When I think about all the samurai-themed anime shows and movies that I’ve watched over the years, I realize that I’ve probably watched more than the number of fingers I can count with my hands. Going into Shigurui, I was expecting something action-oriented with occasional moments of levity since that is usually what I’ve received from most anime features within this genre. But, boy oh boy, this anime goes completely ballistic when it came to vulgar displays of brutality.
Visually-speaking, I think this was a solid effort from Madhouse. I really liked how shadows and black/white colors were utilized to instill a disquieting atmosphere during the more suspenseful moments. Another aspect that I found interesting (but may disturb others) was that the violence wasn’t censored at all. I’ve slowly gotten used to seeing a black bar fill up half or even all of the screen in action-scenes from other anime shows, so I was sort of taken by surprise when I saw blood and guts profusely spilling out of a man’s stomach in the very first episode. One thing I did find kind of annoying though was how their were occasionally text throughout some episodes that would appear briefly on the screen for like a second. This bothered me because I always had the urge to pause every now and then.
The musical score of Shigurui was also nicely utilized as well. The soundtrack comprises entirely of traditional Japanese musical instruments, which does an excellent job of making you feel intently immersed in the Edo period, which is the time period of this anime. One thing that may irk some potential viewers though is that this anime has absolutely no musical comic relief at any point, which can sometimes make the viewing experience oppressively bleak if you come into this anime expecting occasional moments of respite.
The story of Shigurui centers around two physically incapacitated samurai warriors; one is missing an arm, and the other is completely blind. They are each given the order to fight to the death simply to provide entertainment for their masters. Just as the fight heads underway, viewers witness flashbacks that showcase pivotal moments in their lives that led them to where they are now. Throughout the series, you get to see their upbringing, the grueling training they went through to hone their skills. Narratively speaking, I thought Shigurui was pretty shallow and disappointing since the last episode left me with more questions than answers. A good chunk of the runtime was built on bottling up tension, while very little time was actually spent on substantially fleshing out the characters and weaving together a coherent plot. In addition, I feel like a lot of the gross out scenes (primarily torture and rape) were pretty much there just for the sake of shock value, and they weren’t really integral components of the plotline at all.
All in all, I found Shigurui to be quite stomach-turning and aesthetically striking, but pacing issues and a lack of closure makes it hard for me to call it a great anime. Despite all of it’s issues, I think it is still worth a watch since the production quality is superb. But, I don’t think this is a show that I’ll be revisiting anytime soon.