Those who enjoyed the adventures of Naruto or the violence of Ninja Scroll would most likely pounce on Basilisk faster than you can say kunai. Would those ninja-mongers like it? That’s a tough question. True, Basilisk is a story about ninjas – but it goes deeper than that, and it’s up to the audience to like it for either the right or the wrong reasons.
Superficially, the show looks like a regurgitated “Romeo and Juliet” script, except it’s a lot bloodier and forced into a kimono (two star-crossed lovers, opposing ninja clans, hate and filial loyalty, tragic consequences, etc.). Paired with the “fighting contest” idea, in which twenty selected shinobi from both clans drop dead one by one, Basilisk gives off an initial scent of corniness. However, what the anime lacks in an intricate plot it abounds in charged emotion, decent characters, and psychological drama. As the number of survivors dwindles, the series throws in enough twists (among passable yet unsatisfying fight scenes) to keep the intrigue going.
Perhaps the show's biggest strength lies in its determination to follow the feud without any favoritism. One watches Basilisk with curiosity but not urgency, with emotional investment but not bias. Each clan has its own perspective; each character has his or her own story. Most strikingly, every character is capable of experiencing equally strong human emotions. For an anime that deals so much with bloodshed and hate, it places a noticeable emphasis on the strength of relational bonds. An entire episode is devoted to the tranquility of times past, showcasing ninjas from both camps (many of whom have died) and the friendships they share with their fellow allies. These moments of peace flash amidst a larger scenario always colored by uncertainty and loss. The old master Danjou states in the first episode, “It is the fate of those born as ninja.” Watching these shinobi die off, one starts to wonder: What is going on in the minds and hearts of these people? Can we understand what it means to be in their place?
Basilisk sports a pleasingly modern style that melds with smooth motion into some notable eye candy. Dark colors, apt shading, and a preference for rain drench many scenes with an appealing impressionistic flourish. Character designs look sleek and human-like, vaguely reminiscent of the designs characteristic of Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress, Perfect Blue). The beauty of Basilisk's animation does not necessarily cater to the show's simplistic fight scenes, but it does help intensify the pathos of the situation.
What you hear can sometimes tell you more than what you see, and that certainly is the case with much of Basilisk. The sounds of splattering blood, agonized grunts of pain, and cracking bones are highly evocative, and elements of traditional Japanese music appropriately fit into a restless, eerie soundtrack that seamlessly harmonizes with what’s happening on screen. When the music is able to intensify the plot without the viewer noticing, it has succeeded (as in this case).
With a starting lineup of a whopping twenty ‘main characters,’ it is understandable how the show would only scratch the surface with most of them before killing them off. Each character is supplied with a few basic traits; as it stands, the script has only so much time to embellish even a smattering of those twenty ninjas. With the majority of the cast, the writers are perfectly content to leave the characters as their stereotypes build them to be, but for the remaining survivors, they do an understated yet effective job of gradually adding inner substance to their personalities.
The method’s success with these lucky few lies partially in the basic construction of Basilisk’s story and partially in the story’s execution. As one continues to see certain ninja scrape past death and bloodshed, an almost psychological connection is made: Time is drawn out for the viewer to accustom himself or herself to the survivor, and little by little, quirks and other qualities not seen previously glimmer into view. When that character finally dies, there is a little bit of an emotional decapitation for the audience. In the case of the kunoichi Hotarubi, I didn't even realize her implicit impact on me until her death, as I found myself almost shedding tears over the magenta butterflies floating up into the heavens from her fallen body. And this isn't the only time I felt like crying; a "decapitated" feeling occurred with many characters with which the show only spent an average amount of effort. It’s a powerful, subtle technique that might not have even been intended.
The question still remains: Will you enjoy Basilisk? Don’t count on experiencing any shonen-tastic orgasms from cool fights and intriguing villains, or pumping your fist along with a hyperactive prepubescent main character. Do expect a charged, heavy twenty-four episodes that brings with it a surprising amount of maturity. If you undertake the series for the right reasons, you will not be disappointed.
this anime is based off a novel writen in the 1950's and the origional novel was much darker and more... dark... than the anime.
some people care about production quality... blah blah .......the production quality of the anime in my oppinion was simply amazing.... and one of the best produced anime i've seen...
