The Hakkenden is an OVA that I decided to check out because it’s something like an animation fan’s wet dream. Seriously, it was a series that just kept returning on the resumes of famous, well known and very talented animators. To just name the most notable people who worked on this thing: Masaaki Yuasa (Mind Game, Kaiba, Yojou-han), Takashi Nakamura (Fantastic Children), Shinji Hashimoto (Kid’s Story, Black Heaven’s OP), Satoru Utsunomiya (Animation director of Gosenzosama Banbanzai), Shinya Ohira (Wanwa the Doggy). And if that wasn’t enough already: among the key animators were Mitsuo Iso and Takeshi Honda (Dennou Coil) and Kenji Kamiyama (Seirei no Mobirito, Ghost in the Shell SAC) was one of the art directors.
Seriously, outside of anthologies like Genius Party, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large amount of ridiculously talented animators and animation directors come together on one project. The producers really took both up and coming talent with the intention to make an incredible visual masterpiece.
And indeed: the animation in The Hakkenden is exquisite. It’s got thirteen episodes in total, and just about every scene looks gorgeous. The amount of still frames is kept to an absolute minimum, but what makes this show really stand out is its truly excellent inbetween animation. Let me tell you: this OVA has been one of the first, if not THE first, that managed to successfully and consistently animate small armies, never giving up any kind of detail on even the most insignificant soldier.
Beyond that, the animation also manages to bring its characters to life. The amount of detail that is in their movements is just completely amazing throughout nearly every episode, but the ones that really stand out are episodes 4 (Masaaki Yuasa and Takashi Nakamura actually worked together on that one), 9 (Satoru Utsunomiya has a unique style that focuses on many subtle movement and incredibly fluid framerates and gets total freedom to use it here) and 10 (Shinya Ohira and Shinji Hashimoto are both wild and vivid animators and show this off in an absolutely stunning episode) are absolute visual masterpieces.
As for the story and setting: the Hakkenden is a very authentic series: backgrounds are all excellent, the stories that it tells about its characters create a wonderful atmosphere of the darker days of Japan’s history.
This OVA basically has two major problems. The first is that it is a fervent supporter of a guy named Murphy. Seriously: whenever you find yourself thinking “this could go wrong really badly”, it does. This show really tries to drag its characters to hell over and over, and that does get a bit one-sided after a while. Especially considering how it paints the picture that anyone who held even the slightest amount of power in Japan was a total bastard over and over.
The second flaw is that sometimes, it really feels like complete scenes are missing. There are parts that this series refuses to explain, leaving huge holes in the story. The story jumps around way too much: at one time the eight titular dog warriors are together, then they’re split up again, then they magically are together again. The worst is how it just refuses to explain how they all meet each other: they just get introduced, they tell their story, and suddenly they’re all travelling together.
It’s definitely worth the watch, though. I’ve seldomly seen animation this consistent and this good at bringing its characters to life. The Hakkenden was an incredibly ambitious project, especially when you consider what some of the people involved all ended up accomplishing after they finished their work on this series.
|Storytelling:||7/10 – Great atmosphere, but a bit disjointed and one-sided in terms of the big picture.|
|Characters:||8/10 – Solid characterization (also really helped by the animation).|
|Production-Values:||10/10 – Absolutely fantastic. Amazing and life-like animation.|
|Setting:||9/10 – Very authentic picture of the old days of Japan, with roots deep inside folklore.|