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Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East Season 1 Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

Hakkenden - Eight Dogs Of The East
Hakkenden – Eight Dogs Of The East
The classic story sees a new adaptation.

What They Say:
When their village was wiped out five years ago, there were only three young survivors: boys Shino Inuzuka and Sosuke Inukawa and the girl Hamaji. Through a quirk of fate, both boys share the same peony-shaped birthmark. Genpachi Inukai and Kobungo Inuta were raised hundreds of miles away as foster brothers, but they too share the same birthmark. When they went north as part of the army three years ago, they went to confront demons and came back forever transformed. Now the Imperial Church has come for Shino and Sosuke and they must find eight mystical gems and their owners or face a fate worse than death at the hands of the Church.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track and the newly produced English language track, both of which are in stereo and encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series is one that largely works as a dialogue driven piece with a few moments throughout that gives it a touch of action and supernatural that lets it shine. But it’s a brief shine overall, which means the heavy focus is on the dialogue. In that area, it handles things well as there’s a good, clean presentation here that works the forward soundstage about as you’d expect with straightforward placement, a little depth here and there and not much else. This is all handled well though it’s largely unexceptional overall when you get down to it but there’s no problems here as we didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally broadcast in 2013, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Spread across two discs, we get nine episodes on the first and four on the second. Animated by Studio Deen, the series has a very good look to it with a lot of detail and a great bit of color design. The transfer for this captures it well as there’s a lot of pop and vibrancy throughout with the characters themselves, especially with certain hair colors in places, but also in the various magical aspects including the gems themselves. There are a few dark scenes throughout but most of it takes place in the daylight and that helps to keep things in a lighter tone, and that definitely helps to give it a pretty good life. There’s a clean look to it all that’s definitely appealing and with it being free of noise or other problematic areas, it’s definitely a pleasing transfer.

The packaging for this release is done in a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the two discs against the interior walls. The front cover is a pretty good one as we get Sousuke and Aoi back to back while Shino is between them, albeit a whole lot shorter which makes it so that he almost disappears with the way this thing is framed. The logo covers half of his body as well which doesn’t help him to stand out much. With a nice themed background that provides a naturalistic aspect that also feels like it’s appropriate for the time helps it to look good with a nice bit of detail and presentation. The back cover goes a bit darker for part of it with the background but also has a good bit of light space as well, which is where the premise is covered in good detail. There’s a solid array of images from the show spread across it and a clean listing of the sets episode count and discs as well as the extras. The production credits round out the bottom along with a well covered technical grid that lists everything clearly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design is one that feels like it’s designed with more detail than we usually get and that really helps to set the mood well here. The layout itself is standard where the right third has the navigation while the rest has a static image. The first disc for example features a good image of Shino and Sosuke together with the flowers behind them and a light touch for color that gives it an old time feeling. The detail is good as are the colors, but it’s the menu navigation itself that really stands out since it’s done in black with white text and some nice framing but it ties it into the show with each episode tied to a different gem color from within the show. When it comes up during playback as the pop-up menu, it fits even better as a piece of the property. Submenus load quickly and access times are nice and fast as it all moves smoothly and easily.

The release comes with some of the usual extras in the form of the clean opening and closing sequences but we get a little more than just that. The first disc has a pair of Japanese language commentaries with the original staff/cast that talk about events in the first and fourth episodes that’s welcome to see.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the ongoing manga by Miyuki Abe, Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East is a two season series animated by Studio DEEN. The Hakkenden material is something that goes back quite a ways and has been adapted many times, with my first exposure being the Hakkenden series that Pioneer LDC did in the early 90’s when they first began producing their own anime works. Similar to how there have been so many other particular periodical stories told, I’m always hesitant to see something that I’m familiar with done once again like this, no matter how creative the get, from gender bending characters to making it into a science fiction show. But similar to the others, Hakkenden is a story that has survived the test of time so far because it resonates, and I can’t help but to be drawn to those stories to see how the sensibilities of the day will interpret it.

