When I described my impressions of the 26 episode series Samurai Deeper Kyo in my Live Journal after watching the first disc, a friend of mine warned me that the series never rose above the mediocrity it presented. I was not put off by this. Sometimes, mediocrity can be entertaining, like Orphen. I wasn't prepared, though, for the way Samurai Deeper Kyo went from mediocre to down right WTF.
The story seems straight forward enough. During an epic battle, a swordsman named Kyoshiro fought with and defeated an evil bastard called Demon-Eyes Kyo. We don't get to see exactly how until incompetent bounty hunter Yuya stumbles across Kyoshiro and realizes he's a wanted man. After some adventures, they draw the wrong kind of attention, and we realize that the soul of Demon-Eyes Kyo is trapped in Kyoshiro's body. Okay then. The rest seems easy, right? Find Kyo's body, split the two up and let them duke it out again, all the while being mindful of the devious plots of various demons and humans who want to take over the world. Oh, if only it were that simple!
As the series goes on, the plot twists get more and more convoluted, somehow involving the shogun's son, a set of special weapons made by a legendary swordsmith, a freaky guy who sees the future (I thought for the longest time he was from the future), a disturbance in the history of the world and much, much more. At first, I thought that I was scratching my head because I let a lot of time go by between watching discs (Life got in the way. Okay, who am I kidding? World of Warcraft got in the way.), but the more I thought about it, the more the plot didn't make any damn sense. It really was as if the writers got to a certain point, realized they needed something to happen and just on spur of the moment, made shit up. It didn't help that every major revelation of the story came through one character making some kind of speech that explained everything. Groan. I can't tell you how much I hate plots that insult my intelligence that way. If a plot requires exposition like that, it probably isn't working. Chuck it. Start over. Unless it's November and you're doing National Novel Writing Month. A plot like Samurai Deeper Kyo's is perfectly acceptable for NaNoWriMo.
As if a horrible plot wasn't enough, there were maybe two or three characters I liked out of a large assemblage of people somehow vaguely involved with whatever the main plot was at a given moment. There is Yukimaru, the beautiful, effeminate badass. It goes without saying that he was my favorite. He can't top Peacemaker Kurogane's Okita, but he does well enough, including dressing as a woman to participate in a martial arts tournament and flirting with his spy, Saizo. I liked Saizo, too. He was cute in a clueless sort of way. Then there's Hotaru, who was introduced very late in the series as, you guessed it, a means of exposition. I think a tale about Demon-Eyes Kyo and his protoges, Hotaru and Akira, would have been far more entertaining than the series.
I was indifferent towards most of the other characters, expect Yuya. I hated her. I found it hard to believe that she was a bounty hunter, much less a successful one, and I was confounded by the fact that she ended up being the love interest for Kyo/Kyoshiro. Migeira, the future seeing guy, also irritated me, but that had more to do with the lack of explanation as to who he was, what he was doing and what the hell he was blathering on about when he mentioned this disturbance of history. A guy with a gun for an arm ought to be cool.
I could have ignored the plot contortions if either the characters had been more engaging or the visuals more spectacular. Every writer has to start somewhere, and when comparing Samurai Deeper Kyo to things I wrote when I was ten, it's not so bad. Unfortunately for this series, I believe characters are the driving force of any story. When the characters fail to draw me into their dilemmas, I find it very hard to care about a loosely woven story.
The action sequences were fun to watch, though. While the animation itself was nothing special, the fight scenes were well done. As a plus, I didn't have to hurt myself trying to figure out the plot while the fights were on. Sometimes, one of the combatants would be helpfully explaining everything for me.
Unless you really like scatter-brained plots or have some obsession with historical anime (side note -- some of the characters, like Hidetata Tokugawa and Yukimaru Sanada, were actual people), Samurai Deeper Kyo is one to avoid. Perhaps the manga is better. I'll have to see about that next time I hit a bookstore.