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Basilisk: The Complete Series(TV) (2005)
The year is 1614 AD. Two warring ninja clans, each supporting a son of Hidetada Tokugawa as the next shogun, send ten representatives each to fight to the death for the possession of a scroll. The prize: the annihilation of the other and the staunch support of the Tokugawa government for the winning clan for the next thousand years.
For more about Basilisk: The Complete Series and the Basilisk: The Complete Series Blu-ray release, see Basilisk: The Complete Series Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on January 1, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Kosuke Toriumi, Nana Mizuki
» See full cast & crew
Basilisk: The Complete Series Blu-ray Review
It's time to awaken your inner Ninja.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, January 1, 2010
"The Kouga Ninja Scrolls" was the first in a series of Ninja-themed novels written by Futaro Yamada during the 1950's. The novel is widely admired for the tragic love story at the heart of the plot, and eventually earned a manga adaptation in 2003 (by Masaki Segawa). Following closely on the heels of the manga, Gonzo animation studio obtained the rights to create a 24-episode anime series based on the manga (which had already received tremendous critical praise by 2005), with only slight alterations in the overall plot. If you happen to be familiar with the live-action film Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, then you have a decent idea of what to expect here (since they're both adaptations of Yamada's original novel). However, there are multiple contrasting elements that make Basilisk the more faithful of the two entries, and I'd consider the anime series a slightly better experience (though both versions are entertaining in their own way).
Set during the late 1500's, Basilisk tells the tale of two rival Ninja clans with no shortage of hatred for one another. Years ago, the two clans betrayed each other during a time of need, resulting in a feud that could only be calmed by the signing of a peace pact handed down by the ruling Shogun. In the time that followed, each side continued their dislike for one another, but maintained the wishes of their ruler to bring honor to their clan. Unfortunately, the recently retired ruler (Tokugawa Ieyasu) must find a way to determine the successor to his son, and decides to play a political chess game with the lives of the two Ninja clans, by lifting the peace pact and placing each clan in the service of one of his grandsons (the potential successors). Both sides are tasked with choosing ten of their most proficient Ninjas to do battle with the rival clan. The winner will determine the successor to the current ruler, and be awarded favor with the ruling party for the next millennium. After the names of the twenty chosen fighters are written on two identical ninja scrolls, the blood-drenched contest becomes a battle of wits, as the fighters from each side reveal the hidden skills they possess.
If you're looking for a Ninja anime series with a heavy dose of supernatural elements, your search has officially ended. It's rare to find a show that remains focused and consistent for the full 24-episode run, but Basilisk sets out with a precise goal in mind, and never waivers from that course. I can't tell you how many times I've watched a series and waited patiently for the show to pick up around the midway point (meaning you end up spending the first five hours with only a lukewarm reaction), so this is one of the few times I'm able to say that I loved the series within the first ten minutes of the initial episode. If for any reason you aren't attracted to the style of the series at the conclusion of the introductory episode, you might as well cut your losses, since there's won't be a change in your perception with the passage of time.
Getting down to the core elements of the show, there are two main strengths that elevate this production above other anime offerings. First, the fantasy aspect of the action allows each episode to remain consistently fresh. Given the relatively basic structure of the overall plot, there could have been a tendency for the ongoing showdowns to become a bit flat or tiresome, but the incorporation of secret abilities and twists in character motivation helps keep viewers on their toes. In particular, I enjoyed the unique skill set of Kisaragi Saemon, who demonstrates the ability to take the form of other Ninja in the opposing clan. This opens the door for various scenarios where Saemon deceives his opponent into believing he is their friend (typically a fallen member of the original ten fighters), and make his move during a moment of vulnerability. There are plenty of other unique skills worth mentioning, but half of the entertainment value in the series is discovering those traits as you go.
The second element that elevates the plot substantially is the tragic relationship between the two main characters. I didn't touch on this in the synopsis of the show, but the male leader of the Kouga clan is betrothed to the female leader of the Iga clan. When the pact between the two clans is broken, an internal struggle is let loose between the young couple, who remain torn between their love for one another and a responsibility to protect the interests of their people. It's only natural to draw a comparison between Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet", since both stories contain elements of forbidden love and tragedy. As the series plays out and numbers dwindle on both sides, the story places a greater focus on the difficult decisions faced by the two leaders, and the tragic consequences of their actions. The incorporation of various emotional struggles throughout the series is what provides a lasting impact on most viewers.
As with any anime review it's important to take a moment to reflect on the quality of the animation and the production values on display. I've been a fan of Gonzo's work for some time now, and Basilisk stands as another fine entry in their growing catalog. Fight sequences are fully animated with fluid character movement and realistic limb proportions (unlike Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles); backgrounds offer an accurate sense of depth, seamlessly blending the action of the foreground in the surrounding environment; and I was never disappointed in the level of detail found in facial expressions. If you're looking for a comparison with other anime productions, I'd say the style most resembles Ninja Scroll, but throws in plenty of modern touches that remind me of Afro Samurai (another Gonzo production).
