Curse of the Undead Yoma Anime Review
US Release By
Ninja action and horror
2 38-minute episodes
1989-04-15 - 1989-06-01
Two young ninja, comrades in arms, are separated by death on the battlefield. When one rises from the dead with a nightmarish army of demons, it is up to the other to stop him. But how do you kill the dead?
When I first encountered a copy of Blood Reign many years ago, I was prompted to rent the title because the artwork, screenshots, and synopsis on the VHS box gave me the impression that it contained good action and elements of horror. On both accounts, action and horror, this anime delivers. But even more, Blood Reign contains a story that although not very deep or original, is quite good. Rounded out with effective characters, a great score, and fine visuals, Blood Reign is an anime that should be required viewing for fans of action and/or horror.
Aside from the historical references (which may or may not be fictional), the story of Blood Reign is easy to follow and understand. But more importantly, the story is well paced, well told, and compelling. At it's core, Blood Reign is a story about friendship. Hikage and Marou are young Ninjas from the same clan who have been friends since they were children. However, this friendship is shaken when Marou becomes a renegade Ninja after his realization that he is a demon, and Hikage is given the duty of killing Marou so as to protect their clan's secrets. Thus, Hikage reluctantly tracks down Marou to kill him whilst Marou, even though a demon, reluctantly attempts to kill Hikage.
The story of Blood Reign may not be groundbreaking, but its pacing and characters make it effective and sincere. Tidbits of information about characters and the events that are occurring are revealed in a natural manner; everything feels like it should be happening at the moment it does and nothing feels rushed. The balance of action and story is perfect. While not revealing detailed information about the characters, the story is able to express a lot more through the actions of characters and short flashbacks. For instance, Hikage has a reoccurring flashback of Marou and himself running happily through a field when they were children. This establishes their friendship and history despite no other discussion of their past and makes the climax of Blood Reign even more melancholy. Hikage also comes to care for two women whom he tries to protect, and who in turn, come to care for Hikage and try to protect him. As a result, Hikage is revealed to be more than a ruthless Ninja; he is also a caring person.
As for character development, the story of Blood Reign does not so much develop its characters as reveal who they are. This is sufficient for a story of this kind because the characters are strong enough to stand on their own without much exploration of their pasts and their future beyond what happens in the anime. Furthermore, the lack of information about the past of characters also works because of the anime's mysterious atmosphere. The writing in Blood Reign is simple, but effective. The director's use of silence and music throughout the anime alongside basic dialogue contributes to the mysterious and suspenseful atmosphere of the anime.
The mystery and horror of Blood Reign are also brought out through nice animation and a very good score. The animation of Blood Reign is characteristic of anime from the late '80s, and this suits it very well. The animation is not very detailed and the colours are not bright, but the grittier animation and darker colours compliment the story better than cleaner animation and brighter colours would. I think this anime would be less effective if it had crisper and more detailed animation along with brighter colours. It is important to note that while the animation is good, it is not on the same level as the animation that is possible today. But in its time, the animation of Blood Reign was very good, and even today, it is above average and still holds up well.
The score of Blood Reign may be the anime's strongest point. Like its animation, Blood Reign's score is characteristic of the time period in which the anime was made. The pieces of music sound old and compliment the animation and story very well. The score is very good at creating suspense and can even be unnerving. One piece in particular, the "Ninja Counting Song," is quite possibly one of the most haunting, chilling, and beautiful pieces of music in any anime and it must be heard to be appreciated. Although the score's best pieces are the ones that are darker and suspenseful, it also does a good job at providing more energetic music for action sequences. The only piece of music which seems out of place is the song for the closing credits. This song is upbeat and does not fit with the tone of the anime despite having the sound characteristic of the '80s. This is because no form of pop music would likely compliment the tone of this anime. In the end, this song does not detract from the anime even if it is out of place.
Unlike the animation and score, the sound effects of Blood Reign would actually benefit if the anime had been made in modern times. The sound effects are thin and somewhat cheesy, but although they do not add to the quality of the anime, they do not greatly detract from it either. Returning to the positives, Blood Reign has a good dub. Many of the performances are subdued, but the voices of the actors and the tones they use match the animation and writing well. In particular, the voice actors for the characters of Hikage and Marou are a very good match for the personalities and appearance of those characters.
Lastly, the action sequences of Blood Reign deserve mention as they are well done and somewhat distinctive. For anime, the fight sequences are actually somewhat realistic in the sense that they do not feature super-fantastic moves. Hikage often defeats his opponents through what seem to be fundamental and precise Ninja maneuvers, not by magic or mind-boggling moves. Also noteworthy is that the fights are not long or dragged out; Hikage is presented as a Ninja who overcomes his adversaries as efficiently and quickly as possible. The result is that the action sequences are distinct from that of many anime while still being very good.
The copy of Blood Reign that I am reviewing is from ADV's Essential Anime Collection, and if that is any indication, this anime may now be receiving the recognition it deserves. If anime fans never watched the VHS version or the previous DVD version, there is no better time to watch this anime than now that it has been digitally remastered in 5.1 and released with some nice extras. After all, this anime is essential viewing for fans of action and/or horror. Blood Reign is a solid, enjoyable, and entertaining anime, and like the bodies that are torn open throughout its story, it also has substance. Blood Reign may not be the most attention-grabbing anime, but its subtlety is commendable.
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Notes and Trivia
Directed by Takashi Anno.
Parts 1 and 2 were originally titled "Book of the Bloody Shadow of the Places of Wicked Men" and "Book of the Wicked Fangs of the Demon Wolf."
US DVD Review
The extras included in the Essential Anime Edition DVD re-release are character bios, original trailers, and ADV previews for other animes. The character bios are informative and include almost every noteworthy character in the anime. However, viewers should watch the anime before the bios as they contain some spoilers. The menus are easy to navigate and they look very nice. The English audio has been digitally remastered in 5.1, and it also includes a Japanese audio track.
There is also an older DVD release.
Rated 17-up by ADV with good reason.
Violence: 5 - Intestines ripped out, heads ripped off, humans being eaten.
Nudity: 2 - No sex, but one of the characters is shown naked although his genitalia is not visible.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - No kissing, but there are hugs.
Language: 1 - None of the big swear words.
Available in North America from AD Vision on an "Anime Essentials" hybrid DVD, which is a spiffed-up re-release of their earlier DVD, both of which are out of print but easy to find. The newer release is also readily available in a combo pack with your choice of either Kimera or Ninja Resurrection. Was originally available on subtitled and dubbed VHS. (If you're looking for the DVD, here's an Amazon link: Blood Reign - Curse of the Yoma (Essential Anime Collection))