Spirit Warrior: Revival of Evil

It is freaking difficult to keep up with the whole line of materials springing from Spirit Warrior. There're only a total of 5 OVAs, but they are hard to keep track of! Here's the skinny: back in the late '80s, there were three OVAs in the Peacock King line, telling vaguely related tales of Kujaku, Buddhist exorcist extraordinaire. Then, in 1994, the show was revived with two more OVAs directed by none other than the renowned/infamous Rin Taro. These two OVAs went back and told the story of how Kujaku became the legendary spirit warrior as a prequel, kinda like Episodes 1-3 of the Star Wars saga, but not. They were released on video, and now they are seeing life again on DVD...but under the title Spirit Warrior rather than Peacock King.

Confused yet? If you are, then this is where you should start. Spirit Warrior: Revival Of Evil is the first story in chronological order in this messed-up universe. With some sumptuous animation and the loving touch of Rin Taro, this is certainly much better than I was expecting, though there are a few things that will make you rip your hair out in frustration.

In SW: Revival, Kujaku is just getting through his training as an exorcist. Although he's come up against a few minor foes, he's still essentially an apprentice. But a secret will soon envelop his world...millennia ago, the Dragon Orb sealed darkness away after a gigantic battle of the gods. A group of Tibetan monks have kept it safe throughout the generations...but now, trouble arises. A bunch of Neo-Nazis want to claim it for their own to revive a legendary Regent of Darkness who could control the world. Meanwhile, the Japanese want to protect the Dragon Orb themselves, concerned that the Chinese don't have enough control over it. But once the power of this thing is unleashed, a literal hell will break loose.

This is where Kujaku enters. Attacked by a fearsome creature that should by all rights have destroyed him, Kujaku wallops this thing with extraordinary powers that he only unconsciously knew he had. Learning about his past on the go, he and his girlfriend will have to chase down the Dragon Orb to stop the hand of evil from rising, as he is one of two parts of a long-lost prophecy. The other involves a sister he never knew existed...and if the Nazis get ahold of her and the orb, saying your prayers might just not be enough.

This material is the kind of stuff that Rin Taro lives for. From Harmagedon to X/1999, he shows an utter fascination with prophetic characters trying to break through their destinies forged in the heavens. The only problem? In many cases, he's shown himself to be utterly inept, failing in the editing process and creating disasters. That failing isn't in appearance in SW: Revival, though, and that's refreshing. Although there is a lot more talking and prophecy than action--something many viewers might find a little dull--all the background makes sense, in stark contrast to the incomprehensible screenplays that Rin Taro has often directed. The script here works. And what action is here is done effectively.

I've also got to give credit to the animation team at Madhouse who worked on this OVA. The character designs are good and the artwork lush. I loved looking at this show. It's not quite at true movie quality, but it's close. It reminded me of OVAs like Ninja Scroll in their ability to look great even on a limited budget.

I still have some reservations about this DVD, though. The first is one that was true in Japan too, unfortunately: it simply ends almost mid-sentence. If you thought the ending of The Matrix Reloaded left you hanging, you haven't seen anything. You're expecting more by the time the credits roll, and I was frankly disappointed. One could argue that you could run out and buy the second DVD in the series, which is true. But this leads me to my next point...the DVD is too short. With the first episode not reaching 50 minutes, the DVD should have included the second one that completes this storyline. I respect that Central Park Media, the show's US distributor, needs to make money. However, the story is so unfinished that if you stop at the end, you're left wanting. This is not a cliffhanger like 24 or Alias to get you to watch the next week. It should have been one complete program originally, period.

The other issues are minor but important. This is a disturbing show, not quite horror but almost. This is not Buddhism about finding the eight-fold path and heading to Nirvana; this is about Buddhists chanting strange and dark words to counteract the demon world. If this sort of thing disturbs you, stay away. I'm serious on this one; this series does creep me out a bit with it. On the other side, it can be a bit slow. Also realize that it doesn't stay with you too long. It's been less than 48 hours, and I'm hoping I remember enough that the second DVD, Spirit Warrior: Regent of Darkness, makes sense.

I was really concerned that this was going to be a terrible show because one of the Peacock King episodes I've seen and reviewed, Festival of the Ogre's Revival, was just awful. Thankfully, Rin Taro revitalized the series with his prequel. I'm going to have to give Revival Of Evil a cautious grade since the ending could make or break this episode. However, if Regent of Darkness turns out to be great, it could send my opinion of this part up significantly. We'll just have to wait and see.

Spirit Warrior: Revival of Evil -- graphic violence -- B