The eyes of a wolf: Ben-To’s awesome

There’s a few different tactics one can employ when approaching a new season of anime. You can either jump straight in during the first week or wait a while longer for the dust to settle; neither choice is perfect, but for this season at least, I decided to wait for 3 episodes to be released before getting my hands dirty with any new series.

If 3 episodes seems an arbitrary amount, that’s because it is. My only logic here is that since I want a decently informed opinion on anime, 3 episodes are better than 1. Any given episode of a series can be misleading, but 3 are more likely to betray a consistent sense of story-telling and quality. Alas, they also take more time to watch, but for the most part, I enjoy watching anime, so that’s not such a drag!

(I say for the most part because Guilty Crown proved so atrocious that I had to quit barely 5 minutes into the 3rd episode amidst a growing sense of vertigo. So, this is what passes for noitaminA now?)

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Until I kill you, I’ll even eat mud to survive! Hokuto no Ken

Rei of Nanto Seiken.

When I finished watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes late last year, I felt like I’d had my fill of sprawling eighties anime series for a fair old time to come, but fate, it seems, has long been conspiring against me.

My destiny had seven scars on his chest. A mere swipe of his hand could (and invariably, will) render his enemies violently exploded! His name is Kenshiro, Fist of the North Star!

Firstly, I must admit, catching up with Hokuto no Ken has always been a secret ambition of mine. The 1986 “manga video” was a tangible part of my early years as an anime fan and exploring this whole, bloody story for the first time is akin to understanding that cliche feeling of a ‘child-like sense of wonder’.

Let’s face it, there’s no point in even trying to be objective about this, Hokuto no Ken is far, far, far from perfect. The story is predictable, the characters’ motivations are laughably ‘basic’ (‘without wit’ may be a better description) and the aesthetic is like some inbred, mutant offspring of Viking culture and Mad Max 2. So far, so flippin’ weird, but that’s why I love it, too!

People often forget anime; time always has the last word, but it seems many still remember Hokuto no Ken, which is ironic, as it’s probably the antithesis of what many fans would today describe as good anime; the manly ying to the moe yang, perhaps.

A subtle, beautiful and moving observation of life; Kenshiro’s journey is none of these things.

In 199X, the world is decimated by nuclear war. In-lieu of modern civilization, the strongest warriors have risen up to build vast armies of mohawked thugs and conquer the world. One of the few men brave enough to retain his honor and decency in this harsh new world (as evidenced by the fact that he wears denim jeans) is our hero Kenshiro, successor to the deadly martial arts style of Hokuto Shinken. He faces many fierce adversaries on his road to nowhere, including none other than his best friend, the blonde bombshell Shin.

Before abducting Ken’s fiancee Yuria, dragging her off to his castle and basically destroying Ken’s entire life up until that point, Shin was a good old boy, really. He just had some bad ideas about love, is all, but that will hardly stop Ken from sweeping across thousands of miles of broken cities and bitter deserts in search of delicious revenge.

The thing is, Kenshiro is a vigilante. He and his friends rarely live to fight another day; each battle is to the death and the so-called hero of this story could aptly be described as a mass-murderer too, which is, I think, why Hokuto no Ken has managed to retain its edge to this very day. It’s such an extreme and morally irresponsible show that one gets a giddy, visceral thrill from watching episode after episode of brutal, bloody death. That, and I think the art (particularly the character design) is great fun.

There are many square jawed, horse riding, really tall, massively fat and fundamentally odd-looking people in this. The facial expressions are often very funny and the voice acting is so melodramatic that I can’t help but be swept away by the sheer enthusiasm of it all. Logic be damned, then, I’m really enjoying Hokuto no Ken.

Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal – Jaded no more

I was suffering from anime burnout earlier this evening and rather than try to watch something new (and inevitably hate it with this jaded perspective), I decided I’d dip back into my ever-growing DVD collection, pull out a classic I knew I’d love and rediscover my passion for anime.

Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal is a series of dark prequel OVAs set before the events of the TV series. It’s a story concerning the bloody history of Himura Kenshin and reveals the mystery behind his iconic cross-shaped facial scar.

There are many, many reasons why I love these OVAs. Being a fan of the original Rurouni Kenshin TV series it is like a dream come true to see the series depicted in such a serious, dramatic way. Gone is the slightly uncomfortable slapstick comedy, replaced with horrific violence and a sombre mood. I always enjoyed how Rurouni Kenshin would regularly reference Japanese history and legend (I’ve learnt so much about Japan thanks to anime) and the narrative backdrop for these OVAs is based on true events; the Japanese revolution of the Edo period (around 1866 to 1869) in which the Tokugawa shogunate is eventually overthrown. We get to see legendary (real life) personalities like the Shinsengumi’s feared captain Hajime Saitō in action fighting Kenshin. Their climatic meeting in Trust & Betrayal is a great moment for both fans of the TV series and history buffs a like.

The action, which purely consists of lighting fast, utterly brutal sword and ninja fights showcases some of the finest samurai choreography ever animated. Watching Kenshin taken down warrior after warrior is an absolutely stunning and harsh spectacle, an utterly visceral, backs against the wall feeling.

Of course this would all mean nothing if Trust & Betrayal had little of real value to say but thankfully, this is far more than simply fan service for pre-existing fans of the TV series. The story is self-contained and features an absolutely gripping love story; driven by a tragic romance, set against a world-changing revolution and animated with visceral brilliance, these 4 OVAs are rightly considered landmark productions and taken as a whole, are up there amongst my favourite anime of all time.