“You heard it too, didn’t you? The voice of the wind…”
1600 AD. A fog-shrouded battlefield…the distant cries of dying men…and as the swirling fog parts, two samurai warriors are revealed, facing each other. One, clear-eyed and grimly determined, is Kyoshiro Mibu; the other is the feared Demon Eyes Kyo, his wild hair and glinting red eyes betraying his demonic origins. This is to be an epic fight to the death, a bloody duel fought at the height of the legendary battle of Sekigahara, watched by both sides with baited breath…until a burning meteor hurtles out of the sky to pulverize the ground where the two warriors were locked in combat.
Fast forward four years. Kyoshiro, a mild-mannered travelling medicine man, encounters a lovely lady lying in distress by the roadside. Taking pity on her, he finds himself staring down the end of a gun barrel; she is none other than Yuya, a bounty hunter, and she is determined to take him in for a handsome reward. Protesting his innocence, the gentle Kyoshiro metamorphoses into red-eyed Kyo when the two are attacked by a monster and his dazzling skills with his famous sword come into play.
It emerges that Kyoshiro and Daemon Eyes Kyo were somehow fused into Kyoshiro’s body by the meteor strike. At first, Kyoshiro is able to keep control but soon Kyo overpowers him and emerges as the dominant soul. And now people from his past start popping up: the laid-back, elegant Lord Yukimura Sanada, who was at Sekigahara, and the gorgeous High Priestess, Lady Okuni; both obviously have an ulterior motive in keeping an eye on Kyo, although we only get hints as to why. Kyo and Yuya’s meandering journey exposes them to the fearsome Sansai Shuu, a group of assassins. One of their number is an easy-going, smiling fellow calling himself Benitora who comes to Kyoshiro’s aid – and then tags along with Kyo and Yuya on the road to Edo. A martial arts tournament is to be held by the Shogun and the men decide to compete. But appearing at the tournament could be problematic for both Lord Yukimura, the Shogun’s enemy, and Benitora too; both of them will have to conceal their true identities. Along the way, another figure from Kyo’s dark past launches a vicious attack and more fragments of what happened four years ago begin to emerge.
I’m a sucker for any series with samurai in it, whether it’s the bleakly poetic ‘Samurai X,’ the futuristic ‘Samurai 7,’ or the brilliantly offbeat ‘Samurai Champloo,’ so I came to ‘Samurai Deeper Kyo’ with expectations of stunningly animated sword battles. Imagine my considerable disappointment, then, to find that the very first epic duel at Sekigahara is filled with cutaway shots and stills – and that this sets the pattern for subsequent episodes. This series, which is based on Akimine Kamijo’s 38 volume manga series, first aired in 2002, and is showing its age, relying far too much on stills. Director Junji Mishimura’s short talk (one of the few extras) reveals that he wanted a superb cast of voice actors (which he achieved, more on that below) but I can’t help thinking that maybe he blew a little too much of the animation budget on his stars!
So who are these starry seiyuu? Well, for starters, there’s Katsuyuki Konishi as Kyo, probably best known as the voice the ghost samurai Amidamaru in ‘Shaman King’ and Soubi in ‘Loveless.’ Yui Horie plays Yuya; her most recent role is as Yuki Cross in ‘Vampire Knight.’ And as the smiling Benitora, we have Toshihiko Seki (Sanzo in ‘Saiyuki’.) Against this formidable line-up, the US voice actors make a decent stab at their roles, but never quite match up. There’s some intriguing changes in casting, too; Lord Yukimura is played by Megumi Ogata (perhaps because he cross-dresses to enter the tournament in disguise?) but Christopher Kromer in the US dub, whereas his young retainer, the ninja Sarutobi Sasuke is voiced by a woman in the US version, and a man in the original. And so on…
A generous seven episodes are provided on this first disc and, from my point of view anyway, they were necessary to get some kind of a grasp on what was going on. Encounters with Kenyou – grotesque monsters, once men altered by the meteor strike at Sekigahara – and glimpses of the mysterious Lady Sakuya keep the action from becoming stale. And yet, and yet… there’s something in the way that the story rambles along that means it doesn’t have the impact it should. I could live with the many still shots if the narration were a little more coherent and less fragmented. Even after seven episodes, I’m not entirely sure where the main narrative thrust is going – or even what it is. Are we following Kyo in his quest to get back his physical body? Is that what he really wants? Or is he out for revenge? Perhaps the next disc will clarify these issues.
A samurai series that, in spite of being perfectly watchable, shows signs of age and doesn’t quite deliver the goods.