Otogi Zoshi Volume 1

The year is 972 AD, and Japan is in the midst of the Heian era. The emperor is ill, corruption is rife, samurai are powerful and the common people are suffering from famine, poverty and disease. Concerned with this state of affairs, forces in the Imperial Court task the renowned samurai Minamoto no Raikou with recovering a special Magatama bead that could have the power to restore balance to the country. Unfortunately, Raikou himself is terminally ill, and so it falls to his younger sister Hikaru to impersonate him and set out on the quest herself.

There’s no shortage of period samurai dramas in anime, and whilst Otogi Zoshi tackles an era not seen in such staples as Rurouni Kenshin, based on these first five episodes, it’s just another face in the crowd. So far, the main plot has been strictly by the numbers; Hikaru takes her brother’s place, and rides out with the trusted family retainer on a quest that involves recruiting allies and confronting minor villains- solid enough, but nothing we haven’t seen before. Admittedly, there is a bit more to the story than that, with plenty of political machinations going on in the background, but so far these are more geared towards setup and don’t really add much to the overall content just yet.

Similarly, the main cast is a fairly standard bunch; Hikaru is a typical youthful lead- honourable and idealistic, but not yet sure of her abilities, whilst her comrades encompass personalities such as Watanabe no Tsuna, a skilled and loyal bodyguard and Sadamitsu, a more laid-back, womanising soldier. Given that none of them particularly stands out, there’s no real reason to want to learn more about them; in fact, the most interesting character we’ve met so far is Mansairaku, an enigmatic mystic who seems set to play a larger role in future episodes. It is worth noting that these characters are based on actual historical figures, although the series opts to use factual data about them as a starting point rather than adhering religiously to it.

Any samurai series can usually boast its fair share of action, and Otogi Zoshi is no exception. Unfortunately, the battles seen here are a mixed bunch; for the most part they are brief but well executed sequences, however on occasion they lapse into budget-saving stills.

Visually, the series adopts a distinct style clearly intended to convey a period feel. Character designs are angular, with an emphasis on realistic colours and proportions, whilst backdrops are given a brushed look reminiscent of canvas paintings. Background music adheres to a similar ethic, and sticks closely to traditional Japanese themes.

In Summary

In its opening volume, Otogi Zoshi gets off to a solid start; the content of this disc isn’t particularly outstanding in itself, but there’s a good foundation here to build on in future instalments. Only time will tell if the series will continue as a slightly above average samurai drama, or evolve into something more interesting.

6 / 10