I am not a big fan of ‘historical’ anime, as they always seem to play fast and loose with the rules. Modern sensibilities, placed on a different era, sometimes equal a show that just doesn’t make it, either as anime or history.
“Shigurui” plays out more like a Kurosawa film, akin to “Rashomon” or “Yojimbo”, but the level of mayhem and violence places it within the realm of “Gantz” or “Deadman Wonderland”.
The story begins in 1629, as we are seeing a tournament between, perhaps, two of the country’s best swordsmen. However, they are using real swords and not wooden practice ones, so this will be a fight to the death.
The two men participating, Fujiki Gennosuke (who has one arm) and Irako Seigen (who is blind) not only have a history, but each has a history together. The show is a flashback as to how these two ended up here and in their current physical situation.
It all begins at the Kogen dojo, where Gennosuke is the star pupil and Seigen is the brash upstart who puts Gennosuke in his place. Kogan Iwamoto, the head of the dojo is, for most of the year, mentally unbalanced and is slowly rotting away, but for a brief period once a year, he becomes lucid and coherent and makes decisions that affect the dojo for the next year.
Seigen, blinded by his arrogance, carries on an affair with Lady Iku, who is looking for something away from Iwamoto. Well, the sensei finds out, which leads to their physical travails and both are sent packing. However, years later, Seigen comes back, seeing revenge by brutalizing the students of the dojo in savage ways.
This is a very natural-looking anime, but the savagery is disturbing, as it is more realistic. Hands are broken, mouths are cut, people are blinded, flesh is seared, and people are mangled. This may even unsettle the most stoic of anime watchers, but there is still a very good, solid powerful story beneath the revenge and cruelty.
There is fan service (a strong degree of nudity), but it is cold and hollow and empty. You feel nothing for these people, whose lives are already decided and they have no say in the matter, so when we see passion, it is like two robot toasters getting it on. Oh, she’s naked and so what? I feel this plays into the soulless nature of the show, but it is unsettling.
The one aspect of the show that really ticked me off is that it stops stone cold. I can read the manga to see how it turns out, but the anime gets to Episode 12, you figure, OK, one more episode, and it never comes. Are you planning a second year or have we decided enough is too much and split? Ugh.
On a scale of 1 to 10:
Artwork 10 (It all looks fantastically good)
Plot 8 (Even though it is a soap opera at its core)
Pacing 9 (Very deliberate and measured out)
Effectiveness 5 (Hampered by the abrupt ending)
Conclusion 2 (It stops dead in its tracks and that’s that)
Fan Service 6 (A similar show would “Mahoromatic”)
Overall 7 (Again, the hit-the-brakes end)
And remember, it’s first run until you’ve seen it. But do see it.