90’s manga series from Weekly Shonen Jump, Hoshin Engi (lit. “Soul Hunter”), is experiencing a sudden rebirth. The underexposed series is seeing the light of day with a remake of the anime hitting the front page of Crunchyroll and a continuation of the manga in serialization as of last week.
But with slacker spirit sage disciple, Taikobo (nothing novel about these descriptors…), heading up the story, what does Hoshin Engi have to offer in a Post-Big-Three world of Shonen anime?
ANCIENT CHINA, MYTH, AND MONSTERS
Yin Dynasty China is under the direct control of the fox spirit, Dakki, who has used her charm spell to make Emperor Chu and any dissidents into her servants. Taikobo, an immortal sage-in-training, has been tasked with the Hoshin Project. Now he must defeat Dakki and her 365 Sennin allies and banish them to the World of the Gods. If Taikobo fails or quits his mission, he will be banished from the Sennin World.
Hoshin Engi ultimately follows a monster-of-the-week formula, drawing from Chinese folklore as a backdrop for Taikobo’s endless hunt, counting down each of the 365 foes on his list.
Remind you of anything?
My thoughts go straight to Inuyasha, a manga which started its run a few months AFTER Hoshin Engi (June and November start dates, respectively). We see something nearly identical on screen each week — a new baddie from Japanese folklore in Kagome and Inuyasha’s quest to hunt down the Shikon Jewel shards. All with the looming possibility that Kagome may never be able to return home if they cannot recover the jewel.
PILOT EPISODE SHENANIGANS
Following Taikobo through the first episode, we see that his first instinct is to go straight to fight Dakki’s most powerful ally, Shinkohyo. After being defeats, he rethinks his plan and heads to the royal palace and attempts to kidnap Emperor Chu-o and separate him from Dakki and her spell.
Suicide missions. Taikobo is going for the final boss in the first episode.
But what happens?
He lives. And Shinkohyo is practically his friend (in the loosest of senses) by the end of this episode.
It’s this interaction with his enemies that makes Hoshin Engi stick out as something distinct from its contemporary mid-90s episodic action serials steeped in East Asian history and/or mythology.
Taikobo seems to spend more time in civil entertainment with his villains than with his allies.
And although he may share some of the wise-assery but lack both the charm and competency, Taikobo is set up to be the James Bond of Shonen Jump.
Bond — A man in bed with his villains (sometimes literally).
Let’s recap some important events throughout different eras of James Bond.
Dr. No: Bond accepts Dr. No’s invitation to his offshore facilities and shares a dinner and a tour before the final battle.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Bond, unconvincingly undercover, infiltrates Blofeld’s research facility as a guest and is given a tour before the extended downhill skiing chase scene.
The Man with the Golden Gun: When Bond tracks and flies out to Scaramanga’s secret island base, he is welcomed cordially. A pistol duel is scheduled rather than an assassination.
Casino Royale: Texas Hold ‘em with Le Chiffre. Need I say more?
Hoshin Engi: Taikobo is granted an audience with the Emperor immediately and unvetted. Dakki is fully aware of his intentions and Taikobo makes it out alive (one failed execution later).
WHAT'S IT WORTH?
I’m glad to see Hoshin Engi revisited after so many years, and the anime remake is a welcome refresh on the series.
It’s not a great remake, though, and only appears as an advertisement for the new manga. The HD visuals and cleaner animation are nice, but it’s nothing special. And the pit of CG snakes and crocodiles looks like it hasn’t made its way out of the 90s.
And although there is an interesting dynamic between Taikobo and Dakki, the series is ultimately a Shonen fantasy journey. Taikobo quickly collects allies throughout a divided empire Fire Emblem-style and trains himself in magic in order to accomplish his mission.
Convinced? Go watch episode one.
Not Convinced? You can still go watch episode one.