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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gundoh Musashi: The Anime Equivalent of The Room

During my college years I had to take two semesters of physics. For both semesters I had the same professor, and though he was a good teacher the thing I remember most about him was that the next class after taking an exam my physics professor would "torture" himself as payback for torturing his students with an exam. Granted, he knew what he was doing, but he still did some crazy things, like laying on a bed of nails, complete with having one of his students put a large cinder block on his chest, or even putting liquid nitrogen into his mouth before immediately spitting it out, and he would come out of it perfectly fine. Why do I bring this up? Well, after one year of doing this blog and reviewing 49 titles, I felt that review #50 should be something special... Something known to be absolutely horrible, yet never really given a review that covers the entire show with a complete lack of bias... Something that I had put on my future reviews list from the very beginning but was afraid to actually watch all of. And, trust me, it's tough not go into straight-up bashing when it comes to this show.

This is actually a letterboxed image from the DVD... 

This anime has many variations of its title: Gundoh/Way of the Gun Musashi (which is the name I use), Gun-doh Musashi, Musashi Gundoh, or, just simply, Musashi. This is truly one of those anime that come up once in a red moon (yes, a red moon), and shows anime fans just how bad something can be. M.D. Geist? That's simply the anime equivalent to the violent action movies Hollywood loved making back in the 80s. Apocalypse Zero? That's simply a homage/semi-parody of tokusatsu and shows just how violent having power suits can really be. Sure, people are quick to put titles like those on lists of absolute worst anime of all time, but more often than not that's simply because the people making those lists simply aren't into that kind of material, i.e. it's a matter of personal taste/subjectivity and not really an objective decision. Now, yes, reviews in an of themselves are subjective, and that's the point of reviews, but saying that stuff like Geist and Apocalypse Zero are the worst anime ever is really just parroting an exaggerated view. Now titles like Garzey's WingPanzer Dragoon, which feature problems that involve the actual production itself, are undeniably bad. Sure, some people might like them in a "So Bad it's Good" way, but that doesn't mean that titles like those are good by any means because their problems go into the actual production aspect and aren't simply a problem with the content. And Gundoh Musashi fits into the latter category... In fact, from a production standpoint it's probably the worst anime ever, and even though there are glimpses of a good show while you watch it, the negatives just overpower everything and make this an absolute joke to watch.

Airing from April to October of 2006, Gundoh Musashi aired on BS-i, TBS/Tokyo Braodcasting Ssytem's satellite affiliate, and was the creation of legendary manga-ka Monkey Punch, the creator of Lupin the 3rd. Right when the first episode aired people could tell that something was definitely wrong with this show. Right from the first few seconds of the opening theme you could tell that this show was not starting on the right foot, but unlike an anime like Zaizen Jotaro, which was able to recover from a bad first episode, Gundoh Musashi never really recovers, and it can be argued that it actually gets worse the further you go in. I will admit, though, that the concept behind it is actually really neat and that the characters do have that fun style to them that Monkey Punch is known for, but when the production itself is as horrific as this show is, even the greatest story ever told will simply drown to its death.

The Sengoku/Warring States Era of Japan has ended and Toyotomi has defeated Tokugawa for control of Japan. The country enters an era of peace, but Tokugawa still lives in his castle, wishing that he had won the Battle of Sekigahara. One day, an ayakashi called Yasha appears before Tokugawa and his son and says that the world they live in is not the world that should be existing. Yasha tells Tokugawa that he should have won the war and that history says that his rule would last for hundreds of years. After showing Tokugawa an image of what Japan would be like if history followed its proper course, Tokugawa wishes for Yasha's help. Yasha says that for history to be returned to normal then Tokugawa has to kill Princess Kaguya, the stepdaughter of Toyotomi who lives in Osaka Castle, for her existence is the reason why history has been altered. Yasha also gives Tokugawa ayakashi powers, and Tokugawa changes his name to Ryougen so that no one can find out the truth. The only person who can stop Ryougen is Musashi Miyamoto, a brash young man who wields a sword but prefers to use a gun-based style called Gundoh.

