Elle Ragu is the 59th Sevalle of the Kuroda Shadow Skills, a martial artist of great power. Several years ago, she found an orphaned boy, Gau Ban, waging a one-child guerrilla war against the bandits that had killed his parents. Intrigued by the child's fierce determination, she takes him under her wing and begins to teach him the secrets of the Shadow Skills. Now, years later, she and her "little brother" are off again on their yearly pilgrimage to the graves of Gau's parents. Gau is just beginning to come into his own as a master of the Shadow Skills, but he still lacks something crucial that holds him back from defeating Elle and becoming a true master.
I originally purchased Shadow Skill solely on the fact that Hayashibara Megumi plays the lead role as Elle (so I'm a fanboy, sue me.) and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of this OAV series. To be honest I had expected something a bit more trite, judging by the previews I had read, but Shadow Skill is a surprisingly original, well animated and exciting anime.
The animation (done by Zero-G Studios) is exceptional for a martial arts anime. The black screens with flashes of light, stupid sparkly blood, and cliched character archetypes seen in a lot of fighting anime are mercifully absent. Everything is animated in a fast-paced, detailed fashion that is exciting to watch. It does, however, fall into the category of "more is better" when it comes to bloodletting; the red paint budget for this show must have been through the roof. But thankfully they try to maintain at least a little realism in that only the characters who are NOT human bleed like Old Faithful. The human (more like superhuman) main characters are not pressurized bags of blood.
Aside from the good animation, the story itself is extremely original for an anime of this type. The gender switch of the central student-master relationship is the obvious example here, but more than that, the history of the Shadow Skills themselves (elaborated on briefly in the first OAV), is unique in that it was a style of fighting developed by female slaves as a way rebelling against their cruel masters (much like how the real-life style of capoeira was developed).
Unfortunately, Shadow Skill fails to fully grasp its potential, mostly because not enough time is taken to properly develop the story and characters. The second tape of OAVs (three thirty minute episodes) tries to accomplish this to some extent by describing the early days of Gau's training and how he and Elle met their traveling companions, but never manages to reach the culmination of it all, which supposedly is the telling of how Gau finally manages to become the next Sevalle and the true master of the Shadow Skills.
In all, Shadow Skill is a well executed, fun to watch OAV series, but lacks the story development and characterization needed to truly become a great anime. Fans of martial arts anime should give it a look, but perhaps only as a rental.
Recommended Audience: This is an extremely violent, bloody anime. It is probably not suitable for young children, but should be fine for the teenage crowd and up.
Version(s) Viewed: VHS, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (4/4)
Shadow Skill © 1995 Okada Megumu / Shadow Skill Production Committee
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