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Monday, March 12, 2012

Fuma no Kojirou: Seiken Sensou-hen: A Much-Improved Second Act

Back in the first month of this blog's existence I reviewed as many anime adaptations of Masami Kurumada manga that wasn't called "Saint Seiya" as I could at the time...  And I got close to doing them all.  Since then I've reviewed what I had missed back then, including the Seiya movies & most recently with B't X Neo, but there was always something keeping me from doing it all: the rest of Fuma no Kojirou.  In fact, the first OVA series based on what I called "Masami Kurumada's Fourth-Most-Well-Known Title", Fuma no Kojirou: Yasha-hen, was the very first Kurumada anime I ever reviewed.  Due to a lack of English translation of any sort I had to watch it "raw", which looks to be a necessity if you're an English-speaking Kurumada fan, and though I had acknowledged that it was still enjoyable I also found it a little lacking compared to Kurumada's other major works.  Then, last October, I mentioned that the rest of Kojirou was one of the "Twelve Anime I Want to Review... But Can't" due to me not having the second OVA series.  Luckily, I did say that those titles were ones I couldn't review "Anytime Soon, at Least", because now I finally was able to get the second Kojirou OVA series!  Does this series improve after an enjoyable-but-somewhat-lacking start?  Let's find out...


The six-episode Yasha-hen was released on VHS & LD from June to August of 1989, debuting literally two months after Saint Seiya TV ended, and a year after Yasha-hen finished the second OVA series, Fuma no Kojirou: Seiken Sensou-hen (a.k.a. Kojirou of the Fuma: Sacred Sword War Chapter), started its release, lasting from September to December of 1990 and lasting another six episodes.  It features a few returning characters, has the same main staff & cast, and brings back NIGHT HAWKS for the theme songs, but it also brings with it a tighter story and an overall epic feel that Kurumada is so well known for.

[SPOILER WARNING FOR THE END OF YASHA-HEN...  But that should be obvious]

The battle between the Fuuma & Yasha clans has ended, with the Fuma emerging victorious.  The surviving members from that battle, Kojirou, Ryouma, Ryuho, Kirikaze, & Shoryu, return to their hidden village, only find their leader killed and themselves nearly killed from a gigantic explosion that destroys the village.  It doesn't take long for them to find out who attacked them, though, since after scattering Kojirou is attacked by a man called Rasha, who comes from a group called Chaos.  The discovery of two of the ten mythical seiken/sacred swords, Kojirou's Fuurin Kazan & Musashi Asuka's Ougonken, during the battle with the Yasha has resulted in Chaos making their move, since their leader, the Chaos Emperor, wants all ten swords so that he could have ultimate power.  Musashi is likewise attacked by Chaos, so Musashi & Kojirou have to work together with their fellow "Cosmo Warriors", Soushi Date (Seiken: Gurenken), Sigma (Seiken: Byakurouken), & even Ryouma (Seiken: Seiranken), in order to win the coming Sacred Sword War against the "Chaos Warriors": Nero (Seiken: Raikouken), Oz (Seiken: Jyujiken), Jackal (Seiken: Shikouken), Shura (Seiken: Genmu Hishouken), & the Emperor himself (Seiken: Houou Tenbu).


Probably the best advantage Seiken Sensou-hen has over Yasha-hen is that the story is a bit more focused and there aren't so many characters to potentially follow at once.  The story itself is effectively split up in two parts: the first half introduces Chaos via secondary enemies (Rasha, Shion, Arthur, & David) and bring the new Cosmo Warriors into focus, while the second half is the Sacred Sword War itself, done though one-on-one battles, along with the final climax, where the truth behind the reason for the war happening is revealed and final decisions are made.  The biggest problem with Yasha-hen was that so many characters were introduced at once because the first two episodes had to take their time properly introducing the main conflict, but Seiken Sensou-hen goes straight into the main conflict from the first episode; literally, the OVA starts with Kojirou, Ryouma, & Ryuho finding their leader dead and they barely get away from a nicely-animated series of explosions.  No part of the story feels like it's being dragged on, and even Ryuho, Kirikaze, & Shoryu have their moments, though it's usually them just talking about what they understand the situation to be at the moment.  It's nice to see the story get the focus here (there's even a couple of twists in the last two episodes) and the action works really well, too.

That said, there are a few problems with Seiken Sensou-hen.  First, Soushi & Sigma aren't exactly developed all too well, and since they're the new good guys who team with Kojirou, Musashi, & Ryouma it kind of takes away from fully getting into them.  Admittedly, this is more of a problem with Soushi, since Sigma is, if I understood correctly, explained as one of the original Cosmo Warriors from the previous Sacred Sword War 4,000 years ago, while Soushi, from what I could tell, doesn't get his past explained one bit.  Chaos' warriors also don't get big development, either, but Kurumada has been known to not develop enemies all the time, so they all do their job well enough.  A second thing to bring up is that Seiken Sensou-hen is not a story about ninjas.  Now, yes, Yasha-hen wasn't exactly a 100% ninja-like story, either (Ryouma & Musashi are ESP-using "Psychic Soldiers", & the only truly "ninja-like" character was Kirikaze), but Seiken Sensou-hen essentially removes all ninja fare from Fuma no Kojirou, turning this more into an actual spiritual-precursor to Saint Seiya, complete with all sorts of crazy attacks (all of the new seikens/sacred swords have crazy abilities), and the war itself takes place in the "Holy Land Where the Seikens Were Created", which is revealed to be the Moon...  Yeah, that's right, the Moon (maybe Buso Renkin took some inspiration from here).  But, honestly, I bring this up as a negative mainly because I'm sure some people will just roll their eyes at what they've just read and say "Screw this!"  Personally, I expect no less craziness from Masami Kurumada, and all of this un-ninja-like behavior does not detract from the tight story, neat attacks, & a climax that keeps you trying to figure out why exactly this war is even taking place.


