In the mood for blood: notes on the atmosphere in Shigurui

shigurui 05 irako fujiki white bridge

Shigurui is one sexy show. I don’t mean this in the way the reviewers I respect mean it, in the way they talk about the content of sex in the show. The sexuality of the show is actually quite repulsive. If you get off on it, think of what you’re finding out about yourself. That may make this show worth the watch already. I call it sexy because of the dripping cool atmosphere throughout the show. It’s quite captivating in a dangerous way.

While I’ve classified this (the manga at least) as a ‘real samurai’ categorically, I don’t think for a second that this is a realistic portrayal at all, in the sense that the events portrayed adhere to reality to a very high degree (the blood spilled, for example, flows and drips too stylishly to be true to life). It is a fantastic story, only that the fantasy elements (most notably the superhuman sword techniques) are portrayed in a way that is dedicated to plausibility: there is a stylistic lack of bright sparkles, explosions, bright burning energy ‘charges,’ flying in the air, etc. etc.

The presentation is of the common and commonplace. Humans behave like humans and move like humans. When Irako Seigen leaps all the way up to the ceiling in panic, the feat is remarkable and uncommon. It is rendered significant, as an event. As a viewer I know it is a fantastic feat, and appreciate it as a good fantasy.

What is atmosphere? To me it has to do with the mood of the subject. It’s as in my experience of the show, the text, I’m breathing a specific kind of air that affects me in both a cerebral and emotional way. Visuals, manner of dialogue, and music all contribute to this. As I’ve described above, the atmosphere in Shigurui is captivating and dangerous.

shigurui 05 iku kogan fingers breastshigurui 05 iku kogan spiders sex

The 6-fingered Kogan is like a tarantula in the sack. We find here a (bordering on grotesque) May-December graphic sex scene, wherein a very important plot point unfolds. The metaphorical images are fairly obviouse (poisonous spider for a multi-fingered, lusty, very freaking dangerous sword master), but the notable thing here isn’t the inventiveness of the imagery but rather the execution of the scene in moving pictures. It uses rather conventional sexual portrayal, but the manipulation of the elements make it unsettling. That and the idea that something horrible and bloody can happen at any time holds you captive.

The ‘disturbing’  atmosphere isn’t limited to sexual portrayal and gory violence, the takes on children’s activities, parental nostalgia, are all done with something weird going on, though never too weird to call too much attention to itself.

shigurui 05 snowman weeping tears of bloodshigurui 05 seigen mother and child mother eats cakes

Seigen’s mother gorges on rice cakes as Irako himself looks on, becoming a child — watching his mother eat like a child. This image was the first that really got my attention and provoked me to write this post. When I saw it I really thought, ‘this anime is really showing me something.’ Having read all translated volumes of the manga, I daresay it’s a very well-done adaptation. The visual style sticks to the foundation of the manga, but the feel is somehow very different. In the manga what really transfixes me is the fetishization of human anatomy and what violence can be done unto it. The anime gives me something more, something layered and encompassing.

shigurui 05 kogan admires fujiki's maintenance of his sword

A close-up like this juxtaposes beauty and horror. Sensei Kogan admires the skill in which the blade has been cleaned and maintained, bringing into the conversation an element of work and (recent) history to the conversation of ‘how things look.’ The sword is beautiful, Kogan is horrid, but is revealed (at least in the manga) to be a very interesting character, there’s definitely more to him than his violence, cruelty, lust, and weathered leathery hide.

The close-up also reveals a lucidity in the eyes that wasn’t apparent up until this scene, save for flashbacks to a younger self. We see that the sword and a woman, the tools of the samurai’s pleasures still bring the apparently senile Kogan to mastery of his senses. I say here that this is accomplished by the strength of the images in this post by themselves. Of course it will be difficult to highlight these as these things aren’t stills — the ‘camera’ doesn’t stay fixed on them too long, but after some reflection, I deem the images to be very strong, and make the atmosphere of the show what it is.

shigurui 05 kogan ceremonial armor

And I’m glad that it doesn’t fall in love with its metaphors and image play too much, and doesn’t forget that it is a samurai tall-tale, where the swordsmanship and the samurai trappings are the content that matters. The atmosphere makes for a very involving presentation though. I recommend it to you swordfight fans out there, it’ll be hard to look away from this one!

