Shadow Skill is quite interesting when it begins, quickly having its own distinctive identity as a fighting series and setting up a story which may turn out to be amazing if handled nicely. And that is practically its downfall; it does very little with its own potential.
Shadow Skill is the name of a powerful fighting style, perfected along the years by slaves whose hands were always in chains. Thus all its power lies in somersaults and aerial foot attacks, while leaving the hands to be mainly for defense. In a way it shares the same origin as the funky Capoeira style, while adding some superpowers like sonic booms and bone cracking grabs. As far as the fighting goes, it is quite spectacular on a superficial level, as there is a lot of jumping in the air, using boomerangs, and binding chains, and smashing both terrain and skulls alike. Most of the songs are cool to listen and make the battles more exciting as well.
The problem here is the production values, which are not allowing the fighting arts to look as smooth and spectacular as they could have been and mostly end up feeling stiff or crude most of the time. Reused frames and static caricatures are all over the place, while the faces distort a lot during choreographies, something akin to what they did in Naruto battles (hiring different people for the battle scenes). It’s just Studio DEEN doing its usual lazy work and trashing its premises for retarded action and fan service. Well, there isn’t a ton of nude in it but surely, all those tight clothes, bouncing boobs, macho men, and cute girl sidekick can’t be ignored. But it doesn’t overdo it as much as the lack of realism in fighting, which in turn takes a lot away from the gravity of the backdrop story.
And yes, there is a backdrop story and I must say it is a decent one. The heroine Elle is the current practitioner of this style, and is also one of the four elite champions of her kingdom, thus her role is to protect the king from invading armies and other sort of internal issues such as raving monsters and powerful criminals. Along her travels an orphan boy she found in the battlefield, who is dead set on learning her style and fighting to protect all he loves. There are lots of scenes where the two of them share their worries and reveal their sad pasts, all part of a way of life where you need to fight for all sorts of reasons. And yes, typical to its genre all the fighters love to kick ass because it makes them be in control, gives them a sense of security, help them to find happiness through the thanking of the people they save, and so on. Elle is also not a peon of the king, as she constantly does things her own way, and usually acts very vulgar and undisciplined; thus she is a fine grey character. He adopted brother Gau also is interesting for slowly learning of how the world works and improving fast in the Shadow Skill. It has a very nice way of making you feel like there is more to the fighting; a serious aspect besides brainless action. And it is not just personal drama, as there is a sinister plan looming in the background, as evil fighters prepare to take over the kingdom by killing its elite protectors. Thus many of the seemingly stand-alone missions are in reality attempts to kill Elle and weaken the king’s defenses.
But as I said, it does very little to properly present all its ideas. Half the episodes feel like stand alone missions where we get to know the characters through their tragic pasts. And when the second part begins and the conspiracy starts to reveal, lots of stuff feel random and poorly executed. There is a super powerful man called Scarface, and he acts all mysterious and stuff, saving the heroes when they are in trouble before disappearing. He ends up being nothing but a plot device for cheap thrills. There is also the elite warrior of the conspirators, and he acts all mysterious before his goals are revealed and are just pitiful megalomaniac stuff. There is this chain-summoning girl dressed in green joining them midway as some sort of emotional support as well as a possible romance, but she ends up being useless and even a bother, as she constantly stands in the way of the fighting. And there is this invading army nobody can possibly stop when they otherwise can level buildings with a punch. The ending is also very rushed and even leaves things unexplained. Damn you DEEN; will you ever care to do it right?
And sadly, there are simply way too many shows out there that share Shadow Skill’s elements one way or another. When you think about Capoeira for example, you would easily prefer Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo over this. When you think about a practitioner of a deadly martial art, Hokuto no Ken is eons cooler. A woman with a tragic past roaming the land along with a boy and fighting monsters? Here comes Claymore. I could go on forever with these comparisons but down to it, this could have been a lot more than your usual half-baked DEEN travesty.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 5/10
General Artwork 1/2 (generic)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 1/2 (basic)
Animation 1/2 (crude during the battles)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (erratic)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (bad directing)
Conclusion 1/2 (solid but messy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Presence 2/2 (sexy/cool)
Personality 2/2 (cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 3/10
Historical Value 0/3 (none)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of the loose plot)
Memorability 2/4 (the drama was interesting but all the rest are rather generic)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 3/10
I would like it more if it wasn’t DEEN who animated it.
If you liked the OVA's you'll probably disappointed with this. Now while it does flesh out the story behind some of the characters and their personalities it manages to do so in a surprisingly dull and boring manner which takes alot of work with a fighting anime.
The animation is subpar and the style is somewhat weak. The fights are typically quick and unfortunately the moves portrayed never look impressive.
Long story short it was cheap. An anime that sells itself on fighting really needs only one thing to succeed well done fight scenes but this...just dropped the ball.
Right, it's confession time for me. If you have been reading my reviews than you may have noticed that I tend to rip the anime a new one. There is a reason for this though and it has to do with the fact that I can't turn my brain off when watching anime. I can't ignore the stupid shown in the anime and this is a problem as most anime are very stupid indeed.
In this case I'm not talking about a 90 pound girl catching a multi-ton cruise missile and throwing it back. Yes, it is stupid but it is a stupid that I'll allow. It's anime. Things like this are normal here and I'm pretty much fine with it. It annoys me to be sure but I will not rant about it.
So, having explained this lets rip into this anime shall we? Just a heads up: There will most probably be spoilers. The more I hate an anime the more spoilers there will be.
ART: This series is made in 1998 but it felt older. Maybe I'm spoiled by the art that we get today but it looked....dated. Fortunately dated does not mean bad and there are some definite plusses to be had. The action is shot beautifully and very easy to follow. Since action is a major part of the series this is very important.
SOUND: I really don't remember much of it but I remember not disliking it so I guess it was better than average? Voice actors did a good job overall.
CHARACTERS: Main character is Elle. She is a Sevalle (or sevaar, depending on the dub or medium), which is the highest rank a warrior can get in the kingdom of Kuruda. She has a habit of being broke, has a passion for liquor and loves a good fight.
Gau is an orphan that Elle took under her wing and trains as a fighter. He desperately tries to keep her in line and has a strong sense of justice.
STORY: Kuruda is a kingdom that is one of four countries tasked with gaurding Juliannes. For over 2000 years they have done this without fail against those who wish to destroy them. The highest rank a warrior of Kuruda can achieve is that is Sevalle and the latest Sevalle is Elle Ragu. She got the title as the youngest ever at 14 years and she is very skilled but she also has many problems. Helping her are some good friends and this is very fortunate as she can use all the help she can get since Kuruda's enemies are once again on the move.
RANT: I liked this series despite its many flaws and it is very hard to explain why. Every now and then you'll get an anime such as this. You'll like it but you don't know why.
I had the same problem with Haibane Renmei. I love that anime but I couldn't tell you why if my life depended on it.
As for characters I must say that more often than not the side characters are the most interesting. Diaz is my favorite character of the series and his final battle is the best one of the entire anime.
Of this series all I can say that you'll will either like it or hate it. There is an OVA series.... Well, several actually but you need the non CGI one. It is 3 episodes long and it is in the same style as the main series. The 3 stories in the OVA also come back in the main series but it will give you a feel for the series. If you like the OVA then get the series, if not then leave it alone.