There’s something rewarding about an anime that proves your first assumptions wrong. Hakkenden is one of those shows which I completely wrote off as a banal exercise to draw superficially angst-laden beautiful men and the unresolved sexual tension between them. Not that those things aren’t present in Hakkenden, it’s there but the story evidently strives to be more than that while still sticking to the quiet exploration of its characters and their relationships with one another.
Some might say that Studio DEEN is far from its glory days, but with Yamasaki Osamu and Yamazaki Mitsue working together, they’ve managed to create one of the most visually stunning Studio DEEN works I’ve seen a while. Yamazaki Mitsue has extensively worked on a number episodes of Mawaru Penguindrum and her skills are present here, creating some truly evocative imagery and an incredible awareness of space, color and shadow.
Stunning shots from the Hakkenden series.
The series as a whole is stunning to look at and Hitomi Kuroishi’s score just makes it both a visual and auditory treat. But is Hakkenden’s core story worthy of the elegant treatment? I’d say yes.
When it comes to telling stories about people and the bonds they share, Hakkenden has what it takes to spin compelling arcs each with their own resounding effect. Some arcs are more powerful than others but there’s an underlying bittersweetness in each one. Hakkenden’s world is populated by demons and spirits that intermingle with humans. Shino and the rest of the cast are a prime example of what happens when a human enters a dependent relationship with either a spirit or a demon and how that alters them as people. In a way, it’s almost like a more action-oriented Natsume Yuujinchou, this is most especially prevalent with the monkey god and yukionna episodes.
Hakkenden is far from perfect though, I found the first three episodes to be one of the most difficult to sit through from last winter season. The series just throws you into its world, a weird mix of old and modern Japan with supernatural beasts running about with no real explanation whatsoever. Even the plot itself takes a backseat to let its character’s shine, a trait that may or may not appeal to certain kind of viewers. I dropped Hakkenden out of sheer frustration the first time, but picked it up again when I found out that the winter season just wasn’t doing it for me. Sometimes giving things a second chance is the best thing you can do.
If you can manage to get through those three episodes and find yourself caring about the characters, Hakkenden becomes a pleasant surprise. It’s more sophisticated than your average pretty boy show and stays entertaining until the end.