Hakkenden Eight Dogs of the East DVD Review

Hakkenden Eight Dogs of the East is quite an interesting anime. Starting off as a manga by Miyuki Abe in 2005 and premiering as an anime back in 2013, Hakkenden follows Shino Inuzuka and Sosuke Inukawa, two humans who possess demonic abilities, in their quest to find six people known as Bead Holders, who also possess demon abilities. While it does have an interesting story, it's somewhat ruined by the poor pacing and slow start. However, it makes it up for giving most of their characters personalities, the art style and the strong finish to the series. What should have been addressed is the lack of action sequences, despite being classified as an action anime, and the unmemorable music. Hakkenden starts off five years in the past. Otsuka Village has been wiped out due to a plague. With the village up in flames, there are three survivors, Shino Inuzuka, Sosuke Inukawa and Hamaji. They are all saved by Rio Satomi. As a result, Shino is assigned Murasame, the living sword spirit usually taking form of a crow. It is the sword spirit which attracts the interest of the Imperial Church. In order to lure Shino and Sosuke to the Imperial City, Hamaji is kidnapped. After a meeting with Rio, Shino and Sosuke are tasked to find the six remaining Bead Holders (called gems in the English dub). These Bead Holders are exactly like Shino and Sosuke: possessing a bead, have peony birthmarks, were saved while on the brink of death, have “Inu” at the beginning of their last name and have some form of immortality. It's a slow burn in terms of the story. There really isn't much happening in the first few episodes. Sure, Hajime is kidnapped but it really isn't revealed why. Then, all of the sudden, the plot of finding the Bead Holders suddenly drops in and everyone moves on. The mission to find them is also not explained. Shino and Sosuke are suddenly told to find them with no real explanation. Sosuke readily accepts the mission, which doesn't make any sense. It's poor storytelling. Random characters will come and go and the plot felt disjointed at times. Shino and Sosuke don't go through challenging obstacles in their mission throughout the series. However, the story does pick up as the season draws to a close and it does get exciting. A real threat, a mystery figure, turns up later in the story, but doesn't reveal itself in the season at all. But there is a positive in the slow start to the story. Both Shino and Sosuke receive enough time to establish their characters. Shino is rash and childish, despite being eighteen years old. He can be quite emotional, which leads to several immature outbursts. With that said, he is also a caring, friendly man. He is also brave and confident when he is forced into a fight. Sosuke is more stoic and serious. He also shows a caring side as he continuously protects Shino from trouble, including trouble Shino makes. Their individual personalities are fleshed out and well established. They're a little cliché, but also enjoyable to watch. Their strong friendship is also well developed. The two are basically brothers since they are the only two males who survived the destruction of Otsuka Village. The supporting characters are also well developed. Rio was someone worth watching out for. He is quite the serious person, being head of one of the four families of the Sacred Beasts. Kaname Osaki, a member of another Sacred Beast family, is also a very interesting character. He is the one behind Hajime's kidnapping, but she is treated quite well. Kaname shows a romantic interest. He is cool, calm and collected. He also proves to have excellent fighting abilities and he is calm in doing so. Speaking of Hajime, she also has an interesting character. She loves to cook healthy food but is terrible at cooking. She's pretty undistributed by the fact she was kidnapped by someone infatuated. All in all, they are quite interesting to watch. With all of the supernatural elements, as well as Shino wielding a sword, one would expect loads of action in an anime such as Hakkenden. However, there really isn't much action in the anime. It's bitterly disappointing to see a lack of action in an anime based around the supernatural. When there is action, it's over too brief. In one particular scene in the early stages of the story, Shino summons Murasame to fight a gigantic demonic beast. However, all Shino does is dodge a few blows, make a huge leap above the demon and slice it in half. This scene is done in less than a minute. It left a bad taste in my mouth. It would have been nice to see a longer, more exciting action sequences. The best of it, though, is left near the end. The art style is absolutely stunning. The characters are well drawn. The design for all the demons are quite imaginative. The spirit eating demon is definitely one of the most well designed models in the anime. Seeing Murasame coming out of Shino's arm is a little creepy yet absolutely amazing. The animation flows well and isn't restrictive or stiff. The backgrounds are colourful when it needs to be. The Imperial City looks absolutely amazing, mixing 19th century architecture and traditional Japanese designs. It looks great on DVD, but it will look sharper and cleaner on Bluray. It's definitely one of the strongest points of the anime. The one place Hakkenden could have improved on is the music. When it plays, it kind of just blend in. While the music always fits into the scene, it isn't memorable at all. The anime was released with dual audio tracks, meaning there is a choice between Japanese and English. The Japanese dub is the better choice, but it is only an opinion. The voices sound better and they capture the tone of the dialogue much better. The voice for crow Murasame in the English dub gets a special mention because it is quite annoying. Sosuke's English voice doesn't seem to fit his character. It sounds very monotonic and lifeless. Overall, Hakkenden Eight Dogs of the East is a good anime. The story is decent but has pacing problems. The characters are well developed and the art style is simply amazing. However, it was bitterly disappointing to see there was a lack of action scenes and the music had no real impact on the overall series. It's easy to switch off the anime due to the slow start, but it does get better as it goes on. But it's an anime which does require some patience. The lack of action, however, will turn people off. It was enjoyable but it did test my patience a little. With all that said, there is a second season. Rating: A Big, Black Hairy Megu/10 --- Hakkenden Eight Dogs of the East was provided by Hanabee, distributors of the anime, for the purpose of review. It is now available on DVD and Bluray for $59.99 at the Hanabee online store.
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