It's best to start with the positives, since that will take less time. From the synopsis above, which mainly comes from a flashback that happens in episode 8 or so, you can tell that the concept of the story is actually pretty neat. Tokugawa is the villain of the story, but his goal is actually to put history back on its proper course. It actually sounds like a noble goal, and it's a nice twist to see it be the goal of the villain rather than the hero. Also, the show is actually very story-based and only has action in small doses. There are a lot of moments where story is advanced and characters are developed through conversation, though action is still a focal point at times. Half-way through the story the focus changes from a seemingly random journey to a more-focused journey where Musashi and his group search for the seven "sealing stones" which can supposedly seal the ayakashi away for good. The characters are also fun in a similar way to that of the Lupin bunch, but that's understandable considering Monkey Punch created this show. In one of the funniest moments of the show, Musashi and his group enter a castle to search for the second stone, where they have to fight against their past selves, but killing their past selves would result in a time paradox. Ryougen decides to go after the stone himself and brings Shingen Takeda, who had died and become an ayakashi, with him. Upon entering the castle, Ryougen and Takeda meet up with their past, human selves and after seeing what they end up becoming, their past selves threaten to kill themselves through seppuku. Seeing Ryougen and Takeda frantically try to convince their past selves not to commit seppuku was quite hilarious.

Though it is pretty blasphemous to have Musashi Miyamoto be a gun user and not a sword user (he always has his sword with him, but he only really uses it once [the 1st episode]), he balances it out by being a good bit brash and sarcastic, leading to him being fun to watch. And, let's be honest, having him use guns is no less ridiculous of an idea than how Sengoku BASARA portrays him, which is a hyperactive teenager that fights with two giant boat oars. Rounin, Musashi's partner, is also entertaining and is usually the calmer person of the two; he's the Daisuke Jigen to Musashi's Lupin. The other members of Musashi's group are Ninjataro, a young ninja who calls himself "Musashi's first student"; Desperado, a foreign woman who originally wants Musashi dead due to a misunderstanding that lead her to believe that Musashi killed her father; Danjou, Kaguya's personal guard; Kaguya herself; and Princess Yume, who has mystical defensive powers. On the other side you have Ryougen, who's actually the most comical character and though he can fight back, as proven during his sole fight with Musashi, he's effectively useless without Yasha; Old Man Dabi, a mysterious inventor who seems to side with Ryougen for his own personal reasons; and Yasha herself.  There's also appearances of Yukimua Sanada and some members of his Ten Braves, with Sasuke Sarutobi becoming a major character himself. Sasuke and Ninjataro look exactly alike, and their relation to each other becomes a underlying plot point for a few episodes. For a show that is generally considered one of the absolute worst anime ever, there is a good amount to potentially like.

That said, the negatives are so strong that they effectively negate the positives completely. Honestly, it's impossible to simply mention everything that Gundoh Musashi gets wrong... And that's because it literally does everything wrong at least once. But before we get to the major problems, let's look at what goes wrong with the story and characters. The biggest problem is that the story looks to become a little too complex near the end. Dabi creates a clockwork robot called Rasetsu to help gather the stones, but Rasetsu kind of comes off as slightly underutilized and the final fight with it comes off as pretty odd. Also, half-way through a onmyouji named Urashima is introduced, and she effectively removes Yasha from the story and changes the focus to her. While Urashima's involvement does bring in some nice twists that keep the story interesting, it also results in the climax becoming pretty underwhelming, and the last episode isn't the definitive end that it should be. Yes, Gundoh Musashi has the "our adventure continues" ending, and it's sad to see such a neat concept drop the ball in the end.

