Hakkenden: Eight Dogs Of The East Season 2 (Cert 15)
3 Discs DVD/2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 345 minutes approx.
With a central premise of the search for the Eight Bead Holders with the aim to resurrect Princess Fuse, the first season of this supernatural fantasy series spent more time having the protagonists faff about in as series of unrelated adventures. While this second season doesn’t steer too far from this format, there is a concerted effort made to stick closer to the main mission than before.
The first story sees nominal hero Shino Inuzuka, along with Sosuke Inukawa and Genpachi Inukai sent to collect an order of bespoke made dolls from an Imamura doll maker. However, the original doll maker has disappeared and his son Daikaku is left to finish his father’s work but lacks the confidence.
In the meantime, malevolent cat spirits appear having secured the doll maker’s house behind a barrier which Shino destroys, leading to a showdown that expose long held secrets for the family – and another bead! This therefore adds another member to the already expansive character list but fret not as there are more to come.
They include Dōsetsu Inuyama, who is protected by an ice maiden spirit and Shinobu Inue, a half Tengu boy, while the spirit count now includes Kaede, a black panther with two tails who feels put upon. Meanwhile Shino discovers a life-sized doll which he recognises as the women who destroyed his village, but this is only a fleeting development, ignored until the penultimate episode.
Not all stories are so conducive to furthering the main plot however, such as Shino being befriending a blind girl when he is forced to teach a group of kids how to read, but more often than not, the seeds of something greater are quietly planted to fully bloom in the show’s climax. And please forgive me for that pun which will make sense when you come to watch the tale of the young boy who disappears in the mountains.
While an improvement on the first season insofar as using its time to develop the story and not just play with the fantasy concepts for laughs or forced drama, season two reveals how much of a nuisance the extraneous material actually is. Case in point is the slow burning factor of Sosuke’s “shadow” or his darker half which has manifest itself as his evil doppelganger named Ao.
Ao stole Sosuke’s bead from Shino and as the beads chose their holders, it favours Ao over Shosuke. Thus as Ao grows in power, Sosuke loses his, starting with the vision in his left eye and his left hand. It’s an intriguing concept and should have been a prominent plot development but instead it suddenly becomes a noticeable concern in the latter half of this season’s run.
With the influx of new faces, some of the older ones either are relegated to the background or disappear altogether save for the obligatory fleeting appearance for the climax in order to remind us of the high stakes the heroes are fighting for. But since it has been made clear since the very beginning that Shino is the main focus of this yarn, it should come as little surprise that the supporting cast are treated with such disregard.
This also applies to the introduction of an eventual “overlord” antagonist revealed in the penultimate episode. Naturally their pernicious plan revolves around possessing all the beads and the wish that the resurrected Princess Fuse will grant but the motives are predictably flimsy and aren’t afforded the exploration they deserve coming so late into the story.
It’s one thing to finally put the pieces of the puzzle together but it is another to make us care about the journey which this series only partially manages, at least in terms of endearing some of the characters to the audience. Without the emotional and dramatic investment of the crisis that faces our heroes we are left with an impressive looking but psychologically empty finale.
Having not read Miyuki Abe’s currently ongoing manga I can’t say if this reflective of the source material but anime adaptations do have a habit of wandering off the beaten track and wrapping things up in their own way, often due to the restrictions of a TV schedule. It would appear that this is another victim of this practice so be warned when, like many shows before it, you’ll see a mad sprint towards the finish line.
Sticking closely to its fantasy remit the climax is an all out spectacle boasting top quality visuals. The artwork has been one of the show’s stronger assets but the budget was clearly saved for the last two episodes. The use of colour creates some wonderful effects to heighten the brooding dark magical atmosphere, buttressed by fluid animation capturing the energy and intensity of the multi-person battles.
With the main story breakdown being made up of largely self-contained chapters which often serve to introduce a new cast member rather than further the main plot, it is rather cheeky that this adventure ends on an open note, suggesting a third series which as yet has not surfaced. It’s not the fact they’ve done it but how they’ve done it – I’ll say nothing more aside from there being a suggest Dragonball influence…
Ultimately Hakkenden: Eight Dogs Of The East exposes itself as a well-meaning series with a lot of big ideas it is unable to juggle and pay full attention to. This will be down to the manga still in production, but that doesn’t completely excuse the lack of filtering of non-consequential material.
That said this second season is more coherent and rewarding than the first and for a generic fantasy series that is easy to lose yourself in, you can do a lot worse, as long as you resign yourself to the fact that there is a lot of gristle to chew through before the true meat of the story reveals itself.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
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