some people care about the action scenes... blah blah.... the action content of the show is probably the most action i've seen out of any anime... and animated brutifully (brutal/beautifully)
the story is themed about the futility of effort... love/hate, peace/war, individualism/patriotism... kinda a "it doesn't really take two sides to tango" theme... seeing as 3 characters get killed from one of the two tribes, while they thought there was a peace treaty going on...
the characters (varied a bit from the novel) seemed for the most part logical understandable, and reasonable within their own justification, making most characters to a degree able to be simpathized with.
there are only a few "good guys" in the anime, and the development is dynamic enough to make one of the good guys turn completely revenge driven and a more evil than the regular violent grudgeholders like many other characters in the anime.
the bad guy is one of the most evil and brutal bad guys in any story i've checked out... if you ever have a problem in a story because its badguy is either incompetent, or just not that bad... this bad guy is horridly evil. i even had to stop watching the anime for a bit to take a break durring one of the parts.
anywho i thought everything was done great, and the only reason i didn't, and will not give this anime a 10/10 is because of 2 things... aside from a few characters i found annoying to the point of being insane (which doesn't really bother me much... because their insanity/being annoying was understandable)... but there were a few scenes... especially towards the end of the show... that had me taking a break due to just how brutal it was...
P.S. people relate this to "naruto meets ninjascroll" and yep... if you have the tournament at the begining of naruto + naruto look + the graphic violence of ninjascroll... you pretty much nail the action scenes on the head.
Portrays both sides really well without picking one. The plot is a little familiar but the intricate emotions involved keep you intrigued
The animation is very strong. It's very good to look at. Let down a little by the handling of the action sequences
The voice cast put in a solid performance in this anime. The music throughout adds to the plot, without becoming a distraction
The characters are very well written. You feel for most of the large cast, which shows you how well they have been portrayed. They are let down by certain infuriating characters
This anime was a lot better than expected. It is definitely worth a watch.
WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND!!
Romeo & Juliet and dueling ninja clans--that's the 5 second description of Basilisk. It took me a little while to get convinced, but overall I enjoyed the series.
The basic plot of Basilisk is that there are 2 great ninja clans, Kouga and Iga. They hate each other and would kill each other but for this non-hostilities pact, which promptly gets dissolved at the beginning of the series when the shogun decides he will pit the clans against each other to determine who will become the next shogun. Ten warriors from each clan will fight to the death, and whichever side the surviving clan represents will claim the shogun-ship.
Sound stupid? Yeah, it sounded stupid to me too, which is why it took me so long to get into this show and made me reluctant to start in the first place.
But once you get into it, the show is actually quite interesting, partly for the spectacularly fantastical and bloody fight scenes, but also for the pleasantly surprising character development and intrigue. What is this ninja's secret power? What is his/her back story? What motivates this ninja? Who is going to kill this ninja? How is he going to die?
And die he/she shall, because with 10 ninjas from each clan dueling it to the death, the body count is deliciously high. Some characters die off quicker than the rest, and with less development, but some characters get a lot of development, and it's great. I enjoyed that sometimes the show would go back and develop characters that had already been killed via flashbacks, etc. Very well done.
I would say the show's greatest strengths were its storytelling and attempts at character work. The series kept you wanting to know more about these ninja, their abilities, histories, and their eventual demise. The character designs were great and, I thought, very creative. Each character had a unique personality, skill, etc. The animation and fight scenes were pretty good, but I did not find those to be the main draw of this anime.
Weak female characters. This annoys me about anime generally, but ... the female characters in this series were really disappointing. In a flick about awesome kick-ass ninjas slaughtering each other, could you really not have more compelling female characters than these?
On the Kouga side, we had Kagouro, whose special power was related to her sexuality. Plus she was stupidly in love with Gennosuke. Yeah, okay, whatever. We also had Okoi, whose character design was very tomboy-ish, and yet HER special power was ALSO related to her sexuality. C'mon, really, what message is this sending to our young female audience? That female power = sex? Ugh.
On the Iga side, we had Grandma Ogen, who I suppose was a pretty good character. And Hotoburi or whatever her name was -- the girl with the snake and butterflies? She was the best of the bunch, I suppose, except that she was a simpering lovergirl too. Then we had Akeginu, who was ALSO a lovergirl--just unrequited.
And then we had the enormously annoying Oboro. God, I hated Oboro, passive weak little cryin' squaller that she was. Every time she was on screen I just wanted to punch her in the face. I can't help it. I hate everything about her.
