Soul Hunter Vol. 6: The One Who Got Away
"Soul Hunter," I remember thinking to myself. "That's a horrible title. It's probably one of those one-shot old and cheap Manga Entertainment titles." Much to my surprise, it's ADV's domestication of Senkaiden Houshin Engi, a series that my old school's anime club watched fansubbed during 2001-2. Only naturally, I picked up the last volume to get a peak of how domestication was treating this somewhat flawed series.
Senkaiden Houshin Engi translates as "Romances of Sealed Gods", so you can pardon me for not immediately recognizing this series under the title Soul Hunter. The anime is based on a manga series of the same name, which has its own devotees who claim that the anime butchered the manga. Whether this is true or not, I have no idea. The manga itself is based off of an ancient Chinese novel that drifts idly between the realms of historical fiction and religious mythology. We know there was a Yin and Zhou Dynasty, a wise advisor to the first Zhou emperor named Taikoubou, and a concubine named Dakki whose decadent ways influenced the last Yin ruler, contributing to his downfall and that of the Yin Dynasty. Whether there was direct involvement of immortals with magical tools or flying mystical beasts is still up for debate. Needless to say, this material requires a lot of background knowledge and many footnotes for viewers unfamiliar with Senkaiden Houshin Engi, the original novel and with general ancient Chinese history/mythology.
Happily, ADV has included a lot of extras to help in understanding just what is going on. There is a historical background on the Zhou Dynasty, a relationship tree with character descriptions, translator notes, and a lingua franca/glossary of terms. Along with the educational aids, there are voice actor profiles and previews, which made nice additions. However, it's the background materials that really help. My only complaint is that the font that they chose is really hard to read and is too small to read comfortably. I was pleased to find that ADV offered three language options: Japanese with subtitles, English, and English with song subtitles, along with scene selection, an option that I've been finding absent in many recent releases.
The main plot is fairly simple. Taikoubou, an immortal disciple, is sent down to the Human World to complete Project Soul Hunter: to seal 365 evil souls within the Pillar of Souls, the evil Dakki being his primary target. Dakki has infiltrated the Emperor's palace and become in essence the ruler of the Yin Empire through her Temptation magic. (Don't laugh. That's what it's really called.)Once Project Soul Hunter is complete, peace shall reign in the Human World. However, by the time we've reached this volume, Taikoubou suspects that there is a far more sinister motive for this massive soul-hunting, especially when Dakki, defeated in Volume Five, does not go to the Pillar of Souls upon death; her soul enters Mount Kunlun, the sacred palace in the Immortal World. (Cue: Oooooh! We all know what that means.)
The early part of this series is spent party-gathering, if you'll excuse my RPG terminology. Taikoubou is accompanied by Sipu, his flying hippo companion/spiritual beast, bishie Youzen, who wields a trident and rides a flying white dog, Raishinshi, a devil-boy who controls wind and lightning, Nataku, a Paopei human (think living magical weapon with a soul), and Tenka, a lightsaber-wielding Han Solo. Only naturally, friendship becomes the overlying theme of salvation in Soul Hunter, as well as Taikoubou's choice of humanity over immortality, or rather an immortal existence among humanity like a needle fishing hook barely touching the fish below, seeking to understand and not to control.
Unfortunately, as I said in the beginning, this series is flawed. Animation quality is average to poor, with lines too thick or too thin, and colors seem to be washed-out. The computer and cel animation integration is disturbing. Period. Soul Hunter is just not a pretty show. The opening and ending songs, however, are great. "Will" and "Friends" are both residents of my CD collection.
Sometimes, bad animation can be outweighed by an excellent story. We see this nowadays in many of the early animation classics being viewed today. Soul Hunter begins with multiple parallel storylines that eventually merge into one, but never completely and rarely with a satisfactory conclusion. You start to know and like a character, then they become a secondary or background character at an intersection of plot. The humor also wears thin at times, with jokes and gags repeated frequently. There is also the problem of the historical and mythological background that is never explicitly explained outright. It is never stated that Dakki is a fox spirit, yet we can tell from her nine tails, claws and general cunning (and from the translator notes included). At least Fushigi Yuugi has an episode or two devoted to explaining the book itself and Chinese mythology. This volume also marks a turn from good versus evil fighting action to more philosophical pondering on the role of immortals in the Human World, a twist that may lose some younger viewers.
I feel that ADV did a decent job of adapting a rather problematic series that does not lend itself easily to Western audiences. It's a nice series to rent if you enjoy action adventure anime with Chinese mythology, but there are definitely many other series out there that are worth your money. The conclusion of Soul Hunter is classic Chinese, stressing the continuation of life despite adversity, something that will irk those expecting a more exciting ending. One word, however, describes Soul Hunter as a whole: bland. If that's how you like your anime, by all means drink up.