“What’s going on? Somebody tell me!”
Yuya’s cry of confusion at the start of episode 13 just about sums up how I feel after watching Volume 2 of ‘Samurai Deeper Kyo.’
So, what is going on? Demon Eyes Kyo, who is trapped in the body of Kyoshiro, learns that his own body can be found in the Sea of Trees and sets out with Yuya and Benitora to get it back. Determined to stop him are the Jyūnishinshō, a motley assortment including Antera, a little girl in a pink frilly dress (she has enormous strength, natch); these twelve warriors have gathered in the Sea of Trees to aid in the resurrection of ‘His Majesty’ or ‘The Lord,’ a shadowy monster whose true identity has not yet been revealed, thus rendering the reason for their blind devotion pretty much incomprehensible to the already muddled viewer. Are you still with me? Then there’s the Kenyou. There seems to be no consistency with regard to these adversaries; we’re told that they’re warriors from the Battle of Sekigahara who have been transformed into shape-shifting monsters. Why? Add to this confusing mix Migeira, the white-haired gaijin warrior, who is searching for Muramasa swords, Benitora’s struggle to come to terms with his overbearing father, Yuya’s revelation that she’s searching for the man who killed her brother who has a cross-shaped scar on his back, the reappearance of young shinobi Sasuke Saratobi…
The initial unease I felt when watching the first episodes of ‘Samurai Deeper Kyo’ has not been dispelled by these next six episodes – and it’s not merely down to the fact that the series is animation-light, relying heavily on stills, even in the battle scenes, making it look much older than its seven years. The problem, frankly, lies with the way in which the story is revealed. It’s a strong story too, mingling menacing supernatural beings, with personal conflict and honour amongst samurai, set at a fascinating time in Japan’s rich history. We are given the information we need – but almost always out of sequence, reminding me irresistibly of the classic Morecambe and Wise Grieg Piano Concerto sketch in which Eric Morecambe huffily retorts to Andre Previn’s criticism, “I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order!”
Every now and then there’s a brief moment of lucidity which hints at how, in the hands of a gifted scriptwriter, this material could have been reconfigured to create an engaging and exciting historical fantasy – like ‘Basilisk,’ for example. But the voiceover that tells us over the opening sequence “The future as it was meant to be will now be changed forever” seems to mean here ‘so we can do whatever we like with the story.’
The US dub is not very helpful, either. In places, it’s less stilted than the subtitles, but the actors frequently struggle to pronounce the Japanese names correctly, only adding to the confusion. And why did the voice director ask the US actor to portray Migeira (Migiela?) with a strong Spanish/Portuguese accent when frankly, he’s not really up to it? Migeira (who doesnt appear in the manga) is supposed to be one cool dude with a blaster concealed beneath his cloak worthy of a Gundam. He often makes portentous pronouncements about the course of history being changed. However when these are delivered in a voice more reminiscent of Antonio Banderas playing Puss in Boots in ‘Shrek 2,’ the impact is somewhat lessened.
It’s unfortunate that I came to this volume just after watching ‘Bleach’ Season 3 which stands out as a shining example of how to tell a complex story with multiple viewpoints over many episodes without confusing the audience.
On the strength of these episodes, I find it hard to recommend watching this series. What should have been a swashbuckling samurai story with an intriguing premise is stifled by and confusing story-telling.