly recommend watching this as this should be one of the best examples on how to do an artistic anime. Don't expect much in terms of pace, treat it like you were watching a stage play on your pc. One word of caution, be prepared to experience cold, brutal, reality
Do not drop this anime, endure a few episodes! (Assuming that you are aware that this one has maybe too much gore/blood/violence!).
This anime has one of the greatest plots I have ever seen (and not just anime), every scene is there for a reason and a part of the complete picture. So, from my! point of view Shigurui is underrated.
Let me tell you how I started to watch this one; I wanted to watch something with samurais in it and started to watch Shigurui as a coincidence. The first episode was just awful, I did not liked it at all; too much blood,
too much violence(I even covered my eyes with my hands instinctively at some scenes). So at first it was just an anime that was tried to be made interesting using lots of unneccessary disturbing scenes, so I nearly dropped it but still there were some interesting things (or lets say unexpected character reactions) so I could not drop the series as a result... Next day I had nothing to do and so I took a deep breath and resumed watching it but after a while the general atmosphere of the anime got me very very interested. The story was very solid not to say disturbingly unique (due to the realistic reactions of the characters maybe; not the usual either black or white characters but ones with shades). The art was top notch as the sounds (no music at every scene, sometimes just sound of cicadas -though I found them rather annoying- but perfect both for reflecting the mood and complementing the plot).
So before I realized, the series was over and I was awestructed, cause I did not get the ending at first. But after 5mins or so I started to remember scenes, scenes from first episode, scenes from 5 th or 9th episode and I just got it. It was like oh my gosh ( stupid sentence but describes my feelings precisely). So watch it till the end because the masterpiecycity (copyright at Guuguk) of the series is increasing exponentially.
This is a very sophisticated anime which might be enjoyed by careful and patient viewers only, so take notes :), take a deep breath and complete the 12 episode in e few days (to avoid the 'baccano effect')
So finally :) the process of watching was hard for me due to the high gore level but it was worth it! This is one of the stories that I will possibly remember for a long long time, not for the story itself but for how it was told...
PS: I admit that I am not familiar with the 'actua'l Edo period (I learned a little bit in Kenshin though :) ) but still the value of the plot is unbelievable and it is just fiction right.
I did not give examples from scenes and stuff, just to avoid giving any spoilers, which might really spoil the ' it was like oh my gosh' effect...
Among the numerous things a review is supposed to accomplish, there's this: Give the reader a sense of what to expect from the content that's under examination in order to help them determine whether or not they should dedicate their valuable time to checking it out. To that end, I'll try to steer some poor souls away from trouble immediately by saying that Shigurui contains a massive amount of exceedingly gruesome gore as well as all manner of violent sexual predations, and in many cases those two things appear onscreen simultaneously. If you have a strong aversion to the stomach-turning, you can probably just
continue on your merry way, because this show is two cuts above grotesque. That being said, I don't believe that art is under any obligation to be shiny and happy, and content of a violent and brutal nature doesn't necessarily make something “bad” (although, in this instance, the point is a little moot). But for anyone who remains undeterred, there is an actual review up ahead.
To say that Shigurui has high production values would be an understatement. Even by the standards of the frequent overachievers at studio Madhouse, Shigurui is looking at “high production values” in the rearview mirror half a mile back. It's a shame that much of the show takes place in dimly lit dojos and huts, because the outdoor backgrounds are nothing short of gorgeous. I'll be blunt in saying that the character designs are repulsive—everything about them is exaggerated, and from their overblown facial features to their overly pale, shiny skin, they look more like wax caricatures of humanity than anything else. Given the show's general love of putting the disgusting on display, I'd wager that this is intentional, and while the designs aren't aesthetically pleasing, they're fitting, and their remarkable level of detail and consistency can't be denied. The one artistic aspect where Shigurui falls a tad short is the animation; on the rare occasions where fluid animation is actually present, it looks great, but unfortunately the series defaults more to blink-and-you-miss-it shortcuts and fades for its fight scenes, which are less than enthralling (more on that later).
Shigurui is musically minimal. Most of the score consists of slower, more traditional Japanese music. Ominous drumbeats and strings are par for the course, sometimes punctuated by a deep, wailing chant. Atmospheric sound is common and used to good effect, with the old standbys of keening cicadas and chirping birds being the most noticeable. Some of the show's better music actually comes in the form of rhythmic folk songs sung by field laborers or village children as the samurai pass them by. To some degree, this befits both the setting and the “slow but violent under the surface” nature of the series.
And now we come to the writing, which, for the most part, is where I lose the ability to say anything positive about Shigurui. For all of its artistry and its attention-garnering violence and sexuality, the plot is built on fairly typical samurai fare: In the present time, a swordsmanship tournament is being held. Facing each other are two decrepit samurai, one of them blind and one of them missing an arm. They are both students of the same school of swordsmanship, they have a historic rivalry with each other, and the rest of the series is a flashback that delves into that rivalry. Revenge, rivalry, and betrayal can be made powerful with a quality story and good characterization (see Berserk, Gungrave) but it just isn't so here. Shigurui's writers seem to be going for the “slow but deliberate” buildup, and as a result the story dawdles, takes frequent forays into the backgrounds of characters and objects which have a minimal connection with the plot, and all the while fails to generate tension or momentum in any significant amount. A lack of complexity isn't always a bad thing, and good execution can take a simple plot, run with it, and make it compelling. But here is simplicity done wrong: Meandering, directionless, trying its hardest to pull something out of nothing and be more than it really is. Entire episodes could be skipped with minimal loss. You can practically see the seams where the plot is stitched together—in the first half of the show, someone is wronged, and in the second half, that someone seeks revenge in a methodical, predictable fashion while everyone else runs around like chickens with their heads cut off. The show's ending is somewhat fitting, but it's also anticlimactic in the first degree, and leaves many questions unanswered. It's insult to injury, and as a result, Shigurui's story is an absolute drag, a bloody, swerving run-on sentence with no period.
