Let me just say that like a few other reviews before this, this will be a very difficult anime to review.
There isn’t a great deal of information out there about Shura no Toki. The only major reviews I’ve seen have been the individual DVD reviews, or minor ones on various non-review sites. In addition, the descriptions I’ve read leave a little to be desired (and don’t really tell you the nature of the show), and I could find nothing visually either. It was for this reason that I decided to watch the series myself and add it to the AniRec, and review it. (The description in the AniRec entry took at least a few days to write! So difficult to come up with!) Shura no Toki, like Hi no Tori and a few other titles before it, is a very epic tale that spans several generations. While you might, at first, think the story focuses on a single character, it in fact focuses on the Shura as a whole. Now, unlike Hi no Tori, the story isn’t so epic that it spans thousands of years. Specifically, there are three generations of Shura members that we are introduced to, and each story happens only a few decades after the previous one. For the first two arcs, there is one character that was present in both, but the rest of the characters, for the most part, are totally different.
At first, it might seem like the stories are a little random, but they all have one primary theme: watch how a member of the Shura helps influence a specific historical figure or event in Japan’s history. The time of the Shinsengumi is one example, and a battle with Jubei Yagyu is another. It’s this aspect of the series that is a double-edged sword, and makes this review difficult to write. I’ll admit it: I’m no Japan history buff. I’m not the target audience of this anime, and probably most of you reading this aren’t either. To really appreciate this series, you need to know about Japanese history, who was in it, and what happened. For me, I’ve never really had a need to learn about such things so most of what was going on was foreign. Finally, around the last arc, I decided to go look up the names being mentioned online, and that made things make a little more sense. But if you aren’t willing to do this, odds are you will be quite confused and wondering what the big deal is with most of the confrontations; because quite frankly, with the exception of the third arc (and even it has some issues when it starts up), the arcs are very, very, very dry, boring, and feel like watching generic action anime #2349312.
So in general, I’m not sure what to rate this section and wish I could give two scores. For the first fourteen episodes, I’ll be honest: this was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to watch. Pulling teeth would have been more fascinating. Peeling off the skin on my arm with a toothpick (and then putting it into a ham sandwich and grilling it on my shiny panini grill to eat later... mmm) would have been more engaging. ANYTHING would have been better than Shura no Toki. Why? Because I was bored to tears. Absolutely nothing about the plot interested me. You have a very good mix of shallow characters that you don’t care about at all, "love stories" that "develop" over a few episodes that feel as flat as a concrete floor, and lots and lots of mindless fighting stances and action scenes. Oh yeah! In addition, there’s also a lot of scenes that involve the characters thinking about what moves they will make ala Naruto or any other multi-episode fighting series. We see no motivation behind the fights besides "hey, let’s see who’s the strongest!" (OH PLEASE NO STOP THE TESTOSTERONE FLOOD) or "hey, I’m a shifty eyebrow swordsman who wants to fight someone omg lol!!1!" I don’t care if it had samurai in it. It was BORING and totally uninteresting to watch. I continued only because I’m that dedicated to getting you guys good information about series out there.
But then, something happened. Episode fifteen hit. I’ll admit, I was expecting to finish the series kicking and screaming, wondering why I bothered wasting thirteen hours of my time on this garbage. Instead, the last eleven episodes surprised me and turned into something akin of the two Kenshin OVAs combined. The first few definitely weren’t very engaging, and a few still were reminiscent of the falling-asleep-out-of-boredom moments I was so fond of for the previous fourteen; but, for the most part, the story in the last eleven episodes really blew me away for how much it snuck up on you and made you interested and engaged in what was going on. The friendship between Ryoma and the member of the Shura was so real for some reason... and also so depressing (if you’ve read up on Japanese History, you can probably guess why). I think another part of my interest was that instead of a single fight with a single guy (the focus of the previous two arcs), the third arc shows us a very large and important part of history: the fall of the Shogunate, the time of the Shinsengumi, and many many large scale battles. Even for those who aren’t aware of Japan’s history, I believe this last arc will be engaging, interesting and rewarding. It definitely is the arc that made me feel emotionally connected with the characters, made me feel empathetic for the love story (for the first time in any of the arcs, since it was laughable in the previous two), and made me want to view the next episode quickly.
