The Hakkenden is based on one of the greatest literary achievements of the late Tokugawa period, the novel "Nanso Satomi Hakkenden" by Bakin Takizawa. This novel is a lengthy tale of the adventures of a group of samurai who wandered Japan during the Muromachi period in a series of adventures. Tekazama's novel is very serious and is filled throughout with a highly moral tone. When I first picked The Hakkenden I expected an anime series with explosive duels remininscent of the best chambara movies and with an accurate depiction of life in late feudal Japan.
In this sense first episode of The Hakkenden delivers. The sword fights are animated well and incorporate, to some extent, techniques of existing Kenjutsu ryus. Also the battle at the begining of this episode is a sight for sore eyes, this is the first time that I've seen a pitched battle with medieval weapons done so well in an anime. The complex relations of the Japanese feudal system are also depicted well up to this point, too. This, however, often leads to some confusion for people who are not very familiar with Bushido and the relationship of the different social classes in feudal Japan to one another.
The animation quality is decent, with lapses in quality relatively few and far between. However, the portrayal of Lord Anzai as some sort of demon did detract mightily from my overall satisfaction with this episode. It seems to me that the story would flow much better without all this supernatural shtick thrown in. But then it may later become an important part of the storyline.
I watched the dubbed version of The Hakkenden which was released in the United States by Pioneer and, although I prefer watching original anime, I had no major complaints with the vocal talent Pioneer had assembled to work on the series. None of the American voice actors did an excellent job, but they were able to pull the first episode off without any major mistakes and there were no voices that seemed out of place. I haven't seen the original Japanese version so I can't say how it compares, but overall I thought the dubbing was above-average for domestically realesed titles. The music was also above average, with the ending theme by the Japanese pop group The Tops standing out as one of the best pieces I've ever heard on an anime soundtrack.
The series had promise and is so far well worth watching, probably being the best of the small genre of samurai anime that consists of such titles as Yotoden and Ninja Scroll. And for those out there who are fans of Akira Kurosawa or Toshiro Mifune, The Hakkenden is a must see, reminscent of such classics as The Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. However, take heed, like the aforementioned films The Hakkenden is full of bloody fights and dismemberings, and is not for children or the weak of heart.
- JH, 99.01.31