Straight out of developmental hell, Sword Gai finally emerges thanks to Netflix. Originally set to air back in April 2016, Sword Gai went dark, with any news of it hard to find. Yet, just like Death Note before it, Toshiki Inoue’s anime adaption gets a second chance. Part One consists of 12 episodes, with a part two just announced for this summer. Unfortunately, also like Death Note, it is nowhere near the homerun everyone was hoping for.
Set in present day, we primarily follow Gai, the 16 year old orphan raised by a sword smith. Thanks to a botched cleansing ceremony on the Shiryu blade back in the day, the blade possessed a monk, who went on a killing spree, only ending when he woke up from killing Gai’s dad. Enraged, Gai’s pregnant mother snatched the sword, got her revenge, and fled to the mountains where she gave birth to Gai and hung herself just outside the sword smith’s property. Now, thanks to another botched cleansing ceremony, Gai loses an arm saving his rival from the blade’s bloodlust, only for the sword smith to melt it down and fashion a new arm for him. Already connected spiritually, the physical connection thrusts him into a new world of evil weapons and sinister forces.
It’s a long way to get to the starting point, which is a reoccurring theme with this show. The first episode, with an assist from sloppy editing, comes off as more confusing than intriguing. Intercut with Shiryu and Gai’s parents is Shoshidai and Zsoltgewinn. Throughout time, weapons soaked in blood, pain, and sorrow become Sage Almas, possessed weapons. Shoshidai works to collect all of these weapons to keep them out of the wrong hands. Once chosen by the Alma, you’re either a Chrysalis or a Busoma.
As a Chrysalis, people are still human but granted great powers through the swords that are now connected to them. However, all Chrysalises become Busomas at some point, losing themselves, and becoming empty vessels for the weapons’ bloodlust. Until that day comes, Shoshidai allows Chrysalises to work for them, staying in a deep cryo-sleep between missions, until their time is up and they must go down.
On the other end, Zsoltgewinn spends the majority of the season as the big bad. The first in a long line of sword seductions for the show, Administrator Miura of Shoshidai can’t help himself and runs head first into becoming a Busoma armed with Zsoltgewinn, supposedly the worst of the worst demon swords. Although we are told early and often that Busomas will destroy everything, ole Zsoltsy is our first logic gap.
Unless provoked, dude spends the majority of his time taking out other Busomas. Even when he does decide to attack our good guys, he does it in a nice secluded area where only they will get hurt. Exactly one Busoma delivers on the mayhem, although her two “rampages” came after a) almost being murdered by a stalker, and b)being approached by two rapists, so I’m not even willing to give full credit on that.
For a show that asks us to root for a moody guy whose arm constantly orders him to kill, Gai needs to show a little more math. Math that is missing when Gai continues to level up despite the fact he doesn’t train, win, or learn from most of his fights. He spends a fair amount of time on his ass, only to get up and do the exact same thing until something gives. Early on, it wasn’t so glaring since most of the fight scenes are shorter than a trip to the bathroom. On average, we see about 4 or 5 swings (total), before someone either dies or jumps backwards for a lame escape. Without on looking characters telling us a fighter is improving, their crazy strength, or their murderous aura, nobody could tell.
Given the level of animation, it’s a shame they didn’t do more with it. When Sword Gai wants to, it can give you beautiful shots and flashes of good action, but these moments don’t come often enough. Character design middles around levels of “eh, it’s fine” with characters we’ve generally seen before. Gai looks like a Death Note‘s Light at 13 rather than his slightly more edgy manga appearance. Busoma come with a giant armor upgrade rendered in bland CGI that would make Berserk and Blue Submarine No. 6 blush. Unfortunately, Zsoltgewinn looks way too close to Power Rangers’ Lord Zedd.
When rushing into battle, Gai’s metal arm gets the special transformation treatment, turning into a sword not unlike Witchblade. It has all been done before, but Sword Gai‘s saving grace is in the writing… sorta.
On paper, “a moody teen with question morals running around with a blood craving demon blade for an arm” seems like an action packed concept that writes itself, but Gai proves it isn’t so easy. Times like trudging through Gai’s mental regression to a baby can be frustrating to say the least. Honestly, if I wasn’t reviewing this show, I would’ve bailed before the halfway mark and missed out. In Episode Six (That’s right, Sword Gai opted for the most generic episode titles possible.) it begins with the origin story of the Shiryu Blade. From there, the side stories begin to become more compelling, eventually spilling over into the main storyline. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a rocky road to the cliffhanger ending but it actually got interesting.
Chrysalis Naoki’s storyline is a shining star in particular, once you get past introductions. Despite lacking depth, this midcarder manages to pull off a gut wrenching storyline, while simultaneously kicking off a major plot thread that changes the game. Sword Gai does have its moments, but it feels like its biggest swings have yet to come. Characters are introduced and left in the wind with plots nowhere near remotely resolved. Even Episode 12‘s cliffhanger finale feels like a warm-up. I would rather have waited for Part 2 than get half a season and be stuck in limbo.
With the recent announcement of a summer 2018 Sword Gai: The Animation Part 2 release, we won’t have to wait too long to see if they can build on their momentum. I know I kicked the shit out of this show, but this comes from a guy who wanted it to be great and believes that it will get better down the line. That being said, you don’t get love for what hasn’t come, and Sword Gai Part One is aggressively average and I don’t blame anyone who bails on it.