Further Reading

A shellshocked first impression (Owen 2008/05/01)
Highlighting the sex and the violence among the samurai (Bateszi 2007/12/08)
I talk a bit about the illustrations in the manga, and I talk about the distinction of ‘real’ and ‘super’ samurai anime and manga [->]
This atmosphere is due to the result of the director’s work, Hamazaki Hirotsugu, who’s also done Technolyze, a show that I dropped when I didn’t have too much time to spend on anime. I can’t really comment on his work there, but for Shigurui I think he’s made very interesting decisions. I’d like to think of this show as a 26, or even 50-episode anime that the first part is a 12-episode arc contingent to the availability of manga content. Aria the Animation comes to mind — a first arc of what to me feels like an excellent 5o-episode show. [->]
I think the art director, Kaneko Hidetoshi is worth mentioning. His body of work as an art director include shows such as Battle Angel, Black Lagoon, Five Star Stories, Galaxy Express 999: Can You Live Like a Warrior!!, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Technolyze, among others [->]

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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15 Responses to In the mood for blood: notes on the atmosphere in Shigurui

  1. The Envoy says:

    Good suggestion there. How’s it compared, standard-wise, to the Blade of the Immortal?

    • ghostlightning says:

      I haven’t seen Blade of the Immortal, but my next post will survey a lot of samurai/ninja anime based on their depiction of fighting. You may find it useful.

      The production values in Shigurui are pretty high, and story-wise you’ll find a rather stirring rivalry without the histrionics of let’s say Aoshi vs. Kenshin, Shishio vs. Kenshin, Mugen vs. Jin, or Suzaku vs. Lelouch, to mention a few rivalries (Rurouni Kenshin/Samurai X, Samurai Champloo, Code Geass).

      The level of gore exceeds that of Ninja Scroll, though in terms of action — the animation isn’t as fluid, not only because I’m comparing a TV series to a movie, but rather the style of the Shigurui adheres to the ideal of the singular perfect strike. You won’t see a lot of parrying and blocking here.

  2. Animenerdz says:

    that…was awesome…will have to check it out..thanks for the review

    • ghostlightning says:

      Thanks! At 12 episodes, this title is easy to digest too (only I can’t advise eating anything while watching). The manga will give you a more substantive experience, but definitely the anime stands well on the merits of its style.

  3. I can’t tell if this animation quality looks really amazing or if it’s just trying to compete with Star Trek on the lens flare front. Guess I would have to watch the show to find out.

    • ghostlightning says:

      I would say that the animation quality is pretty up there, though I’d wish for more frames per second during fight scenes. However, the directorial style doesn’t really call for a lot of fluidity and the result is by no means mediocre.

  4. bloodshed . . . horror . . .samurai

    I don’t mind mature stuff as long as its not as disturbing as GATZ level

    looks freakin’ awesome *_*

    I should really really watch this someday xD

    *regrets ignoring it before mainly because the art at first impressions wasn’t her type . . . look how wrong she was*

    • ghostlightning says:

      I’m not familiar with GATZ so I can’t give you a useful comparison, However, Shigurui can be pretty disturbing. The human body goes through a lot of punishment throughout the show. You’ll see a fair amount of teeth picked out of knuckles, leaving bloody holes (some punching happens). Blood and guts flow freely, etc.

      • gah, I meant GANTZ not GATZ x_x me and my typos x_x

        However, Shigurui can be pretty disturbing. The human body goes through a lot of punishment throughout the show. You’ll see a fair amount of teeth picked out of knuckles, leaving bloody holes (some punching happens). Blood and guts flow freely, etc.
        === Ah, I think I can tolerate that. I’ll see when I’ve finally watched it xD Hehe.

  5. super rats says:

    I’d been on the fence on watching this. It’s odd, but this is the third time I’ve seen something about this show in a week. The frequency provides a convenient excuse. I guess knowing the quality of the production is solid helps.

    • ghostlightning says:

      While it’s present in the anime, the rivalry here is quite interesting and explored fully in the manga. It’s very interesting how the perceived antagonist comes off as more sympathetic than the perceived lead. One could argue that there are two lead characters, only that they are in mortal conflict with each other.

  6. Pingback: Cutting Through a Forest of Swords: a Survey of Swordplay Anime « We Remember Love

  7. Pingback: Shigurui: Death Frenzy: HappySoda

  8. JR says:

    I’ve watched all 12 episodes and enjoyed it. But there is no resolve? a little help please am I missing the point?

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