This is a cool show I watched a loooong time ago, and for some reason today I discovered that it wasn't on my AP list. The following review content is edited from a review I wrote on Crunchyroll.
I would like to start by mentioning the fact that I find Japanese history to be convoluted and generally boring, involving rice, taxes and land laws. This show, much like any other historically-based show, made me wish that I had paid a little bit more attention to my History of Japanese Civilization class because I would find it much easier to follow.
You probably haven't heard of this show because it is one of those slow-paced shows that lacks anything flashy or hyper. Like so many other less-popular shows, it appeals to a less mainstream and more sedate/adult audience. The plot, especially the supernatural elements, is a little confusing and convolutes as well.
There is plenty to appreciate about this show besides its use of history as a structure for its storyline. In particular, Akizuki's sword vs. Sakyounosuke's guns fight was an awesomely choreographed and poignant fight, symbolizing the struggle between tradition and modernity that is at the thematic heart of this show.
Moreover, the work done by a playwright and his theatre troupe to influence the flow of history is something that echoes the role of the media in today's history-in-the-making. Add in the hints of a love story and a young, attractive main male character caught up in his supernatural destiny, and you have all the ingredients for an enjoyable historical fantasy.
Overall, 7.5/10, because I would've liked to see a more character development and depth. If you're not a history nut, then skip this one.
Dealing with the Bakumatsu era, or the final years of the Shogunate, BKI is an interesting, if unsatisfying anime - based largely on actual historical events such as the secession of the Republic of Ezo and including fictionalisations of its leaders. Well animated and researched, the show looks well, and gets the look of the period right, evoking the wider political conflict by presenting the incursion of Western fashions into Japan during the period.
However, the show largely missteps by introducing supernatural and magic elements to its plot. Not only are the supernatural elements of the plot ill-explained and confusing during the early episodes, but they remove agency from the characters, and reduce what could be conflicted, complex characters to stock good versus evil stereotypes. Compared to a show like Rurouni Kenshin, set a few years later, BKI's characters lack the inner conflict and acknowledgement that by taking sides either for or against the nascent Meiji government, they are cutting themselves off from old comrades. The magic adds nothing, and seems merely to exist to provide over the top set-pieces.
The best elements of BKI come in the moments between the supernatural - the political organisation of the Ezo Republic, the interesting use of the travelling actors, among the best characters, to frame the story. Our lead character, the wandering swordsman, feels too generic, however, to really entertain, and is more an amalgamation of generic wandering samurai tropes than a really interesting character in his own right.
BKI has some interesting ideas, but it undersells itself, and amps up the action and the magic when it could be something really special and give us an insight into the political situation of the late Shogunate. For fans of samurai tales, there's a lot better out there, but it's worth a look-in, if only for the animation and travelling actors.
STORY SECTION: 4/10 [Pseudo-realistic with a lot of pointless fuss over trivial matters.]
Analysis: General Scenario 1/2, Pacing 1/2, Side Stories/Extra Spices 1/2, Believability/Reasoning/Realism 0/2, Conclusion 1/2
- The story is about this cool-looking warrior, with the funky name of “The Eternal Assassin”, sent to save feudal Japan from a civil war, invoked by a cursed skull. Which is quite ridiculous as a concept, since it presents the wars of that era to be the result of a curse and not of power struggles amongst greedy merchants and feudal lords. Japanese people are presented as peaceful people that are easily mind-washed into becoming frenzied killers by a dead guy’s head… Yeah, right! Realism aside, the story is full of ideals such as fulfiling your destiny, maintaining your honor, questioning your loyalties, giving the chance to rule the world… and turning ancient ruins into Doomsday devices. It feels almost like a cheesy JRPG story.
- Sure, there are hundreds of real locations and historical events included in the series that can turn the show into an encyclopedia… But are all boring. Who gives a damn about what happened on a specific day of a specific month in a specific year amongst 20 historical figures? This is good for a documentary, not an action series. And anyway, all this approach to history goes to waste by having a cursed skull being the villain in the story. No sir, it wasn’t the greedy kings of Europe or the megalomaniac daimyo fighting over the riches of Japan. It was this cursed skull. How historically accurate does that sounds to you? Here you are, going crazy over trying to remember a thousand names and events that you think are important to the plot and then the conclusion comes along and is just a supernatural fighter taking on a supernatural gismo. ZONK! Talking about taking us for suckers.