Finally, Rounin often says one word answers to questions often, usually "dana/probably" or "ah sou/oh, right". Though it's made fun of by the other characters they also end up saying "dana" often, and there are many moments where everyone simply says "dana" to a question one after the other. Needless to say, it can get a little annoying at times and comes off as nothing but padding to waste time. Granted, I could only understand so much of the story due to a lack of English subtitles, since only the first episode was subbed, twice at that, with the first release being impossible to get now and the second release apparently only works on Linux due to the video format it uses. Still, these story and character problems are only the tip of the iceberg.

Gundoh Musashi is an anime, so therefore the animation is an extremely important part of the production. Limited animation is fine as long as the show doesn't need anything more than that, and even sub-par animation can be forgiven to a point if the show itself is good enough. Gundoh Musashi's animation, though, goes beyond sub-par and limited and reaches a low that is hard to match. Literally every episode is filled with problems, and listing every moment that goes wrong would simply take too long. So, instead, let me list off the biggest problems this show has, with some of it's most offensive moments:

-Inconsistent character drawings: While characters are usually designed by one person, sometimes a few more (3-4 at the most), the designers don't actually draw every shot that features them. Rather, the characters are drawn by the animators, who should make it their top priority to not only make characters look good but also make them look as similar to the original designs as possible. Gundoh Musashi rarely gets this right, as characters, specifically their faces, are drawn in all sorts of styles, usually horrifically bad or even frightening in how they look. The moments where the characters look good do a fine job, but they are so rarely seen.

-Badly-done sound syncing: Sound is an important part of animation, as when the animation shows something happening, there should be an appropriate sound at the right time. It's essential to have the sound sync up with the animation, as it would otherwise ruin the moment. Gundoh Musashi has numerous moments where sound effects are either done too early or too late, and it definitely can be annoying.

-Poorly-done animation: Even if the animation is sub-par, if it at least flows well then there's a chance of forgiveness, though that usually comes down to personal opinion. Gundoh Musashi, though, has many problems with this. Slower moments generally work well enough, though even those scenes can have problems, but action scenes are horribly done. Character motions are just awkwardly drawn, the flow of the fights, though still followable, is very rough and seemingly jumps past moments which should have been shown, and there are tons of moments where shortcuts are obviously used, like literally zooming in on a shot that just looks like it was badly done via Final Cut Pro. Then there are shots that look very soft and blurred, which clash badly with the sharper-looking shots and I can't honestly explain how those came about.

-Backgrounds that aren't drawn: This is one of the biggest problems I have with the animation, and it's not even due to things actually animating. Though there are a fair amount of drawn backgrounds, they are usually for indoor environments. When the show goes outdoors, though, expect to see, and I am not kidding, photos of actual trees being used for the background. This is not a joke... Forest environments are literally just pictures of actual forests with the drawn characters put on top of them, and other outdoor environments try to fool you by seemingly putting filters over the photos to make them look drawn, but the actual result just looks like a really bad Photoshop job. Hell, there are even a few indoor environments that look like filtered photos! Granted, this is mostly for the backgrounds; when foreground is shown it's generally drawn, except for those indoor photo shots. I can't really even think of another anime that uses this same method of using backgrounds, and it's easy to see why... It looks stupid.

-Simply not animating anything & making pre-rookie mistakes: Now this is just outright laziness. The show will literally just not animate stuff that should be animated at times. The most common example of this laziness is when the show simply doesn't animate moving mouths when a character is speaking on screen; this happens so often that it stops being funny. In fact, the most infamous moment I can think of actually involved mouth animation going horribly wrong. In episode 11, Yukimura is shown talking with two of his Braves (I know one of them is Saizo). All three characters are on screen, you can see their faces, and you hear Yukimura talking... The only problem is that Yukimura's mouth isn't moving, but rather Saizo's is! Though Yukimura starts talking when the shot is zoomed in on him, once it zooms out to a group shot all of Yukimura's dialog comes out of Saizo's animating mouth while Yukimura's mouth does nothing. To make the moment all the more wrong, when Saizo responds his mouth doesn't animate, but rather it's the mouth of the other member of the Braves! That means the animators literally animated the wrong mouth twice with two different characters, with Saizo's mouth animating for literally about a good five or so seconds! How the hell do you not notice that?!

