Notice: Major spoilers are mentioned. Proceed at your own risk.
GONZO offers us yet another mediocrity with the name of Basilisk; yet another example of a death tournament where in the end there can be only one. Since the first version of this I watched in Highlander, the same problem occurs in all similar series I have seen since then. Why is there supposed to be only one live winner in the end? Why do you need to kill all others? Each version has its own excuse for the whole mess but almost every time it’s a piss poor reason. Death tournaments are always about forced drama around people who NEED to kill because if they don’t they will die themselves. It sounds ok at first but as I said the internal logic gets way off along the way. What if nobody wants to kill? What if they all team against the few that DO want to kill? By the end of it you feel more disappointed than entertained. Also, this marks the show that ruined the life of a new talent in the filed. You see, it is also Kizaki Fuminori’s first directing work. Instead of improving, GONZO turned his brain to mash potatoes and afterwards he directed the lame Afro Samurai and the complete flop X-Men anime. Even when not making garbage, that studio still finds ways to ruin the industry.
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Premise 1/2, Pacing 1/2, Complexity 1/2, Plausibility 0/2, Conclusion 2/2
It’s about two groups of ninjas ordered to fight one another to the death. In the end there can be only one group remaining. Not just one person; one team. The reason is that the winning side will decide the next emperor of Japan. Well, they will not point their fingers at someone and yell “him”, it’s more like each of the two sons of the former emperor bets on a different team and the winner gets the throne. The ninjas themselves don’t give a damn about the reasons behind the order. They just obey commands and have the excuse to test their powers against their greatest rivals. Sounds ok so far.
So in order for this tournament to be interesting by default, the two groups need to be equal in strength. I mean, what’s the use of ordering such a thing if one group is just rookies and the other are elites, right? The two feudal lords that gave the order based the whole thing in that single notion. They even chose the best ten of each team in order to make it fairer. Well, I’m afraid the end result is nothing BUT equal as the Kouga faction could easily wipe out the Iga faction if the order was given to them from the start instead of the Iga hiding it.
The problem here is not fair play. In the contrary, they are ninjas who are allowed to use any dirty trick imaginable in order to win. The problem is that both bragged to be better than the other yet in practice the Kouga are clearly superior. The reasons are clear.
1) The Iga kept the order of annihilation hidden for several episodes, managing to wipe out half of the ignorant Kouga. But as soon as the Kouga learn about it, they even the score right away despite being outnumbered.
2) The Iga have a member who is simply impossible to kill. Half of the Kouga were killed because they could simply not kill this guy no matter how powerful they were. That effectively made the Iga a single-man-team.
3) The leader of the Kouga needed to simply look at any opponent and that was enough to kill him instantly with 100% success. In fact, another member in his team is later able to do the same. 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.
So there you go; the game was pretty much one-sided to begin with. Although that has nothing to do with the viewer watching the series, by the end of it he will most definitely be dissatisfied with these facts. Everyone dies a miserable death, making the whole mess not likable. And nobody said life is fair and everyone deserves a heroic death. It’s just that whole series is a monument of unfairness, based mostly on imbalanced power levels which eventually overshadow the anime’s attempt at drama.
The story is not bad only at its overall feeling. The pacing is also erratic as well. In the beginning we have 20 ninjas, most of which get killed in the first half. The second half leaves us with only a handful, making the plot feeling slow and uneventful. Plus, as I said the above two ninjas were doing all the work so the numbers didn’t even matter after awhile besides toning down the action and your interest.
Even the ending is overall bad. I mean, come on, you could easily see it coming. If you knew from real-life history who the successor of the first Tokugawa is, you could tell the winner right away. And please, who else could be left for the end if not the above imba ones? And hell, how hard is it to see that monstrous characters are killed off first while more human-like ones survive to the end.
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 1/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 1/2, Catharsis 2/2
Which leads us another thing I didn’t like. Most ninjas look like circus freaks with all those deformities and mutations they had. These are supposed to be the result of their training but come on; it was making them look like cannon fodder mooks. And as I said, the more human-like in appearance survive to the end despite having equally or more powerful techniques so there is no excuse about their looks. It was making them plain stupid-looking.
What I have neglected to mention so far is the romance in the series. The leaders of both teams are in love with each other yet have to fight to the end. Why? Because they told them to. It is quite close to Romeo & Juliet one and even shares their fate. and it was supposed to overshadow the theme of war amongst the teams. But come on; it was hardly interesting. Was there the slightest chance they will fight each other? Especially when the girl can’t stare at a drop of blood without crying? I mean, if she was a powerful brutal fighter as well, ok, I would buy it. But as it was left to be I didn’t believe for a second they would cross swords.
Now the characters themselves are mostly ok. Very few are defined only by their signature move. Most get colorized even after their deaths through flashbacks. But in the end the series revolves around just 3, the main romantic couple and the imba immortal. Which effectively makes all the rest kind of useless in the long run since they all have the exact same goal and yet only these three are important enough story-wise. And as I said numerous times, if the story was fairer, the Iga would have been wiped out in 3 episodes and the rest of the anime would be about the main couple running away from all this mess. By default that would make the story more interesting. Definitely better than the expected lukewarm ending we got in the end.
ART & SOUND SECTIONS: 8/10
Analysis: General Artwork 2/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 2/2, Animation 1/2, Visual Effects 2/2
Analysis: Voice Acting 2/3, Music Themes 3/4, Sound Effects 3/3
At least visually and acoustically the series is quite good. The characters have been given lots of attention, and the sceneries are magnificent to look at, while the music score draws you in the mood of the story with success. Most battles have nice choreography and strategy based on exploiting weaknesses. Unfortunately there are lots of imbalanced power levels and thus most duels were rather one-sided from the start.
VALUE & ENJOYMENT SECTION: 4/10
Analysis: Historical Value 0/3, Rewatchability 1/3, Memorability 3/4
In all, Basilisk is a nice anime to watch but unfortunately doesn’t use its elements very good to produce something extraordinary. It is not a complete failure like most of what studio GONZO makes; it is in fact watchable but definitely not amazing. As a similar story, I recommend the Battle Royale manga, which manages to create a far more exciting setting without the need of ninjas and corny romances.