When their village was wiped out five years ago, there were only three young survivors: boys Shino Inuzuka and Sosuke Inukawa and the girl Hamaji. Through a quirk of fate, both boys share the same peony-shaped birthmark. Genpachi Inukai and Kobungo Inuta were raised hundreds of miles away as foster brothers, but they too share the same birthmark. When they went north as part of the army three years ago, they went to confront demons and came back forever transformed. Now the Imperial Church has come for Shino and Sosuke and they must find eight mystical gems and their owners or face a fate worse than death at the hands of the Church.
Source: Sentai Filmworks
Nothing about this show stands out much from average. Shino is an annoying, disobedient, overly angry, spoiled, and faux caring brat. He pretends he is a hero and cares for others but if others are hurt by someone he knows (sort of) or rather a negative version of someone he knows, he does not seem to care or have any kind of satisfactory or realistic reaction to such abominal crimes. This makes the story and especially the drama aspect fall very flat. Not enough edge to drama when the hero doesn't seem to care that his foe is a dispicable monster and never responds in a manner befitting revenge or justice or to save others who are so adversely affected by this monster (or the prime motivators for fighting evil). The story primarily centers around Shino and Sousouke, his erstwhile adoptive foster brother. The flashback montage is very vague and cryptic, it could have used more solid footing. Every other character is no more than a support character though we do get quite abit from the shadow monster, Satome, and the two demons, and somewhat Hajime but aside from the first couple episodes, her story becomes dull and uneventful and rarely intersects with the major theme or plot of the series itself. I would almost say the same incompetent director that worked on Xmen 1 and 2, as both have a habit of not knowing what to do with a cast of more than a handful of characters or use them properly. Season one is pretty much Shino and Sousouke occasionally joined by one or more support characters searching for the tattoos and stone holders known as the 8 dogs, though oddly enough there is a cat, two demons, a tengu, two men joined by ghost women, and a crow/dragon. Only one of the 8 dogs is actually a dog, go figure. I guess such irrational nonsense makes sense to Japanese audiences but not to American ones and doubtfully to European ones. Though, I honestly find it hard to believe that even Japanese could swallow this as sensical. Hakkenden is at least tolerable enough to watch through once without feeling like you are at the dentist. Some animes do that to me. The animation is a bit on the overly girly BL overly pretty side. Even many of the male characters look alot more like women than standard fair. There is a faux BL situation that is never exploited fully or properly though the object of affection shows no sign of interest in BL. And the pursuer though says he doesn't care if he is a boy, often thinks he is actually a girl and will grow into a lovely woman. Many of the stories feel a bit more like side stories and offer little to do with the main theme. They could have made Shino a bit more moral and heroic and not such a whiny brat that annoys more than creates empathy or entertains. It is hinted he has other abilities such as talking to animals and befriending spirits and what not and that he is not human, but not enough is really done to pursue this angle. Though we do see a bit of the spirit thing we do not see any of the animal communication save the first episode or two. It has a few lost opportunities to make the show and characters exceptional. In the end it is maybe only average or possibly very slightly above average. It still resembles a manufactured anime though.
This review is for both seasons of Hakkenden, albeit the first is a little better than the second, it is anyway the same story. It's an average anime with several flaws, but all in all watchable and enjoyable. It's one of those anime that deal with spirits, myths, legends, sacred animals and reincarnated warriors from the past being gathered in the present. There's also a weird version of the Catholic Church which has an ambiguous role, sometimes aiding sometimes hindering the protagonists. The protagonists start off as three, Shino, Sousuke and Hamaji, who were the sole survivors of a disaster that hit their village and are now in the custody of the Church. Shino was saved because he accepted to let a spirit, Murasami, dwell within him - and this resulted in Shino not ageing anymore, so he has the aspect of a kid even if he is actually older. The three friends move to the capital and here the story is basically set in motion: Shino finds out that the two beads that he and Sousuke have are important and he is assigned the task to recover the other six. Each bead is obviously in the hand of a different person, so the cast starts increasing. I won't add anything else to avoid spoilers, but the story makes sense enough and there is a sort of "open ending" at the end of the second season, some things were left intentionally unresolved hoping, I guess, in a third season. Apart from the possibility to continue the story in another season, there are however several plot holes and things that are not explained, as well as characters who make an appearance but are then not developed at all. This makes me think that probably the story the anime is based on is much more complex and the creators didn't know very well how to condense it in the anime adaptation. So sometimes you get the impression that there isn't a very clear direction as to where the whole story is headed. As well as the distinct feeling that the bad guys have no idea of what they're really after. As for the characters, there are quite a lot. You have the seven "dogs" of the title, Sousuke's shadow, Hamaji, then there's the representatives of the four families; and nearly each character then has a sister or a guardian spirit or animal that further increases the plethora of secondary characters. The characters, main and secondary, are presented quite well, they each have distinctive features, personalities and a back story. As for character development, there isn't that much to be seen. The anime is primarily about Shino and Sousuke's relationship, so it's centred on their friendship, which pretty much stays the same during the whole anime. Sousuke looks after and looks out for Shino as an older brother would, and Shino is the spoilt and wilfull brat who needs to be continuously bailed out of trouble but who cares very deeply for his friends. And obviously if the two main characters are developed painfully little, even less so are the other ones. The antagonists also suffer from this lack of development which results in them acting in sometimes incomprehensible ways. This goes for Sousuke's shadow, but mainly for the bad princess and the Church whose motivations are unclear, and the little that is explained appears to be quite stupid. The animation and visuals are very good. The characters are for the most part all bishounen, which didn't bother me at all. As for the sound, no complaints. So overall, an average anime.
If you are starting out to watch anime, I would recommend this one in my list of many animes first time veiwers could begin with. Not only is the flow of the story itself perfect for the characters, the music,animation, and thee characters are beautifully done as well. The art style is top notch, and I really enjoyed every second of this season, and the next one as well.
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