Looking at some of my previous reviews, it may seem that there is very little anime I truly enjoy. This is at least true for the past couple of months, and so Tenpou Ibun Ayakashi Ayashi (TIAA) a refreshing change from a recent selection of stagnated trash.
A familiar sounding storyline plays out like watching an overly enthused puppy. Eager to please, it bounces around excitedly, performing impressive tricks before the commotion becomes too much and an anti-climactic ending results in a puddle on the floor. Other reviews had me expecting the worst – the show was cancelled partway through and cut from 50 episodes due to a lack of viewing figures. Sure, the finale isn’t as strong as the predominant part of the show, but overall TIAA is an enjoyable journey from start to end.
Expecting the tripe “spirit-fighting” shows typically produce, I was pleasantly surprised by something that had more in common with Mononoke and Mushishi than fillertastic Bleach. The intelligent use of words as weapons is fascinating, especially the awakening of characters who use the meaning of their names to brandish new and remarkable armaments. The engrossing action scenes contrast beautifully against a slow-paced narrative backdrop, and the adrenaline starts pumping during the impressive battles against the diabolic youi. As impressive as the fights are, they are not what will have the viewer coming back for more. Instead, the unfolding back-story for each of the Ayashi team in short, snappy arcs reveal some startling events; showing the heroes to be mere mortals and a darn sight more affable than other shounen stars.
Set in the Edo period, the writers make clever use of history and colour it fantastical; with possible scenarios, such as famous faces coming to power, now involving the demon-hunting Ayashi, they incorporate various levels of the Shinsengumi task force and add the mystery of the demon-spawning “other world”. Unfortunately, the climax takes generous liberties to help bring the show to a rushed close, causing the underlying facts to err more towards fiction. Some of the initial charm of TIAA is lost to a barrage of plot threads colliding in a messy finale, and would definitely have benefitted from a second season. Being maybe a little too forgiving of this untidy fact, the first seven-eighths are some of the most impressive anime story I've seen in a long time and influence my overall story score. Also, expecting the finale to fall flat on its ass and finding it to be more than palatable, I feel that this show is definitely a diamond in the rough.
Utterly stunning visuals in the first quarter of TIAA soon give way to mediocre animation as the show suffers significantly from the budget cuts. As the fantastic CG youi initially blend seamlessly with an animated background, their fluid and natural movements become hampered as the monsters are downgraded to being hand-drawn. The character designs are consistent and definitely a plus to the show, their emotions conveyed brilliantly through Bones' pointy nosed animation and a colourful palette. If the composition had remained top-notch throughout, the animation would definitely have rated a 10.
I am a complete sucker for an excellent soundtrack, and TIAA offers exactly that. With an up-tempo J-rock track opening the aural furore, much of the incidental music is traditional Japanese shamisen that matches the show’s ambling pace. The director seems to have perfectly chosen an audio accompaniment to the visual fluctuating momentum of the show.
One thing surprisingly enjoyable in TIAA is the father-daughter type relationship between the protective Yuki and the captivating Atl. The strength of the pair as they struggle to resist the compulsion to revisit the other world is a must see, especially the hints of a tentative romance. Whilst forbidden affairs like the one portrayed in Solty Rei usually turn me off, the handling of this pair goes beyond a physical desire and more into a mutual respect and understanding.
A balanced team dynamic is brilliantly enforced by a wide selection of disparate characters, all of whom have a murky past. For an action title, there is also a surprising amount of development, and each of the personalities is treated to their own arc in which their reactions and disposition are explained by previous experiences. Even minor parts don’t feel neglected, giving TIAA one of the richest and most endearing casts I have seen since Baccano.
Ghost Slayers Ayashi is yet another good example of how trying to be different does not automatically create an enjoyable show. A memorable, perhaps, but rarely something you will look forward to watching the next episode.
The first major problem with this anime is it’s story. Not only it is episodic to the most part, when it later on tries to have an on-going plot, it rushes to finish it in a most distasteful way. I hear it was cut short because of poor ratings but that is not an excuse; if it had an on-going plot right away the ratings would most likely be satisfactory and it would have double the duration to develop the main idea.
Speaking of the main idea, it is also problematic. It has to do with ghost busters you see. Jap-style. There are dozens of shows around the same concept and trust me when I say this one is one of the most boring ones. The battle scenes are completely dull, lacking interesting choreography or exciting events. Do you believe I was yawning while watching a tremendous supernatural war for the salvation of Japan?
The basic idea in the battles is basically the only notable feature of the whole show. The main hero can transform people to weapons, based on the meaning of the kanji that make up their names. Thus if you happen to know Japanese, you will probably get some kicks out of how grammar becomes part of the action. In the event you are not though (which is the most likely) you will find all that more confusing than exciting. It’s like you are supposed to go study history, philosophy, mythology, Japanese language and oriental traditions just so you can follow the action … which is dull to begin with. I don’t know about you but for me a battle is not a school essay; I want to understand it easier AND be exciting. For example, Neon Genesis had weird symbolisms behind everything and yet it had amazing robot action. Katanagatari was also playing around with meanings of Kanji yet had cute girls, troll events, and fairy tale visuals. Well Ayashi doesn’t have all that; it is plain boring. Not even the whole people turning to weapons is that special if you have watched Soul Eater.
