Sunday, April 10, 2022

Shuranosuke Zanmaken-shi kama mon no otoko (1990)

... aka: 修羅之介斬魔剣死鎌紋の男
... aka: L'épée de vérité
... aka: Shuranosuke the Demon: Man of the Death Scythes Crest
... aka: Sword for Truth

Directed by:
Osamu Dezaki (uncredited)

In Edo, a giant white tiger with weapon-repellent skin "escapes" from its cage and goes about slaughtering dozens of soldiers at a royal palace until it's finally put down by a mysterious rōnin / swordsman who bears the "crest of the crossed scythes" or "the scythes of death" on his purple kimono. The tiger-slayer in question is Sakaki Shuranosuke, a man of few words, but one who knows how to wield a sword and can basically just pass by a group of people and silently severe each of their heads without so much as breaking a sweat. After casually bisecting the "overgrown pussycat" with one fatal blow, Sakaki ventures on and comes across half a dozen swordfighters he also dispatches in quick succession. Turns out that attack was just a test put together by the Nakura clan chief Daizen Omura.

Omura explains that the tiger was sent as a distraction so that a nefarious group - the Seki Ninjas - could sneak into their palace and kidnap Princess Mayu. They're now holding the girl hostage. In exchange for her safe return, they demand possession of the much-coveted Ginrayu Sword and have arranged a time and a meeting place to make the swap. If no one shows up, the Princess will be raped, murdered and then have her remains fed to dogs. Knowing Sakaki is probably the only man who can take on and defeat the kidnappers, Omura offers him a handsome reward in gold. He'll get half up front and the other half upon successful completion.

Sakaki travels to an island temple and brings along the old Ginrayu Sword for the exchange, but when he gets there he discovers a boating family has been needlessly slaughtered and evil Seki Ninja leader Dogen the Invincible has led him into an ambush. After defeating some of the army, Sakaki is bailed out by an army of woman in red ninja outfits who step in to do battle (they also want the sword), which enables out hero to grab the Princess and run off into the night. After Dogen is impaled with countless swords, he shows why he earned the "the invincible" part of his nickname by expelling the swords from his body and then slaughtering most of the lady ninjas. Just how will someone like that be defeated? Well, actually, he won't be, but that's another story.

In an attempt to spice things up a bit, this adds a host of creatures to the works. There's a weird spider man who shoots webs out of some metal contraption on his face, a sea monster that rips heads off and a fire witch who uses water lanterns are weapons.

As an adult-oriented OVA this does deliver on the R-rated bloodshed, nudity and sex. There's spurting blood all over the place with various slashings, spearings, impalements, eye gougings, decapitations, dismemberments and disembowelments. In addition to that, there's a whole lot of T-ani-A and two soft-core sex scenes. In the first, our hero proves to be more than just adept with a metal sword as he takes on a horny female thief who's left begging for more. In the second, most memorable (and longest) scene, the Princess has her privates slathered with opium to make her more susceptible to a scissoring-and-nipple-sucking assault from a Seki henchwoman. However, you can get the same stuff from countless other anime that are put together a lot better than this one is.

Understandably poorly received upon release, this Toei Video co-production suffers from unfocused storytelling, massive plot holes, a charisma-free hero and (in the English version at least), unintentionally funny dialogue and very clumsy use of narration. In addition to that, the visual presentation is extremely uneven. While there are some attractive touches in here, especially in regards to the usage of color in the night and morning scenes, the animation is overall subpar. Lots of still images are used in place of actual animation and attempts by the editor and cameraman to give these stills a sense of movement usually fall flat. That ends up harming a lot of the action scenes, which consistently fail to generate any thrills or excitement.

As for why everybody wants to get their hands on the fabled Ginrayu Sword, your guess is as good as mine! We are never told anything about its history, why everyone is killing to get it, what's so special about it or what kinds of special powers it possesses. That's entirely unforgivable considering the quest for the sword is what's driving the entire freaking plot! And that's just the beginning of the loose plot threads seen here. Toward the very end, they introduce a new character; a jujitsu assassin named Maruji, and he doesn't have a thing to do with the main story line. Why he's even here to begin with is a mystery but I'm guessing the makers originally planned on turning this into an ongoing series. It probably also explains why the primary bad guy is still alive and plotting things at the end that never come to fruition. However, the fact this ended up being a standalone release makes these unresolved plot threads unsatisfying and annoying.

The running time is just 49 minutes. In Canada and the U. S., this was dubbed into English and released on both DVD and VHS by Manga Video, plus was aired on the Sci-Fi Network and Chiller. French and Spanish language versions were also released.

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