So how does one rate something like this? If I could choose two scores, I’d say a 3 for the first fourteen episodes (utterly useless boring fighting with virtually no character development and pitifully linked relationships), but probably an 8 or a 9 for the last eleven (not counting the few episodes in the arc that were still a little boring). Let me put it to you this way: if I had to describe each section of the series, I’d say that the first fourteen were like watching the boring episodes of Kenshin TV without any character development or motivation (so, it would be like watching only the fights in Kenshin with an occasional halfass attempt at a love story), and the last eleven are like watching the two OVAs combined. Since there’s no way of making two scores, I’m going to rate the story a 6 as an average, but only on the condition that you understand I am highly endorsing the last part and highly vomiting on the first part. If I was to recommend this series to watch, it would only be to watch the last arc without touching the first fourteen episodes, since I feel like they are useless and aren’t really necessary to see before the last eleven anyways.
I don’t have many complaints about the animation style, except the occasional cheesiness in the fight sequences. In general, everything was beautifully put together with fairly neutral tones (with the exception of blooming cherry blossoms and the like). If you are looking to watch anything that depicts what the time of the samurai looked like, this would be a good one to watch for that reason. Beautiful landscapes are shown to us, and in general the angles of the scenes were very unique and interesting. For example, in the first episode of the second arc, we see a man being attacked by a rogue band of samurai. All of the samurai are shown circling him and finally are shown close up from the side, standing in a row (this is one of the screenshots in the AniRec entry). Though perhaps a normal shot, the placement of the samurai combined with the glint of the steel blades and the gorgeous green trees make for a stunning image. Character designs were decent but did perhaps look a bit generic (each member of the Shura looked identical to the previous one, though that might have been the goal).
Definitely the best part of the animation would be the fight scenes. Part of the elegance of the Mutsu Enmei-ryuu style is that kicks and punches are done quickly and stealthily, and the fight scenes show that perfectly. We see battles end in a matter of seconds, and are then shown how the battle was actually won afterwards in a very slow motion flashback. It really is amazing how each Shura member takes down a skilled samurai with so little going for them except their fists and legs. These fights definitely were the highlight of the series; I just wish there would have been less introspective monologues with each character before they actually take two seconds to fight.
My only complaints are that sometimes the fight scenes were a bit minimal (such as a solid color behind the two fighters while they slow-motion run at each other, with some motion lines), and the fact that there were far too many flashbacks of things that happened in the previous arcs. Yes, I do remember the fight with Musashi. No, I don’t need to see it 85 more times in all the episodes, just to remember how kickass the Shura are.
With the exception of the last arc, I found the music to be decent, but ultimately uninspiring. Admittedly, I might have appreciated it more in the last arc only because I liked the story more, but that’s something to discuss another time. The music wasn’t bad by any means; it just felt a little generic and never really interested me more than a background accompaniment. A great deal was synthesized beats with the occasional Japanese instrument accompanying it, but a lot of the scenes opted for sound effects instead of any real tune.
Voice actors seemed fine for everyone involved.
Ah, another section that’s hard to rate. Again, if I could, I’d give two scores.
For the first fourteen episodes, I found myself connected zero to any of the characters. I’m not sure if this is because their stories spanned so few episodes, or because they were constructed poorly. The "love story" in the first arc, for example, is laughable. We see one episode where two characters interact, then in the next episode supposedly a few years have passed and suddenly the girl is in love with the character? Why? Why is she obsessing about finding him and telling him this? We saw no real development (except a leap of faith that we don’t connect to) and are expected to care about the connection between the two. It’s also hard to be empathetic when each member of the Shura (except the last arc) are fighting simply to be better fighters and don’t seem to care about anything else. Why, then, should we care about their interpersonal relationships (both with potential lovers and regular companions)? Had there been no attempts at relationships, at least the series wouldn’t have been kidding itself into pretending like there was more there than generic fighting. But alas, with the inclusion of these "relationships" it both watered down what clearly was the point of the series, and failed to impress the audience. We are given information as to the characters’ backgrounds, I guess to make us empathetic to what they are doing (especially in the second arc), but these failed to engage me as well. Who knows what was wrong, I just know the characters all seemed flat and boring until the third arc.
