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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fuma no Kojirou: Fuma Hanran-hen: Apocalypse of the Fuma

I had hoped to get to this last week, but a series of illness & excessive allergies kept me from feeling comfy to even watch this... When watching anime "raw" you need to pay attention, and feeling unwell, coughing, etc. gets in the way of being able to do so properly. Anyway, I finally have gotten well enough to finish the Fuma no Kojirou saga, and after the nice improvement that was Seiken Sensou-hen, how does the last piece of the story work out?

Unlike Seiken Senou-hen, which came out a year after Yasha-hen, the last OVA, Fuma no Kojirou Saishushou: Fuma Hanran-hen/Kojirou of the Fuma The Last Chapter: Fuma Rebellion Chapter, didn't come out until November 21, 1992, about two years after Seiken Sensou-hen finished up. Also, Fuma Hanran-hen is a single 50-minute feature instead of a six-episode series, like the two OVAs before it. This is likely why the Japanese often consider the Kojirou anime a 13-episode series, with Fuma Hanran-hen simply being the last episode. Though there are ups & downs to this production, it still ends the series in a fairly concise way.

It's been three months since the Sacred Sword War, which ended with Kojirou denouncing the senseless killing that the war brought about and destroying all 10 Sacred Swords. Since then, Kojirou & Ryouma have not been seen and with the leader of the Fuma dead a group within the clan starts rebelling, calling themselves the "New Fuma Clan". Shoryu, Kirikzae, & Ryuho have been trying their hardest to quell the traitors, but have been unable to discover who the leader is. After chasing Shinsei clan member Raien into the Fuma temple, Kirikaze may have discovered who the leader is... But at a price. Luckily, Kojirou & Ryouma have returned and together with their clan brothers the Fuma Clan might come out of this ordeal in one piece, even if it means having to fight & potentially kill fellow clan members Muma (one of the Fuma's strongest warriors), Raizou, & Shimon, who has mysterious mind control powers.

Being a single 50-minute production brings about some positives, the biggest of which is that the story is made the focus here, and the pacing is extremely tight. Battles don't linger, and aren't long in general, and the story itself flows very nicely, complete with some neat twists and a fair number of deaths, including that of major characters. This is definitely within the realm of what be called an "apocalyptic ending", at least in terms of major character deaths, and actually nearly goes into "kill-em-all" territory. Who knows, maybe Kurumada was forced to end the original manga by Shueisha and Kurumada simply decided to kill off as many characters as he could. Regardless, this is easily the most story-focused chapter in the Fuma no Kojirou saga.

At the same time, though, being only 50 minutes long has its problems, the biggest of which is that only one enemy, Shimon, actually gets a larger focus. You never see Raizou's face (it's hidden behind bandages), and though Muma does get his time to shine, you also feel that he should have been given a slightly larger focus in the end, especially since Shimon ends up feeling like a one-man force-of-nature because of the lack of focus his other New clan members get. Also, the whole reason for the New Fuma Clan's existence isn't exactly all too original. I won't say what the reasoning is, but it is something you could guess that basics of, though I will admit that the entire plan definitely had some potential to it.

I would say that the short time probably results in some scenes from the manga being removed, but here's two things about that: I haven't read the entire manga and, from what I can tell, the Sacred Sword War ends somewhere in Volume 8 or 9 of the original 10-volume serialization. Because of that, the Fuma Rebellion can't be more than 1.5-2 volumes long, and since Kurumada's works can have fast pacing, I'm going to guess that anything that was removed wasn't of any large importance. For example, according to Wikipedia Japan, Raien is introduced by him killing fellow clan member Jyuzou, but the anime starts off with Raien coming to after an attack from Shoryu, and I didn't feel like I was being thrust into the story too fast, so I'm sure that whatever was cut out was not all that important.

