The Good, the “Basilisk” and the Ugly

October 19th, 2011 in Anime, Basilisk, General Reviews by

In European bestiaries and legends, a basilisk is a legendary reptile, reputed to be the King of Serpents and said to have the power to cause death with a single glance. According to the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder, the basilisk of Cyrene is a small snake, “being not more than twelve fingers in length,” that is so poisonous, it leaves a wide trail of deadly venom in its wake, and its gaze is likewise lethal.

Initially, you may not understand the reason for this title, but it will be made clear as the series goes on. This is also what I call AUHD (Alternate Universe Historical Drama). Very few of the shows based in the history ofJapanare ever historical or accurate. Most of them implant modern sensibilities on olden days, so you end up with shows like “Samurai Champloo”, “Gengoku Basara”, “Moeyo Ken” and “Oh!EdoRocket!” to name a few.

This doesn’t mean that the show is bad because it is not accurate, but, because we are in an alternative universe, we have hip-hop samurais or monsters freely walking the streets of Edoor a king whose horse looks like a motorcycle. It’s just a different take on things and “Basilisk” is another entry into this genre.

Shorthand says this is The Hatfields and McCoy Feud meets Romeo and Juliet. We are in the Azuchi-Momoyama period of Japan, and two rival ninja clans, the Kouga and the Iga have come to a cessation of hostilities after centuries of conflict (although there is still very bad blood between them). They forge a no hostilities pact that each grudgingly accepts, bound together by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who became the Shogun.

However, time and political pressures are brought to bear on everyone. About 15 or so years later, with the government tearing itself apart, Ieyasu dissolves the pact and orders each clan to send out their 10 best ninjas in a kill-or-be-killed, last man standing situation.

Kouga and Iga’s two young heirs (Gennosuke and Oboro, respectively) were betrothed to each other in the hopes that their union would finally dispel their clan’s long-seated animosity toward each other. That is not to be and they may be forced into killing each other, in order to resolve the issue once and forever. The stakes are enormous: not only are 20 lives on the line, the clan that slays the chosen ten of the other will be given favor for a thousand years, while the grandson they represent will be pronounced the undisputed heir to the Shogunate.

This is one stunningly good-looking anime, easily, one of the Ten Best. Even the ugly ninjas (and there are lots of really ugly ones in this show) have a kind of charm to them. Much attention has been lavished upon the ladies, with Oboro, and her immense doe-like eyes, leading the pack.

But do not let the beauty of the show lull you; this is violent and brutal and cruel. It is not enough to kill someone, but to let them suffer and writhe in anguish before death comes as release. The hatred and bloodlust rises to the surface as people get thinned out, the carnage manifest.

Each ninja has a special move or aspect to them, and it is represented in their physical appearance. My only beef with this involves Mino Nenki from the Iga Clan, who is BoBo-Bo Bo-BoBoBo gone wild, as he has a hair attack and what you think is a moustache is really nose hair. They say he is more simian in nature, but, no. Not for me.

Do we ever learn the reason for this clan hatred? Not really, but that works with the show. We have held these animosities for so long, we have lost sight of the origin of them and, perhaps, overstate or embellish stories so each side is presented as the monster, although you learn pretty quick which side is the untrustworthy clan.

I am not a big fan of pain and suffering and torment in animes, but this plays out more like a Kabuki drama. Even if you can guess the ending far in advance (and I got pretty close to pegging it by Episode Three), it still unfolds as though it were an origami crane. Devastating, heartbreaking and tragic, it proves that nothing ever really ends.

On a scale of 1 to 10:

Artwork         10 (Magnificent artwork and character design)
Plot                10
Pacing             9
Effectiveness   9
Conclusion      8 (It ends a tad weak, but it ends)
Fan Service     6 (A similar shows would be “Mahoromatic”, but it’s inconsistent)
Overall            8 (it’s that BoBo-Bo character)

And remember, it’s first run until you’ve seen it. And don’t look into the eyes.

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