In the Japanese New Wave, films such as Hara Kiri and Samurai Rebellion depicted bushido as a baseless sham and the feudal system as corrupt, cruel, decadent, and crushing people underfoot. They exposed all the supposed nobilities of the era for base lies covering even baser men.
I sound terribly pretentious, don't I? Good - because so is Shigurui. This anime takes the same blatantly pessimistic view of feudal Japan and adds in the process excessive amounts of highly disturbing violence.
Allow me to stress that: Highly disturbing. Shigurui is chock-full of savagely graphic acts right from the outset so you really must be looking for that sort of thing if you're to enjoy this anime at all. If you thought Elfen Lied was too disturbing for you - heck if you thought Elfen Lied was disturbing - then pass on. Limbs are cut, body parts are gouged, intestines come pouring from stomachs, and I'm opting not to mention the actually disturbing things in this review. Rather unpleasant, got that?
Anyway, I'm hardly suggesting that Shigurui is as nuanced as the films I compared to it - in fact it is insanely absurd. Past the ultraviolence is an aggressively morbid environment where the worst case scenario is the only option and samurai can perform superhuman feats of virtuosity (like so many of their anime counterparts, only these ones will leave you choking in revulsion). For all the absurdity, however, the tone remains deathly serious and the pace is grimly deliberate. Stylistically this is an effective choice, adding seeming depth to a relatively simple and overblown narrative.
Now there are some rather noticeable flaws in plot progression. We start off as the story-so-far, then enter an extended flashback that comprises the rest of the series and we wind up getting no ending for the set-up in the first episode or the events in the flashback. Still, I left rather satisfied - the finale brings things at least to a thematic conclusion.
Ugliness has never been this beautiful. Shigurui is gorgeously animated, composed and framed. The use of focus is delicate and measured; striking images include the diagram-like depictions of the human body and insects lazing about in the foreground. The colour palette is astonishingly grim -this is a wonderfully and morosely dark series even when just looking at it, a perpetually overcast Japan that suits the material. It goes without saying that the ultraviolence is splendidly realised - raised almost to an art. I found myself marvelling at the skill behind scenes that made me want to throw up.
The only criticism I could bring is the heavy reliance on still frames, but even then there are so many subtle movements that I would consider the animation rather exceptional - also, I considered the use of stills quite stylistically effective. Visually while this owes much to the director's earlier series Texhnolyze, Shigurui has surpassed that work aesthetically.
The music selection is simple but inspired: traditional instruments - Japanese and otherwise - backed up with occasional recourse to classical strings and deep Buddhist-esque chanting. Aurally this keeps up the self-importance (no pop ballads for this anime, no sir). A fatalistic air of inevitability is lent to sword-fights through the music - it's as cheery as a dirge. Voice acting is unmemorable but hardly overtaxed.
One thing that frequently bugs me about other disturbing anime - Elfen Lied, Gantz - is that there's a ham-fisted attempt to make the characters seem sympathetic. Be it the precociously cutesy moe-blobs in the former or the self-pitying speeches in the latter they evoke from me an eye-roll at best.
Nothing of the kind is tried for here. As I continued to watch it dawned on me that everyone is scum. Irako and Fujiki may be rivals but at different stages in the series they each perform acts so contemptible as to remove any shred of sympathy you may have had for either one; though truthfully the whole bunch are nothing more than exaggerated caricatures of samurai honour and depravity (which go hand in hand). There can be no heroes among the warrior class, just different levels of rotten bastard.
The most obviously evil figure is also the one that makes the most lasting impression: Kogan. Debauched, senile, insane, a brilliant swordsman, a rapist and incontinent, Kogan is so staggeringly monstrous in appearance it takes a stretch of the imagination to consider him human. As the head of the dojo where the samurai are all killing each other, he is the sick, warped soul of everything that is wrong with this society. He is the mad emperor who has everyone at his beck and call, able to meet out whatever twisted act he wills - and none can punish him, if anything they all seek desperately to remain in his good graces.
