Hakkenden Collection Vol. #1 - Mania.com

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: C+
  • Extras Rating: N/A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
  • MSRP: 14.98
  • Running time: 150
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Hakkenden, Legend of the Dog Warriors

Hakkenden Collection Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     February 05, 2008
Release Date: June 05, 2007

Hakkenden Collection Vol. #1
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.

What They Say
During the war-torn feudal wars of Japan, the Awa clan faced certain extinction from a rival clan backed by demonic forces. However, a careless promise by their lord leads to both salvation and disgrace when their family dog brings back the head of the enemy warlord and insists upon marrying the lord's daughter! Their unnatural union bears fruit, but when they are both killed, the eight unborn pups are reincarnated as the eight Dog Warriors - The Hakkenden. As they slowly find each other and come together as a group. These eight warriors, who represent the eight separate aspects of the Bushido, engage in bloody battles with demonic entitles and evil samurai in the final attempt to redeem their clan!

The Review!
Based on a novel, the first half of the series is released in this priced down incarnation in order to gain a bit more revenue several years too late.

Hakkenden is an old show by current standards so the simple stereo mixes at 192kbps on both language tracks isn't a surprise. Everything has a very center channel feeling to it with little to note regarding directionality or placement. What we do get is pretty good though when put into context with its age and it serves the visual material well. It's easy to think of how much better it could be, but in the end it works well enough. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally starting its release in 1990, the transfer for this OVA series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Unfortunately, Hakkenden was never a great looking release to begin with. Even with the original laserdisc, you had a fair bit of grain and nicks and scratches. The five episodes here are the same as the disc that was released in the original release back in 2001 when it comes to the content itself. Colors look good, if a bit flat by design. Some scenes are a bit soft, but mostly this show looks as intended. But the main offense is really the nicks and scratches. The final episode is the only one that seems to contain any cross coloration, which is a bit of a shame as the rest of the episodes looked good without it. For what it's worth, these episodes overall fair much better than the poor release Pioneer Japan rushed out with their even worse off masters back in 1998. They both share some of the same problems, but that release has a noticeable amount of macroblocking.

The single volume release of the series doesn't fare much better than any of the previous incarnations but it at least has a slightly more appealing look to it. This installment presents us with one of the warriors in an action pose that doesn't look too terribly dated with its designs. Set against a dark background with some Japanese text, it has a look that will appeal to the segment of fans that it's meant to while potentially drawing in a few others. The back cover keeps the look of the show under wraps by not including any shots from the show and instead going for a large text summary across the top half. The episodes are clearly listed with numbers and titles and the disc features, what few there are, are next to it. The remainder is the standard production information and the small but solid technical grid. No insert is included but the reverse cover is quite nice as it uses the same character artwork but gives it a two panel spread with some good design additions.

The menu design for the release is new in comparison to the collected version which is a surprise. It's pretty minimal since there's nothing on here besides the show itself and the language selection section. The design is reminiscent of the cover art from the original three disc collection and really pushes a minimalist feel and effort. It's not bad overall but it's certainly not memorable, not even a few minutes after looking at it. The disc didn't read our players' language presets and defaulted to English language with no subtitles.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
There is a lot of nostalgia for me when it comes to Hakkenden. The series was one of the first ones that Pioneer brought out on Laserdisc back in their entry into the US market and it was radically different from what other companies were putting out at the time. With it being relatively fresh and coming in that oversized package, it just stood out as very different from everything else. The animation style only made that more apparent and I loved frame-stepping through numerous scenes to see how everything was accomplished.

The Legend of the Dog Warriors is an enticing tale, especially if you're into the earlier time periods of Japan and the mix of mystery, horror and the classical Japanese sense of adventure. This series really rolls a lot of concepts into it, which isn't terribly surprising since it's based off of a series of novels by Bakin Takizawa. Much of what went into that novel shows up here in a rather detailed yet light story, letting the visuals do a good part in telling the tale.

