Shadow Skill The Movie

Official Blurb:

"Two men stand atop a toyvering pinnacle of stone. One is Scarface, disfigured champion of the Shadow Skill. The other is Gau Ban of the Black Howling. It is ten years since they first met - ten years in which the untrained boy has become a fearsome warrior...."

"A decade earlier in the kingdom of Koruda, elite fighters battle for honour beneath the blood-red flag of King Falkai. While Ella Ragu limbers up for an apocalyptic confrontation with the demon beast Borsalt, her adopted brother Gau is surprised by the arrival of a mysterious masked figure. After the fight it is this man who gives Gau the strength to triumph when he and Ella are attacked by the mighty Goa X."

"Later, Ella and Gau join spell caster Fowari and the young fighter Quo in a desperate attempt to defeat a carnivorous demon known as the King of the Moon. But even as they work together, conflict is growing deep within the group. Watched by the enigmatic Scarface, friendship erupts into lethal combat - Shadow Skill versus death magic in a fight to the finish... "

"With stunning new animation and an original story by Metake Okada. Shadow Skill the Movie takes the Shadow Skill characters into a new dimension of violent action!"

Director:        Hiroshi Hegishi
Screenplay:      Masanori Sekijimo
Copyright:       Metake Okada/Takeshobo Ltd.

VHS version:
Language:        English
Label:           Manga Video
Running time:    85 mins
Certificate:     15
Catalogue no:    MANV 1189
Price:           £12.99
Release Date:    13th October 1997


Shadow Skill the Movie is a follow on to Shadow Skill. To try and avoid confusion, I will use SS to refer to Shadow Skill, and SStM for Shadow Skill the Movie. While it is not necessary to have seen SS first, it would give the viewer more empathy with the two main characters in the SStM. SStM is split into three parts, or dare I say episodes, which give background to the characters originally seen in SS. At the start of SS, Ella Ragu and Gau Ban are seen leaving a company of three people to journey to Gau's parents grave. The movie, which takes place before SS gives background on two of the three, and more on Gau. Before anything else is mentioned, I feel it is necessary to point out that there are several inconsistencies between SS and SStM, not least of which is the changing the pronunciation of one of the characters names slightly, from Quo to Kow, the ages of characters at which certain things happen, the character design of Fowri, who, aside from a complete change of hair, looks like she has aged 10 years to the others none, and really worked out to put on a lot of muscles as well, and other anomalies. I think this must be down to taking liberties with the translation in one or both of the releases, as they are both part of the same series. Manga has advertised this as being released in three parts, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the final release. Anyway, on to the plot summary. As this is fairly long winded, you might like to know that my opinion of SStM is right at the end.

The first part.
SStM starts with an opening scene with Gau facing Scarface on the top of a small plateau, about to fight and Scarface thinking how Gau has changed since he first met him. Cue flashback. With the aid of a narrator, in the voice of Fowri, we are told that a competition is being waged in an Arena to determine the strongest warriors. Away from the city, Gau is training, and is being watched by a mysterious cloaked figure. A horn sounds to indicate the start of the competition, and Gau runs off to the arena to watch his sister Ella. Unseen by Gau, the stranger follows and stands behind him in the crowd, next to Fowri. Ella is the 59th generation of Ceville, which is a title given only to the strongest warriors in the Kingdom of Karuda. She defeats her opponent by using the Shadow Skill, only after breaking his neck, and then decapitation proving ineffective. We are then given some background information on Gau, in the form of Fowri telling the stranger about him, in which it transpires that Gau will not talk, and does not laugh or cry, although no one knows why, and there being nothing wrong with him physically. Gau runs off to practice the moves he has seen in the arena. A mysterious spell caster shows up and casts a spell on Gau, after he has been given advice by the stranger. The scene shifts to where Ella is waiting for Gau to return, when a bright light flares up. They rush out to see Gau trapped in a field of energy by the spell caster, who was to be Ella's competitor in the finals of the tournament. He tells Ella that if she sacrifices herself he will release Gau. Ella agrees and is getting badly beaten when the stranger reappears and chastises Gau for not doing anything while Ella is being beaten. He then reveals himself to be Scarface, Gau's hero. Gau takes heart and beats the magician, saving Ella. The magician escapes, and Gau talks to Ella, having realised that he wasn't talking before as he felt unfit to be Ella's brother until he had mastered the art of Shadow Skill.

The second part.
This opens with a group of soldiers waiting around a pool with ropes trying to bind a demon beast called the King of the Moon, who resembles a leonine centaur. The beast breaks free of the bindings, and kills everyone there except Quo, who survives only because she couldn't hold onto the binding on the King of the Moon. The scene shifts to that of a tavern where Quo is asking for help to kill the King of the Moon from a group of soldiers. They refuse. The soldiers begin to pick on Quo when Gau, who is in the tavern with Ella and Fowri, steps in to help her. After a fight they leave the tavern and are walking along when they are interrupted by Quo who begs for their help in killing the King of the Moon. Ella is persuaded to help her by Gau, and they set up camp for the night, with Quo laying a trap for the king with her rings. The King of the Moon appears that night, and after a good start to the fight with Ella removing the forelegs and Gau his hands, then Quo trapping the beast in a web of ropes. Unfortunately, it transpires that the beast cannot be killed while under the light of the moon, as he regenerates himself continuously. After a long fight, the beats breaks loose from the ropes, and Gau and Ella are hard pressed to hold him in check. Quo binds the beast again, this time swearing not to let go. Just as it starts to look hopeless, the sun rises, and the beast is the quickly destroyed. Quo then ends up joining the company as it turns out she can't pay the reward she promised Ella for her aid.

The third part.
The last part concentrates on Fowri who is a Siu-i-len ( that's my spelling btw ), who it transpires fought Ella before in the arena, believing she killed her master. They became friends after, and Fowri now no longer believes that Ella killed him. Fowri's half brother turns up, who is also a magician, who reminds her that it is her duty to kill the person who murdered her master, and says that he saw Ella do it by a "mean trick", and also reminds Fowri that her master was also her father. Fowri is filled with need for vengeance and creates an "arena of darkness", locking Gau and Quo out of the fight. Ella and Fowri start to fight in the arena, while Gau and Quo are lost in the forest, victim of on of Fowri's spells. They encounter Scarface who tells Gau that it is a set up that he allowed, so Ella and Fowri could get to grips with their feelings, but the person who killed Fowri's father was her half brother, after the master mage was injured in a fight with Ella, and that Gau must confront the brother. After heroic battles on both Ella and Gau's parts, the brother is defeated, and Fowri's arena of darkness is shattered, with Ella and Fowri realising they are still friends no matter what.

The review (at last I hear you cry!).
The animation is good but the dubbing definitely isn't. The main characters come across as all right, but any supporting characters could be played by muppets for all the acting ability displayed. The dying scream of Fowri's brother wouldn't do credit to a squashed mouse. There is very little in the way of interesting plot, but there are some good fight scenes, which is, after all what this anime is about. There are lots of inconsistencies with SS, which is ridiculous. The first part is the most boring with not very much happening, the second and third parts being enjoyable. To sum up, buy SS first, as it is much better, and if you enjoy that, then you will want to watch this for character backgrounds. If you don't *really* like beat 'em ups don't bother with this or SS, as there is nothing to recommend apart from the fight scenes. It passes an evening enjoyably, but is doomed to be forgotten very quickly. [Andrew Walmsley]