Thursday, January 5, 2012

Anime review: "Souten Kouro"

I was finally able to watch "Souten Kouro"! This anime came out more than two years ago - almost three now - but it wasn't until recently subbed by any group. The reason stated for this by any group that tried tackling it was that the anime was too complex and had too many characters. Considering this and the comments on AniDB, which were all praising, I was pretty much heated up for this show. After watching it, I now see I was misled by these comments, but also that this is a very good anime.

"Souten Kouro" is an adaptation of the manga with same name. Mange, in turn, is based on Chinese historical period called Three Kingdoms and 14th century novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms". It is set in the end of third century, when China was a place of great turmoil - a land of heroes, violence and great armies. This story is presented with Cao Cao (famous Chinese warlord and statesman) as a central character. Cao Cao was in history depicted as a cruel, but efficient governor, but this anime tries to put his character in context of this violent times and events and pictures him as more humane and benevolent person.

First, although it is hard to see it as such at the beginning, this is a pretty much accurate historical adaptation. It has a really big number of characters, and most of them are present in only episode or two. Since story in this show lasts some 40 years, and characters change much in appearance and clothing, it is sometimes hard to follow who is who. I tried putting few names in Wikipedia and got results for all - quite big articles with description of event from this anime! So if you like historical stories, this this is your show.

My biggest problem with it is the form this story is presented. This combination of real-life characters and complex story is displayed as shounen battle anime - main characters are twice in size as normal persons, and when they go to battle they scream a lot and singlehandedly kill hundreds of soldiers. Well, it would be unfair and untrue to tell this show is only a battle anime. No, this is only one small part of it - but it almost ruined it for me. This is mostly true for first 5 or so episodes, where early years of Cao Cao's life are depicted - he kills bandits, falls in love with foreign beauties, outsmarts Chief Eunuchs, and so. This part is so similar in spirit to "Sengoku Basara" (which I hated) that I almost stopped watching. This would be a pity because story power up later, but I would be happier if they made this beginning more historical than action show.

This problem is especially present whenever Lu Bu appears. He is also a historical person and in "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" is presented as Chinese mightiest warrior. This mean that in this show he is pictured as 10-foot muscled giant with dreadlocks, who rarely speaks and whenever goes to battle (and this is often) sound a very irritating battle cry (I fail with every try of describing it; you just have to hear it), jumps ten-stories high and kills hundreds of people. On the other hand, he IS a very important part of the story and has some good drama centered around him.

Cao Cao was also very irritating at the beginning - he stands perfectly erect, tall and speaks in proclamations. But later, as he gets older, he really grows into his act and feels very natural. I must say I really liked his character - he has done some wicked but cool stuff.

Another objection, although smaller one, is that anime ends abruptly. We have some really big battles happening, when suddenly at the end of one we got letters "And so he continued to fight until becoming greatest hero ever..." (I made up this sentence, but something like that) and this is it. And at this time I really started to like this show.

Animation and visual aspects of "Souten Kouro" are also something special. Although it has lots of bad CGI effects and computer-generated faces that move like from old video-games, when important characters come to fore they are done superbly. E.g. you can see how gradually Cao Cao and rest grow beards as they become older - they really took care of details. Opening is good, ending not so, but nothing out of the ordinary. Voices are done very good (except that Lu Bu!), other sounds also. Anime has 26 episodes.

As this is accurate historical anime, you can expect some really brutal and violent action. Cao Cao was respected and also had some bad and cruel reputation. On the other hand, expect some good and sharp humor.

So, despite some flaws (too much feel of battle action anime), "Souten Kouro" is pretty good historical anime. It has great complex story and really good and big cast, so it is sometimes hard to follow, but if you are into history, this is definitely a show for you.

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