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Anime Reviews: Basilisk

Updated on July 22, 2016
2005; Director: Fuminori Kizaki; Studio: GONZO
2005; Director: Fuminori Kizaki; Studio: GONZO

Studio GONZO, fresh off of re-imagining Alexandre Dumas’s classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo and Akira Kurosawa’s classic film The Seven Samurai, set their sights on Japanese author Futaro Yamada’s 1958 novel The Kouga Ninja Scrolls with Basilisk, a series which I can best describe in a nutshell as a retelling of Romeo and Juliet…with ninja.

The year is 1614. Two rival ninja clans, the Kouga and the Iga, hate each other with the fury of a thousand Chuck Norrises. They would like nothing more than to wipe the opposing clan off the face of the earth, but they have been bound by a no-hostilities pact since they were conscripted into the service of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Now his son is in charge, but which of his two grandsons is to succeed him? Before the shogunate tears itself apart debating this, Ieyasu has an idea: for the Kouga and Iga to side with either of his grandsons and send ten of their best ninjas to compete in a fight to the death, with the last man or woman standing deciding the next heir.

To the ninja on both sides, it comes as great news: this means that the no-hostilities pact will be lifted, and they will now be free to resolve their personal grudges. But not everyone is ecstatic about this—namely a man named Gennosuke and a woman named Oboro. The problem is thus: he’s a Kouga. She’s an Iga. The two are very much in love. As the heirs to the heads of their respective clans, their upcoming marriage would put a definitive end to the family feud. But with the pact now null and void and centuries of withheld rage about to be dumped on both sides, for one of them to fall at the hands of his or her beloved seems inevitable.

The last two paragraphs are pretty much all you need to know plot-wise, since the series spends most of its time with the ninja freak show that is the Kouga-Iga feud. What we have here are twenty ninjas who come in all shapes and sizes—pretty, ugly, thin, fat, young, old, busty, muscular, bald, and having more than the legal limit of protruding nose hairs—with various superhuman capabilities. One can spit a glue-like adhesive out of his tongue. One has a unique ability of reincarnation. One can summon an army of butterflies at will. And another is an armless, legless torso that can slither around on his chest really fast.

The rage-fueled fight scenes between random Kouga and Iga get rather intense sometimes…pierced flesh, blood spray, the whole ball of wax. The animation and character design would have to be pretty good to cover this much action, and the work GONZO puts into it certainly ranks among their better, more grandiose efforts. And despite all this, the story goes out of its way to give some of the ninja some background, which makes it rather sad to see some of them go. You get personal vendettas, in-family romance (it’s the 17th century, deal with it) and of course the classic heartless manipulative bastard playing his little soldiers like puppets on strings.

Basilisk, as I’ve said, is Romeo and Juliet with ninjas. Some battle scenes may be too violent for some viewers, and there are a few mature situations as well (a bit of nudity as well as at least one attempted rape scene), but if you want a tragic ninja love story outside of Naruto’s crush on Sakura, and if you don’t mind getting attached to a character only to see them buy the farm in spectacular fashion, this series will surely fail to disappoint.

And since then, GONZO has worked on a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, I hear…

Plenty of action
May be too extreme for some

Basilisk: awesome or crap?

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