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.
If you can watch Shigurui and derive even an ounce of pleasure out of the experience, I highly recommend seeking mental help. To be blunt, and I don't think any other terminology fits, the series is utterly fucked up, and I don't see anybody but sadistic sycophants enjoying its presentation in the slightest. The only, and I repeat only, reason I chose to watch this through in its entirety was to spare others the mistake of even considering it, and even then I employed very liberal scene skipping through its gory parts. By all means, if you brand yourself a remotely dignified or respectable person, steer as far clear from this filth as possible.
Author's Response to Years of Comments:It amazes me that after all these years this review still gets comments, and that people still continually miss the point. I will grant people that, as has been said, this is probably the "least objective" review I've ever done (God, must we continue to have this discussion?), but the point of reviews is not to be objective.
You can play sophist or semantic games and call things "works of art" to dismiss any and all rational critique of them, but when push comes to shove Shigurui's faults have nothing to do with the fact that it's an anime. I'm well aware that there's plenty of sick shit out there when it comes to gore (as a fifteen year veteran of the internet, I've seen a-plenty), but this show isn't just about gore: it tries to sell absolutely terrible animation with a few random good stills, a bludgeoning use of music and voice acting as "poetic license", a completely unintelligible story, and zero character development entirely on shock value. The thing is, Shigurui isn't dark or shocking, it's just plain idiotic, trying to sell garbage like rape scenes with senile old men as cool, innovative, and/or historical takes on the anime scene.
Take out the fact that I personally find artistically glorified rape and pointlessly excessive gore reprehensible (hint: in other reviews I've said I don't mind gore *as long as it's cogently applicable to a story*) and Shigurui is still a bottom-of-the-barrel production. While if I had to redo this review in current times I'd probably use slightly less inflammatory language, I think the point largely still stands: dig your head out of the sand long enough to read into the full array of critiques the review makes and the score is rightfully justified.
Lastly, keep in mind I wrote this review shortly after Shigurui came out when I found a great many sites selling it as a "realistic samurai anime". My review was largely to debunk the false pretense that it had anything to do with samurai realism and was, instead, just a sick, mind-numbing piece of pseudo-historical bunk. Write rape scenes and gore into a story, by all means, but attach it to substance if you want any form of respect from a critic. The actual samurai period was no doubt bloody and unpleasant, as is most of human history in many parts of the world, but if you're only meaningful contribution is "INTESTINES AND SEX! TEENAGE SELLING POINTS!" then take your business elsewhere.
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.
This is the quintessential cult anime. Many viewers will be alienated by this bleakly misanthropic gore-fest - however, I do recommend this to those who feel they would actually enjoy the experience. I found myself completely horrified but eagerly awaiting the next episode, and in the final analysis Shigurui is easily my favourite blood-and-guts anime.
Enjoy, brave warriors - and bring your vomit bags.
Did he just cut a rice grain in four? … That was on top of a woman’s nipple???
This is not a mainstream anime. It does not have characters with multi-colored, spiky hairstyles. It does not have girls hitting boys and making fun of their sexual tension. It does not have laser beams, voice-dependent special attacks or transforming swords/warriors/animals. It is quite realistic in depicting life as it was in the feudal era. And yet, it is still not completely historical as everything in it is plain madness. Enjoy … or better say … gasp with it.
It looks freaking realistic! And packs numerous imagery concerning bugs, fabric decorations and cultural symbols that simply make every scene to seem like a psychological dive into the disturbed minds of the protagonists. Oh Madhouse, you beast; you are undoubtfully the king of anime shows.
Although quite alienating for the average viewer, the characters look and act appropriately for such a show. They don’t have any weird cloths or tattoos to attract the average eye. They stare, make facial expressions and move in ways that is quite reminiscent of dramatic theater plays. And yet, when they fight or have sex, you feel like they are real people, with body features and internal organs showing up as real as hell. Of course, all these are depicted in pretty grotesque ways. I mean, women are practically tortured and raped, while shown naked or in bondage. And when someone is decapitated, it’s usually not from a cut in the neck. The upper part of his head is sliced diagonically and falls to the ground while staring at us with empty eyes… Brrr! Internal organs splatter from someone’s belly on the ground… Yikes! Fingers snap and are shown deformed with a close-up shot… Puke! Definitely, not for those with weak stomachs and a high esteem of righteousness.
This is also amongst the very few series that really went into all the trouble of reconstructing the society, as it really was back then; both in historical and in cultural aspects. So, how can you NOT like the backgrounds? There were even feng-sui decorated sand yards, for God’s sake!
Visual effects are great too. Although there is way too much black in this series, even the slightest ray of light or shadow screen is there for a reason. Amazing camera angles and shots, atmospheric depiction of emotions through lines and eerie colors. A wonderful presentation that really gets to you.
