12 Days of Anime 2018, Day 2: Ouka Ninja Scrolls and Weird Sequels.

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Every now and then a sequel pops up to an older series, sometimes it’s expected, sometimes it comes way out of left field. This year we got a new Basilisk for some reason.

The Original Basilisk was released back in 2005 and I haven’t seen anyone talk about it in years. A sequel over a decade later is a hard enough sell as is, especially for a franchise that hasn’t had much enduring popularity. It’s especially weird when said sequel seems determined to actively not be what fans of the original are likely to want.

My own experience with the original Basilisk is watching it about 5 years ago with a friend, I enjoyed it well enough at the time but in hindsight I suspect I wouldn’t like it all that much if I were to watching it for the first time today, as I’m extremely over death battles where everybody dies at this point. My personal dislike for these kinds of story aside it’s a fairly easy formula to follow up on. Ninjas with weird magical powers battling to the death is a fairly deep well to mine, which makes it especially weird when Ouka opted to not do that.

Instead of following in its predecessor’s footsteps Ouka instead opted to kill off a handful of characters in the first few episodes before stubbornly keeping everyone alive until the finale. While I actually appreciated the shift towards giving the individual characters more time to grow and develop this definitely doesn’t feel like what the ninja death battle crowd would be after (The highly representative sample provided by the comments on Crunchyroll being overwhelmingly negative seems to support this at least). Shame it then threw this out the window towards the end by just killing everyone.

So part of the issue with Ouka was that rather than the somewhat evenly matched battle between two clans this time around we had survivors from both clans living together and protecting the inexplicable children of Genosuke and Oboro from the original (there’s a handwave-y explanation provided but it’s very much just an excuse). Arrayed against them are the five Joujinshu, who are essentially demigods. On the good guys side you have a bunch of children with powers like “can control bugs”, “can remove his own eyes to use as flying scouts” and my personal favourite “doesn’t actually have any powers so she just got really good at guns”. Arrayed against them the Joujinshu have members capable of reversing time, summoning a mountain sized demon which controls lightning, creating a pocket dimension and a woman with a mirror which causes anyone who looks into it for even half a second to commit suicide.

This power imbalance means that the show can’t really have the ninja and Joujinshu fight in any meaningful was as it’ll just be a one sided curb stomp. This is demonstrated by three of the five Joujinshu killing all but two of the adult ninja from both clans in the first couple of episodes. At this point the story has to contrive a reason for them to not just kill the kids too, which it promptly doesn’t do and they just leave for no reason leading into an indeterminate timeskip during which all the kids grow up.

What then follows is eighteen or so episodes where nothing happens. Occasionally the ninja fight with some of the Joujinshu’s seemingly infinite supply of minions but they never really make any progress. At one point they spend six episodes trying to destroy the Joujinshu’s giant magical castle. When they eventually succeed they replace it with another giant magical castle thirty seconds into the next episode. Meanwhile the bad guys are just sort of flitting around the edge doing nothing for the entire time and things just sort of stagnate.

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My favourite character was Namenba. “Perpetually exhausted ninja mom” is an archetype I can definitely get behind. She died as pointlessly as the rest of course.

They do at least use this time to attempt to flesh out the characters a bit more than the original, giving each of them at least one focus episode to detail their backstory and relationships with the others. While it’s fairly shallow I did appreciate the effort, and for a while I was even a little on board with the show’s seeming willingness to subvert the expectations created by the original and just be its own thing by refusing to kill anyone. I also liked how this left some room for the characters to develop their powers in order to take on the Joujinshu, with some of them spinning off in interesting directions. And then the last few episodes came along and decided to make up for lost time.

Over the last four or five episodes they manage to axe the entire cast bar Hachirou and Hibiki, Joujin’s ultimate plan is revealed, it’s incredibly stupid, it’s foiled, then things get really weird. The dying last member of the Joujinshu, the pocket dimension guy, does something confusing and all of a sudden Hachirou and Hibiki are in a parallel world where all five of the Joujinshu are still alive. This kind of renders everything these characters the show spent the entire series building up died for pointless, since they just came back to life anyway.

Amusingly enough Hachirou manages to somehow dispatch four of the five within about thirty seconds, sort of undermining the point of bringing them back really. He then squares off with this parallel world Joujin, who then comes back to life for a third time as it’s revealed that he’s playing host to the body of Tenzen, the original series immortal antagonist and therefore can’t be killed. They manage to kill him anyway. Then Hachirou dies of his wounds and Hibiki ends up in yet another parallel world where everyone else is still children for some reason. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Then the Joujin from the original world shows up yet again because he also had Tenzen in him, he’s promptly killed off yet again by Hachirou and the series ends on a baffling note.

What this ultimately means is the series isn’t really what anyone was looking for. People who came in expecting super powered ninjas killing each other got a long stretch in the middle where no super powered ninjas killed each other, and anyone else who got mildly invested in the characters when it looked like they might actually survive got to see them all die pointlessly in service of a deeply confusing and unsatisfying ending.

I went into those more out of a sense of “well I watched the original, might as well I guess” expecting to dislike it but willing to give it a chance at least. What I ended up feeling was confusion. Even now I have to ask who this sequel was even for.

Well that’s day two out of the way, I try to keep these posts positive in tone, but this is probably the most negative of this year’s lineup. With that in mind, tomorrow we’ll be looking at a far less confusing sequel.

 

12 Days of Anime 2018, Day 2: Ouka Ninja Scrolls and Weird Sequels.

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