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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 19


Directed by Makiguchi Yuji

Shinpachi finds Misato kneeling inside an Iga graveyard. She explains to him that having become blind, she sees things in a different light. She leaves but is attacked by the Shiina group, the band of fighters she used to lead. Surrounding her, Gensai orders the young Seishiro to kill her. He hesitates to strike which prompts the others to do so. Misato fights them off until Shinpachi emerges on his horse and saves her. Later, a mysterious young girl is seen just outside of O'oka's mansion.

At Yamabiko, the young lady wishes to see Shinpachi. Her name is Oryo, Shin's sister. Having not seen her in over 10 years, Oryo pleads with Shin to let her join the Iga clan. Shin tries to allay her desire to become a ninja by explaining that even Tsuge Shinpachi was killed in a Shogunate raid and that he is only a lowly restaurant owner. Oryo knows better and details the tragedy that has struck her home town of Tokakushi. Her foster father, Yoshinaka, was murdered by Moroguchi Dogen, alias, "Spider" Dogen. To add to the tragedy, O'oka confiscated the silver mines in Tokakushi.

Oryo attempts to break into O'oka's mansion alone. She engages "Spider" Dogen in a brief fight. Koroku has followed her, though. Meanwhile, Gensai has Seishiro in chains. He is to be put to death for allowing Misato to escape. However, Dogen has other plans. Chaining Oryo and Seishiro together, they are to fight to the death, the winner goes free. Koroku interrupts the duel allowing both chained prisoners to escape.

Seishiro and Oryo make their way through the blinding snow regions of the Tokakushi mountains with Dogen and the Shiina in pursuit. The two find shelter in the home of a family, but the warmth is short-lived as they are set upon by Dogen. After seemingly running for miles, Seishiro finds it difficult to continue. At the same time, Ryukichi and Koroku, against Shin's orders, have picked up their tracks. Koroku finds a trail of Azuki beans that Seishiro has been dropping along behind him. Their suspicions are raised. They find the home of the family Oryo and Seishiro had encountered. They were all murdered by "Spider" Dogen.

Meantime, Seishiro begs Oryo to sever his hand so she can escape. She refuses and tries to get him to continue through the ever increasing bitterness of the freezing cold. They are suddenly attacked by a bear which they dispatch with their katanas and also take some nourishment from the dead animal. Ryukichi and Koroku find the remains of the animal but also the Shiina as well. A great chase down a mountainside ensues. Suddenly, Shinpachi shows up and rescues his two disciples. He's not pleased when he catches up to them. Still refusing to aid his sister, Shin explains how so few Iga remain alive. "You are all very precious to me", he says.

That night, Oryo builds a fire inside a small hut for the two of them to warm themselves. Seishiro again tries to cut his hand off for Oryo to escape. Unable to withhold the truth any longer, Seishiro tells Oryo that the two of them being chained together and escaping into the mountains has all been an elaborate plan to lure Shinpachi and the Iga out. He also tells her that he'd been dropping the beans for Dogen and the others to find. By bringing Shinpachi to the Koga clan, Seishiro's life will be spared. Realizing the two evidently have feelings for each other, Seishiro states, "Tenderness means death to a ninja."

The next day, the chase continues. Dogen and the Shiina, assuming Shin is watching nearby, corner the young couple and plan to kill them both. Oryo is injured and Seishiro fights madly to protect her. Shinpachi then rides on the scene and uses some ninja trickery to rescue the two young ninjas. Koroku and Ryukichi battle the Shiina warriors to the death. Shinpachi returns to combat "Spider" Dogen. After the fight is over, Oryo and Seishiro leave into the hills together. Not knowing where they are going, Shin says, "They are bound by a chain no one can see." The three Iga head back to Yamabiko, another of O'oka's 26 having been vanquished.

Director Yuji returns for this somewhat lackluster episode after delivering two of the best in this second series with episode 7's 'Attack of the Scorpion and episode 12's 'Catch That Girl!' It is an interesting concept having an episode built around one long chase and the location shooting in the snow drenched mountains of Tokakushi helps a lot, but this is an overall kitschy piece albeit one of the most entertaining shows of series two. What really hurts this one is the appearance of what has to be the fakest looking bear in moving pictures ever. I initially assumed it was a costume being worn by one of the main cast members as a disguise, but it is supposed to be a bear that attacks the two chained escapees. Looking more like a gigantic wolf than a bear, it pales in comparison to the superior bear suit used in KARATE BEARFIGHTER (1977). Also the ninjas on ski's are an odd sight especially when they do aerial flips on the slopes.

The story conceit of Shinpachi as a father figure to the younger Iga followers is seen here as he scolds two of his disciples for disobeying him going so far as to state how precious they are to him and that he cannot allow them to die for nothing. Much of the cast are absent here. Doctor Gennai, Gohei, Tsurozu, Otoki, Hayate Kid and Orin are nowhere to be found. No comedy at all save for the unintentional comedy mentioned above. Those with shorter attention spans will most likely lap this episode up as this show has possibly the least amount of dialog of all of series two. Definitely not the best of KAGE 2, it nonetheless moves at a fast clip and delivers quite a lot of action. More akin to Ikuo Sekimoto's style, 'The Great Pursuit' is recommended for action fans but those seeking more story would do better to skip this one.

Continued in Episode Twenty: THE HANDPRINT FROM THE BATHHOUSE!!!

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