Voice acting is generally flat, meaning it doesn’t have squeaky voices or young males voiced by women. And if you think about it, they really were talking very serious back then, all the time. No idealistic bullshit monologues about perky youths talking about saving the world in the name of justice. Obedience! Manner! Principle! Order! Only military-inspired themes are present.
BGM is full of actual musical instruments of that time and traditional music are heard all the time. No anachronistic J-pop or rock themes exist here. Swords sound like swords, as accordingly does everything else. They really put you in the mood to pay attention.
A minus is the use of stale images in order too “freeze time” and inflict emotions is overused to the point of yearning for some action to take place. Not that it is a series of frozen pictures. It is just that it overdoes it in this department. You can skip entire minutes without missing something important (other than the attempt to be sucked into the scene, that is).
Two handicapped samurais are ordered to fight each other for the amusement of their lord. A flashback occurs, showing the events that led to that day. We see how they were raised, trained and made to be ruthless and heartless… Is it much of a story? Not really. It doesn’t excuse 13 episodes with just that. In fact, the pacing is ssssssslllllllllllllloooooooooowwwwwwwwww. It is 90% atmospheric build-up and 10% actual plot. It sucks you in completely, but refuses to let you go, even when you start to get bored or overly disgusted. A thing that might alienate you is the fact that many events are there only for shock effect and play no overall purpose in the story. Rapes, tortures and twisted imagery are there to make you feel bad but otherwise they are not part of the plot. Plus, no ending. The series ends without even getting to the part when the two main characters fight in the first episode. Another case of stopping a series, while the manga was still under production.
Fun fact: It is directed by Hamasaki Hiroshi, who also did Texhnolyze and Steins;Gate. I sort of see his distinctive style in all three titles, so in case you liked it make sure to check out those too.
Imposing, at the least. Emotionless expressions are excused and the martial forms they use are simply mind-numbing. Not to mention the multitude of nude and mental torture they inflict to one another! They are also crazy! Lunatics! Coo coos! None of them will make sense to an average viewer, who is ignorant of autocratic societies. Still, if you do take into account the fact that the people back then were living just to (usually brainlessly) give up their lives for one of their master’s self-centered orders or train like crazy in order to become artists in their respective fields, then all this psychological madness is excused.
Women that are treated just as sex toys and breeding machines?! Yes, why not?
Samurai that fight to the death, just to please their insane master?! Sure!
People gutting themselves just to show how against they are to an order? Definitely!
This is Japan for you people! These things really happened. They are excused. They are overdramatic but excused.
Sadly there isn’t much character development. Everyone is there without much explaining and all the training and the events simply make them crazier, not different. The lack of a conclusion also means a lack of catharsis; so don’t expect anything amazing by the end of the day.
It is very shocking and memorable but the lack of an ending and the slow pacing damages the whole a lot. You will skip a lot of scenes if you ever bother to watch it again and even then you will have little to no motivation to keep going, since the only driving force will be the shock factor you already got over. So nice watch as something out of the ordinary, but it could have been far more than this. It did manage to make me fell like shit and appreciate the freedoms and sanity I enjoy today. But the incomplete story, the tooooooooooooo slow plot and the overuse of violence and sex to the point of feeling totally pointless and petty, really spoiled this deliberately bad feeling I got from it.
Berserk, Rurouni Kenshin
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
General Artwork 2/2 (realistic)
Character Figures 2/2 (realistic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (detailed)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 2/2 (artsy)
SOUND SECTION: 10/10
Voice Acting 3/3 (serious and realistic)
Music Themes 4/4 (fit like a glove)
Sound Effects 3/3 (great)
STORY SECTION: 3/10
Premise 1/2 (simple)
Pacing 0/2 (way too slow)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 1/2 (so-so)
Conclusion 0/2 (doesn’t exist)
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10
Presence 2/2 (imposing)
Personality 2/2 (extreme)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 0/2 (close to none)
Catharsis 0/2 (doesn’t exist)
VALUE SECTION: 5/10
Historical Value 0/3 (none)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little plot)
Memorability 4/4 (extremely gorish to the point of forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 6/10
Art 1/1 (looks great)
Sound 2/2 (sounds awesome)
Story 1/3 (feels simple, slow and incomplete)
Characters 2/4 (they are memorable bastards but lack development and catharsis)
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.
I'm going to start by saying that I've seen the entirety of this series, about three times. I can not actually boast that about a lot of shows, especially given the amount of time passing between watching it. This being my first review, I want it to be accurate and developed.
As far as sound goes, I've watched the dubbed version, and can find nothing wrong with the voice acting. It's one of those things that I typically can disregard so long as it isn't of a particularly annoying level. The music in the opening had me interested. I've always liked instrumentals, as they are different from the vast array of j-pop/rock openings that seem to be the norm these days. The effects are fine, and I don't much care that there is a lack of music for every scene, and honestly...that's a poor reason to dislike an anime. Crap music bringing good anime down, I can understand, but if it just isn't present, what does it matter?
