According to legend, there is a clan of warriors who walk the undefeated path of the Shura, practicing an invincible unarmed martial art style which has since become known simply at the Mutsu Enmei Style. Always in the shadows, these undefeated warriors have travelled the Japanese lands since the Heian era, subtly altering and shaping the course of history but never becoming more than just a myth.
Only the greatest of the great bear the name and legacy it carries, that of Mutsu.
Shura no Toki is a 2004 26 episode long anime series, directed by Shin Misawa and produced by Studio Media Factory and Studio Comet. It is based on the manga series Mutsu Enmei Ryu Gaiden: Shura no Toki by Masatoshi Kawahara which ran for 15 volumes, starting way back in 1989.
Three of the story arcs found in the manga are takenup in the anime and as such, we are left with a series that is split in three separate segments as it details the life and tribulations of three different generations of Mutsu warriors. First up is the carefree Mutsu Yakumo from the early Edo era, who gets dragged into the politics of that age and ends up facing the legendary Miyamoto Musashi himself.
The second part of the series focuses on Yakumo’s son, Mutsu Takato, who gets involved in the historical Tokugawa shogunate-organised samurai tournament and ends up facing off against no less than Yagyu Jubei, the one-eyed demon himself. Lastly, the anime ends off with a more distant descendant of the Mutsu family, namely Mutsu Izumi, who becomes close friends with Sakamoto Ryoma during the Bakumatsu era and also ends up fighting against two historical swordsmen of note.
With three completely separate story arcs condensed into a 26 episode series, you can understand that not a single one of these three stories feels like a fully fleshed out show. And unfortunately to make matters worse, the uneven quality of storytelling and animation certainly doesn’t help Shura no Toki’s cause. The first story arc starts off nice and slowly enough, and it seems almost a typical light hearted samurai series at first. It is completely bloodless which kind of completely takes the teeth out of any samurai show and it is only until the very end that you can sit up and take the show a little more seriously as the final battle with Musashi looms.
The second story arc continues much in the vein of the first, still with a lot of light-hearted humour but an increased amount of fighting and finally the inclusion of some blood just to make the fighting seem a little more real. Although the story itself does have some substance to it, execution is not all that great and you end up not really caring about any of the characters, even if one of them is destined to die in the end. Finally the third arc starts out much in the same fashion as the first two, then steps into a more silly, romantic space and then completely loses itself and becomes a bit of a jumbled mess at the end. (And to make matters worse, the fighting only starts to happen right at the end of the last arc!)
While the series started out nice enough, it ends off on a bland and unforgiving note, and thanks to the constantly changing styles and focuses, ends up being one disjointed mess that probably belongs more in the bargain bin than anywhere else. Its only redeeming feature is the fact that all the scenes try and show how the fictional Mutsu influenced real life Japanese history, but other than that it is pretty much a lost cause, particularly the last handful of episodes.
Visually, the show suffers exactly the same as it does in the writing. It starts off simple and nice enough, not great, but acceptable, but then varies widely as the series progresses and finally disintegrates when you realize that the writers and artists are now trying to stretch the show out for as long as possible by reusing anything everything they can lay their hands on.
The characters don’t look horrible, in fact all the lines are clean and the look is pleasing on the eye, if a bit on the simple side, but the varying quality throughout the series is a bit of a letdown. Thank goodness most of the animation is pretty smooth and solid, and they do at least throw in a few well choreographed fight scenes.
Aurally, Shura no Toki actually sounds pretty good. It features a good musical (if a little repetitive at times) score and the Japanese voice acting is all solid and rather enjoyable. Similarly, the sound effects are all spot on and on this front Shura no Toki actually manages to get things right. The opening track is a fun little number by Sacra and the closing, more forlorn closing track is by the established Akane Osawa.
Shura no Toki has a great premise to it and the idea of showing how historical events came to be is a good one, but unfortunately the show’s writers and director just weren’t up to the challenge of producing a great show and what could have been an exceptional experience is diluted into a rather forgettable one. It is an enjoyable enough watch, but unfortunately completely loses the plot in the latter half of the series and that in particular ends up leaving a bit of a bad taste in your mouth.
So a passable watch, even it feels like a low budget production at times, a feel that unfortunately relegates it straight to the bargain bin. Ergo, not the greatest of series to pick up, even if you do feel like some fun, simple samurai and martial arts action.