|A very underrated historical/ supernatural anime title.|
Note: My thoughts here cover both "seasons" of the Hakkenden anime.
This is quite the underrated gem as I haven't seen many reviews of it mentioned online. Before I cover the highlights to Hakkenden, I might as well cover the obvious issue with the series in the form of its animation. The series is notable for having gone through various animation teams throughout its run and it shows with the differing animation quality and styles that get employed in the title's different scenes. In the better animated parts of the series, characters looks quite lifelike and well detailed in their designs as they exactly as they would in 15th century Japan, which sticks out from conventionally drawn titles of the early to mid 1990s. At its worst, the characters look quite deformed and cartoon-ish in their designs as they move about and are more simpler in detail. Animated scenes are also a mixed bag here as you get occasions where you see nicely animated and brutal battle scenes or nice imagery coming from the various demons that the eight warriors encounter and instances where either you get enough still shots or choppy-looking movement coming from the title's varying animation styles that were being employed. I'm not too harsh with judging an anime purely on its animation, but there's no denying the inconsistency of it throughout Hakkenden may be a big turnoff for folks and is still a glaring issue with the series.
If you can look past the visuals though, you'll find a rather engaging title mixing traditional samurai story with elements of Japanese supernatural folklore. The series is a tale depicting the eight reincarnated offspring of a demonic-possessed dog and princess Fuse of the weakened Satomi clan who slowly reunite to come together to restore their old clan to power. In terms of plot, Hakkenden is mostly focused on the slow reunification of the eight Dog Warriors as they learn more of their origins and have frequent encounters with demons and corrupt feudal lords, events that are usually instigated by the main antagonist of the series in the form of the demon Aboshi, with the first episode covering how the union between Fuse and the dog came about. The final episodes then focus on the eight reuniting with the Satomi clan to reclaim control over the land and having their final confrontation with Aboshi. While the plot seems simple in setup, the title's focus on its characters and time period add quite a bit of depth to Hakkenden.
Many of the major characters in the series are fleshed out and you come to learn that the eight dog warriors share a connection through having tragic and violent pasts attributed to their unique upbringing and the time period in which they are brought up. This offers up a fresh approach to a historical title like Hakkenden where rather than the series glorify and romanticize the Sengoku era, the series focuses on the cruel reality of the era with political instability and violent warfare about. You have feudal lords caring more for their selfish needs than the well-being of others, families willing to give away their children to political figures for arranged marriage to either gain money or status, corrupt feudal lords willing to kill off anyone to save face for situations that cause the slightest of imperfections for their image and absolute loyalty/ devotion to feudal lords having its moral downfalls. To my knowledge, this was one of the first anime titles that offered such a focus for its historical setting and Hakkenden explores the problems of the early Sengoku era very well.
Another notable element to Hakkenden is its music. Consisting mostly of light and traditional musical pieces, the various musical tracks are pleasant on the ears, flow nicely with the title's major scenes and offers one of the more beautiful sounding OP tracks I've heard in an anime.
Hakkenden's historical focus, violence (plenty of dismemberment, blood and onscreen deaths are present here) and inconsistent animation make this a series that won't be for everyone. But if you have interest in historical anime and can look past the mentioned issues with the series, Hakkenden is an engaging experience with its rich cast of characters, supernatural elements and believable approach to exploring the early decades of Japan's Sengoku era.