Memorable characters could probably dig the show out of the hole, but to call Shigurui's efforts in that area “paper-thin” would be to short-change paper. The leads, Fujiki and Irako, are both tools of the plot, and they bend to its will in completely unreal turnarounds. Irako goes from “sinister, merciless, master swordsman” to “blubbering, defenseless idiot” seemingly at the drop of a hat, and Fujiki, originally the least offensive protagonist, develops into a brutal, sadistic shell of a man for what appears to be no reason whatsoever. Both characters have motivations that are either completely unknown (Fujiki) or laughably simple-minded and one-note (Irako). As previously mentioned, the show would rather spend time delving into shoddily introduced plot elements than fostering any sort of actual interaction between these two characters; it glosses over their development as fellow swordsmen completely, and in the end the root of their much-touted, show-spanning rivalry seems to be limited to “Irako beat Fujiki in a practice match this one time and then Fujiki punched Irako in the face.” They hardly ever speak to each other; the show seems to be going for effective minimalism in this aspect, but it falls short. We know almost nothing about the ideals of either man, and while they might have good reasons to kill each other, the truth is that they're both cold and simple characters to a nearly inhuman degree, and it's nearly impossible to care about them or relate to them in any sense. Add to that some terribly flat supporting roles who seem to exist for the dual purposes of dying gruesomely and killing time while the show struggles to reach the 12-episode mark and you get a lackluster cast that's utterly incapable of picking up the slack left by the similarly flawed story.
In fact, Shigurui as a whole feels like the result of one big case of writer's block. That there's talent and effort poured into the series is beyond question—the near-flawless artistry, the attention to detail, and the willingness to show things that the audience might not want to see are all hallmarks of a strong creative team. It's even directed by Hiroshi Hamasaki, who managed to score a home-run with similar directorial style in the slow-but-powerful Texhnolyze. I've little doubt that if Shigurui's writing had been handled differently, the show could float above average, maybe even to greatness. I'm all for rooting for the underdog, and I'd love to be able to write a cute blurb along the lines of “despite its outward mask of grotesquely twisted sex and violence, Shigurui has numerous redeeming qualities...”
...but, truthfully, short of the art and the general atmosphere, I just don't see anything worth praising. Shigurui has nothing to say. It has all of the means in the world, but no conceivable ends. It's completely without vision, and as a poor replacement for vision, it reaches onto the shelf and pulls out the book of sheer brutality and shock value. It's the angry pre-teen, screaming (admittedly creative) obscenities, hoping that others will mistake them for maturity. In a sort of sad irony, its positive aspects actually look retrospectively silly when coupled with its writing, like lipstick on a pig. The fight scenes, which amount to staring contests punctuated by swift blows delivered via animation shortcuts, could have been effective if there was any emotion brewed between the characters involved, but lacking that element, they ring hollow. The slow, traditional music and voice-over narration sound absurdly ham-fisted and out of place next to the needless sexual violence. Countless artistic shots of butterflies and cicadas, symbols of change and rebirth, are not a substitute for writing characters who actually undergo convincing development. The show has zero self-awareness; at its best moments it's a halfway entertaining gut-spiller, and at its worst moments it's borderline BDSM smut, yet from start to finish it operates under the misleading pretense that it's an engaging work of art. In all walks of life it's best not to kid yourself, and I can't help but recommend that if you're going to make something as pointless and mind-numbingly gratuitous as this show, you could at least maintain some honesty about it.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE WATCHING THIS ANIME:
1. It's a very serious anime. No jokes, all business.
2. There is brief full-frontal female nudity in almost every episode. Sex scenes are brief, and are presented much like a slideshow of dim, still images.
1. Production value is obviously very high.
2. Story is solid as long as you watch the entire series within a relatively short span of time. If you leave too much time between episodes, the story will be harder to follow.
3. If you're in the mood for an intense, violent, and gory samurai anime, this is definitely the one for you.
IT FROM GETTING A HIGHER SCORE:
I would have given it an 8 if it had a little bit of lightheartedness. A hint of humor would have made the characters more likeable. It would have made the story more interesting too. I mean, c'mon, even the most serious of movies had a bit of comedy in them.
I would have given it an 9 if the pacing had been a little faster. The anime drags at times; especially since the director tried to make EVERY scene intense. The minimalism of the soundtrack exacerbates the sluggishness sometimes.
I would have given it a 10 if the story was exceptional, which it was not. It ended up being a story of pride and revenge, which most people have seen before. Still a pretty solid plot though.
Recommended if you're in the mood for something really really serious.