There are a handful of people who are not scum (i.e. women) and it's fair warning what happens to them is still pretty horrific... so those looking or expecting Shigurui to be a comeuppance fest for those who so richly deserve it will be disappointed. That said, their torment is played for horror rather than sexual gratification unlike, say, Mnemosyne. While one is more likely to reach for a bucket than a kleenex, these poor wretches are reasonably sympathetic - victims of their male-dominated environment.
Simply put these characters are shallow and viciously ridiculous but, in this kind of exaggeratedly perverse depiction of the samurai era, they rather work. Kogan in particular is a villain I won't soon forget.
I'll be blunt: ordinarily I would have dropped a series like Shigurui after the first episode and called it quits. On behalf of all the decent people who might unknowingly pick up this title, though, I compelled myself to see it through to the end. Thus, with an enormously bitter taste in my mouth I bring you this review, as I feel it my moral obligation to bring to light the sheer reprehensibility this anime so gloriously flaunts.
First and foremost, let me say that I'm not much a fan of gore. However, when accompanied by a decent story or at least a purpose, I can (and do) generally tolerate it. I sought out Shigurui under this premise, initially thinking it to be a violent samurai anime with deep roots in realism; just about every reference I could find hinted at such. This proves to be a horribly wrong and misguided perception, as the anime downplays its historical roots to focus solely on the sick and twisted elements of the samurai era. The series is hyper-violent in many ways, showcasing a gratuitous amount of perverted gore at the expense of coherency, as many a scene revolve around the buildup to some bloody atrocity for no explicable reason. As if the violence couldn't get any worse, it makes a further point to degrade women at every possible turn, often in the form of rape, torture, and even cold-blooded murder (while bound, gagged, and screaming.) It's utterly sick shit, and how someone could fathom making an anime revolve around such acts is beyond my understanding.
Second, excluding all my qualms about its content, the story is marvelously incoherent. It begins leading up to a deathmatch between two rival samurai, one a blind cripple the other missing an arm, but right as the fight is about to commence the anime jumps into a series of flashbacks which tell their stories. Or at least they attempt to. They follow chronological sequencing at complete random intervals, as one moment you'll see a samurai fighting, the next his mutilated head on a post, and after that he's back alive again up until the time he dies. Plus, between the men of the Mugen-ryuu dojo mutilating each other and raping/torturing their women, it's just in general hard to follow what's going on, as the events prove understandable only on a surface level. Thus, not only did the content appall me, but it bore me out of my mind.
And then, lastly, there's the ending, which has absolutely nothing to do with the duel that started the series off; hell, the anime ends precisely where it begins - back at the beginning of the fight. This, needless to say, makes watching Shigurui entirely for naught, as none of the senseless slaughter or rape has any semblance of proper context. The last episode is chock full flying limbs, pools of blood, and complete and pointless gore, and does absolutely nothing to provide any sort of closure. Given the "other" events that accompany it, I have little else to say other than it utterly disgusts me; if nothing else manages to do so, it proves that the man who thought up Shigurui is one sick son of a bitch.
On the surface, Shigurui at least tries to look nice. Indeed, it does have a tinge of pseudo-realism in many scenes, which makes objects such as swords look exceptional. Admittedly, some of the scenes look absolutely spectacular (such as the tiger gripping a katana in the last episode.) Beyond the detailed stills, though, just about everything is absolutely dead in motion - the majority of dialogue takes place with the speaker off screen, so you don't even get to see lips move.
None of that really matters, since it seems the enter purpose behind Shigurui is just some fantastical desire to show a lot of senseless gore; to put things in perspective, the opening sequence shows a man ripping out his intestines. Tack on an abhorrent amount of unnecessary breast shots and the assortment of rape scenes, and I think I make my point in scoring the animation low even though it does have some superficial merits. Shigurui emphasizes grotesqueness in a manner that bleeds out much of its ordinarily stunning qualities, and as such I don't find the fabulous detail to be a redeeming virtue.
Also, as a disclaimer, after the first couple events I realized where the anime was headed, so I made a point while watching to fast forward through these parts when I saw them coming; anything that tries to glorify rape or torture through good scenery does not deserve my respect, much less my attention. For proper context, I did sit through a few of them when important (such as the ending) but they only reaffirmed and justified my decision.
