Violent ninja anime is nothing new to the world. In my opinion the genre exploded when Ninja Scroll hit theaters and the home market. Ever since Jubei tackled the eight devils of Kimon, publishers everywhere have scurried to portray bloody ninja exploits and a mystical Tokugawa era Japan. FUNimation and GONZO's Basilisk was released last year but in case you missed it a complete collection has been released. This set contains all six volumes of the violent and entertaining series and it's certainly a ride you won't forget.
With 24 episodes under its belt and a runtime of 600 minutes Basilisk is based upon the five volume manga by Masaki Segawa. It's an ultra-bloody affair that takes place in a world filled with ninja magic and ancient family feuds (in your face Louie Anderson!). The Tokugawa time period is often romanticized in anime and it's not uncommon to see many shows like this one taking place during it. There is a lot of lore surrounding the era and it certainly stands as a fine backdrop for this show in particular.
With the ultimate goal of finding the next shogun at the forefront two ninja clans continue to wage war against each other and kill indiscriminately. A peace between the two clans has been bartered, but to say that peace is shaky would be a gross understatement. The two heads of the clans met with Hattori Hanzo the second to display their prowess and potentially work out a peaceful accord. Let's just say that things didn't go exactly as planned.
Instead of being offered a peace treaty the two clans are told to select ten members for a ninpou battle where the winner will be able to decide upon the next heir to Ieyasu Tokugawa. Ogen of the Iga clan and Danjo of the Kouga clan are the first to get things started by killing each other. Before they destroy one another they muse over their ill-fated grandchildren's love and about how peace isn't going to happen in their lifetime. History, as they say, repeats itself.
You see, the whole peace movement between the two clans came about when Kouga Gennosuke and Iga Oboro fell in love with each other. Being the leaders of their clans, behind their grandparents anyway, the two have worked hard to bring their families together. All is for naught though now that the ninpou battle has been started. Unfortunately for Gennosuke and the Kouga, Oboro's kin are the first to get a hold of the proclamation and stage a number of surprise attacks. Using supernatural powers rather than realistic ninja techniques, Basilisk offers some heart pounding action sequences that, yet again, remind us of Ninja Scroll.
Across the series you'll be seeing several fights that defy imagination and logic. As the Kouga and Iga go toe to toe there are many creative techniques put to use and each of the ninja has a hidden weapon. For instance there is a Kouga ninja who can spit an adhesive of sorts and spin spider webs, a woman whose breath becomes poisonous when she's sexually aroused, and a fat dude with a body of rubber. The leader, Gennosuke, has the ability to stare into his opponent's souls and make them kill themselves. Talk about a cool power! He's essentially the ninja equivalent of Jesse from the Preacher comic book.
On the Iga side of the fence there is a guy that is basically immortal, another who can turn his body into a liquid, and a ninja who uses his body hair as a weapon (sorry, it's not Danny DeVito). The Iga leader is Gennosuke's love interest Oboro has the ability to negate any other ninja powers simply by looking at someone. It's safe to say that whether it's the Iga or Kouga there are plenty of strange skills that countermand each other and it's a ruckus affair once the ninja begin fighting.
Now, it should be said that several of these folks die over the course of the show though I'm not going to spoil things and tell you exactly who and how many. In between all of the fighting is the plot of forbidden love that revolves around Oboro and Gennosuke. They are torn apart by their clan's war and as there are many internal power struggles and personal betrayals you never quite know how things are going to play out. Some twists and turns happen during the show and before long it feels like a feudal Japan version of Romeo and Juliet with a mystical ninja setting.
If I have any beef with the series it's that during its run it never becomes layered. It's relatively straightforward and only a few surprises remain nestled in between the bits of action. That doesn't diminish the quality of the show however. Basilisk is a solid release from FUNimation and if you missed out on the regular release of the series the complete collection is definitely worth the plunge. Did you love Ninja Scroll? If so, then pick this set up now!
With a recent production date Basilisk is presented on DVD with an anamorphic widescreen presentation. The image quality is pretty good but not nearly as clean as one would hope. There are some points where the video became pixilated and other times when some noticeable grain appeared in the transfer. Being a show that seems to take place mostly at night these elements were more noticeable due to the darker tones. Even so this is a good looking show with a strong presentation. There are just a couple of minor gripes that ding the release a little bit.
With two stereo tracks (English and Japanese) and a 5.1 surround track (English) Basilisk gets the audio segment down right. The quality is very crisp with some nice use of the soundstage, though the directionality present in the 5.1 is more on the subtle side. It kicks in well enough during the action sequences but otherwise it's there for atmospheric sounds. Both language dubbings prove to be good though I felt quality-wise the Japanese track was the better of the two.
While there were Limited Edition releases of the individual volumes with cards and the like, the complete collection merely includes the art booklets that were tossed into the regular versions. This is fine and dandy because the booklets are a nice inclusion though not nearly as involved as the ones released with Samurai 7.
Some bonus features make their way onto each disc as well and they are definitely worth looking through once you're done watching the show. Sure there are trailers and clean animations but some additional content makes for some interesting sitting time. The first disc includes some audition footage with a look at the characters and the voice actors who portray them. There is also a commentary track with Mark Stoddard (Tenzen) and director Tyler Walker. I found the commentary to be a little on the dry side but there were a few nuggets of information that made it passable. The remaining discs in this collection include a segment from the original Japanese DVD release with voice actors talking about themselves and the series. They really get into it and have a good time so the sense of energy and passion comes through with flying colors. They weren't the most informative features out there but I appreciate whatever original Japanese content we can get!
Basilisk was a very entertaining series the first time around and was still fun a second time through. Each of the 24 episodes will draw you in though some filler episodes do slow the pacing down when you're watching it in bulk. Overall the story is rock solid, the emotion feels real, and the over-the-top violence will get the adrenaline pumping. If you missed it the first time around them FUNimation's collection is definitely the economical and smart way to go about seeing it. If you appreciate shows with lots of demons and ninjas you'll definitely get into this one despite the sometimes cheesy love story. Recommended