Yet it’s not that the show is badly made. In the contrary, its production values are very good, the setting is very detailed and atmospheric, the soundtrack is fitting the era. And its characters are developed through the use of the kanji/weapon transformation gimmick, thus they are not shallow and mediocre. In theory it plays out wonderfully but it’s simply NOT ENTERTAINING for most people (me included). It just tries to play it special by having grammar instead of people yelling and mountains crumbling, as it usually goes. Well good for it; I bet it will be a hit in Japanese-learning classes. Not on mainstream tv though. The whole thing reminded me of that other show, Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto, which was supposed to be highly historical and atmospheric yet it played out as nothing but a goddamn snorefest of a thousand names and events that had nothing to do with a cursed skull trying to eat up Japan. Yeah, very motivating to learn history just for a plot my little nephew can come up with.
This is one of those shows critics will most likely praise for its unique feeling yet the Average Joe will most surely drop after a few episodes out of lack of sympathy. A theater play is not good if the script is well written; it also requires from the audience to like the characters and be able to follow the story. Trust me; I have taken part in theater plays myself and most people remembered and cared about the vivid performance of a few actors and practically nobody understood a thing about the scenario. And this is the problem with the anime. It is hard to follow and doesn’t motivate you to persist into understanding it. So no, bad choice for casuals yet the weird art design or culture studies people out there will definitely like it. Not me; I like my action to be about swords and sorcery. Not kanji calligraphy for Pete’s sake!
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 7/10
General Artwork 2/2 (looks atmospheric enough)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 1/2 (basic and blunt)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 2/2 (kanji calligraphy)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (dried up but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 2/4 (typical)
Sound Effects 3/3 (eerie)
STORY SECTION: 3/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 0/2 (very dull)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 0/2 (nothing there)
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 2/2 (overblown but strong)
Catharsis 1/2 (weak but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 2/10
Historical Value 0/3 (none)
Rewatchability 0/3 (no reason to rewatch)
Memorability 2/4 (good ideas but nothing much worth remembering)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 1/10
Art 0/1 (looks dull)
Sound 0/2 (sounds meh)
Story 1/3 (good ideas but dull presentation)
Characters 0/4 (they are forgettable)
Anybody remember the name of Sho Aikawa? Well, people who follow anime and especially manga knows him from doing scripts for Fullmetal Alchemist, Martian Successor Nadesico, Gad Guard & Violence Jack to name a few but with this wholly original idea from him, it actually has a peak of interest in one anime connoisseur to another but once going in, should we be quick to call this a classic in the making?
Anyway, in the 14th year of the Tenpo era, there was a secret shrine for “Bansha Aratamesho” (a research institution for foreign literature and learners)...more under the city of Edo. To the public, this organization was punishing the scholars who studied the Western Culture. However, this organization's true mission was far more significant. Bansha Aratamesho was responsible to slay the “Yoh-is”, the evil spirits with flesh and blood from another world, that were expanding into Edo. Bansha Aratamesho is not an official organization. Members do not have the typical credentials to be the vassal of Shogun. It consists of a man who lost his memory, a man who was raised in a mountain and a girl who dresses up in a man’s outfit. Their special powers are yet to be known, but they all have special abilities that help slay the Yoh-is. The code name given to them is – “Ayashi”. Ayashis collect all types of information that seems bizarre. With thorough investigation, they locate the Yoh-is and hunt them down.
Now this is where I got to share my problems with the series…..and the main problem is either the pacing issues in the plot, as in it is very slow and it will feel like you’ve been watching the show for half a day. The series does highlight Japanese calligraphy and word study if you interested in learning the language itself and some historic facts often show up in the show, much like Hetalia does sometimes and while it is informative and I will give them merit for that, this series sells itself as an action series and yet the action isn’t up to par to being exciting, it’s just there and it does the pattern of an “monster of the week” plot and for the main storyline does suffers of you trying to keep up and not drift asleep to it. I can see why the series was originally supposed to be 50 episodes, but due to low ratings in Japan, they decided to can the series with only 25 episodes and 5 OVA episodes entitled “Ghost Slayers Ayashi: Inferno”, which I don’t think concluded the series to a satisfying finish.
The characters are honestly very unenthusiastic and dull, and you couldn’t care less about what happens to them. You got Yukiatsu Rydou, the main character who’s a vagrant and has the power of the Ayagami and he was a relatively okay character but I was never completely invested in any of the characters, not even the cross-dressing member of the group Genbatsu Edo or Saizo, the female warrior of the group who dresses like a man and possibly Atl and she is summed up to be the damsel in the group. The other characters are too forgetful or unimportant to mention.
The animation and production values from BONES are remarkably well. Even though I thought the action scenes just felt like it’s just there so you’ll be awake, it was well-animated and the art style of the characters, minus the Yoh-is (they were more “meh” rather than threatening), was acceptable and feel smooth overall. The music of the series was the standard feudal-Japan era BGM and it was done fine but the opening and ending songs are just generic J-Pop tracks that I’ve heard too much in anime and I would just skip them every time I watched an episode, to be honest.
And then there’s the dub by Bandai/Bang Zoom and like the series, it was lacking in the writing department but the dub isn’t bad, it’s just dull and yet the dub has some of my favorite LA-based anime voice actors (Steve Blum, Crispin Freeman & Stephanie Sheh) and even they can’t save this show and that’s the hard thing about it. Maybe Crispin Freeman voicing a cross-dresser help a little bit but the script was written to be straight-laced, no intentionally funny wits and not bullshitting around; and I thought that the script should’ve used a little bit more humor to even it out.
FINAL VERDICT: I’m going to be straightforward about this show…..AND THE FACT THAT IT IS BORING!!! It’s one of the shows that had some potential but it kept on stubbing some toes along the way. I’m very sad and disappointed for this and I wouldn’t recommend this show to action/samurai fans but I’m not going to fully discredit this series and if you like some of the history facts about feudal Japan and calligraphy, then it’s your cup of tea.