The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 128 – Shadow Skill

Shadow Skill 1

A few of these past columns have come about after I came across a rare series that I not heard of before until I spotted something being sold in my local second-hand comic book shop, Sub-Zero Comics of Stockton-on-Tees. These include films Wicked City (No. 96) and The Sensualist (No. 97). Here is another title that I only just stumbled across this week.

Shadow Skill (which has the unfortunate initials of SS) began as a manga by Megumu Okada in 1992, which he wrote on-and-off for various different publications until he finished in 2014. There have been a few anime adaptations of it. Starting in 1995, these include a series of original video anime (OVA), although some of the episodes where condense into a movie in English-speaking regions, then a 26-part TV series in 1998, and lastly another OVA in 2004. The anime is mainly a martial arts series set in a fantasy realm.

It is set in the kingdom of Kuldar, also referred to in some translations as Karuta. It is a land based on slavery and servitude. To avoid this people take jobs as gladiators, known as “shavals” (or “sevilles”). Out of the current 59 shavals, central character Ele Rag is the youngest and only woman in the group, using a martial art known as “Shadow Skill”. She tends to leave destruction and debt in her wake.

Ele is followed by a boy named Gau Ban of the Black Howling. Ele found Gau as an orphan four years beforehand and took him in as a brother. Gau devotes himself meanwhile to studying Ele’s Shadow Skill in the hope that he too can master it, becoming the strongest fighter in the land. Together, they and other friends they encounter over the course of the series, including the sorcerer Faury and ranger Kyuo Lyu, travel the land taking jobs to try and clear Ele’s debts, as well as master their fighting skill.

Most reviews of Shadow Skill claim that this is a series for devoted martial arts fans, whereas those who are seeking something with more meaning and character development may want to look elsewhere. It is the true that there are plenty of good action sequences, but it is also true that the plot does not seem to go anywhere that much.

Elements of martial arts films, historical events, and even modern combat sports can reportedly be seen. According to The Anime Encyclopedia: 3rd Edition by Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy: “Okada’s clan terminology creates “families” of people who aren’t really related, defining the memories of “fathers” who weren’t necessarily their biological parents. Like sumo wrestlers, clan adoption brings a new name, and like the samurai codes of old, the ignoble death of one’s master forces a period of exile while the outcast seeks revenge. It also forbids the exile to use his or her former name, so SS contains a lot of people with  very long and cumbersome handles. The man known as Screep Lohengrin of the White Running in the original manga is just plain “Louie” here, for example.”

The Anime Encyclopedia also highlights over obvious problems with Shadow Skill in terms of production, such as Gau being introduced as a mute, but not long after that he is seen speaking. In the movie version, a team of Welsh voice actors made one character speak despite the fact their mouth is clearly not moving.

This is a series therefore that has plenty of flaws. The TV series however is considered better though, being closer in plot to the original manga.

The original OVA and film of Shadow Skill is released by Manga Entertainment. The TV series was released by the now defunct label ADV Films and only second-hand copies are available.