Aside from random cicada chirping and the occasional ominous drumbeats, there is no musical score in Shigurui. In fact, about half the time the series excludes all forms of background noise, leaving a still screen with (hopefully) some dialogue to accompany a largely inanimate landscape. Even when dialogue is present, it's horribly orchestrated; when not comprised of an overuse of honorifics, it usually has some sick or twisted meaning behind it. As a prime example, in one of the earlier episodes the head of the Kogan-ryuu dojo spends about a minute trying to incoherently mumble the order for one of his students to rape his daughter. That's about as intelligent as it gets.
I'm so sick and disgusted getting this far with the review that I really don't have a desire to talk much about the characters. In simple terms, all the men do little but scar and disfigure one another through various sadistic means, and the entirety of the Kogan-ryuu clan hero worships their sick bastard of a leader. He basically spends the entire series wallowing around in a stupefied daze, but randomly wakes up to kill people and torture and rape women. Likewise, the women serve no purpose in the film but to be abused, tormented, and disfigured, as every chance one tries to fight back she's usually killed in some grotesque fashion. To be fair, it's really not much different than the men, only they usually choose to cut off (or out) things like jaws and eyes instead of actually killing one another.
Both the main characters, for that matter, are really no different than the side cast. For instance, Fujiki, the supposed "good" guy, incorporates bludgeoning deaths with large rocks in addition to his standard dismemberment fare. Save for their hyper sadistic personalities, none of the characters have any semblance of depth, as their only purpose is to glorify the bloodshed as some twisted form of honor or sacrifice or whatever the hell the writers want to say about the subject matter.
Shigurui doesn't have a great story. In episode one the events of the episode lead up to a climactic and controversial battle between two characters we don't know much about. It is done fairly well and pulls you in nicely. But, hate to break it to you, the story doesn't ever reach that point, and only gives a hint at how things escalate to that first episode, but it's not done well. The story itself then is presented as the inner workings of a dojo, and it's reltion to other dojo's. Later I guess there's something of a twist but it is hardly that, and makes it so we hear less of an enjoyable character. The events within the series aren't unique, and I should absolutely warn there is nudity, rape, and graphic violence, sometimes mixed together in messed up ways. The most that can be said about this series story is that it is dark and brutal, willing to kill, tear apart, or defile any character, and never pull the sympathy card. On the other hand it has moments of being trippy, confusing, and hopping around scenes/times too comfortably for it's own good. The even bigger issue with this is that it doesn't lead anywhere, really. Yes there is a climax but it doesn't do anything in the way of emotion, and rather leaves you just sitting there, leaving you surprisingly unpissed with the garbage you just saw.
Good and graphic. Primary characters are done well and distinguishable. Generic samurai don't tend to look too great, because they usually get wasted. Women are fairly few, and look similar, especially as they are indiscriminantly raped which can cause issue. Action is all varied and fluid, no reused clips or redundancy. Colors and lack thereof are used in the animes favor.
Sufficient, voice actors are fairly distinguishable. The music when there is some is nice, and sound effects are good.
The characters in Shingurui were a mixed bag. Most so unmemorable you would not remember their names, and only recieving the development of their names being spoken, their character design, and a single fight. Then theres Kogan, a monster, that's all there is to him. He is developed through his deploreable actions, how others speak of him, and his appearance. Theres Mie and Iku who are developed slightly more, and who certainly change throughout the series. And Most developed Fujiki and Irako, though Irako is definetley the more interesting and developed of the two, being the main pull through the first episodes. The anime has an odd habit of suddenly giving biographies on characters who may not even appear or be relevant, though sometimes are, even if they are ingloriously slaughtered that episode. This is both good and bad, in the sense, that it certainly shows us who these characters are, but can also come across as completely uneeded, sometimes particularlly so.
I don't know how Shigurui was as bearable as it was. It doesn't deserve to be in the 7/10 category, even though it is easy to watch and an overall acceptable experience. It has all the signs of being trash to ignore, but somehow the basic and weirdly executed story, dotted with it's generally weak characters worked as much as it could. Perhaps it's the anime not trying to make any likeable characters, and having every single one be a scumbag or insane, that makes us not feel like we are being fed crap. If your not a woman and want a graphic anime featuring nicely animated swordplay give Shigurui a shot.