The series starts off with a basic backdrop, showing us the results of something mysterious that happened in some village that caused it to burn to the ground. That’s just prelude to seeing the two people who seemingly survived it watching it all burn down before it advances a few years later. The three kids who survived have found a new place to live on the outside of a larger village, but there are still whispers of where they came from and what they may bring to this village. There’s a darkness to it all, but those who survived have largely managed to keep the faith because of the fact that they have each other. But there are things below the surface as well, such as the youngest boy who hates all the whispers that get said about them and what evil that they may bring with them.

It’s through this that we’re introduced to the two core characters of the series with Shino and Sosuke. With them living in the church, they have a certain protection but even after all these years there’s a lot of tension and apprehension between them and those that live in the village. For the brothers, they manage well enough but do their best to keep their distance so as to not cause more trouble. The real trouble comes from the Imperial Church though that wants the weapon that Shino has, the Murasame that exists within him, but it’s all part of a larger plan that they have. There’s obviously no intent of the brothers to give it to them, but events turn when their compatriot, the young girl Hamaji, ends up in the Church’s care and the brothers are sent out into the world to try and find the other men that have the special gems and the birthmarks that identify them as something special that goes back to the story of Princess Fuse and her loyal dog warriors.

Using their own church as a launching pad for things, the brothers make multiple forays out into the world to find through, though Shino is obviously a bit miffed by the prospect of it. With him wondering how they’d find six other people in this country of so many, it obviously is a legitimate question. Of course, in their travels by foot and by train, they end up coming across quite a few of them relatively quickly over the course of this season. Amusingly, some of those they meet that are of this nature are hidden to them even as they befriend them, so it turns into a legitimate surprise when they do find out about it. That makes for a good bit of fun since in the end, they all become friends of varying levels before that reveal and that helps to soften things overall. But with the way the show plays out, you never really get a good feel for anyone because even as these important compatriots appear in the show, they weave in and out of it rather than becoming regulars throughout.

The show largely focuses on Shino and Sosuke and that keeps it moving, particularly since there are secrets for both of them. With Shino being a young child in appearance but capable of a lot with what his powers are like and being constrained in size due to magics on him, there’s a feeling of someone older with how he presents himself and that comes across well. And while he is being watched over by Sosuke, it’s really the reverse that’s going on in a big way since Sosuke has not recovered from events of five years prior where his soul basically split into half and his other side is out there at times causing trouble in the world. The interplay between Shino and Sosuke is a lot of the charm of the series and it’s one that really needs it since they’re largely the only constants – and even Sosuke spends enough time away that a lot of it rests on Shino.

Because of this being a two season show, this set covers a lot of the introductions of the people that they’re seeking and a general understanding of the larger forces at work. Unfortunately, a lot of it just feels so haphazardly done and without enough engaging points that as it goes on I kept finding myself hard pressed to really be sure as to what it’s all about. The core of it here is that we get Hamaji in the safe keeping of the Church and they want Shino to go and find the bead holders. All well enough, but with the way it moves from episode to episode there just doesn’t feel like there’s anything compelling about it, especially since we really don’t get to connect with the other gem holders in a significant or truly engaging way. You get their basic personalities, but with them not being aware of what they are for a lot of it, it doesn’t play out well. There’s more time spent on some of the weird and not altogether clear machinations of the church and some of what’s lurking in the shadows, but even that just adds to the confusion overall as to what the real point of it all is.

In Summary:
With the importance of the original novel series from the early 1800’s not in doubt, anime adaptations of Hakkenden have been dicey at best. More often than not I find myself more interested in the style of the presentation of the adaptation than the story itself since it’s really hit or miss with what it does in bringing it to life. Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East unfortunately falls into that camp of a miss so far. It’s well animated with a lot of great designs, even if it feels like some clothing choices are decidedly modern to the 1920’s feeling that the rest of it has, but the story and progress of it all simply doesn’t connect well at all. It works its best when Shino and Sosuke are together and we see the dynamic between the two of them and the edges of their pasts starting to come out, but that’s a relatively small part of the show. There’s a whe lot of setup here but it lacks some really unifying material to really bring it together, especially since this season ends with a quiet whimper more than anything else.

Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Commentaries, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation

Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: May 20th, 2014
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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