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Basilisk - volume three
voice cast: Kousuke Toriumi, Nana Mizuki, Sho Hayami, and Tooru Oohira

director: Fumitomo Kizaki

100 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 16:9
MVM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Michael Bunning
In the late 16th century, the Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa seized power and created the first truly stable government in Japan. This is the factual basis for Basilisk's 'historical' action-drama. Based on a novel and a series of manga comics, the series diverges quite startlingly from fact and moves into gleefully over-the-top violence and drawn-out melodramatic dialogue, without once looking back to check that the audience's disbelief is still suspended. According to the show, two ninja clans, the Iga and the Kouga, are centuries-old enemies, held in check only because of a treaty signed decades ago. When the Shogun's government splits into two factions, each supporting a different grandson of Tokugawa, the treaty is dissolved, and the Iga and Kouga begin their feud anew.

So far, so straightforward� Of course, this state of affairs is entirely too conventional to suffice, so more drama is introduced by having the two clan heirs Kouga Gennosuke (Kosuke Toriumi) and Iga Oboro (Nana Mizuki)) as lovers, and having the clans each choose ten of their best ninjas (of whom Gennosuke and Oboro are, of course, chosen) to send against each other in a series of battles to the death.

Even that's not enough though: there's not enough scope for ultra-violent and suitably 'ninja-ish' battles there, so the 20 main characters have each been given a magical ninja fighting technique. Gennosuke can cause anyone who attacks him to kill themselves instead; Oboro has a 'mystic eyes' technique that neutralises any magical attacks; and of the other 18 ninjas, particularly memorable skills include a giant with the ability to meld with any surface, a woman whose breath turns poisonous whenever she's sexually aroused and a fellow who can create vacuums or whirlwinds with his breath.

Volume three drops the viewer in at episode nine with no concessions for people who haven't seen the previous two DVDs - in the middle of a fight, six of the 20 ninjas already dead, the romantic leads not talking to one another, one of the Iga ninjas having wrested control of the clan away from Oboro, the Shogun scheming over the political infighting in his court - and although there's a brief recap in episode 11, it's assumed that the audience knows who each of the characters are and that they're familiar with what's going on. The rest of the episodes on the disc chronicle the two clans journeying to see the Shogun, mixed in with the romantic leads agonising (though very restrainedly) about the fact that their two families are eager to wipe each other out. Oh, and there's fighting, too: two more of the ninjas are killed in suitably gruesome magical ways.

The animation quality is top notch, and this goes a long way to making up for the confusion caused by the lack of a 'previously on Basilisk' intro: it's a pleasure visually, even with the ridiculous battle sequences. The Japanese voice acting is good too, though the show suffers from that most typical of problems: the English language dub is atrocious. The special features are fairly standard, unfortunately, which lets the disc down a bit: text-less opening and closing credit sequences, trailers, and a behind-the-scenes featurette where the voice cast fawn over each other and offer vanilla anecdotes about recording the dialogue.

Basilisk is precisely the sort of anime that 14-year-old boys adore: a 15 certificate, plenty of animated female flesh on show, preposterously vicious and bloody fighting and lots of drawn out silences. More seasoned or more discerning viewers might well find themselves under-whelmed by the fare on offer here though. It's a pity that by and large, the anime released in Europe is this sort of puerile, predictable juvenilia, because Basilisk suffers as a consequence. In Japan, with the plethora of anime shows running the gamut from madcap comedies to tense psychological thrillers to school dramas to sports shows, Basilisk would slot in easily as a guilty pleasure. It's a show that's perfectly good to watch if you fancy disengaging your brain for half an hour at a time. Since we don't have that varied a selection of anime over here, Basilisk just comes across as more of the same violent immature mediocrity.

Consequently, it's difficult to recommend Basilisk without adding some caveats: if you're hoping for something interesting and intellectually stimulating, this probably isn't the best show for you. If you're familiar with this sort of show and looking for something new, definitely stay away. If you're just looking for some good old ultra-violence and don't want to have to use your head for half an hour at a time, then you'll get a lot of enjoyment out of Basilisk. Start with volume one, though.
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