Posted by psgels on 25 March 2011 with categories: Anime Reviews

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.

Genius Party
Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto
Robot Carnival

2 Responses

  1. signorRossi says:

    Wow, you actually reviewed this (have it on DVD). But AFAIK the production of ‘The Hakkenden’ was quite a roller-coaster, e.g. the character design gets very inconsistent in the middle of the series, so much that you have difficulties recognizing some characters again. And you are right, after a while you know that any character involved with a dog warrior will die a terrible death. ;)
    Ah, almost forgot, I like this show too. :)

  2. Tan-Tan says:

    Well, what I watched is Shin Hakkenden, the one based on this one xD But seems like this one ain’t bad either.

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  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Tuesday, Oct 6. 2015 05:51 PM)
    @K-off: Your not wrong, it certainly looks poor but some of the old gonzo animated stuff was far more woeful looking. Stellvia, which was done by xebec was another example of old anime cgi which was quite ugly to look at. Just as I prefer traditional effects in film I also prefer traditional animation techniques to cg.
  • k-off
    (Tuesday, Oct 6. 2015 05:42 PM)
    Lately, the use of badly integrated cgi have been making my eyes sore,from the obviously cgi background characters in Asterisk to the overly fluid mech movements in Aldnoah. I still remember the shitty cgi piano hands in Kimi no Uso.
  • Bam
    (Tuesday, Oct 6. 2015 12:04 AM)
    On the note of good balance between humor and drama- I think BoJack Horseman is an example of a show that executed that almost perfectly in both seasons. You are laughing one minute and amused by the hijinks and silliness and the next minute you are actually moved and shocked by the honest introspection. Too be honest BoJack is more a tragic character then a goofy one, and his struggles are deeper and more existential than they have any business being in a show with anthropomorphic animals.
  • Bam
    (Monday, Oct 5. 2015 11:56 PM)
    The changes in the setting actually made me more excited for season 3 then what I felt the past few weeks, since now the plot needs to move forward from the cliffhanger and hopefully this translates to more cohesion and refocusing on what mad the show great in the first place. I’m pretty sure S3 will also be a blend of episodic and arch story elements tho. Overall a few ups and downs but still a great show.
  • Bam
    (Monday, Oct 5. 2015 11:52 PM)
    The finale also had some of the most overall arch story elements featured in the season. Earth joining the Galactic Federation is a big deal story-wise from now on. Also the use of a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” (not the Nine Inch Nails one clearly) was a nice fitting yet surprising touch. The throwback to Mr. PB after the credits was a good idea, but felt flat in it’s actual execution.
  • Bam
    (Monday, Oct 5. 2015 11:49 PM)
    I thought R&M had a pretty good finale. The episode achieved what was missing from most of season 2, and that was a balance of randomness and meaningful bits. What made Rick Potion #9 and the previous season’s finale and general tone great was a sense of humor that was combined with more sincere drama and character developments; a sort of sweet melancholy.
  • AidanAK47
    (Monday, Oct 5. 2015 09:51 PM)
    @K-off, not having too much trouble with the interface but I still cannot create categories.
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Monday, Oct 5. 2015 08:56 PM)
    Eh, I’ve updated myself now on the onepunch manga and also the manga for yuruyuri, I can cross the shows off my list now. I forgot to mention onepunchs first episode crammed in the first volume.
    I stopped reading though around chapter 30, it was decent fun for a bit but I’ll be continuing with it in small doses.
  • k-off
    (Monday, Oct 5. 2015 08:19 PM)
    @Aidan Yeah? Well I at least have to hand it to psgels for continuing to pay for the site. By the way, is WordPress still fucked up on your end, or is it fine now?
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Monday, Oct 5. 2015 04:57 PM)
    @;(: Actually that was probably a bad word choice on my part, I meant that the humour in those episodes didn’t always work so well for me.

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