The staff behind Fuma Hanran-hen is the same as that of the previous two OVAs, though the opening & ending themes are not done by NIGHT HAWKS. An instrumental version of "SHOUT", which was the next-episode preview music from Seiken Sensou-hen, is played at the beginning of the climax, though. Luckily, the opening theme, "Kaze no Soldier" by Hidemi Miura, is still a really well-done song and actually holds up well against the likes of "DON'T GO AWAY" & "SHOUT". The fact that this is the first Kurumada anime the feature a Kurumada-written theme is also fun, since this makes the song sound even more like the actual theme song of the Fuma. The ending theme, "Ano hi Kaze no Naka de..." by Hidemi Miura, is a slower song and isn't nearly as memorable as the opening, but it's still a nice song; the montage of footage from Yasha-hen & Seiken Sensou-hen that plays during it is nice, too.

All returning characters are voiced by their respective seiyuu, so I'll cover the ones I skipped over last time. Kirikaze is voiced by Nobuo Tobita (Dr. Jackal in GetBackers, Kamille Bidan in the Gundam UC), and he has always done a great job with the calm yet dangerous character. Shoryu is voiced by Shigeru Nakahara (Trowa Barton in Gundam Wing, Levin in Tekkaman Blade) and is likewise well-performed. Ryuho is voiced by Yuusaku Yara (Sagittarius Aioros in Saint Seiya, Death Gaia in Dancougar), and does a great job with the character, which is a shame since Ryuho never really gets to show off in the entire series; big guys in Kurumada works never really "win big". In terms of Fuma Hanran-hen characters, Raien is voiced by Junichi Sugawara, whose only big role has been Shinkuro in the Ninja Scroll movie, and for a character who's only in the beginning of the story Sugawara did a good job. Muma is voiced by the well-versed Toshiyuki Morikawa, and just makes it all the more disappointing that Muma doesn't get more screen time. Shimon is voiced by the similarly well-versed Kenyuu Horiuchi & does a great job voicing the final Kojirou villain.

Fun trivia: DVD distributor SME Visual Works is now known as Aniplex.

Fuma no Kojirou: Fuuma Hanran-hen isn't a perfect ending to Fuma no Kojirou, but it's still an enjoyably fast-paced and story-focused finale that at least gives the series closure. Overall, Fuma no Kojirou is an enjoyable Masami Kurumada series, with surprisingly few special moves (at least ones that are named), a neat variety of story ideas (rival clans, mystical swords with great powers, & a civil war), and some memorable characters. That said, it still isn't quite as enjoyable as B't X, Saint Seiya, or Ring ni Kakero 1. That's not to say that Fuma no Kojirou is bad by any means, but if you had the choice I would go with Kurumada's bigger works. Not that you really have a choice, though, as the only piece of Kojirou that's available with any sort of English translation is the 2007 live-action adaptation of the Yasha Chapter. As it is, Fuma no Kojirou remains only for those who are big fans of Kurumada's works.

Still, Kojirou has maintained it's staying power in Japan, even on the manga side of things. From 2004 to 2006 a new manga, Fuma no Kojirou: Yagyu Ansatsujou/The Yagyu Assasination Pledge, ran in Champion RED magazine, written by Kurumada and drawn by Satoshi Yuri (one of Kurumada's former assistants). From what I can tell, it takes place years later, where Kojirou now teaches the Fuma's next generation, and involves the Yagyu, one of which (Ranko Yagyu) being the person who got the Fuma involved in Hakuo Gakuin's troubles with Seishikan. Apparently, a group named Karma, which features the "Four Sword Kings", who are based on the actual Four Heavenly Kings instead of simply using the phrase like most pieces of fiction do, want the Yagyu dead and it's up to Kojirou and Soushi Date (who is revealed to be a for-hire mercenary like Musashi Asuka) to stop Karma, who have managed to revive Kojirou's old Fuma clan brothers and turn them against him. The amazing thing about Yagyu Ansatsujou is that is it is apparently the official sequel to the original Kojirou manga, unlike the Saint Seiya manga which aren't drawn by Kurumada and are considered non-canon. With a sequel manga, live-action TV series, & even a surprisingly-good stage musical based on the live-action series (with the same actors, no less) within the past decade, even if it's not exactly one of Kurumada's greatest works, Fuma no Kojirou is still going to remain the memories of Kurumada fans and deserves just as much of a chance as anything else from the man himself.

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