Friday, January 2, 2009

Series Review: Shigurui

Rating: A (one of my all time favorites)

Plot review: Set in seventeenth century Japan, Shigurui is about the ruthless world of the swordsman. A struggle for power in a dojo triggers vicious banishment and gruesome revenge killings. Early on, the moods of bleakness and lawlessness are established, as the series portrays the idea that safety is in strength. Shigurui pulls no punches in realistically depicting the idea of survival of the strongest. There is no such things as morals in Shigurui, and for a good reason. Morals don't matter when life or death depends on the edge of the sword. It is much more important to be strong than kind.

Shigurui pits the epitome of hard work, obedience and discipline, Gennosuke Fujiki against the maverick-like natural talent of Irako Seigen. The clash between the two personalities are noticeable as you get to see the rise and fall of both characters and because they symbolize the two main paths towards power. One could attain success through sheer determination, while another could simply have a natural ability towards something and learn faster than anyone else. But most importantly, shigurui also pits the idea of self-interest against the traditional samurai virtue of standing by one's lord. Irako was the symbol of self-interest. He did swordsmanship because he wanted to raise his social status. On the other hand, Gennosuke is the heir of the dojo and acts because of duty. Although Shigurui pits two polarizing figures, it does not give a clear conclusion. Nobody is presented as a clear winner between the two and we are left in the dark as the series ended before we saw the two fight.

Technical: Shigurui is a classic example of the paradoxical term "motionless motion". Its storytelling is conveyed through long, deliberate periods of tense silence, stillness and detail on the most minute and everyday things. However, within this silence, there is a message more powerful than the most boisterous of blabber. This is not the silence of idleness, but the silence of anticipation. Imagine two swordsmen ready to stab each other given any moment one loses his concentration, and the silence and stillness of that situation is similar to that of the series. It is as if the characters talk with their actions and by their deeds, they do not even need to talk. The deliberate stillness of the frames also emphasize anticipation. The viewer is complled to imagine movement rather than be spoon fed with events. In short, every sound uttered and every movement done is deliberate. Shigurui is like an animated play.

Colors are mostly based on black, grey and white, which gives the series a tone of seriousness and a little sadness. Facial expressions give a sick and twisted impression on the characters. Most important of all, the gore was shown in its full glory. If limbs (or nipples) were to be dismembered, they were done so in detail. There is no sugarcoating, just pure insane violence.

Final Remarks: Because this may offset those who aren't accustomed to violence, I would suggest you to prepare yourself for this one. Furthermore, bear in mind that because of the depravity of the situation presented in the series. Don't be shocked to see extreme acts of torture on women and the wanton destruction of lives. It's a normal thing in their context. I also assure those who watch this that you guys will be rewarded by something that pushes traditional storytelling conventions to its limits.

Recommended for dystopia fans.


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