Monday, October 28, 2013

Anime Review: Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East

Last week I said The Eccentric Family was my last summer anime show to review and in a way I was right, I had originally picked this show up way in January, dropped it even though I liked it since I wasn't sure enough was going to happen, and then picked it up again starting in that weird week in-between seasons for something to watch. So it is technically a summer show, it was a split cour, it doesn't feel that way to me, although now I regret not watching it as it came out because of just how much fun I had. And just as a quick note, this story seems to follow a bit of a different interpretation of the Hakkenden than other stories seem to, I do recommend skimming the wikipedia page for it first and then the characters in show tell you what other stories are going to be plot relevant later on.

Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East

Summary: Five years ago the village where Shino, Sosuke, and their friend Hamaji lived was burned to the ground and they were it's only survivors, abet with some odd side effects. Hamaji is normal but Shino hasn't aged in those five years and Sosuke is able to transform into their old dog, this is in addition to the fact that the two of them already had the same birthmark and were both born clutching mysterious gems. They're living happy, content lives far from prying eyes but when they're summoned by the church all of their lives are about to get quite a bit more exciting and complicated.

The Good: The way I've been describing this show is that it feels a bit like a throw-back to a late 90s/early 00s show in a good way, like manga-group CLAMP's works before Tsubasa Reseviror Chronicles and xxxHolic. It's centered more around a theme than plot (friendship and camaraderie in this case*), although the plot will pop up when needed, it gets a little goofy and self-aware at times, but never in such a way that it seems to be winking at the camera, and I just had fun watching the characters interact and react with each other. Oh and it has long lost siblings, dark dramatic pasts, memory loss, a character outside the group who seems to be the most blase about everything going on, twins/clones/shadow-thing, and people losing eyes, it's practically a homecoming for CLAMP fans!** But I think that anime fans who just want a silly fantasy story, not something too dark or complicated to keep track of but something a little more than a monster-of-the-week series will enjoy this and despite the almost complete lack of romance (aside from two side characters and it was actually rather adorable to watch them realize they had fallen for each other at the same time I did) I'm rather surprised that the BL fans aren't all over this show with its 90% male cast. 

The Bad: As predicted earlier, no the story doesn't reach it's final conclusion in the series, something even the characters riff on, and given how tidy the last arc was in some ways I suspect that was an anime original way to tie the show up in case they couldn't get another season (having seen the DVD/BR numbers I don't believe one is coming). I will say it ties up the show well enough, it's the end of a larger arc, the characters have grown some, mysteries have been revealed (well, to the viewers anyway but again the characters in the show do pick up on when things don't quite seem right like suspiciously similar details in their lives), it's just a clear "and a few days later the story goes on" ending. I'll also note that I rewatched the first few episodes after I finished the show, since I had last seen them seven months earlier, and it does seem like the show needed it's first arc to really get a feel for the characters and the setting. At the time it didn't seem very rough, just fast paced as they tried to get all the introductions out of the way, but viewers who watch all 26 episodes in a shorter time frame might notice some oddly quick character development.

The Production Values: I will admit I was crushed when I checked out Section 23's stream of the show on hulu to see if they had translations of the OP/EDs and realized that the Engrish in the first opening was pretty terrible. I had been able to make out a few words and felt like it was walking that line between cheesy and cool enough to work for the show, nope not actually. Aside from that, I could never tell if one or two of the VAs were just plain bored or if their characters were supposed to sound this blase (I can imagine that a lot of gigs are probably "well, it's an okay show and it's a paycheck", not every show will be awesome after all) but all of the main characters sounded fine and the first ED really grew on me, especially with it's visuals. I do with the show had actually chosen a color scheme, it's the opposite of Samurai Flamenco because a lot of things seem overly bright and cheerful and just not tied together enough, but I'll take overly fun colors over too-subdued colors any day of the week.

In the end I give this highly fun and enjoyable show either a 3.5 or 4 out of 5 (I feel like it's not "good enough" for a four but I really enjoyed it!) and plan on picking it up at some point since Section 23/Sentai has licensed it. You can check out the show on either Crunchryoll or Hulu but only the Hulu stream has the translation of the afore-mentioned terrible Engrish (and weirdly enough Sentai hasn't translated the OP/ED for the second season, guess they'll do that later and maybe amend the streams?).

*the show really has a thing for pairing characters up, completely non-romantically, and I haven't seen a show set up so many parallel relationships since Star Driver and it's obsession with trios.
**no lie, some areas of the Clamp fandom have adopted the phrase "it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye" considering just how damned often they started using that trope.