This Week: Twilight of the Dark Master (Shihaisha no Tasogare)
Stop me if you have heard this before: Akiyuki Shinbo directs supernatural sleuthing with a sexually charged vibe.
But, rather than the perverse material being giddy otaku pandering, we have more of a high gloss city rich aesthetic of leather and drug fueled excess, and in a container resembling Vampire Hunter D by way of Blade Runner.
I feel a need to be more than a little front loaded as regarding images this week, as the aspects surrounding the cinematography are by far the biggest gun this production has in its arsenal. The last time I watched an OVA helmed by Shinbo was Le Portrait de Petit Cossette, and for as indulgent as that was for allowing him as a creator to go hog wild in all manner of ways, a lot of it also did not gel well with me. At all. This though, this feels a lot different in terms of speaking to film making fundamentals. The shot composition is so meticulously precise, how it opts to deliver and focus upon certain visual aspects storyboarded out so well. One can still easily pick up on some of his more trademark ticks, like situations that allow for characters to hold conversation without necessarily showing them speaking in the frame, as well as the color design.
But as a production this is also all very much in line with what would amount to his take on a slick, dark 1980’s anime violence feature, despite being made in the late 1990’s.
To the point where one really does need to track down whatever the highest quality version they can justify getting their hands on if they want to watch it, as there are so many parts that would get absolutely washed away or blurred out otherwise. I could not imagine watching this back in the day via a VHS copy like some of the other video rental store dives I did. A lot of parts of the video would be near indistinguishable from one another, and that would bleed into ones takeaway on how resolutely anchored so much of the camera focus and shot construction really is. And we are talking about a rich level of Madhouse animation on top of that which reminds me of things like Wicked City, so one definitely wants to be able to actually see all it can be.
So it looks great when it isn’t moving, it is still fantastic when it does, and Akiyuki Shinbo gets to tick off all kinds of boxes that fit his personal shenanigans while still looking like it dropped out of a prior decade entirely from its original release date.
Then there is the narrative structure.
All things considered, the plot itself it actually pretty easy to follow: We have a demon, lost love, and some supernatural investigation leading to something more. One is not going to get lost in any kind of labyrinthine personal ennui exploration or the like. The problem though is the OVA is only around forty-five minutes long, and the story it has is more suited to a more feature length work. It would have easily benefited from an additional half hour or so. There are at least three different character narratives here that would be the primary or high level secondary protagonist arc in a larger production, and there just is not a whole lot of time to get to know them individually in concert all at once.
Imagine taking something like the aforementioned Blade Runner, and slicing it down to a similar running time. One could do it, sure. And one could accomplish that in a manner where the top level story still gets across with ease, and the viewer would understand it with minimal fuss. But, one would inevitably lose a lot of the flavor or sense of dramatic build due to everything that would end up on the cutting room floor. Twilight of the Dark Master feels a lot like that, as if it were somehow a super streamlined compilation movie of a larger film of perhaps twice its size.
In that respect, I can not directly say the story is bad. I understood everything, after all, and it all does fit together in its own way and possess an internal logic which is consistent. There is not a whole lot of symbolic extrapolation one would need to pull so as to make things make sense. But I feel there is a sense of weight lacking to a number of character actions which would have been solved with additional running time. Shizuka’s sense of loss regarding Eiji’s demonic affliction is more of a straight fact than it is more of a connective feeling with her as an individual, the fights our freelance supernatural investigator Tsunami runs into rarely have time to allow for much of a real back and forth struggle, etc.
The plot is more of a delivery mechanism and series of gears to justify the visuals, rather than something I felt a desire to get more caught up in regarding the fates of the characters.
But it really does look pretty pancake flipping fantastic, in terms of a graphical style I can get into and the way shots are executed.
As of this writing, Twilight of the Dark Master is desperately treading water just above the #6000 mark in terms of MyAnimeList.net collective rankings. I can understand that; if one is popping this on and is looking at it more exclusively as a narrative and plot piece, it can not really deliver as much as other OVA’s of the past can and have. It needed a bigger film to stretch out in. But, I think to condemn it on that alone also does a bit of a disservice to the amount of impeccable cinematography on display, and its really stellar almost film noirand original flavor cyberpunk design sensibilities.
But, since we are considering things nearly on visual merits alone at that point, if I go back to Le Portrait de Petite Cossette as an experience that bounced off of me, that OVA is ranked around #2700 on the same platform.
So this is an area where personal tastes play a pretty gigantic role, in terms of what I personally pulled from either of them. But for my money, of the two, I would very much want to see Akiyuki Shinbo make another go around some day with a style reminiscent of this OVA, even if most other people find it a significantly less well rated work.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.