If the women on this show weren't showing their breasts, getting raped, or crying, it was a relief. Sure, they had scenes where the girls kicked some ass and killed people, whether using their special powers or just using their knife skills, etc. But while the girls are off whimpering about how they love so-and-so or whatever, the men are using their eyes to make people kill themselves, or shape-shifting, or just being all-around more awesome. Oboro's "superpower" was to neutralize other ninja special powers, for example. All right, I understood the narrative significance of that, but couldn't any of the women have a superpower that was OFFENSIVE and AWESOME and that didn't require men to fall for her sexuality? Geez.
So I did have beef with the depiction of women in this series, but that is by no means unique to this series.
Anyway, I digress. Overall, the story was a strong one, if not all together very exciting. Again, I kept watching because I wanted to find out what everybody's powers were and how they would be killed (and by whom). Ultimately, the show satisfied on that front, so I enjoyed it. Definitely not the best or the worst series I've seen. Fairly short time commitment, so ... pretty worth the entertainment value.
Good Samurai anime is something I think many anime fans, including myself, do take for granted. Contrary to popular belief- Quality samurai anime are hard to come by, and few in number. Certainly, the number I can count is less than ten. For my part I can only come up with six, no, make that seven other "great" samurai anime: Rurouni Kenshin, Katanagatari, Samurai Seven, Samurai Champloo, Mononoke, Shigurui: Death Frenzy and Ninja Scroll. Sword of the Stranger and can be added onto that list too based off preference, but that's really it. Afro Samurai has great swordplay and animation but, well, a very lackluster story. Berserk, Claymore, and Attack on Titan (Akame ga Kill can be thrown in there too, I guess, at least until Episode 19 or so.) are fantastic swordplay fantasy anime that aren't based in Eastern Tradition. Knights, rather than Samurai. Thick western-style claymores rather than Katanas and Kunais and Shurikens. You get the idea. Characters like Guts and the premise/world of Claymore & Attack on Titan have much more in common with mythical western cannon like Beowulf than they do The Book of Five Rings. I disagree with the idea that Fate/Zero is a "classic", but even so it's still an urban fantasy which means, based off that fact alone, that it is western based. There's always Mushi-Shi, I suppose, but anyone that's seen Mushi-Shi (or its recent sequel season) knows that Mushi-Shi constitutes a separate and unique category of anime in and of itself. It does have enough to stand among the seven other shows I mentioned earlier, however.
With all these criteria and conditions in mind- it doesn't leave us a lot left to work with. But that's exactly my point. Quality samurai anime, again, contrary to popular belief are very few in number. Fortunately, Basilisk can--and should-- be considered as one of those greats. I've noticed many other reviewers on here have criticized Basilisk (particularly its story) as being cliché and whatnot. While I would agree that anyone familiar with Ninja Scroll would find striking similarities: I'd like any of those viewers to provide a single Eastern-based anime series that supplies a set of characters and isn't afraid to whittle them down to nothing. Of the seven shows I mentioned, the only other show to do this is Samurai Seven. (Which, coincidentally, was made the previous year by the same studio as Basilisk: Gonzo.) Every other show mentioned, in traditional Western storytelling tradition, follows one or two "epic" characters on a series of miscellaneous adventures. Fate/Zero and Akame Ga Kill do follow the outlined principle sort of, but everyone that's read the latter's manga knows that the ending of Akame ga Kill is completely contrived in relation to its source material. While in Fate/Zero the "actual" story happens after the events of series. Many would claim this argument as nickpicky: I'd like to remind them that the qualities we take for granted as "cliché" and "archetypical" are because of shows like Basilisk. The show came out in 2005, people. Basilisk is important because it provides a unique contrast to the shounen like Naruto and Bleach which are plagued by tropes that, in my opinion, hold the shows back from ever being "truly" great. Basilisk may not be perfect, but the show does represent a step in the right direction that has enough merits "right" with it to stand out as one of the best anime of the early 2000s. Since Basilisk, very few (if any) shows continue the ideas presented within its 24 episodes. For this reason alone, I'd recommend Basilisk over Naruto/Bleach any day of the week. Fortunately Basilisk also has a lot else going for it.
Let's get some fundamentals out of the way: For those unfamiliar with Basilisk- it is a story of two would-be lovers who are the heads of their clan who, tragically, are separated by an outbreak of hostilities between their two factions. Each side has ten ninja that, including the two main characters, must fight each other until the death to help decide a successor to the retired shogun. (As to avoid a civil war.) Basilisk, at its heart, is a story that brings back sword-action to its Ninja Scroll basics: ninjas killing each other with a variety of techniques. Some fantastical. Some not. In any case- each scene is very graphic and tense.
