Basilisk: The Complete Series
Basilisk could have been a pretty interesting series, but instead it’s hampered by a terrible script and recycled ideas. It’s got the right ingredients for an interesting story: Two ancient ninja clans, years after the signing a treaty of non-aggression with the Japanese government, have now been set at each other’s throats again by the promise of imperial favor. In the middle of this ripening conflict, love blossoms between the heirs to the two clans. Though they were arranged to be wed in times of peace, the sundering of the treaty threatens to tear them apart.
I mean, that’s a recipe for some serious old-school drama. With two forces aligned against each other and the bonds of love in the balance, the rest should really just take care of itself.
Unfortunately, this premise takes the back seat to a spectacle of short-lived and obvious ninja squabbles that, while they occasionally are pretty cool, lack any style or substance beyond the familiar trope of “super-secret magic ninja techniques.” There’s nothing wrong with this in itself, but when the whole plot pretty much exists as a staging ground for action sequences, the action needs to be visually exciting and well choreographed. In Basilisk‘s case, each ninja feels less like a character and more like a set of supernatural powers culled from some other popular franchise. While the action isn’t completely yawn-inducing, it’s just not strong enough to carry this story on its own—the stakes just aren’t there. Without upsetting the formula of existing action anime, these scenes feel predictable and bland, lacking much of what made the source material memorable.
As for the central love story, the less said about this shallow, teen-level romance, the better. Hearkening to the self-destructive and self-obsessed tendencies of a Romeo and Juliet, Oboro and Gennosuke lack any of the self-awareness or irony that made the original parodical pairing so memorable. There’s no real basis for their romance beyond two noble ninja scions getting all gooey-eyed over each other. There’s not even real tension in their relationship—despite, may I remind you, an ancient feud reigniting between the clans that they are born to rule. What little doubt is cast on their affections for each other feels more like vapid meanderings than sincere questioning.
Additionally, I know we’re talking about an anime set in medieval Japan here, but the amount of rape and sexual violence in this series is truly appalling. I get that anime has an objectification problem and, perhaps, always will, but this series just felt like it was trying to use rape as a way of titillating naïve teenagers, which is extremely fucked up.
To break away from the rampant stream of negativity for a second, Basilisk does boast a pretty good art crew, and though the animation is still locked in the realm of 6–8 fps, there are some legitimately beautiful illustrations and character designs to be found here. It’s a shame, though, because the sub-par animation quality kind of detracts from the elaborateness of the visual style, and the story that hides behind it is hardly worth the time.
Ultimately, I think Basilisk truly suffers from a lack of real identity. Having cribbed so many ideas from its predecessors, it simply doesn’t deliver anything that fans of the genre haven’t seen before. It’s hard to justify this as a mindless action series due to its romance-drama pretense and frankly boring action composition. Conversely, the central relationship is so drastically underdeveloped that it doesn’t bear watching for its serious-minded elements, either. Basilisk may not be the worst anime I’ve ever seen, but due to an all-around weakness of story and presentation, I’m hesitant to recommend it to anyone who isn’t seriously dedicated to watching any and all anime.