If there is one word I can use to properly summarize the Sengoku Youko it would be ethereal. The anime, from start to finish, felt like one of the most brilliant fusions of folklore and modern animation techniques. Fighting and combat was smooth and filled with brilliant lighting, aura effects, and excellent music. The characters that were introduced in episode 1 all had very unique personalities which came through quite strongly despite the single episode’s worth of runtime. Very rarely do I find anime so thoroughly introducing its inner world while not harboring on expository details that slow down the plot. This first episode felt like the ideal pacing and density for a premiere, and the audience at Anime NYC responded appropriately with applause and audible “ahhs” during key moments.
We got the chance to watch the first episode as part of a Crunchyroll panel during Anime NYC. In addition to the episode, Sengoku Youko Director Aizawa Masahiro and Producer Ailian Cai were live on stage to answer questions about the series (both the episode shown and episodes to come) and its adaptation process.
The Sage and the Fox Spirit
There are three main characters within the first episode. The first two, who call themselves “the siblings for world reformation,” are a pair of somewhat complimentary characters with mystical powers. Tama, the older sister, is a 200 year old fox spirit with the appearance of a little girl despite her age and seeming wisdom. Jinka, the younger brother, is a human ascetic sage who uses spiritual power, a staff, and talismans to cast spells while fighting. Tama, despite being a type of monster called a katawara, loves humans and wants to both protect them from evil and convince those who do evil to change their ways. Jinka, despite being a human, hates them. He employs a sort of a twisted rule-based morality wherein he only will fight someone for a reason, but enjoys opportunities to bully humans when a reason to do so exists. During the first episode it’s not entirely clear why Jinka travels with Tama, but we do know he’s capable of drinking her blood in order to briefly transform into a foxlike form that merges both of their powers together.
The third main character, Hyoudou Shinsuke, is a ronin son of a samurai on a warrior’s pilgrimage. He happens upon the reformation siblings during his journeys. To him, they are his introduction to the mystical world and the first time he’s had to ponder the difference between humans and non-humans. Shinsuke acts as a sort of an audience stand in; because he is curious about the twins, he follows them out of interest and inquires about their origins and motivations. Him doing so makes exposition dumps feel incredibly organic as he learns more about the world alongside us. Spirits, demons, and monsters previously existed only in the realm of folktales to him. The moment he witnesses Tama and Jinka’s strength in battle, he decides that this is the way he’ll get stronger.
Fluid Combat and the Fantastic in Sengoku Youko
Surprisingly, despite the ample amount of time dedicated to worldbuilding and exposition in Sengoku Youko, the few combat scenes are both visually impressive and create some anticipation for future aspects of the story. Studio White Fox produces the show and they did a fantastic job making action feel ethereal while not gratuitous. Combat in Sengoku Youko is based on imbuing attacks and spells with spiritual energy, giving the anime a lot to play with in terms of lighting effects and sounds. The noises of energy blasts and dashes reminded me quite a bit of combat in Naruto, with a few changes to the anime’s presentation compared to the manga. The panel following the premiere noted that in the anime, Jinka’s fox form hair is changed from a reddish-orange to white. This is in done for three reasons. One, it allows the anime to have more color palette options when showing Jinka’s aura and the various colors of energy during combat. Two, it conveys the other-worldly aspect to him, especially when he makes use of power from Tama. Finally, it pays homage to White Fox by literally making him into a White Fox. All of this results in a balance of elements on the screen that is incredibly pleasant to watch, especially in concert with the clever direction and perspective shifts to different positions in large skirmishes.
In addition to the more magic-oriented side of combat, Sengoku Youko showcased a lot of hand-to-hand and sword combat. Shinsuke fights with a sword but seemingly lacks confidence in his abilities despite boasting about them to Tama and Jinka. He tells them he’s capable of splitting someone’s helmet with the swing of his sword. He does do this, but he seems surprised by the act and his sword definitely has some magical quality to it that he’s drawing out. Similarly, Jinka’s fox form, according to the series director, will evolve over time. In this first episode, he transforms and has only four tails but as he gets stronger and stronger he will gain more, presumably maxing out at nine.
In the panel following the premiere, Aizawa and Ailian noted that Sengoku Youko will be a three cour series. Originally, the producers planned to fit the entire series into just two, but there was far too much content to accomplish this while still doing the work justice. Thanks to financial support from Crunchyroll, all 17 volumes of the series are going to be adapted as much as possible. A few of the other characters who had voice actors announced alongside the show won’t actually show up until later cours; Nau, Senya, and Sukiko will all appear starting in the second cour. Each cour, the main characters will transition somewhat, really making the series a fresh and evolving one.
Images via YouTube
© Satoshi Mizukami/Mag Garden/Sengoku Youkou Animation Division