Basilisk stands up well to any modern anime in the technical department. Granted, I watched the show in 1080p from a blu ray (released courtesy of Funimation) played on a 50 inch Sony at night. For anyone fortunate enough to have a similar set up, it is quite an amazing experience that I do recommend. Basilisk is quite astounding in that regard, and--at the very least--pleasantly surprising. It does have that "roo-rah!" high-octane action sequences (particularly in the beginning) of unique characters fighting and mauling and killing each other in every episode. These characters and scenes gave me something of a Black Lagoon type of vibe. Many of the characters, for their part, condone the extreme violence against their enemies. But the core "backbone" of Basilisk is a combination between Romeo and Juliet and anime movie Ninja Scroll. For those select few that aren't familiar with Ninja Scroll (or haven’t watched it) I'd firstly recommend you watch it before watching Basilisk. It isn't necessary, per se, but to be quite frank the two productions complement each like opposite sides of the same coin. Basilisk is a spiritual successor of sorts to Ninja Scroll. The reason why they’re so similar is that the movie Ninja Scroll, released more than a decade before Basilisk, is a loose rendition of the same source material: a novel called The Kouga Ninja Scrolls that was released in Japan in the 50s. Instead of showing two warring ninja factions like Basilisk, however, the movie takes a Die Hard approach as a small group of unlikely heroes/heroines overcome a criminal conspiracy composed of another group of evil rouge ninja. The tragic romance is still there- in a different sort of way. Many people who witness both productions prefer Ninja Scroll to Basilisk, but from what I understand Basilisk is an almost word-for-word recreation of the original story in the anime medium. A more faithful rendition of the source material that so many other anime are lambasted for failing. The two are similar, but still different enough to warrant separate viewings. In my case I enjoyed both equally, and I for one am glad that Basilisk was created. Many other reviewers on here, in their clamor to forewarn of the distinct similarities to productions like Ninja Scroll, lose sight of the important differences between Basilisk and most other conventional anime series. Differences such as the violent and graphic deaths most of the characters endure. Differences such as the fact that Basilisk wasn’t afraid to, with purposeful intent, leave plot lines hanging in the wake of character deaths. Differences in the action sequences- which are bloody and believable which compared to more mild shows like Naruto do not feel contrived. For example, characters do not stop time to chant their ability. Characters that are stuck in sticky situations usually do die in said sticky situations- there’s very few (if any) Deus Ex moments that characters “magically” come up with a new solution. Each character has a unique technique, which, upon being presented to the viewer, is kept consistent for the rest of the series. I for one think that as a major plus.
To be frank, the show just fundamentally works. The sound. The visuals, Everything comes together for a quality production that presents an experience that nearly any action-oriented viewer can immerse oneself in. Even those that are “into” more modern anime series like Black Lagoon or Hellsing Ultimate. While the ultimate outcome of Basilisk’s story seems obvious and is presented in almost any description of it- the show has a deeper web of intricacies that are a joy to uncover. From the very first episode the show makes it a point to foreshadow to the viewer the imminent outcome. While there are still some tropes the show does follow. Aggravating tropes such as having the female protagonist be subservient to the point of near-absurdity. Tropes of body figure where some characters appear to be designed unnecessarily malicious or villainous compared to how they are later presented in the story. The English translation is at best bearable, but at worst horrible. Finally, the story does sometimes feel as if it was meant to be grander than the confines of 24 episodes. I agree with other reviewers’ criticisms in character development; some characters do not get enough screen time. But my issues with Basilisk’s character development are to a much lesser extent than others. The story’s first five episodes are a stark vision to how the rest of the show could have been given a longer (or shorter) timeframe to work with. Some parts do seem to drag at times. But a viewing of any of the show’s many action sequences will remind the viewer again and again of just how high the show reaches from these mellow lows.
Basilisk stands out. There’s no question about that. It stands—and will continue to stand—the test of time. Go watch it. Or better yet- go buy it on Blu Ray. Know, however, what to expect. A classic though this may be it does have its flaws, but with a moderate level of patience and time investment will mean any interested viewer will not leave disappointed. The legend of the Kouga and Iga clans will live on in the reaches of your imagination for a long time following this.
Thanks for reading,