Basilisk: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 19Mbps), Basilisk isn't on par with the best television series from Funimation, but still delivers a reasonably smooth presentation that only hits minor hiccups along the way. First off, I should mention my experience with the prior DVD collection of Basilisk is limited, since I never owned any of the discs, and viewed a portion of the series almost three years ago. However, I feel confident this is a substantial step up in the visual department, with lines appearing crisp despite the occasional emergence of compression artifacts. I wouldn't say the visual presentation is as detailed as Full Metal Panic: Second Raid, since a degree of softness is present throughout the feature, but it does offer a minor increase in clarity when stacked up to the recent Blu-ray release of Samurai Champloo. From a color standpoint, the show has a tendency to appear muted from time to time, with a large number of sequences taking place under a canopy of moonlight. When the spectrum occasionally turns bright, the palette appears well-saturated, mirroring the tone of the more light-hearted scenes. A perfect example is episode #16, titled First Impressions, which takes viewers back in time to witness the comedic interactions between the various Ninja in the Kouga and Iga clans (before the pact was lifted). It's one of the few segments in the series where the tone shifts away from a serious mood, and allows the artists the opportunity to stretch their use of color. Given the darker setting for most of the episodes, it's imperative that black levels exhibit sufficient depth in order to create subtle variations in contrast. Thinking back on the series, I can only remember a handful of scenes where contrast appeared less than stellar, and I believe most instances of weak contrast were the result of intentional lighting effects found in the source material. On the downside, I did notice some compression artifacts from time to time, and there's awful aliasing on the static "Next Episode" screen. Color banding rears its head on occasion, but never to the extent I'd consider obtrusive, and some fine diagonal lines reveal a touch of stairstepping. None of the complaints I've noted are very noticeable unless you're concentrating on their appearance, so I wouldn't let a few minor quibbles prevent you from enjoying what is otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable presentation.
Basilisk: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Considering the original DVD release of Basilisk contained a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix in the native language of Japanese and a 5.1 surround mix dubbed in English, I'm assuming it would have required a complete remastering of the Japanese track to incorporate the use of surround sound. On this Blu-ray release we have the same Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese track, accompanied by a lossless 5.1 dubbed track. In a perfect world, I'd hope for a lossless surround option in the native language of the series, but considering the limitations of the original recording, my only disappointment with this effort lies in the decision to stick with a lossy 2.0 track, rather than providing a lossless 2-channel option. As always, I prefer the native language on any foreign produced series, so I was somewhat disappointed in the diminished quality of the Dolby Digital 2.0 track. The front-heavy mix lacks the depth of finely tuned surround separation, leaving us with an experience that's merely adequate at getting the job done, but not what I'd consider a value-added audio experience. The English dub on the other hand, demonstrates a more robust feel, separating nuances in the audio effects to create an immersive experience. Several of the weapons and/or skills utilized by the Ninja incorporate projectile attacks, which bounce around the room from speaker to speaker in unison with the onscreen action. Even the swordplay between two opponents generates sound effects that dance across the front soundstage from left to right, depending on proximity of each character to the sides of the screen. During the occasional moments when the series strays from the intensity of multiple stand-offs, you'll find subtle use of environmental effects such as water trickling down streams, crickets in the distance, or the crackle of a burning fire. From a balance standpoint, every element in the mix is given appropriate weight, without one aspect overpowering another.
All in all, my only real complaint about the audio experience isn't even related to the proficiency of the track itself. If you've ever watched a marathon of anime, you'll know the importance of a good theme song to kick each episode off. For a show that's set during a historical period and incorporates supernatural elements, I was dismayed to find a heavy metal infused opening theme song that seems entirely out of place given the genre of the show. It's merely a matter of personal preference, but is worth mentioning as something that let me down.
If I had the option of scoring the audio offerings separately, I'd give the English track a 4/5, and the Japanese track a 2.5/5. The differences between the two tracks are certainly noticeable, but the lack of surround separation on the Japanese mix didn't downgrade my overall enjoyment of the show.
Basilisk: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
First Press Extra #3-9 (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 224 min): In case you're worried your eyes deceived you, this collection of promotional episodes runs over three hours in length. Each half hour segment addresses a different set of episodes in the series, and features various members of the Japanese cast discussing the events that took place in those episodes. The discussions are entirely candid, with each voice actor sitting around a table taking turns answering fan letters, congratulating each other on a job well done, and discussing the most important elements of the show. Die-hard fans will certainly welcome a chance to meet the real-life voice talent behind their favorite characters, but I grew tired of the superficial discussions by the end of the first hour. This is not what I'd consider marathon viewing material.
Cast Auditions (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 23:37 min): Tyler Walker (ADR director) introduces several of the English voice actors before presenting audio clips from their auditions. Since this is an audio-only supplement, we're provided a variety of production stills that show the character each actor is auditioning for.
Rounding out the extras, we have a text-based history lesson on the Ninja legends of the early 1600's, an audio commentary on the "Onslaught of War" episode (with ADR director Tyler Walker and Mark Stoddard as the voice of Tenzen) textless opening/closing songs, and a collection of trailers for other Funimation releases.
Basilisk: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Basilisk is one of those rare productions that doesn't shoot for the stars, but manages to excel in everything it set out to do. Blending elements that are downright groovy (ninja warriors, relentless action, twists around every bend, and a healthy dose of topless nudity) with the lasting appeal of a heartfelt tragedy, the series seemingly offers the best of both worlds when it comes to anime. I'm a sucker for series that rarely delve into over-the-top comedy, so the somber tone of the show was a good fit for my personal preferences and held my attention with ease. From a technical standpoint, Funimation offers a lengthy package of supplements, an audio experience that neither elevates nor detracts from the show, and a visual presentation that suffers from occasional issues, but still delivers a clear upgrade over prior standard definition versions. Taken as a whole, I have zero reservations in recommending Basilisk to all anime fans, since it ranks as one of the better anime series in recent years.
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