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)
I have to say, aside from the nice looking animation this may be one of the worst anime I've ever had the dissatisfaction of forcing myself to finish (because Im an ocd "otaku" and have to finish an anime once Ive started it). The story is pretty random and all over the place, the character development is nonexistant, and the pace is unbearably slow. Save yourself and go watch Basilisk. If you watch this, the time of your life that will be wasted isnt refundable. You've been warned.
Death Frenzy is not for everyone, that's for sure.
Fans of samurai anime will be desperate for a faster, more coherent storyline with constant battles, and fans of mega violence will likely find the story bland, disjointed and missing vampires. Shigurui is a cruel snapshot of a twisted rivalry set against the backdrop of the worst feudal Japan had to offer. Females and males are sexually exploited for recreation. Loyalty to master and clan is bred and enforced with cult-like methods. This is not Bleach, Hellsing or Ninja Scroll. This is an artistic experiment that pays off for a select audience. It just so happened to resonate with me, but I can see how this would be hard to swallow for most. If successful, I hope to warn away buyers who would hate it and help to save their money, and attract that select audience I spoke of. Let's get to it.
Resembles Ninja Scroll (movie), but more detailed and reserved. It's dark, moody and packed with cinematography that resembles films like Citizen Kane, There Will be Blood and Kurosawa's grimmer exploits. The human anatomy is a focal point and brings the viewer uncomfortably close to the violence. There are lots of cutaways of dead cicadas and water dripping from bamboo, which would seem like boring gimmicks to some, but meaningful paintings to others. The nudity is not fan service, but instead drifts between tantalizing and humiliating, once again, with anatomy and cinematography being king. If you're a big fan of art themed in feudal Japan then this is a must watch, unless you're turned off by intrusive, disturbing imagery.
The music is a combination of traditional Japanese instruments and terrifying tones that force scenes to linger and hold tension. It creates an extremely effective audio narrative that insists on a constant feeling of dread. In unison with the dynamic imagery, it achieves a hypnotic effect that keeps you spellbound and nervous. On the flipside, I can also see how it can be considered a gimmick or effect (style in place of substance). I was spellbound and nervous.
Death Frenzy is about two samurai who are fated to be obsessed rivals. Their dojo becomes the backdrop for their plans against one another and they each develop a special style of martial art or "kill move" that's been forged by their own suffering. The master of the clan is a wicked old man that slips into dementia seasonally (like a hibernating bear), urinates on himself, uses his daughter as a sounding board for his sick impulses and is the keeper of truly threatening secrets of martial arts. Everyone obeys him out of fear and respect. *BUYER BEWARE* This series has NO ENDING. It's resembles "Berserk" in its narrative. If you follow along only to see who the better warrior is, you will be disappointed. The purpose of the series is to show what it takes to make these two monsters of combat. It's up to the viewer to theorize who would be victorious. Did I want to see them brawl to the death? Oh hell yes. But I respect the creators choice.
Despite respecting the artistic integrity of the piece, I would like to have followed these two warriors all the way to the end. I wanted to see what kind of life could be livable after such horrific upbringings.
OVERDOSE OF STYLE:
I loved the style of this show, but even I grew tired in some areas, and wished for a less disjointed narrative and more concrete explanations. Having to interoperate every single shard of this story as its own painting was taxing, but necessary to understand what the creators were trying to do. Its beauty is its fault, I suppose.
All in all, I was deeply moved by this work, but would recommend it sparingly. It truly is a painting. For me, the Mona Lisa is just a well painted picture of a half smiling, sleepy chick, but to someone else, it's a window into the soul of an era. It's about personal perspective with Shigurui. If you're curious, take the plunge. If not, walk on to safer anime. I hope this helped.