Onmyou Taisenki is in the same sphere of existence as Otogi-Zushi Akatsukin: not quite down there in the lowest-brow bracket of Pokémon, Beyblade et al, but really not elevated from them by much.
The story is straightforward: a young boy finds a mysterious Digidrive-esque piece of equipment and finds that it allows him to summon a cute Bengal tiger-type catboy. Of course, not long after this revelation comes the inevitable appearance of another with a similar ‘drive’ and anthro companion, and they must do battle. After a few fights, power-ups and life lessons, the boy starts to learn that his own past is in some way tied up with a history that will threaten the entire world.
So yes, a generic plot. Blatant toy tie-ins in the drives. Borderline furry designs. But Onmyou Taisenki works, and while it didn’t have much substance, it had enough to sustain its 52 episodes in enjoyable style, and while far from life-changing it was well worth a watch.
I picked it up simply because a sample of the manga appeared in one of the Jump spin-offs I picked up in Japan and quite liked the designs, especially for (furry jokes aside) Kogenta, the aforementioned catboy. Otherwise, I probably never would have heard of it, since it’s one of those kids’ anime that gets subbed by groups that for some reason don’t seem to publicise their releases in the usual places.
The presentation is very Sunrise, all prettiness and cute round faces and smooth but economical animation. While it sounds formulaic, though, the anime is actually very idiosyncratic, mixing conventional moé with sheer bizarreness: when the ‘shikigami’ anthros appear, they have a kabuki-themed entrance where screens open to reveal them and they list their name and affiliated ‘house’ with the obligatory ‘kenzan!’, and while these are initially straightforward, they soon veer into sheer bizarreness, like the lion-man whose intro is a pastiche of noir detective stories. The comedy is genuinely funny, from the cute kitty that seems to turn demonic when only one person is looking to the typical childhood-friend-with-huge-and-adorable-unrequited-crush angle, and the series juggles lightness and its winsome stabs at the epic and emotional deftly, with strong performances from its well-established group of seiyuu. And as ever in these shows, what matters most is the character relationships, the frosty rivalries softening into affection, the betrayers looking for redemption and of course one young boy’s growing bond with his tiger-spirit friend.
Nothing special and certainly not the show to present to cynics to illustrate why anime should be taken seriously, but for a light and charming diversion, quite a pleasure.
(Originally written 19.10.08)