The 2nd Dimension

Friday, June 01, 2007

Viewing Journal: Basilisk (complete)

Series Overview
TV Broadcast Info
DVD Info

Overall= A
Story = A
Video = B+
Audio = A-

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. (Source: ANN)
I don't think I realized how great of a show this was when I was actually watching it. Sure I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone, but I don't think I knew just how much I was enjoying it until it was all over and the haze from being so engrossed in the show had finally worn off. So I had to think about it for a while, but as far as I can tell there are two things that really pulled me in: the well-paced and plotted action, and the subtlety of the drama.

Basilisk is essentially a more violent version of Romeo and Juliet, so it's not difficult to tell how it is going to end. But what is more difficult is telling how exactly it is going to get there. There's a lot of martial arts ninja battles in this show, but the fun comes as much from seeing how those fights are plotted in the overall story as from watching the fights themselves. For one thing I was enthralled watching how each side tried to get the upper hand, particularly at the beginning when the Iga clan seemed like they would be the clear victors. Also, since there are no inherent "good guys" or "bad guys" in this show, you are never sure who is going to come out on top in any particular fight.

That's not to say that the fights aren't a heck of a lot of fun to watch in themselves. At the beginning I just had fun seeing what uncanny ninja "technique" each clan member would unveil next -- like one ninja who could stretch out his limbs like a rubber band, or another who was essentially a human slug, or another who seemed to be immortal (a technique that is especially disturbing once you see how it is accomplished). The fighting is full of surprises and never ever dull because you can never tell which technique will dominate in the end.

But even though there a lot of cool fights, which alone would make this show worth watching, what really puts it above the rest is its emotional, cathartic, and subtle drama.

Basilisk is as effective in what it does not show or say as in what it does. It is full of implications in terms of the action, the plot, and the characters' emotions. And since those implications are seldom explicitly stated or shown, the audience has to make a small cognitive jump to fill in the blanks. This storytelling technique is extremely effective because by forcing the audience to make that mental jump, it stimulates the mind and gets the audience that much more involved and invested in the story. The end of the final episode is probably the best example of this "less is more" philosophy, because it is a subtle and quiet scene but still really packs an emotional punch.

The art and music also compliment the show's theme of subtlety. The color palette involves mostly blue and purple -- which is simple but creates just the right mood. And the music is quiet and perfectly compliments and enhances the drama in the show.

So needless to say, this is one of the best martial arts action/drama anime I've seen since Rurouni Kenshin Trust and Betrayal. It is a well-paced and plotted ninja action Romeo-and-Juliet story that delivered on all accounts and kept me enthralled throughout all 24 episodes.

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