Welcome to Astral Animations, where we'll examine the imports of Japanese animation currently available in the United States.
This review does not represent the opinions of the general public. It reflects my personal thoughts and opinions on the movie.
That said, on to the review!
Hikage is a ninja of the Takeda clan who grew up with Marou, the two of them so close as to be almost brothers. Then, shortly after the death of their master, Marou fled the Takeda, throwing a poisoned shuriken with deadly accuracy at Hikage, whom he left bleeding and confused. Now, Hikage must hunt down and stop Marou before his former friend can spread the news of their master's death to the clan's rivals and enemies. However, for Hikage behind it all is the burning question: why? Why did Marou try to kill me? Why didn't he kill me? Why must we now be enemies?
Marou's trail leads into the mountains and to a remote village where, strangely, there are no birds in the forest or fields for the villagers to work in. Hikage instead finds himself drawn a young woman of the village named Aya. She takes him into her home as the villagers take him into their community. But all is not as it seems. Hikage sees Marou in the village, but when he tries to find him, he cannot. He reports this to two other Takeda ninjas who also tracked Marou to the village, then begs leave to continue searching the village. The next night, however, something attacks the ninjas and a villager, killing all three, but not before one of the ninjas has a chance to reveal the truth about Marou: that he was born of the earth and not a woman's womb.
Not knowing what to make of it, Hikage continues his quiet investigations. He tries to convince Aya that the villager was murdered the night before, but she denies it, blithely explaining that when someone new arrives in the village--i.e., Hikage--someone old usually leaves, presumably to continue his or her travels. The truth, however, is nowhere near so innocent. That night, Hikage awakens to find Aya missing. He follows her trail and saves her from a monstrous spider: one form of yoma. Then, while pursuing it, he slays another yoma, but this one tries to bargain for its life, saying that its death will bring about the deaths of the villagers. Hikage kills it, but not before learning the truth about Marou: that his former friend is Kikuga no Miko, lord of the terrestial yoma. Can he kill Marou, even knowing that his friend is doomed to destroy the world with his monstrous servants, or will his feelings and memories of the past bring about his own downfall?
Curse of the Undead: Yoma is a 90-minute, two episode anime. Each episode--"Hikage in an Evil World" and "Marou with Crazy Fang"--is a complete story in and of itself, though the second episode definitely needs the first to make everything clear. The action sequences throughout the video are stupendous, whether it is the fight scene between Hikage and the two ninjas stalking him or one of his battles against the yoma. One of the best scenes, I'd have to say, is the underwater scene when he's struggling against Majuumi no Miko, lord of the water yoma, who takes the form of a horse with a carnivore's teeth. Kind of like the "hrulga", I guess (those are from David Eddings' The Belgariad and The Mallorean, in case you're wondering). The last scene, however, is definitely the best, what with having Marou and Majuumi combining to form one super yoma. Hikage's nearly powerless against it, being thrown around like a rag doll!
Hikage is the main character, and naturally there are very few scenes where he is not an actual participant. In this way we get to see him in a variety of poses and moods. His expressions tend towards calmness and composure, even when he's killing someone--except for the yoma and Marou, he killed four people total, but all were self-defense. He rarely shows emotion at all except when facing Marou or Kazami, another Takeda ninja. Whenever he sees Marou there's some sort of confusion in his face, as though he can't accept that his friend is truly an evil monster. There's never outright anger at or fear of Marou, even though Marou is the one that nearly killed him with the shuriken. With Kazami there is startlement and grief in his eyes when he kills his friend (who attacked him because he was--reluctantly--following the orders of his lord). Oh, I should probably mention that there is a slight show of affection when he's with Aya--both of them--though with the second it reveals itself with a harsh sort of chiding/teasing.
I'm not sure what was more interesting, the various ninjas' weapons or the different yoma that appeared. Hikage's companion, Aya (the second one, who's a ninja), has a katana and, presumably, shuriken, but she uses what appears to be barbed hooks attached to nearly invisible threads or filaments. They cause a lot of damage those they snag: she ripped open blood vessels on this huge ninja, causing it to...well, I won't get too graphic. Kazami and most of the other "formal" ninja--well, they wear "traditional" ninja garb, anyway--use more or less run-of-the-mill weapons, but there are two others who seem different. The one Aya kills has scythes while the other has what seems to be an axe blade on a chain. Sorry, I don't know the names of those things. Hikage himself uses a number of different weapons, including shuriken, a katana (I guess), some sort of obsidian-looking blade(?), some sort of holy fire(?), fire bombs, a needle or something he spits at a yoma, and others. The most impressive of these is what looks like a catclaw (it really reminds me of Wolverine of the X-Men). He needs all his weapons, though, to battle all the yoma. Some are spiders, like the villager, Ito, and a psuedo-priest. Then there's Marou, who turns out to be wolf-like, and Majuumi who, as I said above, is like a carnivorous horse. Lord Mai is a butterfly woman, Lord Shiratsuye is a huge snake, and there's this tree whose name I never caught. And of course, there are grunts who look like spindly, toothless mummified corpses. Those aren't too impressive, but all the others are!
A.D.V. Films, who owns the American rights to Curse of the Undead: Yoma, originally released this anime in an English subtitled version. They have also put out an English dubbed version titled Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma. I have both, and they are both excellent. The subtitled version is fine with me, I have no problems with it. However, I tend to watch the dubbed version more often, if only because I can look away when I have to and still know what's happening. I recommend either version to viewers, because both of them are almost exactly the same. The translation into English dub is, so far as I can recall, exactly the same as the English subtitles, so there's no problem there.
As I recall, Curse of the Undead: Yoma was the very first Japanese anime I'd ever seen...excepting the various series that made their way onto American broadcast television, such as Robotech and Sailor Moon. I remember being captivated by its superiority to American animation--especially some of the more recent ones to air--in the way emotion could be clearly seen on the characters' faces. The larger eyes might seem disproportional when compared to reality, but those eyes allowed for much more expression. Then too, the subject matter was much more interesting than some of the things that American animation shows. You know, I have yet to see an American animated horror movie. I wonder why? Probably because of the idea that cartoons are for kids and horror isn't. I'm not saying that's true, I'm not saying it's not true. It's a possibility, though. Thank goodness that Japanese anime isn't afraid to go there!
You can purchase Curse of the Undead: Yoma or Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma on videotape at any video store that sells Japanese anime. You can also order it at the A.D.V. Films website.
Interested in buying this video? You can! Just follow the link to order the English subtitled VHS version or the English dubbed VHS version. You can also visit the Stellar Video Store for other titles.