Class take your seats, I am about to start. You all know the old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Well, let me just this once dismiss that saying and start judging the DVD case for tonight’s review on Shigurui: Death Frenzy. On the cover we have two men looking menacing, a bunch of blood splatter, some red flowers (which I think are chrysanthemums), and a diagram of the human body waist down with a Katana in one hand and an eyeball in the other. If that does not interest you, then you can leave the classroom to sit in the hall; while the rest of us enjoy ourselves. You may return when the bell rings.
Shigurui: Death Frenzy is a twelve episode anime that started airing in 2007. It comes from Studio Mad House and was directed by Hiroshi Hamazaki, who seems to have far more Character Design credits then directing (many include Yoshikake Kowajiri titles like Cyber City Oedo and BioHunter; tying it all back to Mad House). What is most interesting about Shigurui is the manga behind it. Shigurui covers half of the story started in the manga. See, the original manga was created wholesale by mister Apocalypse Zero himself, Takayuki Yamaguchi. If Apocalypse Zero does not strike a chord with you, I almost suggest looking up some of the covers for this man’s manga (key word on “almost” because while Apocalypse Zero is a Shonen manga, it pushes the line for most people). Look how the main character on those covers is usually shirtless and covered in blood and is super ripped. Yes, Takayuki Yamaguchi is the Japanese James O’Barr, their connections is the need to draw super muscular guys.
To begin talking about the story of Shigurui, you need to understand its narrative structure. You will see what I mean later. Shigurui starts in the year 1633 where the Shogun’s younger brother, Daimyo Tadanaga Tokugawa, is forced to perform seppuku as atonement for his conduct. From there we go back to 1629, we see one of Tadanaga’s vassals protest a new tournament that Tadanaga has started. Reason is that participants would use real swords instead of the usual wood practice variety. To make his point the vassal digs through the bandages on his stomach, slowly removing his large intestine onto the floor. He thinks that demonstrating what a real sword would do to these swordsmen would convince his master that a tournament of this nature would be fatal, but the tournament still starts. Two samurai, the first named Gennosuke Fujiki, does not have his left arm. The second, named Seigen Irako, is crippled in one leg and is completely blind. Many of the onlookers who do not personally know the strength of these two warriors consider them a dishonor towards the watching Daimyo. But once the fight starts, they soon discover how mistaken they were.
Jump back one final time to 1622 (yes, this is like a Berserk level “Flashback within a Flashback”), where the rest of the show plays out; back when the story first began with the two samurai. Gennosuke Fujiki is a high-ranking student at the Kogan Dojo. He is considered one of the strongest members currently representing the Kogan style. But that all changes when a mysterious man by the name of Seigen Irako comes and challenges the school. Doing so involves challenging the two highest ranked fighters, those being Fujiki and Gonzaemon Ushimata to a practice fight. Irako succeeds against Fujiki, but is defeated by Ushimata due to his skill with the tree trunk size practice sword he wields. Conceiting to defeat, Irako now contemplates joining the Kogan Dojo in an attempt to become stronger and to marry into the highly regarded school’s family. An initiation involving the dojo’s zombie-like dementia crazed sensei cutting up a bean placed on Irako’s forehead starts Irako’s involvement with the Kogan house; as well as his conflict with Fujiki.
While Shigurui is at its heart a samurai story, it does stand out stylistically. Most of the episodes take place during the summer, where the show will go out of its way to show close-ups of cicadas and moths along with lazy summer evenings. Unless it is being shockingly violent, the show is usually pretty relaxed. Shigurui is not about quick paced sword swiping action; the fight scenes are more about showing the muscles and bones literally tensing inside the body, until finally releasing in a near instant death stroke. It has heavy use of a grain filter and uses a grayscale that is nicely broken up with naturally colored nature and outfits.
Pros: Is able to be slow-paced but engrossing at the same time. I sat down and watched all twelve episodes in a day, just because it flowed so well. It has a tone of seriousness that plays through it all that is never needlessly disturbed. Everything looks nice and the story is presented with thought.
Cons: This show uses a lot of text to set moods and explain certain things, but sometimes they will be paragraphs that will only be on-screen for a second or two. Making it hard to read it all in one go. The rest of the Kogan students are mostly shown as commenter’s; and their position and need is constantly forgotten in lieu of the main characters.
Those still sitting in their seats should really check out Shigurui: Death Frenzy. Those of you who like Period Piece/Samurai stories or just anything with loads of gore, I suggest checking it out. For those of you still in the hall who cannot take this violent mess, then Shigurui will unfortunately push you far, far away. Like I stated earlier, Mad House animated on the first half of the story, but the anime ends at a point very similar to a first book out of a series of two. Funimation is putting it out under their Classics line, so you can find it pretty cheaply. I cannot recommend this anime enough.