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Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East Review

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The curses we bear…

Tragedy is not something that is easily forgotten. Whatever form it may take, it leaves an undeniable mark on one’s past, shaping their future in turn. Of course, tragedy doesn’t often present itself as a life or death choice involving a mysterious crow demon, but the world is an unpredictable place. However, were such a presposterous choice to be placed before you, would the tragedy be the situation that placed you in such a dire predicament, or the answer you gave in turn?

Five years before out story begins, a terrible plague befell the village of Otsuka, killing all but three of the townspeople. These survivors, Shin Inuzuka, Sosuke Inukawa and Hamaji, take refuge in a nearby town, where they are viewed with suspicion and fear due to their status as plague survivors. So their situation improved, but still isn’t what you would label ideal. Anyway, jumping five years to the present, the survivors are continuing to survive and all is well and good…except for all of the suspicious spirit magic that allows said surviving to continue. It would seem that five years ago (where we just recently jumped forward from), a mysterious figure appeared to a fatally injured Shin, offering a way to live on. Accepting this offer, Shin was simultaneously healed and fused with a sword known as Murasame, whilst Sosuke was resurrected by fusing with a nearby dog (it’s up to you which method you think is cooler).

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Choose your fate

Ok, this is where my exposition ends. Unfortunately, for the most part, this is also where my interest begins to wane. As much as I dislike saying this about an anime series, I was just kind of bored watching Hakenden. The overall pacing of the series is slowed to the point of stagnation more often than not, taking a full three episode before the main plotline is even introduced. Even then, it is almost immediately pushed aside for yet another “character introduction of the week”, as more unfortunate souls cross paths with Shin and friends…before becoming friends of Shin. Sure the backstories provide some interesting story elements, but each culminates in a rather brief conclusion that is swiftly left in the shadow of the next story.

I’ll admit, as the series progressed, the story began to tie itself together, but still not to the extent that it deserved. When you look at it objectively, the premise alone is quite interesting. The promise of eight legendary warriors, the cursed lives each of these men share and the unknown force that ties them all together. Unfortunately, this apparent main plotline feels as if it takes a backseat to the shorter episodic stories, completely throwing out the series’ sense of balance. The characters almost seem oblivious to their own goals, somehow remaining unaware of the increasing similarities between each other and their “unique” cirumstances. I also find it very difficult to believe that Shin never once mentioned his quest to find the beads to any of his travelling companions. Why else did did Genpachi and Kobungo think they were travelling to different cities?

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Say hello to my little friend

Despite this story progression, the series never conveys a sense of urgency and thus it is rather difficult to care about anything that happens. It certainly doesn’t help that none of the characters seem affected by anything that happens, be it anything from a talking dog, to stumbling upon the person who slaughtered their family. The best way to describe the emotional range of the series would be dull surprise to…slightly more than dull surprise. This lack of reaction serves to remove any sense of intensity from the series, making each episode somewhat labourious to watch. Additionally, far too much screentime is spent on exposition and internal monologue, increasing the feeling of distance between each character, despite their informed closeness.

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My intruder, what big eye you have

Visually, this series is one that possesses fine art, but lacks in the animation department. Despite being a series featuring more than its fair share of demons, spirits and warriors, much of the actual scenes of combat take place offscreen. Thus we receive the traditional implications of violence, such as isolated blood splatter, slashes of light and bodies lying already defeated on the ground. The most visually graphic part of the series would have to be Murasame emerging from Shin’s arm, and even that is downplayed by humour most of the time. That being said, there was a nice amount of variation in what visually quantified a spirit, ranging from crow, to giant wolf, to a cute stuffed animal. There’s even a princess or two thrown in there for good measure.

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Spirits gone wild

As it stands, Hakkenden is a shadow of what it could be. With a truly interesting premise constantly being pushed aside, it’s difficult to draw any sense of drama from the series. Though I will admit the final three episodes stood out in regards to emotional intensity, they didn’t exactly have a whole lot of competition. The series even decides to add plotlines into the fray in these final episodes, resulting in an ending that is exceedingly vague. Whilst I do know that a second season exists, this first season is incomplete in of itself. It isn’t even until the closing moments of the final episode that the mysterious beads (the goal of Shin’s journey) are even mentioned, and even then it’s with far less gravity than one would imagine. As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, Hakkenden is not one of those series that stands out to me in a positive way, but rather as another example of an anime with wasted potential.

Ever wanted a crow spirit to haunt your arm? Why not do some research first over at Hanabee?

Grade: D

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