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. The latest of which is FUNimation and GONZO's Basilisk. Based upon the five volume manga by Masaki Segawa, this latest gore-fest show takes place in a world ripe with ninja magic and ancient blood feuds.
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 off one another they muse over their ill-fated grandchildren's love and about how peace isn't going to happen in their lifetime.
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.
In the first four episodes here we are introduced to a variety of Kouga and Iga ninja. Taking part in fighting on the Kouga side of things are a spider-like warrior named Shogen, a quadriplegic named Jubei, and a rotund elastic ninja named Jousuke. Of course there is Gennosuke but he doesn't actually get involved in the ninpou battle quite yet. Instead he's all lovey-dovey with Oboro for the entire thing.
On the Iga side of the fence there is the odd hairy man called Nenki who can control his hair at will. His ability reminded me of the moustache man in Gun Sword. A step up from him is an elderly man, Azuki, who has the ability to stretch his limbs like Mr. Fantastic. Seemingly next in line for the Iga top seat (behind Oboro) is Tenzen who is apparently immortal. Hotarubi carries a snake and can summon pink butterflies, Yashamaru who wields a razor sharp wire, Akeginu who can control her blood at will, and Jingoro possesses a body can turn into a liquid if he comes in contact with salt.
With this ragtag bunch of circus freaks at play it's no wonder they hate each other so much. By the time the first volume her draws to a close it seems as though the Iga have won the first round since they off the Kouga agents that I mentioned, apart from Gennosuke. Oboro begins to realize something is amiss when she encounters Jingoro outside of her lover's room, but she isn't shown the proclamation of the ninpou war. The next volume should be interesting and I hope to see the Kouga strike back. Things are looking mighty bleak for Gennosuke's clan to say the least.
So far I'm pretty impressed with Basilisk. It's an entertaining show with a lot of mystical ninja action and it really reminds me of Ninja Scroll in a lot of ways. If I have any complaint about the show it's that the Romeo & Juliet undertones between Gennosuke and Oboro just don't fit into the fold. The serious tone that the show has coupled with the mysticism feels very disjointed and off somehow. It's not enough to turn me off from the series, but it was definitely enough to hold me back from highly recommending it. Your enjoyment of Basilisk will hinge entirely on your personal preference and if you enjoyed Ninja Scroll.
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.
For this review we were able to check out the limited edition release of the first volume. The package comes in a beautiful wooden box with artwork on the side and an overall find presentation. Sliding the box open reveals the DVD as well as a mini scroll depicting promotion artwork for the show. Inside the DVD case is a booklet with some information on the time period and some stuff about the show. There are also three collector's cards tucked into the fold as well.
As far as what's on the disc there are some trailers and clean animations like you'd expect but a few other features make more of an impression. Four pages of information on ninja are there if you want to read through them and a collection of audition footage is featured. It runs for 23 minutes and includes a thorough introduction to the characters and actors who portray them. A commentary is included and features voice actor Mark Stoddard (Tenzen) and director Tyler Walker. As far as a commentary track goes it's pretty dry and feels more like an interview piece rather than a discussion about the episode or series. I've found that anime commentaries are better served as informational or entertaining. Unfortunately this particular one isn't really either of those.
Basilisk's first volume is strong enough to hold its own and create buzz about the series. The first four episodes here feature some intense action and a lot of intrigue that will draw viewers in. I personally found the love story between Oboro and Gennosuke to be a little too Romeo & Juliet. I also thought that it kind of clashed amongst the Ninja Scroll-like mysticism and monsters. Even so I had a good time from start to finish, but not good enough that I would give the show a high recommendation yet.