The animation is smooth and fine. It takes something pretty god awful to make me think less of it, and if it provides a good story, then it can be overlooked. At least in this case, I think that they did a good job with the animation. It's as crisp as most that I've seen of its style, gore or no.
So, those are the two least important things to me in terms of reviews typically. The story is unfortunately brief which is a slight downfall, but when you've read the manga as well, you come to have an appreciation for the fact that they remain incredibly faithful to the original source material, despite not going into the depth that it had, which may be why so many seem to think little of the anime. There's no real end, and that is a real slight upon it, which I will not deny.
The blood and gore never bother me. I understood early on that this was an attempt by the creators to depict a more realistic (rather than constantly romanticized) version of the way Japan used to be. I appreciated that instantly, and understood that to be the reason for sometimes over the top violence.
Every act had its purpose, whether it seemed superfluous or not. Even if it was to simply show how horrible conditions may have been for those living in this period. Women were objects, and so they appear thusly. If you are offended by this, that's proper, but that doesn't mean the anime is in the wrong.
If you are very sensitive to blood and guts, you will not like this anime. In fact, you probably won't even give it a chance based on that alone. If you are too sensitive of mind or ideology, you probably won't like it either due to the fact that it's honest about life in the era, instead of putting a shiny deformed funimation face, with glomping on everyone and just borrowing the time as an excuse to give everybody swords.
I think the problem with most of the people who had serious problems with this anime try to claim there's a lack of story or characterization, but there actually isn't. It just isn't the story or characterization you like, with too many horrible situations to make you feel comfortable with the fact that you're watching a rendition of history that most anime doesn't bother with. The characters seem silent and background, because when you live a certain life, one dedicated to subservience, your individuality (a quality that today is seen as the most important and misread things on the planet) is something you put aside. The story itself is nothing necessarily extraordinary, but I believe its delivery is.
Any time you base a story around a group of individuals whose entire beings are centered around the perfection of their martial prowess, you are going to have a story with strife, and violence. It is a single minded pursuit, and that is why from the first episode, you see the primary characters Irako and Gennosuke come to be rivals. Make sure you understand that there are no good guys really. While the anime does more to portray Gennosuke as the protagonist, if you go into it thinking he's a superhero out to save kittens and undo unquestionable wrongs, you're an idiot. He's a man who had nothing other than the life given to him by Kogan, and that life is slowly tainted, and then ripped from him by the manipulating Irako. Now, while he's portrayed as the wholesale villain, he isn't. He is no saint, but he is no more a devil than any other man in this anime who is a practitioner of the martial arts, and who belongs to the same caste as he.
Again, I think the biggest problem, is that it is a narrowed down view of the manga. The manga gives more insight to the characters mentalities, allowing you to understand their personalities a little more, and it gives finality and explanations that are left horribly unexplained in the anime. Still, having seen this first, I couldn't help but be intrigued enough to want to know more. That doesn't happen very often with me honestly.
To touch on the animation again for a second, I've seen complaint about the use of stills and virtually no "animating" or some such. The thing is, I think this was part of the style that put me in mind of some of the samurai movies I'd seen in my youth. There's a lot of still moments, dead silences, and action ends in a matter of seconds. No long and drawn out bull shit back and forth blade clanging. Quick, decisive but thought out matches. When animators decide to use stills for action sequences, I think it's because trying to translate speeds is difficult, hence flashing lines in the background, and such. Then considering the level of skill that most of these characters are supposed to have, I can only view it as a stylistic decision. I find no more fault with it than how many action anime have recycled or constantly repetitious (or even meaningless) action "flurries" that really don't translate much at all. I suppose not having to see things in constant motion just to keep my attention has never been a strong suit of mine.
Bottom line: can this anime be offensive to viewers? Yes, especially if you're easily offended by blood and anything that doesn't try to paint everything in a pretty light. You will come to dislike something about just about every character, and feel badly for a great many of the non-central ones as well. You may be disturbed by the violence, but as long as you don't let that cloud your ability to see why it is present, you should be able to keep along with the story. You will have strong feelings one way or the other about this anime (so it would seem judging by other reviews) and as such, I think that's a positive in itself. There are enough anime that are so mediocre that I just don't care at all, one way or the other. Hate, is even better than apathy. But hate is certainly not my feeling towards it. The story progresses slowly, but it does progress until that untimly and abrupt end, leaving those who have appreciated what was told thus far yearning for more, wanting to know who will win, and how they both came to be there. Seeing a bit of the end first and then going to the beginning was brilliant, but leaving out a vast majority of the middle was not. Do yourself a favor...use this anime as a sampler, and if you were interested, read the manga.