The third arc, however, kicked ass in every way, including the characters. Though Ryoma’s "cha cha cha!" irritated the hell out of me, he was a very likeable and developed character. His Shura companion started out seeming shallow like all the others, but grew to have a very deep and meaningful friendship with Ryoma, which made the story that much more tragic and emotional. In addition, the love story of that arc was epic and believable, unlike the others. Everything about the relationships and characters kicked ass in this third arc, including the secondary relationships that spawn later in the story. I’d recommend the same thing here as I did for the story section. Watch the last arc if you want character development, and don’t bother with the first few. I had such disdain for the first two arcs that I can’t give this section more than a 5. I found everything about the characters in those episodes to be pointless, so even if I’d score the third arc’s characters at an 8 or 9, I still have to give the overall score a very poor one.
How can I rate something so polarized? Something with such a terrible first half, and such an amazing second half? *Sigh*. In the end, I have to give a score that lies somewhere in the middle. Before watching the third arc I was convinced this would be a scathing review, ending up with an overall score of a 3 or 4. The last arc threw me a curve ball and would have received an 8 or 9 had it been by itself. Unfortunately, I’m in the position to rate both halves at once, so I must go with the average score.
Shura no Toki is not for everyone. If you are a big fan of Japanese history, odds are you’ll love this. If you like watching any fighting series, no matter how hollow the characters are and how lifeless the story, you’ll enjoy the first half. If you liked the Kenshin OVAs, you’ll adore the second half. I can’t really think of many folks who would like both halves, unless you like all of the things listed above.
So I guess my overall final comment is this: I was bored to tears with the first half of the series. I would recommend you watch the last eleven episodes without touching the first fourteen, but that’s just a personal suggestion. If you are looking for something beautiful that details the time of the samurai, look no further. If you are looking for something with great characters, watch the last half. Take what I say with a grain of salt and watch it for yourself. If you watch a few of the first episodes and don’t enjoy it, trust me, it doesn’t get better. Just skip to episode fifteen and watch a good story unfold. If you watch the first few and DO like it, you’ll enjoy the rest to come. Hopefully this review has been a little helpful if not two-sided.
A Quick Review
I would say this plot isn`t some much a plot of one story, but a collection of mini-series based on martial arts. It follows the Mutsu Enmei style over 3 different generations, and relates this fictional martial art to events that take place from the 1600`s up until the Meiji restoration.
The animation quality was above average, but I felt the fight-scenes to be a little bit lacking in continuity, even if they were the pinnacle of the animation in the series. Also, a small use of 3D CGI backgrounds made the animation seem a little unnatural in some places.
OP and Ending songs are good enough, but not much music within the series to take note of, the VA`s seem appropriate, and nothing particularly stands out. Neither good , nor bad.
First off, a lot of people don`t really like the characters in this anime; and I can understand that, because your exposure to almost every supporting character is episodic at best. However, the span of time that the anime covers is by no means brief, and the story tells various feats with a slightly different twist on history, but requires you to have some idea of who the historical characters are. I would say that there is just no way for you to get a deep look into characters and have them follow any sort of dynamic change that doesn`t seem ultra-superficial within that short timeframe.
I would say that the characters are by far the most enthralling aspect of this anime, particularly the 3 young male protagonists of the Mutsu family; In each story, they seem to have realistic qualities and evoke excitement during fight scenes, and sympathy upon death of their friends. The have a laid-back attitude, and aren`t big talkers, which leads to a mysterious aura about them at times. I thouroughly enjoyed seeing their triumphs and losses.
Overall, I found this anime to be a good watch, although if you are like me, you may be frustrated with the brevity of each of the stories and the way in which the plot skipped forward in time. Admittedly, they didn`t prolong fight-scenes unnecessarily, and events took place at a quick yet not-rushed pace, so the impact of each story probably added to my enjoyment of the series in the end.