The story begins in 1457, with the war raging between the Satomi clan and the Anzai clan. The Anzai have all but won this war, with the Satomi ragged and essentially boxed up in their remaining castle. The Anzai have something powerful on their side, and through one battle we see that their leader is possessed by something, giving him great strength and presumably more powers. The leader of the Satomi clan sends out his son-in-law to be for one final blow against the Anzai, but even that effort fails, and now all that's left is for the Anzai to storm into their castle.

It's at this point where the leader of the Satomi, having learned of how poorly the battle went, kneels outside his castle and wonders what to do. The faithful family dog, Yotsufusa, stares almost emptily into his masters eyes. He asks the dog what he would do to save the family, offering him unlimited food and other earthly goods. The dog simply stares back. When he jokingly offers his only daughter to the dog, the eyes come alive, and he barks an acceptance. The clan leader simply laughs and returns to the gloom of things.

It's within a day or two that Yotsufusa returns. And to the shock of everyone, he's got the bloody head of the leader of the Anzai clan in his jaws. And no matter what they give him, he wants none of it. He simply wants the promised girl, Princess Fuse, to be his. Eventually, he relents and Fuse agrees, as a promise was made, even if it was in jest, and must be kept. Yotsufusa and Fuse then take to the hills, where they live in peace and quiet for the next year.

It's during this time that we learn of the curse that Fuse has had placed on her, and we see the inner demons within her, with the spirits of dogs and the beads bearing sigils battle each other. When her human love finally finds them, he goes to shoot the dog, but ends up fatally wounding both. This act, and the brief act of Fuse afterwards, releases the eight spirits and beads into the world, where they split up and land in various areas. Fuse has essentially given birth to the Dog Warriors from this act. All of this takes place in about half of the first episode, which does the setup for each of the eight Dog Warriors to appear over the next twelve episodes. Each of the characters is fairly unique, though some get more screen time than others, and some are only introduced towards the end.

The main focus of the story is on Shino, who after watching his father kill himself over a dishonor, must return the Murasame blade his family has been entrusted with to the ruler of the Kanto region, as it will signify that ruler as the one true ruler. Shino sets off to do this, amid problems with some people in his village and his true love Hajime. He's foiled early on and fairly unknowingly, as the demonic man named Aboshi plays a trick and ends up switching the swords.

Aboshi, the main villain of the storyline, flitters in and out throughout the episodes, sometimes being the main antagonist, sometimes just manipulating things behind the scenes. Throughout, various Dog Warriors come across each other, each bringing their new human story to the forefront, and then setting off on the larger adventure and meeting up with the others. There's a great amount of mystery to things, and a lot of the show is wrapped in symbology and mythology of a culture I'm likely to never know intimately.

The shows style, especially at the time, was anything but standard. When releasing shows like Tenchi Muyo, Armitage III and El-Hazard, the design and feel of Hakkenden truly set it apart from what Pioneer was doing and from what most every other company was releasing. The show maintains a real world feel to it with bursts of the supernatural. The characters tend to not be pretty and even the attractive women are appropriate for the time period. Having seen more shows of a similar nature in the years since I first saw Hakkenden, it doesn't strike me quite the same way, but that's what nostalgia is for. There is a certain fluidity mixed in with some stilted movements that gives it all very unusual feeling.

In Summary:
Hakkenden is a lot of show for truly little money. Its supernatural basis tied with real-world lifestyles of the 1500's in Japan bring an interesting tale to the screen, one that you can see was used in other shows that followed. It doesn't hold back much, with plenty of blood and death, and doesn't flinch from the harsh realities of the day. This is a time when everyone was doing what they could to improve their station, regardless of how it affected others. Geneon unfortunately took far too long to break-up their original three disc collection into something more affordable, not that the original was expensive considering what it was. Coming out some six years after the original DVD release and then putting it out bimonthly just didn't make sense. The price certainly is good, but even then it's just a $10 MSRP savings over the original set if you could find it. I enjoy the show a great deal, but I understand its weaknesses as it progresses and that it has a limited audience. If you're into this kind of show, I do recommend nabbing the original set if you see it, but the pricing on the singles with discounts is pretty sweet as well.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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