Blade of the Phantom Master was one of those moments that you wished would live. Unfortunately, this was a still born cut short long before it could take its first wailing breath.
Blade of the Phantom Master dangles many promises akin to the carrot dangling forever out of reach before the plodding turtle, overburdened with a moth-eaten plot that left me hand flailing at the screen asking the heavens, "why did that just happen? What--what did I just...What is this? I don't even..."
And it is a crying shame, because the beginning sequences reek of a great story. In fact, the beginning lulls you into a sense of excitement and false peace; a viewer might even begin feeling the thrill of an epic ending coming on.
Alas, something happens in the middle of Blade of the Phantom Master, a mix of stilted pacing, random happenings that don't rightly fit into any other parts of the story--completely unexplained randomness--that starts the disastrous unwinding of the entire piece.
The animation at least, was excellent.
And honestly, the fact it was horrendous and the animation was good is about the best I can walk away with when it comes to Blade of the Phantom Master.
That in itself, should tell you what you need to know.
I stumbled on this somewhat obscure title randomly and it led me to discover the manga, which is one of the best I've read in in a long time. It was written by a Korean individual, but published by a Japanese company, so for the purpose of this review I'll be calling the comic a manga to avoid confusion, even though manhwa would seem more appropiate given the subject matter. After reading a good portion of the manga I decided to go back and watch the movie just to see if they managed to keep things more or less the same. I was surprised by how I noticed little things in the art and storytelling that I hadn't before and how underappreciated this anime is.
Story- This movie is based on 2 of the story arcs in the manga, and makes use of its running time very effeciently. From what I've read of the authors notes, many of the elements of the stroy are borrowed from Korean legends and mythology. To get to the main point though, the anime doesn't really tell us the main goal of Menses (the MC) it just has him wondering around bringing down justice on wrongdoers in the most brutal and awesome way possible. Most of the time by summoning his army of phantom soildiers or going on a headshot spree with his revolver and shotgun. Not to say that the story doen't have any substance or morals though, but it doesn't make all that much sense if you only watch the anime.
Animation- The best part about this movie. Especially consdering the time that this was made (2004) the animation is absolutely stunning. The backrounds are excruciatingly detailed and the shadows contrast with the bright colours perfectly. The char designs are realistic and lively and even as someone who usually hates cg in anime; I have to say it used very effectively here. The actions scenes are bloody and spectacular, really nothing that I can nitpick on here.
Sound- A very "epic" sounding orchestral OST. Also some nice soothing music for the quieter meoments, I also liked that the intro was told in Korean (even though the characters speak in Japanese). The ending theme is also in Korean, but its a k-pop song... which doesn't really fit with the series, but I'm a k-pop fan, so no complaints here.
Characters- Even though the characters are not given an ample amount of time to grow, you can deffinetlyy get a feel for their personalities, especially in the MC, Menses. Sando is well characterized too, but feels more like a puppet if anything. The antogonists stole the spotlight for this show to me, particularly the one in the second half.
Overall- A great seinen action anime, with a decent plot. It deffinitely feels more like an intro or the first few eps of something much grander. The anime falls short, because it really does not feel complete or conclusive. Perhaps we will see the continuation of this series in anime format. Until then theres always the manga.