If you want a shedload of really cool action with a side-order
of honour and drama then a samurai is your man, or – in the case of Otogi
Zoshi – woman.
Samurai seem to be the big thing in anime at the moment, with high quality samurai actioners like Samurai 7, Samurai Champloo and Peacemaker leading the way. Now Manga Entertainment have got in on the act, but their series is a very different animal. Most recent samurai series have tried to update the medium, whether using a sci-fi setting or even throwing in pop-culture references and modern styles and values. Otogi Zoshi doesn’t do this. Instead the series is exacting with its period detail, avoiding modern elements to give itself the feel of a classical samurai drama.
If this makes you think it would be stuffy and ponderous, stop, because its old-fashioned style, somewhat ironically, is a breath of fresh air.
Otogi Zoshi vol 1 contains five episodes of
pure, serious, action and drama. No pointless comedy
sidekicks, no demons, no magical powers… it’s surprisingly
refreshing to watch an anime devoid of these things and what made it
even more enjoyable was the fact that it is also very good.
The story is fast paced and exciting, the music – combining
traditional Japanese music with rock – is superb, but the most
striking thing is the art and animation. Animators
Production I.G. have done a great job of recreating not only the
look but the feel of feudal Japan, the attention to detail is
amazing and they have subtly incorporated Heian art and painting
styles into the backgrounds. It gives it a completely
different look to most modern anime, and makes it feel far more
authentic than its peers.
In many ways it is surprising that the story is original as it feels like a retelling of a legend or a historical tale, a pure hearted hero trying to bring peace whilst ministers in their finery scheme and plot, concealing their intentions behind half-opened fans. It is classic stuff, in fact it is only during the actions scenes that the realism slips, anime directors know that fans want to see samurai chopping up inhuman-looking ninja bandits so that’s what they provide. They seem to have got the balance right though, and the action and intrigue compliment each other well rather than clash.
As with pretty much every major Manga release there is a veritable feast of extras available. As well as the usual trailers, Manga promo videos and clean opening/ending sequences, we are also treated to a two part group discussion from several members of the creative team, including the director and character designers. On top of this there is also an intriguing, if a little dry, discussion on the Heian period by Doctor Kazuto Hongo, a respected historian who acted as the historical consultant for the series. It's great to see extras like these, as the UK is often deprived of such insights into the creative processes and historical aspects of anime series, so well done to Manga!