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Ten years ago, Takeshi's father was murdered. The weeping boy was found by his side in the forest, nursing a strange shoulder wound. Takeshi suspects that the scar is a symbol of an ancient snake cult and teams up with some acquaintances to track down relics of the era. He discovers that ancient clans from Japanese prehistory are fighting to preserve their secrets in the present day. These secrets include the elixir of life, a great treasure, and a savage immortal hidden beneath a mountain.
Daijiro Moroboshi's original one-volume 1976 Shonen Jump manga is tied into a much larger universe both of "real" myths and his personal revisions. He already treated a similar subject the previous year in Maddomen, in which a scholar discovered secrets of Japanese history at a lost New Guinea temple, and would return to it again with the linked story Confucius's Dark Myth (1977) and a rewrite of the Monkey-King tale in Phantom Monkey's Journey to the West (1983). The stories all take their cues from the fact that the supposedly homogenous Japanese are a melting pot of several different races, the earliest of which are only known from a handful of archaeological relics. The Jomon, Yamatai, Ainu, Chinese, Koreans, Manchurians, and Southeast Asians all brought elements of their own cultures to Japan. Compare this to Princess Mononoke, in which several of these cultures fight each other at the birth of Japan. Dark Myth suggests that before the coming of humans, an ancient race of Indian gods also fought over the land, and that today's legends are fragmented race memories of this great war. Similar liberties are taken with history in many other anime from Psychic Wars to Yamato Takeru.
There is a clever economy of animation (especially a scene where Takeshi alone is animated in a whited-out world) and some suitably arcane music from Ghost in the Shell's Kawai, but DM is ultimately disappointing. That place in Japanese history where real events elide into myth is truly fascinating. Even today, the emperor can supposedly trace his lineage back to Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess mentioned in DM, and the sorcerous Princess Himiko is the semihistorical figure mentioned in Chinese histories as the Queen of Wa, who appears in other guises in Zeguy, Flint the Time Detective, and Steel Jeeg. But much of the plot is a tour of Japanese antiquities, and while director Anno turns up the tension with waving grasses at the scene of a murder, action is slow to arrive and difficult to follow. The names are too cumbersome for non-Japanese speakers and the stories are too complex, especially when they require the viewer to know exactly what old legends are being slyly adapted. Takeshi's quest takes him all over modern Japan, though to the uninitiated, one temple looks very much like another.
For the dub, Manga Entertainment does its best, but John Wolskel's rewrite still has to stumble through lines like, "The head of the Kikuchi clan is always called Kikuchi-hiko. It is a very old name. It is recorded as Kukuchi-ku of the country of Kuna, in the Gishiwajin-den in the third century a.d." Matters aren't helped by a cast that can't pronounce this stuff half the time. V
Dark Night's Drama
1995. jpn: Yamiyo Jidaigeki. aka: Dark Night's Period-Drama. TV series. dir: Takashi Imanishi, Yoshiyuki Tomino, Ryosuke Takahashi. scr: Takashi Ima-nishi, Yoshiyuki Tomino. des: Norio Shioyama, Kazuhiro Soeta. ani: Kazuhiro Soeta. mus: N/C. prd: Sunrise, Nippon TV. 15 mins. x 4 eps.
Four tales of old-time horror in the anthology spirit of Pet Shop of Horrors and The Cockpit from directors best known for giant-robot shows. Tales include The Hill of Old Age, which tells of a conspiracy hatched against Japan's unifier, Nobunaga Oda; Seeing the Truth, about the assassin sent to murder Nobunaga's successor, Ieyasu Tokugawa; a wandering swordsman saving a damsel in distress from evil spirits in The Ear of Jinsuke; while the final chapter, Prints from the Fall of the Bakufu, features a tomboy from a woodcut works charged with making a print of the young warrior Okita Soji. Broadcast as part of the Neo Hyper Kids program. NV
2003. jpn: Ori no Naka no Namameki. aka: Lust in the Cage. Video. dir: Kazuma Kanazawa. scr: Kazuma Kanazawa. des: Masaki Yamada. ani: Hiroya Iijima. mus: Teruo Takahama. prd: Studio Kuma, Blue Eyes. 30 mins. x 2 eps.
In an alternate world where World War II ended with a balkanized Japan plunged into chaos and civil conflict, soldiers escort captive women across the danger zone. They do so while making regular stops to have sex with their charges, regardless of their consent or lack thereof. Meanwhile, an unseen sniper begins to pick off members of the group until the act of sex itself becomes fraught with danger. Sexualized violence, depravity, and an original form of borderline necrophilia, as pleading victims find themselves having to choose between sex and death, and often getting both. Survivor Kaoruko has happier memories but they only serve for an exculpatory "parallel world" happy ending, where the war didn't happen and she and her lover sit on a peaceful beach watching two girls at play who have actually been raped and killed. LNV