Although Basilisk is essentially Romeo and Juliet with Ninjas, it becomes more like yet another example of why death games are bullshit, unless they are called Battle Royale. The inherent problem they have is that they are never about the story or the characters; it’s about seeing people die and, supposed, feeling sad about them. Only thing, you can’t feel sad about them because they die too quickly, too close to each other, and you already know that they will die at some point, so who gives a shit? It ends up becoming more like a game where you are cynically trying to guess who will die next. And even that becomes boring after awhile because as the contestants lower in numbers, it becomes easier to guess right, while at the same time, more apparent to tell who is clearly better than the rest or more favored by the story writer and is going to win at the end.
Battle Royale is a very old manga by now, and yet nobody figured out all these years that it works so well, despite suffering from the same issues, because its contestants have no superpowers. They had talents which, to the most part, where within the realm of reason, and felt very plausible. Said talents were not giving them that much of a head start over everyone else, and were still things everybody knew they possessed right away. All other death games fail because they try to throw in so much supernatural nonsense, that it becomes impossible to take the whole thing seriously, or at least be made to think it makes sense or matters in the longrun. No sir, one can teleport, one can fly, one is immortal, and nobody knows the other guy’s powers until he is about to die. Although keeping your powers secret is fun, if keeping them hidden is the only thing that makes them work, renders pointless the kind of power you have in the first place. It doesn’t matter what strategy you use to exploit the other guy’s weaknesses, it only matters if you keep it a secret. So what’s the point of having crazy powers? You can have something as simple as a hidden dagger in your sleeve, and it wouldn’t make any difference next to a guy who shoots lasers from his eyes.
Not only Basilisk made that grave mistake, it also made it worse by having characters that look like monsters. Despite being a colorful bunch, the series revolves around just 3 of them; the main romantic couple and the imba immortal. They are the only ones you care for, not only because they matter to the plot but also because they look normal. The rest of them either are useless cannon fodder, or look like ugly mutants, accompanied by a silly voice and some really crazy ninja power. You cannot see them as people with some sort of drama surrounding them; you see them as Pokemons. Oh look, it’s the scaly guy who turns to water, and the bald guy who can walk through walls. It makes the whole thing seem like a silly kaiju movie from the 60s.
Even if you try to watch the anime as a spectacle full of action and gore, Basilisk is still pretty bad but not because of pretty colors and nice sounds. Visually and acoustically the series is quite good, with detailed characters designs, magnificent sceneries, moody music score, and interesting battle choreography. What ruins it, is the two ninja clans that are fighting each other to the death, not being balanced at all. They keep saying that they have equal chances of winning, and yet you constantly see the Kouga being obviously stronger and smarter than the Iga.
1) The Kouga lost half their people because the Iga kept the order of annihilation hidden for several episodes. As soon as the Kouga found out about it, they even the score, despite being outnumbered and unprepared.
2) The Iga were not wiped out right away, only because one of them is immortal. Half of the Kouga were killed only because they could not kill this guy no matter how powerful they were.
3) Two of the Kouga can kill anyone they want by simply looking at him. No Iga had the slightest chance against that.
4) The leader of the Iga is a crybaby who refused to do the slightest thing until the final episode. The leader of the Kouga is a badass who kicks ass right away.
You know which team is going to win right away. And no, death games are not meant to be fair, or to have only balanced participants. It’s just that there is no challenge if it’s so obviously one-sided. And yes, there are many cases when the weaker guy wins, and it’s always because he kept his power a secret, or back stabbed a completely unsuspected opponent. It’s not a worthy victory, you cannot cheer for him, because he didn’t deserve to win. Not to mention how pretty much everybody in this show dies in a miserable way. There is no catharsis, they just die and kiss personal goals goodbye. And I am not saying that everyone deserves a heroic death, but it really makes the viewer not give a shit if the whole series is a monument of unfairness, based on imbalanced power levels which eventually mean nothing and overshadow any attempt at drama.
And wait, it gets even worse. Eventually you realize that none of them have control over their actions. They are all peons, controlled by the nobles. They never chose to fight each other, they were ordered to. Yeah, they did hate each other but they never took an initiative; they were always waiting for orders. And if you think that makes them noble because they were loyal to their masters, that assumption crumbles as soon as you see how they try to kill their opponents by cheating. As for their masters, it’s not like they are better either. Aside from being nothing but an excuse for the whole extermination to happen, they don’t even care about their ninjas. In fact, the real reason they want the two clans to fight each other, is so they can exterminate both, as means to not be a problems in the future. Meaning, there was never supposed to be a winner in this stupid war; they were all meant to die at the end. So why were we even watching this show? To watch mindless drones killing each other because nobody wants them? What is the point of all this?
Even the show becomes worse as it goes on. The pacing slows down more and more, because the amount of people left alive become smaller as time goes by. It was fun at first because of the variety and the mystery surrounding their powers, but then you get to see less and less things, about less and less people, you already know everything about. Even the ending is a mess. You don’t really understand what exactly happened. All three remaining warriors were so hax (and so painfully obvious they would be the ones in the finale) that it’s hard to figure out how their powers worked against each other. And it’s not like it matter much either, since by now you feel like shit because you know you are watching people die because they are supposed to.
It’s so easy to figure out a way for how all this mess could have worked much better. If we had the stupid Iga being wiped out in a few episodes by the superior Kuga, and if our two lovebirds had run away from all this mess, we would have an actually good story going on, where they are chased by the Kouga, who are still supposed to be annihilated by the shogunate. It would still leave the show as a death game, while spicing things a lot, even after most of them would be dead. But nope, instead of this obviously better story I came up with in 5 seconds, all we got was a lukewarm death game, with Pokemon ninjas, unfair battles, and a boring finale. As expected from GONZO, the studio that can get the most brilliant premise and make nothing but a mediocrity out of it.