The Hakkenden

Volume 1 sleeve Volume 2 sleeve Volume 3 sleeve Volume 5 sleeve

Official Blurb:

"The Hakkenden is based on "Manso Satomi Hakkenden" mixing Samurai tradition with the supernatural. The epic series captures the myth and mystery of feudal Japan to produce a richly embroidered, atmospheric adventure superbly animated, Japanese style, by a team who are widely recognised in the Anime world as masters of their art."

"In an ancient land in turmoil, eight warriors are drawn together by strange circumstances. Reluctant heroes in a world ruled by greed and ambition, they were born to share a common destiny. Each warrior carries with him the key to his own fate. Guided by an unseen mystical force on a quest to break a curse that threatens to destroy them, they must search out a legacy they have chosen to inherit, discovering along the way they are Dog Warriors."

Director:        Takashi Anno
Screenplay:      Norobu Aikawa
Copyright:       AIC/Pioneer LDC, Inc.

Language Format: English Language
Running time:    90/90/60/90/90 mins
Certificate:     15/15/15/15/15
Label:           Pioneer
Catalogue no:    PIO 10019/PIO 10020/PIO 10025/PIO 10028/PIO 10029
Price:           £12.99/£12.99/£8.99/£12.99/£12.99
Release Date:    27th Jan/27th Jan/11th Aug/8th Sept/13th Oct 1997


The late 15th Century, an era of warring clans. Assailed by their enemies one Lord makes an ill-thought pledge, promising his daughter, Fuse, to anyone who can deliver his Clan from their enemies. He is horrified when the Yatsufusa brings him the head of the enemy leader, but he is honour bound to keep his pledge. Later, the Princess and the dog are killed by her fiancé, prompting a cluster of glowing orbs (each representing virtues) to depart her body and setting in motion the Legend of the Dog Soldiers (Hakkenden). Each sphere attaches itself to a child, binding them in mysterious ways.

Thus begins the Hakkenden. Truth be told it is little more than the first part of episode one, with the later episodes focusing on the individual "Dog Warriors" themselves their actions, and how they come to meet. The focus of these episodes is a valuable sword, and the events that surround it. There is love, deceit, treachery and murder, bundled together with a supernatural foe and magic galore. Episode one is a melange of the past - the origin legend, and the future - the "Dog Warriors" battling supernatural entities, flowing into the 'present' and the story of the first warrior. This segment requires a certain amount of concentration to follow, but rewards the effort. All told the artwork and animation is excellent, although not without occasional flaws. The music, particularly the opening theme, is haunting and the dubbing above-average (produced using the Word-Fit system. It is a shame that unlike in the US, Pioneer have no plans to release a subtitled version in the UK. This first volume contains the first half of the series, and volume 2 (eps 4-6) is already available. A second 7-volume series exists but it is unclear when they will be released in the UK.

Recommended. Score: 4 out of 5. [Chris Hartford]

Comment from newsgroups:

Harry W Reed II:
It seems Pioneer is keeping up a worthy effort.  "The Hakkenden" is a
beauty to behold if a little tricky to follow.  You will probably have to
run it at least twice to figure out what is going on.  It seems to be a
prime example of japanese non-linear storytelling.  The artwork is an
interesting blend of modern anime style with a suggestion of old japanese
prints thrown in.  The overall effect is beautiful if eerie.  So you'll
probably want to sit through it twice even if you do know what's going
on.  It is violent and bloody though not gory in the vein of "Youma" or
other supernatural animes.  Since it's taken from an actual japanese
literary work it's also a great introduction to at least one style of
japanese literature.  I strongly urge seeing it.

Jeff Williamson:
I was originally fearful that the break between episodes 3 and 4
represented the break between previously-completed episodes and new
episodes.  I'm told that's not true; episode 4 is a fluke, and the
original animation style returns for episodes 5 and 6.

I sincerely hope so.  Episodes 1-3 have a well-detailed, realistic art
style.  Episode 4 looks cartoony and amateurish by comparison.  This
contrast is made even worse by the decision to use flashbacks from
previous episodes in episode 4, using the animation as it was originally
completed.  There's just no favorable comparison to make.  The art and
animation in episode 4 are abysmal.

While the story proceeds apace, I found the art distracting.  While the
style may have been better suited for a fluff piece, THE HAKKENDEN is
about as far from fluff as you can get.  The art director should have
been redirected to projects more suited for his or her style.

I'm enjoying the series, but I hope I've been informed correctly.  I
nearly cancelled my pre-order for the third LD, but I've held off to see
if the animation will improve.

Ryan Mathews:
I just recently finished viewing the last of the first six episodes of
THE HAKKENDEN.  I take it this was the end of the original series
Pioneer distributed way back when, because a new series will continue
where this series leaves off.

This series is so beautiful.  It's sad that it doesn't get more
attention on the net.  Perhaps it's because we prefer anime that's
lighter on the brain cells, or perhaps it's because this series is so
complex, it's hard to know what to discuss.  I know I'd have trouble
starting a thread.

One thing though:  I've pointed this out once before, and I'll do so
again.  What is it with episode 4?  It's like it was produced by a
completely different team.  Shino is almost unrecognizable.  The
differences in character design are especially glaring during a
flashback to Shino's father's suicide.  With episode 5, the art is
pretty much back to normal, though it still looks slightly different
from the first three episodes.  Did someone get fired or die or what?

It is really a shame that no one really discusses this series, since I
find it one of the best animation stories around.

About episode 4, I don't really understand why the character designs are
so weird.  I noticed it as well, but it's rather common in Japan (or at
least the shows that I used to watch when I was a kid) that there would be
one or two episodes where the character designs look really awful or
different.  The shading and outlining didn't seem to have the same care
given to them in previous episodes either.  I don't know, maybe they were
running on a time budget.  If you observe really carefully, though, in
episode one the characters (while in the swamp) look very different,
almost unrecognizable, and Hamaji changes design in episode three as well.
 Slightly, but it's noticeable, especially around the eyes.  Since they
probably have different teams doing the animation sequences, it shouldn't
be too odd to find these slight differences.  But episode 4 is a mystery.

I read on the Pioneer animation home page that there were some production
changes made sometime between volume 3 & 4.  Different theme songs, etc. 
I guess in the middle of the series someone up there did an overhaul, so
it might be interesting to note the differences in the next few episodes. 
I hope, though, that they didn't change the character designs too much and
are going to tone down the general feel of the story.

Gilles Poitras:
One of the reasons I like it is that it is so full of cultural content
that you just know so much is going on that you have to pay attention.

It is a little hard to follow at times due to the surreal quality of the
symbolism in the story. But if you've seen and liked good samarai films
you can enjoy this.

Theresa Wymer:
Well, I'm a self-proclaimed _Hakkenden_ addict (though not an expert by 
any means).  I think that you might not really enjoy the other episodes 
released so far if you didn't enjoy the first few.  Our heroes basically 
tromp around the countryside, lowering property values and finding other 
Dog Warriors.  They seem to have cut down drastically on the symbolism 
and time-warp aspects in episodes eight and nine.  I thought the visual 
quality dropped considerably in the ninth installment, though seven and 
eight were stunning.

*sigh*  A day without Shino-tachi is a day without sunshine.  (*Looks 
outside at the rain pouring down in torrents.  Oops*).  Now, where did I 
put that Inuyama Dosetsu pinup?