Manga story contains scenes for adults only


POSTED: Sunday, July 26, 2009

No doubt many of you reading this are familiar with the Shakespearean tragedy “;Romeo and Juliet,”; the tale of doomed love blooming between two members of feuding families.

Take that play, mix in the rich history of swords and grudges that filled feudal-era Japan and toss in some of the neatest special fighting abilities seen this side of Marvel's “;X-Men”; comic books, and you get the subject of our profile today, the anime and manga series “;Basilisk.”;

While we might view the characters' special powers today as similar to those of Marvel's merry mutant superheroes, “;Basilisk”; is actually rooted in a novel written by Futaro Yamada, “;The Kouga Ninja Scrolls,”; that was originally published in 1958, several years before Jack Kirby and Stan Lee debuted “;X-Men.”; (The novel is available in English from Del Rey.)

“;The Kouga Ninja Scrolls”;—and by extension, “;Basilisk”;—focuses on a centuries-old feud between the Kouga-Manjidani and the Iga-Tsubagakure clans. As the story begins in 1614, both clans are under an uneasy peace brokered by Hanzo Hattori and serve shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa. But with Ieyasu preparing to step down, the question arises of which of his two sons should succeed him: the elder, Takechio, or the younger, Kunichiyo.

To prevent infighting among the Tokugawa ranks, Ieyasu agrees to dissolve the truce and have a team of Kouga's 10 best ninjas, representing Kunichiyo, take on Iga's best, representing Takechio. The surviving side, Ieyasu promises, will “;rule for 1,000 years.”; Upon dissolution of the truce, leaders Danjou Kouga and Ogen Iga promptly kill each other, kicking off what turns out to be an endless chain of carnage that doesn't stop until the story's over.

The problem: No one told their immediate heirs—Gennosuke Kouga and Oboro Iga—about the truce dissolving, their grandparents dying or their new leadership roles. And Gennosuke and Oboro are madly in love with each other.





        Anime: Complete 24-episode series available on DVD from Funimation

Manga: Five-volume series available from Del Rey


Suggested age range: Mature, 18+




THEY eventually discover the truth, of course. But as they come to grips with their new reality, the other members of the Kouga and Iga clans keep busy tearing one another apart. The manga even offers a convenient way of keeping tabs on the combat—all 34 chapters' titles list the number of combatants still alive on each side.

And while there are clashing swords aplenty, those aforementioned special abilities also play a major role in the fight sequences. Those powers range from really cool (the Iga have Nenki Mino, who manipulates his nose hairs as weapons; the Kouga have Saemon Kisaragi, who can physically transform into anyone and imitate his or her voice) to somewhat routine (fat Jousuke Udono can repel weapons with his flab, and he's the jolly Kouga member ... now there's a shocker) to the inexplicably dull (Akeginu of the Iga clan spews blood ... umm, yay?)

Masaki Segawa's art in the manga emphasizes the physical traits of the characters, so much so that the story at times seems more like a slide show of male fantasy sequences full of violence and erotic images than a tale of romance, rivalry and revenge. Suffice it to say the manga earns its mature rating, with blood and limbs flying everywhere and a good number of the female clan members (and the more well-endowed ones, at that) ending up fighting topless. By no means is it gratuitous, but it also seems a bit excessive.

Anyone wanting more thoughtfulness and less titillation would be better served watching the anime, which not only leaves its women covered up (for the most part) but also offers exclusive flashback sequences that help flesh out the characters' backgrounds in a more peaceful time.