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The first Shadow Skill anime released in 1996 as a three episode OVA.
In the kingdom of Kuldar (Karuta in the dub), there is only one way out of servitude-by becoming a gladiator in the arena (a thinly disguised Colosseum). Gladiators can become shavals (sevilles), the chosen knights of the kingdom. Ele Rag is the youngest of the 59 shavals, a mistress of the secret fighting art known as the Shadow Skill. She cares for Gau Ban of the Black Howling, a traumatized young orphan she found four years earlier. But Gau lives in a secret internal turmoil of honor and duty, watching Ele Rag's every move so that he may learn the Shadow Skill and become the brother she deserves.
SS was based on the 1992 Comic Gamma manga by Megumu Okada, praised in Japan for its meticulous internal logic. Okada has some great ideas, such as the Shadow Skill itself (a psychic martial art for slaves whose hands are bound) and magic in which each spell must be engaged in conversation before being unleashed. Okada's clan terminology creates "families" of people who aren't really related, defending the memories of "fathers" who weren't necessarily their biological parents. Like sumo wrestlers, clan adoption brings a new name, and like the samurai codes of old, the ignoble death of one's master forces a period of exile while the outcast seeks revenge. It also forbids the exile to use his or her former name, so SS contains a lot of people with very long and cumbersome handles. The man known as Screep Lohengrin of the White Running in the original manga is just plain "Louie" here, for example. Similar compressions devalue the rest of the production: mere moments after we're told that Gau is mute, he breaks his vow of silence to chat with the first stranger he meets. The anime SS is reduced to a simple kung-fu revenge tragedy, as a party that consists of two warriors (Ele and Gau), a magic-user (Fowari), and a ranger/cleric (Kiao Yu) square off against people who killed their fathers, and now must prepare to die (etc.). We're occasionally reminded of the original's evil Sorphan Empire, with tales of the King of the Moon or shots of a young Gau hunting a centaur, but the invaders are greatly underused.
The one-shot video SS soon made it to the U.K. through Manga Entertainment. It performed way beyond expectations in Japan and was followed in 1996 by an additional three-part series, also released in English, though cut into the feature-length SS the Movie. The dub was done in Wales, a land known for its own arcane language, though that's no excuse for the clunky dialogue or the outrageous moment when Kiao yells away soundlessly, presumably because nobody was paying attention to the visuals. The 1998 TV series, produced after the manga had switched publication to Comic Dragon Junior, was screened in a late-night slot and restored much of the manga's backstory. However, it still awaits English-language release. LNV
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