During Japan’s Heian era, a group of warriors known as the four knights protect the capital city of Kyoto under General Raiko. One of the four knights is a strong woman named Kai Doh Maru. Although raised to be a boy, Kai Doh Maru finds that she has feelings for General Raiko and wants to be close to him. The jealous princess Ouni will not allow this, however; she wants Raiko for herself and does not want any competition, even if that means killing her childhood friend Kai Doh Maru.
summary by Keitaro
Highs: Historically accurate representation of the Heian era; music fits the mood
Lows: Extremely poor direction; art and animation style that just doesn’t work; makes a simple story unbelievably hard to understand
So many times there have been anime that try to cram an entire story line into a single OVA, character development and all. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting for the day that this actually works. In the case of Kai Doh Maru, a condensed story is just the beginning of an extensive list of problems.
Here we have a story that looks good on paper and would make a great anime if handled with some common sense, but apparently Production IG has none of that. The direction is just beyond bad, and the sequence of events is so completely random it makes no sense. Kai Doh Maru manages to take a simple story and make it unfathomably complicated. The characters have absolutely no adhesive powers; they are so emotionless and boring that I had an extremely hard time caring what happened to them next. Such a shame that a potentially good story like this was executed so poorly.
A huge part of the problem is the animation, which is so bad that it distracts from the story. The way that people stand around and talk, showing no body language and no facial expressions just made it all the more painful. Production IG is quite proud of the style of art as it fits the historical period and gives it an antiquated and realistic feel, but I can only half agree with that. The art fits the Heian era theme well but doesn’t make the atmosphere any more salient in my mind. It just doesn’t work.
On the bright side, the music isn’t bad and the fight scenes are somewhat appealing. Should you be forced to watch this anime at gunpoint, it only lasts forty minutes or so.
Highs: Original artwork
Lows: Could benefit from a storyline; characters are mere shells; untimely ending
It is hard to tell what they expected us to think of this anime. The only information on characters and the setting is in the DVD’s bonus production program, while the movie itself is simply a succession of incongruent events and a lot more names thrown around than such a short feature can handle. You can tell Kai Doh Maru is inspired by Japanese folklore, but everything is such a muddle of people with no background and events with no explanation, you need to know everything about the Heian era before stepping in this incomplete maze. I actually longed for more pointless violence to take my mind off the absent plotline. And this coming from a person who usually thinks pointless violence is the problem.
Visuals are supposedly Kai Doh Maru‘s strong point. While there isn’t much competition, I must agree they make everything a tad more bearable. Artwork is sometimes sketchy but makes up for it with a nice blend of 3D graphics and original, albeit stale, color palettes. Animation is another story. It is occasionally very elaborate but most of the time, animators rely on a moving camera and zooming to make the frame rate appear greater. It makes it look like action scenes are dynamic while not much is actually going on.
Production IG is the same animation studio that created Blood: The Last Vampire. However, I could swear the entire Blood staff had some part to play in Kai Doh Maru. Both features offer little insight on even their main characters’ motivations, no substance and an ending that leaves you wondering if it is now time to insert disc two.
Kai Doh Maru can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.