Hey I’m Watching That… (In Subtitles): Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East – Season 1

 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted some anime reviews, but I finished Hakkenden the other day as the final episode hit streaming services across the net (my personal choice is Hulu still). Rather than an episodic style review I figured I would tackle the entire first season which is thirteen episodes. I’m guessing that this series is pretty popular since it was given the go ahead for the second season about midway through, but also they included a small bump at the end of the finale which is not something I’ve see done often in anime.

What the hell is this show about you asks? It's actually funny that you would ask that, because the overall plot to the series isn’t revealed until the last episode. I’ll present it in the way the series was revealed to me and maybe that’ll strike up you’re interest.

The series follows a young boy named Shino Inuzuka and his two friends Sosuke Inukawa and Hamaji. They are the only three survivors a fire that took their entire village. Now Sosuke has the ability to morph into the form of a dog and Shino, the main character, has a powerful entity known as Murasame living inside of him. Murasame takes the form of a talking crow most times, but can also be a powerful sword for Shino to wield. Since Murasame resides in Shino’s body, he’s partially cursed and has not aged in over five years meaning that he’s looked like a fifteen year-old boy for those five years while everyone else has aged around him.

The story begins with the Church finding the three survivors and summoning them to their headquarters. The Church and headquarters are in a lot of ways modeled after the Catholic religion, but they use different symbolism which appears throughout the show and also they have magic and fantasy elements that they openly accept exist. In fact everyone in the world accepts that magic, demons and even other gods exist. Shino has a strong connection to this as the lords, spirit and gods of different things like mountains and lakes will reveal themselves in his presence.

Shino fights the summon at first as the Goko Five Foxes are sent to escort them, but Shino and Murasame make quick work of them. After dealing with some monster problems Shino and Sosuke come home to find Hamaji gone and decide to take off after her at the Imperial Capital. From there we meet Shino’s guardian Rio who is one of the children of the House of Sacred Beasts. The Church may only acknowledge one god in public, but behind closed doors they know there are more and seek to control their power.

Once in the city, Shino begins to make connections with people. The first is Kobungo who is looking for his once future brother in-law Genpachi. After that sequence of events Kobungo and Genpachi’s lives become intertwined with Shino and Sosukes, so much so that they follow with Sosuke as he goes to look for Shino who runs off at one point and inadvertently finds more people to connect with.

The thing that’s very enjoyable about the story is that there are many layers to the world and to the plot. Shino and Rio are keeping the fact that Shino is looking for glowing beads that each have a character written within them, such as: Fraternity, Integrity, Duty and Devotion to name the four previous characters beads.

Also there is a lot of mystery surrounding the events that left Shino and Sosuke as the only two surviving males of the village and while Hamaji is connected to them, she doesn’t have any of the same gifts or special talents that they do. Murasame is also a mystery as several people know its name, but what his full power is remains unseen. It’s also alluded that Shino has willed Sosuke to life and the reason Sosuke shares his body with a dog spirit is to be able to live. This element factors into a later story line where it’s revealed that Sosuke’s other half or his “shadow” comes into play and begins manipulating events.

While the overall plot is very serious, it’s also quite foolhardy. Shino is a spoiled brat and while he and everyone else know it as well, they still go out of their way for him. Everyone is kind of drawn to him and they constantly mention his beauty and looks as they talk about him in almost a female way. There are also several homosexual undertones involving Shino as Genpachi thinks that he’s a girl at first and never really drops his infatuation with him afterwards. Also there are numerous instances between Shino and Sosuke and even Sosuke’s shadow. It’s not outright saying it and due to another story aspect you come to learn that they were all brothers-in-arms in a past life together, so it could just be that sort of closeness for sure… but they intentionally play it the other way. It was fine by me, but sometimes they use it as more of a joke which comes off passive aggressive towards the subject.

All of the sexual identity aside, the story is pretty damn cool. The world has a huge history created for it and we’re not even getting a fraction of it at times. There’s some hostility towards the Church, there’s rival religions in the area as well and then there’s the beads that all of the men have. I really do get the impression that there is a ton at play that hasn’t even been revealed to the audience yet. What I also enjoy is the lack of information that all of the characters share. Shino obviously knows a lot, but he rarely shares any of the information and that’s pretty common amongst all of the characters. They’re not quite lies, but the story would definitely be different if all the characters put their cards on the table. In a way they’re all trying to protect one another and they feel by not telling the others something, that they’re actually helping.

The animation is pretty standard; the men all have thin frames and several of them have feminine features. Some of the characters are even confused about each other’s gender at times. The action is good and the show doesn’t focus on showing the characters in their demonic or spirit-esc forms that much. When Shino calls upon Murasame he begins a Sailor Moon style of changing in which an eyeball appears on the back of his hand and then tattoos, followed by fleshy wings springing from his forearm. Thankfully this isn’t shown 100% each time and at the very least it’s edited down to only a few seconds.

It’s a strange world that is rich with history and interesting characters and I can definitely see why it would be popular enough for a second season. I’m sure it would just be classified as a Shonen style of story, but for me it’s just a fantasy adventure story. It’s really hard to say that it’s like this or that; because it really has a different story compared to the others it would likely share a genre with. The second season is already slated for the latter half of 2013 (possibly summer), so you have some time to get caught up, but it’s not a long series by any means.

Score: 4/5

Director: Mitsue Yamazaki

Writers: Mitsue Yamazaki and Osamu Yamaskai

Studio: Studio DEEN