Samurai Deeper Kyo

samuraideeperkyoSamurai Deeper Kyo is the first show I’ve seen in a while that has been sunk almost entirely by bad directing. This doesn’t mean other elements are great – they are merely good, or passable. But the pokey pacing, inefficient overuse of flashbacks, and the apparent inability to stage a coherent action sequence make Samurai Deeper Kyo tedious and dull. It’s almost a shame that other parts aren’t so bad.

In an excessive prologue (the kind which introduces a thousand characters without telling us anything about them, thus preserving “a sense of mystery”), we watch samurai Kyoshiro and evil outlaw “Demon Eyes” Kyo fight on an annoyingly fog-laden hill in the midst of a pitched battle between someone and someone else. A meteor strikes, and both are deemed lost. Kyoshiro turns up four years later as an unfunny comic-relief character – a lascivious traveling medicine salesman. But no – there is more than meets the eye here. Kyoshiro is inhabited by the spirit of “Demon Eyes” Kyo, who comes out whenever Kyoshiro is heavily threatened or upset.

Cliches pile upon cliches, which would be all right if the characters were likeable or the action scenes memorable. Neither is true. The characters, like the ninjas Sanada and Yukimura, are too mysterious and strange to like or even be interested in, while others we’ve seen again and again. The main tension is supposed to be between Kyoshiro and bounty hunter Yuya Shiina, but Yuya doesn’t really have a character. She’s supposed to be money-crazed, but only acts like it if there’s a joke to be made, not when there’s a choice for her character.

Still, all of that would make Samurai Deeper Kyo merely mediocre. It is the action scenes which are abominable. Lots of them involve a lot of metaphysical babble until “Demon Eyes” Kyo says something about the voice of the wind, and then the bad guys die. Very little action is shown, and some of it is staged so incoherently that we have no clue what happened. In the first episode when a large snake demon (cleverly named Snake) attacks Kyoshiro and Yuya, we see a number of the anime-like whip-pans and close-ups on a suspended Kyoshiro, while it is Snake performing all the action off-screen. Yuya is suddenly pinned to a wall, but we haven’t seen how, which makes it confusing instead of thrilling.

Pokey pacing extends to the dialogue. We are constantly given exposition, but never the information that would be relevant to the scene at hand. It’s a typical mistake of anime shows, creating confusion when they want mystery. Particularly annoying are the long time-filling internal monologues of various characters exclaiming to themselves, whenever “Demon Eyes” Kyo has taken over, that “This is ‘Demon Eyes’ Kyo!” It happens again and again and again. We frickin’ know it’s ‘Demon Eyes’ Kyo – it says so in the prologue. Get on with telling the damned story.

Essentially, this show is an externalization of the subtext of Rurouni Kenshin – Kenshin had to keep a demon inside too, a murderous monster always itching to be released. What gave Kenshin resonance as a character was that his demon wasn’t a supernatural imposition, but the weight of his own anger and bloodlust. Samurai Deeper Kyo, which was animated by the same studio that produced the Rurouni Kenshin OAVs, can’t command a tenth of the emotional weight of Kenshin, and its attempts to emulate Kenshin‘s secondary pleasures (the fun character interaction, the serious moral dilemmas) are just as weak. So, with all of Ruruoni Kenshin available in America, why waste time with this?
Rating: C

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