Shadow Skill OVA series 1 + 2

July 30, 2006 on 10:41 pm | In Shadow Skill | Comments Off on Shadow Skill OVA series 1 + 2

One of my weaknesses is the “meaningless nineties OVA”. In that decade that gets further away all the time, there were so many projects based on manga that didn’t make any sense to people who hadn’t read the source material. To compound the insult to westerners, a great deal of them didn’t even complete the stories that they began.

Shadow Skill is a combination of the best and the worst of the meaningless genre. This DVD is actually four OVAs, one that was released as stand alone and three (edited into one ninety minute “movie” that has clearly defined breaks) released a year later.
The first is pointless but looks good and gives off an aura of pleasantness despite the fact that nothing happens. The sequel series not only drops one of its character designers to become a force of ugliness, it also has a different continuity to the first, which is ironic because it was made on the strength of the sales of the first.

I’ll admit that my other weakness is cheap anime: I got this for $9. At $30 I would never have thought of it. Now it goes on the pile of curios and oddities also known as the “Nineties OVA scrap heap”.

In the first part (listed on the DVD as the “epilogue” and presented second depending on where you press “play” on the menu), Elle Ragu makes her yearly pilgrimage to the grave of her apprentice’s parents. Elle has been training Gau for four years now but feels that he has not embraced the true meaning of the Kuruda school of martial arts.

In the second OVA series (or “the movie”, if you want to be all marketable about it), Gau has reverted to being a mute fellow (the fact that he has never spoken to Elle implies that this is not inline with the first OVA, even if that first OVA had been set after this). The “movie” is actually three different stories involving ugly characters.

The true highlight of the second OVA is that it begins with a twenty year old Gau facing off against the hero Scarface. They run at each other, the OP rolls and BAM!, the adventures of 14 year old Gau take their place.
The adventures then detail with the introductions of characters knownand loved to manga readers, who get to do little more than be introduced. The one point of interest is Faury, who is played by Mizutani Yuko. In the second series she’s actually hideous, but that’s because the draw is Mizutani Yuko, who normally performs with basically the same voice as that she uses for Tenchi Muyo‘s Mihoshi. Here, however, she uses a serious voice that shows none of that tone. It’s almost as surprising as her performance in Dead Leaves except much less so because Shadow Skill is so underwhelming that one can’t really help feel anything for any of the characters.

It is an interesting investigation into seiyuu, though. Part of the way through the second OVA I asked myself “do the seiyuu actually watch what the stuff they’ve worked on?” I’m not entirely sure this is always the case. As Elle, Hayashibara Megumi thrives and impresses because she has to give two different renditions of the character due to the inconsistencies between OVAs.

In the first OVA, Elle is a serious, spiritual woman and Hayashibara puts on my favourite voice of hers (next to that which she used to perform in Orphen: Revenge, which, obscure though it may be, had one of Hayashibara’s best performances) to fit the role. In the second Elle becomes more in line with the character of Lina Inverse of Slayers: brash, selfish and impetuous. Hayashibara doesn’t put on an obnoxiousness of Inverse proportions but instead chooses to ramp up the attitude of her serious voice. This is for the best as Elle is supposed to be somewhat darker than Lina and Shadow Skill and Slayers were coincidentally released in the same year. Despite what some may say, Hayashibara Megumi was never a one trick pony.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, a little detour: this is a Manga Entertainment DVD. For all of their evil, Manga Entertainment fill me with a huge amount of nostalgia. Despite the fact that the DVD was released in Australia through Madman Entertainment, it was authored in the UK by Manga as part of their DVD exchange program (Madman would give them a well produced DVD in exchange for a shoddy title, like this nightmare of navigation). All of the extras remain the same and, to cap off the amusement, they’re actually directly copied from VHS to DVD. There’s a DVD catalogue in which you can see all of the lousy anime that Manga released over the years which I would probably watch if given the chance due to my deeply misplaced nostalgia.
Alongside titles such as Black Magic M66 and Bounty Dog you get mistreated gems that have long since gone on to much kinder licensors: the likes of Giant Robo and Gunbuster, which are triumphs of the anime form. Watching this promo material takes me back to the time when I was a mere pupa of an anime fan, wrapping me in a blanket of security and wonder.

So, to conclude: Shadow Skill 2 may have been an ugly trainwreck, but I get the feeling that the first OVA would be of some interest to me if I was intimate with the source material. As such, I’m hunting down the TV series which I’m hoping a) made sense and b) wasn’t bug ugly.
As they stand, the Shadow Skill OVAs are great as pieces to remind you of a long dead age and civilisation. What they’re not strictly great as is stories of merit. Whether the warm feeling it gave me inside was worth $9, I’ll never know. The money is long gone, but Hayashibara Megumi lives on in my heart.

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