For probably the most infamous moment of there being no animation at all, look no further than Episode 1. At the end of the episode, Yasha fights Musashi and Rounin, and Yasha sends an energy blast at Musashi. It misses and instead hits a tree, which falls and Musashi dodges away from. The problem? No tree is ever shown falling, let alone drawn at all. You hear the tree fall and you see Musashi notice it & dodge, but there's no tree visible outside of the photo-background. And this is in the first episode!  To finish this off, the two biggest examples of laziness are at the beginning and end of each episode. The anime has two opening and ending themes, yet the footage for the opening and ending never changes. Not only that, but neither opening really seems to match the footage that well. The other big one is that fact that all but the last two episodes use the same monologue that Kaguya gives which explains what happened at the end of the war, footage and all. I can understand using the monologue for the first half of the show, but the moment the themes change, which is episode 15, the monologue should have either been dropped or changed to a new one to accompany the change in story focus. Why was the monologue kept for so long? Probably just so that the animators had one minute less to animate for each episode.

I kind of feel bad for Yuki Kinoshita, who directed this show. Gundoh Musashi was Kinoshita's first directorial position, having been a key animator, storyboarder, and episode & animation director before this, and since this show his only other directorial position was for the 2007 kids' anime Shampoo Ouji. According to the anime's Japanese Wikipedia page, Kinoshita was personally ashamed for how the show came out and wanted to redeem himself by redoing the show for DVD, which I'll get to in a little bit. The script was handled by Naoyuki Sakai, who had worked on the Angel Densetsu OVA and some episodes of Street Fighter II V before this, and I really just feel like the somewhat convoluted last two episodes were a case of the show being canceled so that it could finally be put out of its misery. Masami Suda designed the characters, and when they actually are drawn well you can tell that Suda did a really good job at keeping those characters true to Monkey Punch's silly and cartoonish style; it's one of the anime's paltry few positives. The music by Atsushi Koike (Samurai 7's OP theme arrangement) & Yoshinori Sugimoto is not really all the great, either. There are a couple of good songs, but they aren't memorable for long and overall a lot of it sounds like it would fit more in a Gundoh Musashi game than in the anime itself. The first opening theme, "GHOST BUSTERZ" by ULTRA BRAiN, is simply terrible, as it has no flow, has barely any beat to it, and comes off as just a bunch of guys saying random stuff in a mix of Japanese & English; it's nothing more than noise. Unfortunately, the moment you hear it it will stay in your head for the rest of the day. The second opening, "Glitter" by Phantasmagoria, is much better. The beat is fast-paced and easily memorable, and though the song might sound a little silly at times it's still a fun song and a definite improvement over the first theme. The two ending themes, "STYLE" by kimeru and "Tsuyairo no Hikari" by Ai Aoyama, are both good ending themes; kimeru has that usual J-Pop style that works and Aoyama's song is a slower-paced one that fits well.

Seriously, Musashi, there is no tree to be afraid of being crushed by!

Daisuke Namikawa voices Musashi, and does a good job at keeping the character brash & sarcastic. Jin Horikawa (X in B't X, Tetsuya Onodera in Super Robot Wars OG) does a likewise good job with Rounin, making the pair good to listen to. Rei Igarashi (Precia Testarossa in Nanoha, Diana Shiratori in Eden of the East) pulls out double-duty by voicing Yasha and Urashima, and her slow, deep voice works for both characters. Kousei Hirota (Roboworld President in Redline, Arnold in Spice & Wolf II) does a good job with Dabi, making the character sound believable in a "Am I really your friend?" kind of way. Overall, the cast does a fine job and I can't put them at any fault for how bad the show is, since seiyuus generally do their voice recordings with storyboards and unfinished animation, so they more than likely had no idea how bad the show would end up being.

