I'm still a little watery-eyed after having just finished the final episode of Basilisk. I was pretty much in tears during the whole thing, which may be the result of watching it right after I woke up this morning, or of it just being a well made episode...or both. Let me tell you right now that this is the kind of show that you just know, even in the very first episode, can only end in tragedy and heartbreak. Anything else is impossible.
Basilisk is the story of two ninja clans in the early 17th century, the Kouga and the Iga. The Kouga and Iga have been at war with each other for centuries. Hundreds of years of bloodshed, betrayal, and hatred. Hattori Hanzo the first somehow manages to create what is basically a cease fire treaty between the clans. But years later, after shogun Ieyasu retires, a succession dispute arises between his two grandsons. To solve the problem, Ieyasu orders the no hostilities pact dissolved, and creates the Ninja Scroll, a list of the 20 best ninja, 10 from each clan of Kouga and Iga. Only a bloody annihilation between the clans can determine the shogun's heir (each clan represents an heir). Unfortunately this event comes right on the heals of possible peace between the two clans, with their respective heirs, Oboro Iga and Gennosuke Kouga, betrothed to each other. But while Oboro and Gennosuke desire peace, their clan members are less adaptive to the situation and jump at the chance to wipe each other out once they learn the pact has been dissolved.
The biggest problem with the show is the sheer number of characters involved. Several of them have similar character designs (across the clans and within them) and it took me a few episodes (and about 5 dead ninjas) before I could sort everyone out. The upside is that by the 4th episode, 5 of them are already dead. And they keep dropping like flies until the last handful of episodes. The second half of the series focuses on a select few of them pretty well. I don't think much more really needs to be said. It's two ninja clans fighting each other to the death, while their leaders struggle with their love for each other. This is not a show for kids. The deaths can get pretty brutal and bloody, two of the characters use their, erm, feminine wiles to kill, and for some reason Tenzen of the Iga likes to rape women (there's at least 3-4 rape scenes in the show...or the beginnings of rape at least, which doesn't really change the point...no pun intended).
The real tragedy of the show is that neither Oboro nor Gennosuke want to be involved in the battle, but the events sort of get away from them. Particularly in Oboro's case, as Tenzen takes over the leadership of the clan and runs away with things. I wouldn't say she's weak, because she's actually one of the strongest characters in the story, but physically she is not very capable in the arts of the ninja, and she's a very quiet, innocent character; Tenzen completely overpowers her, helped by the fact that Oboro basically refuses to act against the Kouga or aid her own clan.
The animation is very well done and the fight scenes are excellent. Being a ninja show, each character has a ninja power, so you're going to see some pretty strange looking characters and some bizarre powers (Nenki uses his hair to attack, and Jubei is just a torso and moves along the ground like an insect). Though as I mentioned before, some of the character designs are rather similar. Kagerou of the Kouga and Akeginu of the Iga look almost exactly alike. Yashamaru and Koshirou of the Iga also look fairly similar. The rest are pretty distinctive, though. I enjoyed the opening and ending themes, and think they fit the show well, and I particularly enjoyed the opening's animation.
Basilisk is a 24 episode series from Gonzo, produced domestically by FUNimation (with a pretty good English dubbing). It is based on the manga by Masaki Segawa, which was based on a novel by Futaro Yamada. Watched it via the FUNimation channel.