Random killings across the city by possessed sword wielders. A suspicious death in a forest. Next to the body is a new-born carrying a sword. Sword-smith Amon chooses to take the child in and raise them as their own. Tragedy seems to follow this boy everywhere, especially when he loses his right arm making a sword. With a demonic sword in his possession, Amon decides to fashion the sword into an arm for the boy. That starts it all…with a demonic weapon now a part of his very body, the darkness takes over him, with the local people conflicted on whether he is just an unfortunate boy or a demonic monster. What of those willing to kill him? What kind of demonic powers can his body awaken?
Sword-Gai The Animation was released on March 23rd, 2018, with Netflix acquiring exclusive rights to air the show in August 2017, however, the road to releasing this show has not been a smooth one. Co-produced by Production I.G. (Blood: The Last Vampire, Le Chevalier D’Eon, Guilty Crown), LandQ Studios (Azure Strike Gunvolt, Robot Girls Z) and DLE (Eagle Talon), this anime adaptation of the manga written by Toshiki Inoue and illustrated by Keita Amemiya & Wosamu Kine was announced in 2014, but production didn’t begin until 2016, with plans to air the show in the Spring anime cour of that year. The show was delayed indefinitely however until Netflix learned of the show and picked up the rights, effectively reactivating and escalating production of the show. The reasons for its delay are largely unknown, though; internal issues with production staff, conflicts with the mangaka, it could be anything. We will probably never know. With a script written by Inoue and directed by Takahiro Ikezoe (Show By Rock!!, Ozma) & Tomohito Naka, this is a show that is very desperate to echo what appears in the manga itself. Sword-Gai the Animation is action seinen through and through, and will certainly please those anime fans who love fighting shows. But as I watched it, I couldn’t help but find that there was something not quite right. Is it a je ne sais quoi?
We begin to get to know Gai from episode 2, after an introductory episode detailing what these demonic weapons are, where they came from, and who wants to use them for nefarious means…although it could be fair to say that the main antagonist only came about because he got a little too greedy for the demonic sword he wanted so badly. Weapons collector Miura has his own private and secretive ‘security company’ to help him collect swords, axes, etc. which have legends behind them; one such is the sword Zsoltgewinn. The sword ends up calling to him, and taking it from its protective casing turns him into a Busoma…creatures that can really only be described as armoured demon warriors. We are given a story of Gai growing up as a swordsmith’s apprentice, losing his arm, having a demonic weapon fashioned to replace it, and sent off to the Shoshidai (said ‘security company’) to become a ‘Chrysalis’, a warrior who could use their powers then be put to sleep so as to not let whatever demonic power they had overpower them. All the action centers around Gai becoming a Chrysalis and stopping Miura, whose Zsoltgewinn weapon is the most powerful they have seen, and has the power to wipe out humanity enabling demons to take over.
Sounds like a solid plot for an action show…only it’s not…
In my early years of following anime in the mid to late 1990s, I came across all sorts of action shows that couldn’t be classified as actual shows, but at the same time couldn’t be classified as actual movies; Manga Entertainment released a lot of these, and focused a lot on sole male protagonists who had to fight their way through anything to save the day or girl or family or town…with the occasional sub-plot thrown in. These were the first OVAs I watched, and it always seemed like it had to cram as much storyline as possible in the 60-minutes that they had. And while this is a 12-episode show, I couldn’t help but think that the pacing could still have been slowed down, or at the very least have some story omissions.
The first episode doesn’t exactly give us any kind of positive outlook for the show as a whole. As different stories are told across the country, beginning with an archaeological dig uncovering a demonic sword, then moving onto a secretive company who collects legendary weapons, to a couple expecting their first child cut down by a possessed priest, to the sword-smith Amon discovering a dead woman in a forest. I began to get concerned that the show would be like this, cutting from one contrasting scene to the next and not really sticking to one main story very well…well as Sword-Gai the Animation carries on, our main story of the cursed Gai develops some more, but I think that one thing (among many) that lets this show down is how it is written, and how it is not really the kind of show one would want to return to, even after watching only a couple of episodes.
Sword-Gai the Animation actually made me think of one other show with a similar theme (that Netflix also have the rights for) Ajin: Demi-Human. Produced by Polygon Pictures (Knights of Sidonia, Blame!, Godzilla animated movies), it tells the story of an average boy who suddenly learns after a car accident that he is an Ajin, a race of immortal demons who are seen as enemies of the state. Gai has no control of his tragic fate, just as the protagonist in Ajin: Demi-Human does not. He did not ask to have a demon sword for an arm; it was just an idea his guardian/mentor had when he lost his arm trying to make a sword. He did not ask to become a killer, or be shunned by the locals, or to have the evil powers in this sword-arm consume his body and turn him into a monster. Fate can truly be a terrible thing, and a show like Sword-Gai the Animation proves it.
The English dub features a lot of unknown and little-heard-of voices; Gai is played by Khoi Dao (Rei in March Comes in Like a Lion), Amon by Taylor Henry, Ichijo by Billy Kametz, and Sayaka by Kayli Mills (Emilia in Re:Zero). Just as the show itself seemed hastily put together, the English dub feels as if more time (and perhaps more effort) could have been invested to make it more worthwhile to listen to. Having not heard Dao’s voice in March Comes in Like a Lion (Rei is an emotionally-troubled and socially-detached character in the show), I’m sure that he is a very capable voice actor; I just get the feeling that the script itself let him down, and thus simply had to do with what he was given. So I won’t wholly blame the dub direction here; instead, I’ll place the blame on the script itself. The main theme is “Sadame Goto” by Yuuto Uemura.
As we watch Gai’s luck go from bad to worse as he loses his arm, then has to fight these Busoma to save humanity, we want him to succeed but at the same time, we just want his ordeal to be over with. Even though I complain about the pacing in this show, I still think that maybe 12 episodes was too many, and that with a better script and a more likeable character design, Sword Gai the Animation could have done very well as a…say…6 to 8 episode series. I have seen a lot of potentially great shows go to waste purely because their pacing is terrible, and Sword Gai the Animation is sadly a victim of this, because this could have been so much better. The show was delayed indefinitely before Netflix picked up the rights, effectively reactivating production and possibly forcing the studios to work faster to meet their target deadlines. Could that be to blame? Who is to say. We will never know.
This is a show that makes us really feel sorry for the protagonist, and genuinely want to cheer him on in his journey of self-discovery. However it really lets itself down on its script and its pacing, plus the animation is not really that thrilling to watch. Sword-Gai The Animation is not the kind of show you would want to return to either. Watchable, but only just…