(Takashi Ano/Yukio Okamato/Takeshi Aoki/Takashi Nakamura, 1990-93, Pioneer)
In an ancient and feudal Japan, destiny draws together eight warriors who set off in search of a shared legacy. Extremely worthy attempt at adapting a 200 year old Japanese classic (a 98-volume Edo period novel), this series of tapes from Pioneer follows (in great and confusing detail) a well-trodden path established in Japanese cinema and television: the Samurai epic. The original Hakkenden series ran from 1990 - 91 with a follow up, The New Chapters, running from 1993 - 95. The result here is artistic, well-designed if frequently simplistic animation. Takashi Kudo's orchestrated score uses traditional songs providing a diverse and majestic backdrop to the extensive bloodletting - severed heads a speciality.
Unfortunately, despite the quality approach the overall pace is sedate at best, and although there is an overall story arc the individual episodes follow very much the same formula: the warriors will meet someone on their journey that needs their arse whipped - que more spilling of the red stuff. The supervising director is Takashi Ano who also gave us the unfathomable Dark Myth - this probably explains the concentration-demanding plotting. The tapes have a deserved 15 rating and there are usually three episodes per tape (90 mins total) which makes for good value. However, Pioneer have decided to put a virtually incomprehensible 'digest' (of the six previous episodes) on Volume 3 (as a "prologue to the second phase") with only one actual episode on the tape. Although this tape retails at a reduced £8.99, instead of the usual £12.99 for this series, it seems a pointless deviation.