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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 [->]