Anime Review | Hakkenden (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Drew Hurley 05.08.2016

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Hakkenden (UK Rating: 15)

The Hakkenden story has been the basis for many tales and adaptations over the years, from stage plays and live action, through to anime. This latest adaptation is a bishounen/shoujo story torn right out of an otome game. Can this latest adaptation bring anything new to the table, though, and how will it fare with male audiences? This release from MVM contains all thirteen episodes of season one, in both Japanese and English dub, along with clean opening and closing, and Japanese commentary for some episodes. It's reaching British shores on 15th August.

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The original story is a massive work. Set during the Sengoku period, it followed eight children born from a princess and a dog spirit. The children were born as crystal balls; each crystal transformed into a child and these eight brothers were scattered through Japan. The tale followed the reuniting of the brothers and then numerous adventures throughout their lives. Much like how Dragon Ball is based on the classic Chinese tale of Journey to the West, Hakkenden is based on an epic Japanese novel series from 1812 called Nanso Satomi Hakkenden or Tale of Eight Dogs. This anime adaptation borrows some things from the source material but is very much its own piece of entertainment. After all, Dragon Ball and Saiyuki - amongst so many others - were based on Journey to the West but each told a very different story. Hakkenden has been adapted in many forms, including a very good '90s anime entitled The Hakkenden, a series worth tracking down for fans of that period as its style is a snapshot of series of the time.

This adaptation is very different to what has come before. Written by a shoujo mangaka, there are bishi boys aplenty who often drape themselves across the furniture. The story follows three survivors of a deadly plague that swept through their town before it was burned to the ground. These survivors are Shino Inuzuka (the protagonist), Sosuke Inukawa (his brother), and Hamaji, who acts as big sister and den mother to the two boys. During the disaster that befell the village, Shino and Sosuke lay dying but were given a second chance. A mysterious stranger offered Shino a way to survive, to take the sword of life - "Murasame" - into his body. Shino accepted, and the sword became part of his body, reviving him but cursing him with a body that would never age, stuck in his thirteen-year-old form while his mind continues to grow older, not to mention a prophecy that the sword will bring with it a horrible end. Shiro revived Sosuke, too, but with only half his soul, yet gaining the ability to transform into a dog.

Shino gaining Murasame drew attention to the trio after they had found a new home to settle at. Hamaji gets kidnapped and the pair must rush to her rescue in the capital city, but it seems she's safer than they thought. Taken in by the stranger who saved them after the tragedy of their village, the truth of who they are and just what happened is finally laid out to them. The crystal balls from the original story are beads here that mark their holders as divine beasts, and the brothers are tasked with tracking down the other bead holders. All of this back-story and explanation is delivered in fairly lengthy exposition scenes - a common and major flaw of the series. There are some superb story arcs and characters that are filled with promise, but each tends to feel like it wastes time on slow moments and conversations between members of the cast instead of developing the story.

The quest to find these bead holders is the basis for this first season and the cast that grows throughout is definitely the heart of this show, filled with likeable individual characters that each have a compelling story to tell. The strength of this cast makes the series feel like an anime adaptation of an Otomate title, with plenty of characters that the audience can't help but grow attached to. As Shino and Sosuke travel around, finding each of the other bead holders, they find each has lived through their own tragedy. These stories are often played out and wrapped up in a single episode, making the series have something of a standalone feeling, while the overarching story develops slowly in the background. This can be something of a negative, though, as some of the characters and their respective stories deserve far more time to develop.

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The art and animation of the series are hit and miss. The adaptation from manga to anime is done very well, with Studio Deen managing to perfectly capture the feel of the manga and some of the scenes looking absolutely beautiful, but there are occasional moments where lazy animation makes the action scenes fall flat. The bishonen nature may be off-putting for male viewers, also, just as the kind of fan-service of panty shots and side-boob can put off female viewers of ecchi series. The bishonen elements are very prominent, with the boys often finding themselves half dressed, soaking wet or lounging in provocative poses, not to mention subtle Yaoi undertones between the characters.

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
Hakkenden is a very surprising gem of a show. Despite being aimed primarily at a female audience, this is one everyone can enjoy. The overarching plot is interesting, and the back-stories of each of the bead holders make for great stories, not to mention giving a solid groundwork ready for the second season. That second season will be here soon from MVM, so stay with us here at Cubed3 to see how it fares.

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