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The Hakkenden
Reviewer: Rowena Lim Lei 12/31/1999

A long time ago, Princess Fuse of the Satomi Clan was married off to the family dog, Yatsufusa. The circumstances for this turn of events were truly bizarre. Out of desperation, Fuse's father promised Yatsufusa that he'll have his daughter marry him if he brings back the head of the rival clan's lord. Yatsufusa surprisingly comes back with the bloody and detached head of their enemy, and so Fuse and her family have no choice but to fulfill the promise. Thus, Fuse and Yatsufusa go off to the mountains to start their strange new life together. However, after dreaming that she'd give birth to Yatsufusa's offspring, Fuse refuses to have Yatsufusa come near her -- threatening to commit suicide if he does. Now someone from the Satomi clan goes after the princess to try and rescue her, but mistakenly kills both her and Yatsufusa. As the princess lies dying, her eight prayer beads go up into the sky... and the legend of the dog warriors begins.

Really. I didn't know whether to laugh or feel sympathetic at the prospect of the Satomi princess marrying the family dog. One thing's certain: the whole thing was just too strange to pass up. As far as I know, Fuse and Yatsufusa never had any sexual contact, so it's also a mystery to me as to why the eight warriors that were conceived from Fuse's prayer beads are considered "their" offspring.

The Hakkenden is an epic about the lives, trials, and tribulations of the eight warriors born clutching a prayer bead in their hands. They come from different places and have different parents, but all of them have lives that are marked by violence and tragedy. The first warrior is Shino. Shino was raised by an honorable samurai, but is tasked with the perilous duty of delivering the legendary Murasame sword to its rightful lord. Shino is supposed to be engaged to be married to a beautiful girl named Hamaji, but Hamaji's parents have higher ambitions and they would rather have Hamaji be the mistress of a rich noble. The second warrior is Sosuke. Sosuke and his mother were banished from their village when he was a child, and they were forced to journey through the harsh winter landscape. As they reach the next village (serendipitiously where Shino and Hamaji live), the mother collapses and dies... leaving poor Sosuke. Sosuke is taken in by Hamaji's parents, but he is treated as a manservant so he can repay his debt to them. Only Hamaji ever showed any kindness to Sosuke, and he loved her very much... which conflicts with Hamaji's engagement to Shino. Then there's Dosetsu, Hamaji's half-brother, who was poisoned and left for dead by Hamaji's mother when he was a child. Although I remember the other warriors' faces and life stories as well, I can't remember all their names (sorry!). The five remaining warriors don't come from the same village as Shino, Sosuke, and Dosetsu however, and they have totally different backgrounds. There's also the mysterious and serpentine villain named Aboshi, who seems to cause most (if not all) of the dog warriors' problems. Aboshi just wants them all dead.

The art and animation are excellent... in the first three episodes. There's a sudden dip in quality by the fourth episode, which looked like it was drawn by a complete amateur. After that, the visuals never quite reach the level of the first three eps and totally goes to hell by the tenth ep. The tenth ep makes MTV's Beavis and Butthead look frickin' good! Fortunately, the quality goes up after that, and by the time you reach the last two eps everything looks almost as good as when you started watching. The music is just beautiful. I especially loved the ending theme "Tabi-Inochi no Sho", which had a soft, rustic-sounding, and melancholic melody. Surprisingly, the English version of that song entitled "Blue Skies" is just as good. The English dubbing is superb, my only nitpick being the varying pronounciations of Hamaji's name. Seiyuus of note in the original Japanese version include Aya Hisakawa (also Sailormercury in "Sailormoon", Skuld in "Oh My Goddess") as Hamaji, and Toshihiko Seki (also Duo Maxwell in "Gundam Wing") as Shino.

The Hakkenden presents a good mix of no-holds-barred samurai action (complete with gallons of blood, rolling heads, and severed limbs), richly portrayed characters, and an intricately woven plot. My only problem with it aside from the horrendously inconsistent visuals is the fact that there are just way too many subplots and characters (almost every dog warrior have their own set of supporting characters), so it gets a bit confusing at times.

The DVD release features 3 discs that contains all thirteen episodes.

The Hakkenden
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Review Title:
The Hakkenden
Alternative Titles:
Legend of the Dog Warriors
390 Minutes
General Rating:
4 out of 5 stars
Suitable For:
Action, Adventure, Fantasy,
Martial Arts, Samurai, Shounen
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