In my Yasha-hen review I gave almost no credit to anyone who worked on that OVA, so I am going to make up for that here, since Seiken Sensou-hen has the same staff behind it.  Hidehito Ueda (director of A.D. Police, Cybuster, & H2) directs this feature, and though this is his only Kurumada anime series he still does a great job in keeping the style and look that fans know Kurumada for.  Part of that is because animation studios Animate-Film & J.C. Staff made sure that Shingo Araki & Michi Himeno were on board for these OVAs, keeping the characters looking very much in the easily-recognizable style of Saint Seiya TV.  Likewise, Takao Koyama (script writer for Saint Seiya TV, essentially all of DBZ, & the original Gatchaman) was also brought in, allowing the Fuma no Kojirou story to be adapted in a way that will please fans of the original manga.  Toshiro Imaizumi, whose only other anime credit is the OVA Magistrate of Darkness: Judge, did the music for this series & though it won't be as iconic as Seiji Yokoyama's soundtrack for Saint Seiya or Susumu Ueda's soundtrack for Ring ni Kakero 1, Imaizumi's soundtrack here works really well, with some memorable tunes coming out of it.

Two of Yasha-hen's greatest assets were its opening and ending themes, done by 80s hard J-Rock group NIGHT HAWKS; those two songs were simply awesome to listen to, and Seiken Sensou-hen follows through, to say the least.  The opening theme, "SHOUT", is easily NIGHT HAWKS' greatest song ever and, dare I say it, is the best opening theme to a Kurumada anime...  Ever.  Yes, "Pegasus Fantasy" from Saint Seiya is iconic, "Haruka ~Sailing for my Dream~" from B't X is intensely catchy, & "Asu he no Toushi" from Ring ni Kakero 1 is awesomely memorable, but "SHOUT" is the most raw & symbolic representation of what Masami Kurumada's biggest titles are all about: Intensity, strength, & memorability.  "SHOUT" will forever remain one of my go-to hard rock songs, regardless of language.  The ending theme, "ON MY WAY", is a super-slow song that is made up solely from a guitar & lead vocals, and is an excellent opposite to "SHOUT"; while I prefer "GOOD-BYE MARRY" in terms of ending themes, "ON MY WAY" still stands on its own proudly with it's slower pace.


The voice work is also very well done, with Seiken Sensou-hen especially featuring a good amount of famous seiyuus of the time as well as a couple of future names making one of their earlier appearances.  Kojirou is voiced by Keiichi Nanba (Andy Bogard in the King of Fighters series, Axl Low in Guilty Gear, Pisces Aphrodite in Saint Seiya), who does a great job delivering the main character's mix of comedy & seriousness, though in Seiken Sensou-hen he's definitely more serious.  Musashi is voiced by Sho Hayami (Aizen in Bleach, Sandman in Gravion, Maximillian Jenius in Macross), who plays the character in the true proto-Ikki style that the character is; literally, Musashi tries pulling an Ikki during the war by coming in when he feels like it, potentially killing his opponent in one blow, and then tries leaving.  Coincidentally, the voice of Ikki himself, Hideyuki Hori, voices Ryouma with great excellence.  Not yet done with Seiya voices, the late Hirotaka Suzuoki (a.k.a. Dragon Shiryu) voices the Chaos Emperor, sounding like he usually does, naturally.  Rounding out the cast is the likes of Bin Shimada as Shion, Kazuki Yao as Sigma, Yasunori Matsumoto (Gourry from Slayers) as Soushi Date, Takehito Koyasu (in one of his earliest major roles) as Shura, and Masami Kikuchi as David, not to mention a few others of note.  With a cast filled with such notable names, Seiken Sensou-hen really does deliver in terms of voice work.


Fuma no Kojirou: Seiken Sensou-hen is a definite improvement over Yasha-hen, even if it isn't a ninja story at all here.  In fact, I even re-watched Yasha-hen so that I could enter Seiken Sensou-hen with a fresh reminder of what came before it, and I did like Yasha-hen a fair bit more this time around (I blame the live-action adaptation for spoiling me).  Admittedly, though, I still feel the same about Yasha-hen, but as a first act it does a good job, and Seiken Sensou-hen does a great job as a second act.  All that remains is one more story arc in the Fuma no Kojirou saga, which seems to be a return to the ninja focus but at the same time is only a short movie rather than another six episodes.  Here's hoping that it can keep up Seiken Sensou-hen's good momentum, because my opinion of Fuma no Kojirou has improved thus far.

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