The plot of Shigurui reminds one of test essays where the beginning and end is given and one has to fill in the rest. Is it that bad and simplistic? Is there no plot at all and the word has to be used merely in a euphemistic manner? Well no, but this anime is not a plot-driven experience. The story focuses on events occurring in a sword dojo where clashes, whether those of prestige or otherwise have to do with sword skills. Everything moves along with its protagonists and respective antagonists along with some external important events for the dojo that remain auxiliary. It serves its purpose but gives you a claustrophobic sense. On the other hand this can make you feel even more what it’s like to be in that world where swords are drawn to kill. However, the plot does not thicken as they say, nor is there a plot turnover. In essence, the events shown are only a few and the answer that characters give most of the times is to draw-and-slash.
Shigurui would be impeccable for the aesthetics its animation offers but the 3D additions ruin it in this aspect. I want to watch it without them even if they are a few and it still annoys me when they pop-up. Showing the muscled outlines of the swordsmen was great but certain gory elements; in example, the guts of a certain samurai should not have been exhibited. What you do not show and merely imply can have a greater effect than mere exposition. I also want to be able to eat when I watch an anime.
Mauling & bludgeoning, hacking and slashing, everything makes its way into Shigurui. People are cut, pierced, smashed and pulverized. Katana, wooden swords and other “tools” are not the only weapons used but also bare hands and at a point even rocks.
The music serves its purpose, to further sink your sense into an atmosphere of impending doom. Thankfully, there are no modern pieces making their way into the series but the music score becomes tedious. There are many nature sounds used as background “music” that further cement the sense that something awful will occur (sometimes that the episode will not end). But still, it’s a dojo full of butchers with swords, shit happens. Audio-wise it could have been worse and of course a lot better.
The various swordsmen shown in the series declare their personality through their outward appearance. There are no surprises. Wrong. There are some bad surprises. Especially when Fujiki Gennosuke does not protect Mie and of course Kogan, someone that is a Monster- Proprie-Dicti. Kogan is not just himself beyond any concept of demonic cruelty or devilish callousness, those obeying him fall in the same pot. Of course, the cruelty of centuries past has its place in such an anime but they commit crimes with no regret at all. There is also little or any character development but when depicting such murderous men one cannot dedicate scenes to depict sensibilities or true depth. Their personalities are in effect grotesque extremities born out of repression. Murder, kill, improve, serve the dojo, obey your father, your master, murder and be murdered. Pride comes out of servitude and out of being a better swordsman. Puppets with no spine of their own that viewers cannot co-identify themselves with.
To sum it up I would first have to mention that for now this is one of my favorite anime, largely due a few of its traits that are surprisingly enough to pull it up despite all the things that push it down. The things about Shigurui I liked so much were the sword-fighting scenes and its aesthetics. Yes, that much.
However, other than that it is truly wicked. The first time I saw it, I afterwards had to watch Bottle-fairy, Akazukin ChaCha and many other make-me-happy anime to get my equilibrium back. I got it back when I reached Mahoujin Guru-Guru. I felt claustrophobic pressure and was clearly grossed out. It rather reminded me of the truly chaotic evil anime, Ninja Resurrection. Shigurui needed some serious scene deletion.
On the other hand, it remains on the far border of mortal cruelty –no matter how awful to behold it is not like NR- and thus serves as a good reminder of what the samurai world sometimes was. A world of murdering sons of bitches!
However, the worse thing about Shigurui is not the ugliness it shows but the motive behind it. You realize that all its negative points are there because the creator did not consider that its other traits were worthy enough to exploit to give it greatness and singularity so he went for shock value.
WARNING: SOME SPOILERS.
With a name like "Shigurui: Death Frenzy," I knew this was going to be a bloody one. I'm a fan of swords and fighting and blood. But as it turned out, this 12-episode series was... surprisingly boring and hard to finish--i.e., I couldn't finish it; it was just too boring.
