I’ve long been a fan of fantasy stories in general, so fantasy anime is understandably one of my favourite genres. That said, there’s both good and bad series around and, after you’ve watched a certain amount, you feel like you’ve seen it all. I was therefore pleased that MVM Entertainment’s latest release, Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East [part 1] [part 2], is one of the better recent fantasy series.
Shino and Sosuke, along with their childhood friend Hamaji, are the sole survivors of a village that was wiped out five years ago. But Shino and Sosuke didn’t simply survive – they came back from the dead. Shino hasn’t aged a day and is the vessel of Murasame, a powerful demon sword who takes on the form of a crow, and Sosuke can transform into a dog. After living in relative obscurity for a few years, the boys attract the attention of the Imperial Church who recruit them to find the owners of eight mysterious gems. Why? That would be telling…
As you might expect, the mystery surrounding the gem owners is the main driver of the plot and thankfully the entire story isn’t thrown at you in the first episode. If anything, the fact that you aren’t really given any information until halfway through the series is quite frustrating. Shino and Sosuke are tasked with tracking down the remaining gem holders and they’re conveniently all fairly easily located over 26 episodes. They all share two things in common – they have cheated death and have a mysterious birthmark.
My main complaint with Hakkenden is that all of the main characters are men and there are no decent female characters to speak of. All of the gem holders are men and, although they aren’t all carbon copies of each other by any means, if there is a decent female character she’ll most likely be relegated to being a secondary character after a couple of episodes. Even Hamaji, who’s positioned as your typical ‘childhood friend’, doesn’t really serve any important purpose. The only other well-developed character, apart from the eight gem bearers, is a mysterious man named Ao who claims to be Sosuke’s ‘shadow’.
Despite this lack of decent female characters (not many female viewers will complain about the good-looking gem bearers) Hakkenden‘s story is genuinely intriguing and the mystery of the gems will keep things going. The world is also beautiful – a mix of East and West with plenty of spirits and legend thrown in. It does occasionally fall into some stereotypical fantasy anime moments and the story at times feels a bit stretched out, but there was never a point where I felt I could be skipping episodes to get back to the plot.
It’s worth pointing out that Hakkenden is based on a manga series that is still ongoing, which partially explains why the story is stretched out then rushed towards the end only for it to basically say “go and read the manga to find out what happens next”. If you can forgive this sort of thing in anime or want to pick up a new manga series as well, Hakkenden is a fun watch from start to finish. I personally found Season 2 a lot more enjoyable as the show started to tease out more information and demonstrate what the purpose of finding the gem holders actually was.
Anime connoisseurs might be interested to know that Hakkenden is licensed by Sentai Filmworks who are responsible for some other amazing series like Another and Shinsekai Yori (also available from MVM)!
Overall, I’d recommend Hakkenden to anyone looking for a fairly easy-going but entertaining and aesthetically-pleasing fantasy anime series. I give it a decent 7/10!