Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East is brought to the UK by MVM on both DVD and blu-ray. The two seasons of Hakkenden were released separately, but only around a month apart. Studio Deen, the studio behind titles such as Hatsukoi Monster, Sakamoto desu ga? and Sakura Trick, were the studio responsible for this series back in 2013. The series was directed by Mitsue Yamazaki, who has more recently directed the far superior Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun anime, due out soon from MVM. The series composition was by Osamu Yamasaki, who has worked on series such as Itazura na Kiss and Hakuouki in the past, and the currently airing Time Travel Shoujo.
“When their village was wiped out five years ago, there were only three young survivors: boys Shino Inuzuka and Sosuke Inukawa and the girl Hamaji. Through a quirk of fate, both boys share the same peony-shaped birthmark. Genpachi Inukai and Kobungo Inuta were raised hundreds of miles away as foster brothers, but they too share the same birthmark. When they went north as part of the army three years ago, they went to confront demons and came back forever transformed. Now the Imperial Church has come for Shino and Sosuke and they must find eight mystical gems and their owners or face a fate worse than death at the hands of the Church.”
“Forced to choose between death and an unnatural life bound to the living sword Murasame, Shino Inuzuka chose the sword. Now, however, in the bloody aftermath of his transformation and Kohaku’s death, Shino’s awareness of the true scope of his bond with Murasame has expanded. Is he truly a curse to all who meet him?
In the end, the focus must return to the mysterious beads which started everything. What exactly are their origin and powers? Who and where are the holders who have not yet been located? And what are Rio Saotome and the Imperial Church’s real roles in all of this? Does the woman who is “She,” hold the answers?”
While Hakkenden may sound interesting based on the synopsis, it quickly becomes apparent upon watching it that the story is slow-paced and a struggle to watch. I found the progression of the plot to be unbearably slow; I can’t even imagine what it must’ve been like to have watched Hakkenden as it was airing. Shino Inuzuka, elder brother Sosuke Inukawa, and friend Hamaji work with Rio Satomi in order to find people with beads for a reason that is not made known to the viewer. That is essentially what Hakkenden is, and I fast tired of their quest, even despite the shards of potentially interesting sub-plot scattered throughout. Shino and Sosuke both possess powers, with the former wielding the Murusama, a sword bound to his arm, and the latter able to become a wolf in battle. Hakkenden is a mess when it comes to progression, with multiple arcs, and they don’t even always relate to the overarching quest. Season 2 is a direct continuation of the first season, and therefore continues the quest for those beads. There are eight beads, each tied to a different person —the titular Eight Dogs of the East. Despite being important enough to make the title, they don’t appear often in the series, literally only when they are directly relevant to the current story. This in itself is not an issue, but I would’be liked to have seen these characters utilised more, especially in the second season — I went into the second season bored in advance and the show was never able to really grip me. And that important bead-hunting quest storyline is thrown out at the end to instead focus on a few episodes with a new story, that of Sosuke’s soul being stolen. At this point, though, I was long past caring and just wanted the series to finally end and free me.
Visually, the DVD does an acceptable job at presenting the anime for viewers; it would definitely look better on Blu-ray, but I doubt anyone would actually care about this series enough to pay enough attention to detail. The dub is, as is typical for Sentai, a mere shadow of the Japanese audio track; that said, it is tolerable and was my audio track of choice for most of the first season of Hakkenden. For the second season I opted to stick to the Japanese track in the hopes it would be a more interesting season, alas it was not. Despite the release being exactly what I’d expect from MVM, a decent amount of anime at a decent price, and using another distributor’s masters, it’s impossible to recommend based on the story doing little, if anything, to interest those unfortunate enough to be watching it. Were I not reviewing the title, I’d probably have dropped it early during season 1 when it started disappointing with its lack of seemingly any progression.
Season one includes the standard Sentai Filmworks trailers, courtesy of the US disc author, including titles such as From the New World, Hakuoki, and Persona 4 The Animation. Also available are Japanese audio commentaries, a pleasant change from the English audio commentaries that are oft included on anime releases. The typical textless opening and closing songs are available on disc 2. Season two includes the textless opening and closing songs, and a selection of Sentai trailers, though a different selection to the first season.
Hakkenden is easily one of the more boring series I've watched. The release itself is a great effort from MVM, Studio Deen haven't faltered on the animation front, but the series just lacks any real appeal. I wasn't expecting much, but I got so bored of the series a few episodes in and then had to continue for the rest of the first season and follow it up with the second, growing less interested by the second.