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AKA: Senkaiden Houshin Engi
Genre: Historical fantasy action
Length: Television series, 26 episodes, 23 minutes each
Distributor: R1 DVD from ADV Films out of print.
Content Rating: 10+ (a few intense scenes, minor violence, demonic possession)
Related Series: N/A
Also Recommended: Fushigi Yugi, Saiyuki
Notes: Adapted from a manga by Fujisaki Ryou, which is in turn, based on the 17th century Chinese novel Feng Sheng Yan Yi.
Rating: Three StarsThree StarsThree Stars
 

Soul Hunter

Synopsis

The emperor of the once proud Yin Dynasty has fallen under the control of a demon sorceress much to the concern of those who live in the land of the Immortals. Formulating a plan to seal off this Dakki and her demon followers, they send a young and somewhat goofy monk Taikoubou to carry out their plan. Along with a mystical “paopei” weapon and his trusty companion, Sibu Xiang, Taikoubou heads off to the land of humans to complete this mission.


Review

A typical English translation of the novel that this show can trace its lineage to is over 110 chapters and eight pounds. That gives you some idea of the complexity of the source material, a novel that combines Chinese mythology and some ancient historical events in China. The show follows the basic events of the source material via enhancing the background and status of Taikoubou who was a bit more of a minor character in the initial material.

However, despite the relative complexity and obscurity (to most Westerners anyway) of the original material, this show is still quite accessible. It can get a bit confusing at times with so many different characters and factions introduced, but they generally take the appropriate time to introduce and give enough background on the characters introduced so even the unfamiliar viewer can understand the relationships involved. At times, the show does feel a bit crowded though with so many people getting introduced. The main lead, Taikoubou, who at first just comes off as somewhat stupid (albeit good hearted) does actually get good character development in the second half, but I was vaguely dismissive of him during the first half of the series.

In a sense, the initial set up of the show is somewhat deceptive. It appears, on first, that it is simply going to focus on a “battle of the day” formula of Taikoubou squaring off against whatever demon he is dealing with, but over the course of the opening episodes as characters are gathered and the background is established, that aspect begins to be minimized as a more grandiose plot slowly develops involving the fate of the Yin Dynasty and the role of supernatural beings in human history. Toward the very end, we get a few surprise elements that are interesting thematically, but a bit rushed to for maximum effectiveness. When the show is staying a bit closer to its roots and focusing on the various themes of honor, duty, obligation, and royal corruption it actually is fairly good, but the writers and director far too often let the show drift away from what was working to try out something that was considerably less interesting.

Unfortunately, Soul Hunter has been knee capped by some odd design and story choices that keep it from rising above being a mere average title despite having some engaging elements. Perhaps the most obvious are certain anachronistic elements that sometimes show up in the show. The mystical beasts and vaguely science fictionesque “magic” mecha did not really bother me as they fit in with the general atmosphere of the show, but the random appearance of say a modern stereo system just seems jarringly out of place. Later you get elements like Dakki playing a video game to “simulate” whether the forces she controls will be able to beat another army. The way they choose to portray Dakki early on was a bit odd, as she comes off as a simple flighty bimbo rather than a ruthless manipulator. One could argue that it was supposed to show how unassuming she appeared to others, but I thought it could have been accomplished with a lot more subtlety than they choose to use here. I have a hard time understanding why these elements were included since they don’t really fit well with the show and don’t really work strongly as comedy either.

There is also some odd tone shifts. While many great examples of both Western and Eastern fiction often alternate between comedy and tragedy to maximize emotional impact, there are just several comedic elements that felt a bit out of place especially later on as the plot starts getting much more serious in tone. Also, if a show is going to break through the Fourth Wall and acknowledge its fictional nature, they need to be a bit more consistent about it. They would have a character speak to the audience, do nothing with that aspect for episodes, and then suddenly have an odd exchange like this out of no where (this might not be an exact quote but it is pretty close):

“Onee-san, why are we wearing sexy outfits like this anyway?”

“Fan service for the viewers.”

A lot of this irritated me, because Soul Hunter kept temporarily rising to levels of excellence in regard to both characterization and thematic elements right before letting some bizarre random element or unnecessary plot development totally disrupt the atmosphere of the show. If the creators of the show were going for a more comic feel overall the constant use of such elements would have made more sense. However, it seemed to me that just was not the main feeling and tone they were trying to convey particularly in the second half of the series. The elements were often unnecessary and could have been toned down for the overall improvement of the show.

Visually the show is pretty new and so the animation and art quality are pretty high. The character design choices range from the very tame to the wildly exotic and anachronistic at times, but overall I liked the character design work. There are a number of battles and they are well animated even if they focused a far too much on long range mystical attacks for my personal taste.

Overall, this show had a lot of potential but just didn’t quite make as good use of it as it could. The sad thing is once the show got going it actually did have a lot of good characterization, plot, and thematic elements, but the uneven nature of the writing and design work kept dragging it down and preventing it from achieving excellence.

Though this show had, overall, an interesting plot, ideas, and some interesting characters, it was far too uneven in quality and execution to be called more than average overall. If fantasy or Chinese myth/history derived epics aren’t really your thing go ahead and subtract a star.Jeremy A Beard

Recommended Audience: Okay for kids, I guess, though the "glowing baby" childbirth scene might freak out the younguns. (And maybe a few adults, for that matter.) Ki-blast violence no worse than Dragon Ball.



Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Soul Hunter © 1999 Fujisaki Ryuu / Shueisha / TV Tokyo / Houshin Project 1999
 
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