STORYLINE & CHARACTERS
The story sounded intriguing. Two master swordsmen are dueling at Sunpu Castle. One is a blind cripple; the other is a one-armed man. Theirs is a long, twisted, and violent history going back to their battle to become the successor of the Kogan sword style. It was a really interesting premise, which was what drew me to the anime in the first place. Unfortunately, the storytelling style was impenetrably minimalistic. (See below...)
The characters were all abominable and disgusting human beings. There was nothing to like about any of them, really. Flawed characters are fun to watch, but these characters were a little too flawed, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. For example, the Kogan sensei? Drooly, senile misogynist rapist who slices off nipples and wants his daughter to conceive a successor in front of him and his men? Really? You couldn't have any more nuance than that? The anime had little to offer in the way of human characters, which meant I found myself not caring enough to want to know what happens next. In fact, I kept praying that the bubonic plague would rapidly descend upon the town and kill everyone in it.
The animation in this anime was . . . minimalistic to say the least. A lot of still scenes, low frame rate, surprisingly little movement, extraordinarily slow pacing -- even in the action scenes. The anime was done in a certain style, trying to evoke beauty of some kind, but it really didn't work for me. I know what the director was trying to do, but he made it extraordinarily difficult to know what the hell was going on, and eventually I just lost patience. I like dark colors as much as any other gal, but this anime took dark and completely stripped it of color, which made everything extremely confusing.
First off, all the characters look very similar. Because of the lack of color, everything was gray, so it was hard to tell who was who. To make matters worse, the anime interlaces past scenes with distant past scenes. And everyone still looks the same. And the narrator, who at times is The Omniscient Narrator and at other times is one of the characters, sounds the same. So I pretty much had no idea what was going on, who just chopped off whose head, etc.
Well, not that I cared who chopped off whose head.
I also did not care much for the fight scenes. There was no fluidity to them. I understood that, again, the scenes went with the atmosphere of the whole series. The action often ended after one or two moves. That's fine with me. But . . . at least show what happens. The over-art-ing of the action scenes was just . . . annoying after a while. Yeah, yeah, he draws his sword so fast that the top half of the woman's head falls off and she doesn't even realize she's been decapitated. Blood sprays everywhere. Okay, yawn, whatever. Nothing to see here.
There was no music in this anime, which is all well and good and goes with the minimalistic art style generally. But good golly, the lone drums, the cicada calls, and the random plucking of strings got extremely annoying. With the extraordinarily slow pacing of the series, the anime could really have used some movement on the music end. Instead, we got slow minimalism all around, which really put me to sleep.
GORE & NUDITY
Many reviews of this anime commented on the unnecessary gore. I like sword and slash flicks, and I like my samurai action nice and bloody, and I usually like gore, and yet I still tend to agree with others who have said the gore was unnecessary. Did we really need to see a retainer tear out his intestines in the 1st episode? Did we really need to see the assistant master eat a woman's sliced off nipple? How did that contribute at all to the story?
The answer is "it didn't," which means it was pointless gore for the sake of being gory.
There were also a lot of pointless sex scenes, or implied sex scenes. Did we really have to see a random rape scene in the mill with the not-so-subtle mill-grinder-as-male-organ imagery? Did we really have to see the twin brothers butt-rape some random servant boys? Did we really have to see the Kogan sensei grope his own daughter's breasts? Again, what does it add? Everyone is already a deplorable human being. How much more deplorability actually adds to a character's characterization? While I appreciate that the women in this anime were not high-pitched annoying brats for once, the anime was showing breasts for the sake of showing breasts, and I just got fed up.
I was disappointed in this anime, which was recommended by several anime blogs I frequent for those who liked Ninja Scroll or Basilisk or samurai anime generally. Some reviews said it starts off slow, so give it a chance. Well, I forced myself to watch 6 of 12 episodes. I really did try to give it a chance, but I really can't see myself wasting another 120 minutes on the rest of this series. I just don't care enough.
And that's saying something. I absolutely hate leaving things unfinished. Even with Afro Samurai, which I also hated, I made myself finish before hating on it. But Shigurui and I really just did not mesh. Seriously, nipple-slicing and nipple-eating? No. JUST NO.