Hakkenden, Legend of the Dog Warriors - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
  • MSRP: 54.95
  • Running time: 420
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Hakkenden, Legend of the Dog Warriors

Hakkenden, Legend of the Dog Warriors

By Chris Beveridge     October 09, 2001
Release Date: October 09, 2001


Hakkenden, Legend of the Dog Warriors
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.


What They Say
During the war-torn feudal wars in 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 on marrying the lord’s daughter. Their unnatural union bears fruit but when both are 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 Bushido, engage in bloody battles with demonic entities and evil samurai in a final attempt to redeem their clan!

Contains all of the OVAs!

The Review!
Hakkenden was one of the initial batch of shows Pioneer released back in the early 90's alongside their other Laserdisc only titles. With such a small market at the time, titles either became big hits or cult favorites. Hakkenden ended up in the cult favorite section. It's probably a bit ahead of its time though, and has survived quite well over the years.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. Throughout this fairly mild stereo soundtrack, we didn't encounter any dropouts or other distortions. There's not a whole lot of directionality to the show, though there are a few nice moments here and there in some of the fight sequences. This is otherwise a fairly dialogue driven show with some nice subtle music that makes good use of the left/right channels.

Video:
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 thirteen episodes here are spread across three discs, giving some good space for each episode to work with. 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.

Packaging:
Pioneer went and commissioned a new kind of keepcase for this release, and the result is a great three piece keepcase that's only slightly thicker than the usual two keepcase set (not the single double). They also went and used some great looking eye-catching artwork for the front cover, with the soft pencil style artwork contrasted with the blood red paint. The back cover has a nice soft piece of artwork of one of the key elements of the show to it. There's a decent summary of the show and a listing of all thirteen episode titles as well as the usual technical and production info. The insert reproduces the front cover on one side while the other lists the discs and their respective episodes.

Menus:
The menu system is very simple here. Each disc basically has only the episodes on it, so the main static screen gives way to things like language selection and scene access with a swish of a blade, the only bit of sound or animation in any of the menus. Access times between the menus is nice and fast and things are set about logically, there's just not a heck of a lot here.

Extras:
Extras are both good and a bit weak here. The character art gallery is nice, giving each of the warriors a page of color artwork. I wish there had been more of this though, with the original laserdisc covers and whatnot. There's also a good textless opening, which is always a plus, especially with the good music this series had. The lengthy extra is the recap episode. This was produced during a delay about halfway through the series, where the US release got held up. To help reacquaint people with things, a dub-only 30 minute recap was made and released with a couple of episodes on both laserdisc and tape.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
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.

The animation style is also quite good, though there were some problems during the production. About halfway through, things changed in style as I believe a new animation house was brought in to do the primary work, and at one point characters look quite different. In fact, though I believe it was done on purpose, one of the last episodes is done in a completely different style from all the other episodes, with the large eyes replaced by simple straight lines or small dots. The clothes went from typical to ragged, and the stature of characters changed dramatically. The director for this episode played around a lot with camera movements, producing an episode that really stands out against the others.

But that episode really can turn some people off. I found it fascinating as a way to tell a particular tale of the Dog Warriors, but my wife despised the animation used for it. Another oddity with this release is that there's about three different sets of subtitles used throughout. It's truly noticeable on the last disc where you can see it change from one font to another for the final couple of episodes.

Hakkenden is a lot of show for truly little money. It's 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.

Hakkenden's treatment for this back-catalog release is solid overall, barring a few minor problems here and there. It's been several years since we'd seen it in full, and found watching it all pretty much within a few days really helped keep things clear. This isn't a show for everyone, but it's one that I remember fondly coming home to check out each new laserdisc. While that thrill isn't there anymore, the thrill of getting reacquainted with this excellent story made up for it. Very recommended.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Character Gallery,Textless Opening,Recap Episode

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.

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