Almost as insane as how bad this show is if the release history it's had. On July 7, 2006 the "Japan Original Broadcast Version DVD-BOX" of Gundoh Musashi was released, which was a 5-disc set that contained the first 8 episodes as they were shown on TV across four DVDs, plus a bonus disc that featured the "AfuReco Version" of episodes 1-3, which are the unfinished versions that the seiyuu record their lines to.  Unfortunately, this release had some truly bizarre oddities to it. The video is handled oddly, as the main episodes are letterboxed 4:3, but the bonus disc episodes are anamorphic widescreen (so the unfinished episodes actually look nicer!), there are no chapter breaks or informational booklet, and part of the eyecatch for each episode is missing.  Not only that, but the item description on BS-i's website apparently said nothing but "Machigattamama/A mistake was left in", which is either insane laziness or downright self-deprecation.  On the plus side, the boxset was priced at 10,000 yen, which was really cheap for a release like this as single DVDs with 2-3 episodes on it go for 6,000-8,000 yen on average.  A complete collection "Musashibox" was planned for a May 16, 2007 release, and I'm going to guess that this complete collection was going to feature the completely fixed animation that Kinoshita wanted to do. In April of 2007, though, the collection was canceled, making it impossible to legally own the entire series on DVD in Japan, which is actually quite rare to happen to recent anime nowadays. The OST was also scheduled for a September 20, 2006 release, but it never came out. Amazingly enough, however, the entire show did get a complete DVD release... In Europe. French anime company KazĂ© actually licensed the anime and released the entire show across three double-disc singles in 2008 under the name Musashi -La voie du pistolet-, or "Musashi -The Way of the Gun-". It's sub-only, but you have subtitles in French, Italian, and German. There's even a complete collection release that simply collects all three singles in an artbox. It's crazy how Europe got the entire show but not Japan.

Gundoh Musashi is, easily, one of the absolute worst anime I have ever seen. There are indications that the show could have been an interesting watch had it been produced like any normal anime, but the end result is so badly done and full of repeated mistakes that it ends up being a complete wash. What's amazing is that ACC Production, the company that made the show, is apparently partially-owned by Monkey Punch, which means that there's a good chance that Mr. Kazuhiko Kato himself put his own money into this production. If that actually happened, then that's outright wrong, as I feel like the animators did not use their entire budget on this show. It was revealed recently that a 26-episode anime costs around 300 million yen, on average. If that's the case, then I am positive that 299 million of Gundoh Musashi's budget went to booze & women, with the remaining 1 million yen being used for the show itself. But, you know, as bad as the show is I feel that it should be watched. It's the anime equivalent of The Room, a live-action movie so bad that it has to be seen to be believed. Gundoh Musashi should be shown in animation classes around the world so that future animators and people who want to enter the animation business can know what not to do. If Europe can get the show, then so should North America. I'm not putting Gundoh Musashi down as one of my most-wanted anime licenses, but I certainly wouldn't be against it. People like Mike Toole actually enjoy Gundoh Musashi because of how bad it is, and it's been shown that there is a market for stuff like that... Shout! Factory released Manos: The Hands of Fate on it's own DVD, complete with both the actual movie and the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode, because of how loved it is because of how infamously bad it is, and The Room has gone on to achieve a cult following very much like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I'm not saying that Gundoh Musashi can reach those lengths, but there's no doubt that even Japan knows how bad the show is, and I wouldn't be surprised if licensing it is cheaper than licensing most other 26-episode anime. The only question is whether any company has the guts to do so...


  1. Thanks for having the most complete review of this show I've seen anywhere. The "women and booze" theory would explain so much of this show... this show calls for a behind the scenes documentary of some sort.

  2. Thanks a lot, since giving this show a complete and in-depth review was the intent of me doing this. This was also the most conflicting review for me to do, since it's so very bad yet I wanted to give it a fair shot, hence why I consider it the equivalent of "self torture" for the sake of fairness.