The Tokugawa Shogunate has long been the most fabled period of Japanese history for storytellers. Often called the Tokugawa Peace, the regime established by Tokugawa Ieyasu, lasting from 1600 through 1868, brought about an end to warring social classes. In the background of the Empire loomed a subculture that has often been the subject of many myths, legends and fantasy tales. The Ninja were a society onto themselves that existed outside the confines of government rule. Their esoteric culture allowed them to utilize the superstitions of the populace, thus creating the illusion of “ninja magic.” Several Anime series have combined Japanese history with myth to exaggerate the legend of the Ninja. However, not many Anime tales come close to comparing with the intensity and over-the-top imagination of the Basilisk series (Basilisk: Kôga ninpô chô). Basilisk is a story that builds on the illustrious myths surrounding the ninja to create a hyperreality series that is devoid of filler episodes and packed with unadulterated visceral action.
Hatori Hanzo is one of the most famed historical Ninja. Tokugawa Ieyasu employed Hanzo to help solidify his powerbase in Japan, after which the Ninja became as much a part of Japanese government as the Samurai. Basilisk takes place towards the end of Ieyasu’s reign. It is time for Ieyasu to choose a successor to his thrown. Instead of picking his heir, Ieyasu decides to hold a fatal competition between the Iga and Koga ninja clans – each of which represent one of the possible successors to the Tokugawa thrown. Ten Ninja are named from each clan and their names are marked on a scroll. To win, the Iga or Kouga (Koga) must kill the ten Ninja named on the scroll from its rival clan and return the scroll to Ieyasu alive. Once the competition is afoot, a bloody massacre begins whose gruesomeness rivals that of Shogun Assassin (banned in 1983 for blood content).
Beneath the surface of this bloody tale is a Romeo & Juliet story. The Kouga and Iga clans have been rivals for longer than most living members can remember. The cause of their bitter rivalry is a mystery even to themselves. Kouga Danjo and Ogen of the Iga had tried to bring peace between the two clans by arranging a marriage between Oboro of the Iga and Gennosuke of the Kouga, the future leaders of their respective clans. Strangely, the two children develop a loving relationship between one another when they first meet. It is revealed that Danjo and Ogen were lovers at one point in the past as well, but an attack on Ogen’s village by the Kouga caused the two to fall out of love and become mortal enemies. The two would have killed each other if not for a ceasefire initiated by Hatori Hanzo. However, once the story begins, Ieyasu’s desire to hold a competition compels Hanzo to call an end to the ceasefire, giving the Iga and the Kouga a chance to rekindle their age-old feud.
Basilisk is front-to-back amazing. The characters are all uniquely developed with their own form of ninja magic. Uncovering each ninja’s magic becomes its own mysterious adventure as you watch them fight their way out of inescapable situations. Despite the level of blood and extensive fight sequences, each character is still able to find his or her humanity in the story. In this fashion, Basilisk transcends a mere action movie filled with violence and even your defacto Romeo & Juliet adaptation. The stories of the supporting characters are just as impressive to watch, as are the lead characters of Gennosuke and Oboro. The second half of the series, found on Disc 2 of the Blu-ray set, begins to explore each characters relationship with Gennosuke and Oboro through flashback episodes. Though some of these may at first appear to be filler episodes, like “First Impressions,” they actually help to flesh out the characters’ human sides and tie them into the story better. For example, you’ll come to learn that each clan is defending their future leader out of more than a sense of duty but also out of a sense of love and respect.
The Blu-ray release is stunning in 1080p and Dolby True HD: English 5.1. Typically, I prefer the original Japanese voicing (in Dolby Digital 2.0), but Funimation did an excellent job on this series casting voices that really suited the characters. Mark Stoddard does an exceptional job voicing Yakushiji Tenzen, the only true villain in the story. The Blu-ray release comes with 3 discs in a collector’s box. The artwork on the box is grayed out, with the blood behind the Basilisk text alerting you to the gore you can expect in the series. Gennosuke and Oboro adorn the cover. The two are separated by the bloodied text and looking in opposite directions, symbolic of both their love and the later irony you will discover in their ninja powers.
The Blu-ray release comes packed with extras, the most notable of which are the English Cast Auditions and the Japanese Press Extras. The English Cast Auditions lets you listen along to each character in the booth, while their character profile is on screen. ADR Director Tyler Walker prefaces each audition segment with an introduction to the character and actor. The Japanese Press Extras are a nice behind-the-scenes talk with the creative team of Basilisk. They are numbered 3-12. I am not sure why numbers 1 and 2 were omitted from the release. Also of note is that the extras are mislabeled on the disc cases. The “History of the Ninja,” a quick text-insert page, is not on disc 1 but on the final disc. Also there are no extras on Disc 2. These extras all appear on Disc 3.
If you were a fan of Ninja Scroll, Basilisk: The Complete Series is one series you will not want to miss out on. This is one of my favorite Funimation releases since Shigurui Death Frenzy and is by far one of the most memorable Anime series released in the past decade.
Disc 1: Extras
– The Onslaught of War Commentary with ADR Director Tyler Walker and Mark Stoddard Voice of Yakushiji Tenzen of Iga
Disc 2: No Extras
Disc 3: Extras
– Cast Auditions
– Textless Songs
– History of the Ninja
– Behind the Scenes of the Basilisk: Japanese Original Extra Features; includes First-Press Extra numbers 3 through 12.