- In all, the story tries to present itself as gran-scaled and perplex when in fact it is pretty simple and straight-forward. It clearly did not deserve 26 episodes. Wrapping it in 4 episodes would be more than enough for our poor mind having to stand all those unimportant historical events and boring battles.
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10 [Like statues, they are good looking but they are also frozen in a permanent pose.]
Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 1/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 1/2, Catharsis 1/2
- The protagonist is raised with the sole purpose of destroying the skull, if it is ever unleashed. This means that he follows a fatalistic approach of a “can’t escape destiny” theme that I loath, as it turns characters into robots. Well, that aside, he is cool-looking and fights awesomely, thus becoming likable to all you who dig heavy-dudes like Afro from Afro Samurai or Dante from Devil May Cry. I personaly hate this kind of characters, as they are just show and no meaning. At least this guy does question his destiny from time to time, as he interacts with the leading girl in the series, a lushious actress that also has a mission to accomplish… Here we go again with the fatalistic theme. Jeez!
- As far as character development goes, aside from the leading fighter no one develops much. All secondary characters either die pretty fast or retain their initial behavior. They are just there as NPCs, aiding or stomping the hero. Again with the fatalism buisiness!
- Even the co-lead, the pretty actress, doesn’t actually manage to provide anything other than subtle fan service. Something important does happen to her in mid-series but not even that affects the story.
ART SECTION: 6/10 [Nice to stand, bad to appreciate.]
Analysis: General Artwork 2/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 1/2, Animation 1/2, Visual Effects 1/2
- Animation-wise, we get the treatment of “taking the audience for suckers” method. The first episodes have wonderful animation, full of artistic scenes and approaches to culture and philosophy. A sight for sore eyes! Then, it debunks into mediocrity in the mid-episodes and catches up again in the conclusion. It definitely helps the viewers to have a good first and last impression of the series but it still is a trick to save money in animation. Do mind; there are many blunt backgrounds and badly drawn and colored shapes in the series. They are simply overlooked by most, as you are supposed to pay attention to the characters and the battles. Nice try, but not all of us are that dumb.
- Action-wise, it has very good battle choreography in most duels, complete with special attacks and eye-catchy visual effects. Unfortunatelly most battles end way too fast and rarely in a satisfing way. Half the times we get a stalemate, half the other times, some nobody fires a gun from behind and kills the bad guy or injures the good guy. Having seemingly superhuman fighters being defeated in a cowardly manner such as this leaves you frustrated. JUST TAKE A GUN AND SPARE YOURSELVES THE TROUBLE, YOU IDIOTS! Why train for decades in martial arts if a bullet can solve everything? Yes, it does make sense in reality but in the series we get these cool battles ful of Matrix acrobats that end with a gunshot. Does it sound ok to you? Add to this problem the fact that in the mid-episodes the choreography becomes scarse and consists mostly of just stale or repeating frames of slashes and punches and you get a very anti-climactic action series.
SOUND SECTION: 6/10 [Sounds nice; but gets over with fast.]
Analysis: Voice Acting 1/3, Music Themes 3/4, Sound Effects 2/3
- The dialogues… Well, they are as corny as the main theme in the series. Unrealistic one-liners during fights and uninteresting talking about honor and destiny in peacefull moments. Plus, a lot of blah, blah about politics that have no overal effect on the story.
- The music themes… Very nice but not great or memorable in any way. They do tend to repeat too often but you still don’t get to memorize them. Tough luck!
VALUE & ENJOYMENT SECTION: 1/10
Analysis: Historical Value 0/3, Rewatchability 0/3, Memorability 1/4
Heck, I didn’t like it. It was boring, with uninteresting characters and with a lame story. Why would I give it a second view? So ok, some battles were indeed cool but with all the Naruto and Bleach and Dragonball Z fuss I have watched, these paled in comparison. I find no value in this one.
History and cursed skulls make a bad fusion. REJECTED!
Sword of the Stranger, Samurai Champloo, Rurouni Kenshin.
A guy on a mission, a girl on another, And a man on another. This is a really good anime with good story line and nice execution. I recommend this to anyone