Blood Reign: Curse of the Yōma (Curse of the Undead Yōma), directed by Takashi Anno. Two 40-minute OAVs (38 & 42 minutes). May 1 – June 1, 1989.
I didn’t pay much attention to this at the time, because it was too depressing. More frankly, the C/FO – the anime fan club with chapters throughout North America – was in the process of disintegrating through destructive fan politics, and this seemed to reflect its demise too well.
The setting is the end of Japan’s Sengoku period – the Age of Civil Wars, about 1467 until 1603 when the Tokugawa shōgunate succeeded in pacifying Japan for about 250 years. For the 150 years before 1603, weak emperors allowed powerful daimyō (regional warlords) to fight over which noble clan would get to become “the emperor’s supreme general” – the shōgun.
In addition to their samurai armies, the powerful clans were believed to secretly support groups of ninja; peasant “nobodys” who banded together to support their clan leaders. The ninja became thieves and assassins. They dressed in black for anonymity, and claimed mystic dark powers of invulnerability for themselves.
The phrase “Undead Yōma” in the English title is a redundancy. Yōma are the undead, though they are bodies turned into malevolent and evil demons rather than mindless zombies.
In Hikage in an Evil World, the first 40-minute OAV, a battlefield after a battle is strewn with the bodies of slain warriors. The nearby ninja come out in the crimson twilight and begin looting the bodies for armor, weapons, and any valuables. Hikage and Marō, two young ninja of the Takeda clan, look on with horror at what real warfare is like.
Many of the bodies are possessed by yōma. One kills daimyō Shingen Takeda, the master of the Takeda clan. This is more than Marō can take, and he flees. Takeda’s will specifies that when he dies, his death is to be kept a secret for three years while his son takes charge of the clan. Hikage is ordered to pursue Marō and kill him as a weakling and deserter who may betray their secret, even though Marō is his best friend.
Hikage tries to talk Marō into returning to the Takeda clan. Instead, Marō blinds him in one eye with a shuriken and escapes.
Hikage searches for him through the countryside. He is attacked by ninja of the rival Iga clan. Their running battle brings him to a small shrine near a waterfall. Hikage reminisces about how he and Marō used to be happy childhood playmates, but the shrine’s old priest tells him that only people wanting to commit suicide come there. He sends Hikage to a nearby village.
Hikage finds Aya, a scarred young girl, nearby singing the ominous “Ghost Counting Song”: “Two, the two of us go to hell; Three, even though we kill everybody; Four, signpost for the land of the dead; …” Aya takes him to the village where the carefree villagers led by boisterous Taichi have a drinking party every day. They insist the confused Hikage join them. He sees Marō entering a house. Aya says that the inhabitants of the village are all travelers who gave up their journeys to stay there. Hikage sees another woman, Ito, who wears makeup like a corpse. He searches the forest near the village and notes several unusual signs; there are no birds or farmed fields. Two senior Takeda ninja come for a report. Because Hikage says he is sure he has seen Marō in the village, they give him more time to investigate.
Hikage finds the two Takeda ninja and Taichi dying, apparently killed by giant spiders – or by Marō. One of the dying ninja reveals that Marō was a child born from out of the ground, not from a human mother.
Hikage tells Aya, but she does not believe him. That night Hikage prepares his ninja weapons. Aya’s singing leads him into the forest, where he finds her in the clutches of a giant spider. He attacks the spider which drops her and flees, leading him to the shrine. The old priest reveals that he is also a spider, and that the giant spiders maintain the village so their king, Kikuga no Miko, can prey upon the humans who stop there. They fight and when Hikage is about to win, the spider-priest says that if Hikage kills it, all of the villagers will die. Hikage kills it anyway. Aya is one of the villagers. Hikage continues toward the shrine. Ito appears and also turns into a giant spider, scolding Hikage for disturbing their Lord Kikuga no Miko’s sleep, and warning him that he’ll be sorry if he goes into the shrine. Hikage splits the wooden statue of Buddha to find a giant spider egg sac, which he destroys to reveal Marō who is Kikuga no Maru.
A rainstorm washes everything clean. Hikage finds Aya’s body drowned in a lake. Everyone in the village is dead. More Takeda clan ninja arrive. One, Kazami, tells him that the news of their lord’s death is already known by the Oda and Uesugi ninja clans, so there is no longer any need to hunt down and kill Marō. But Hikage goes on anyway, to learn what Marō really is.
In the second OAV, Marō with Crazy Fang, Hikage has been searching for Marō for two years. His blind eye (now only a cut under his eye) has healed. At a beach on the Inner Sea, he sees a girl ninja of the Kōga clan, also named Aya, pursued by Shiranui, another Kōga ninja who accuses her of killing their lord. She denies it. Two more Kōga ninja appear and try to kill Hikage, who kills them while Shiranui is gravely wounded, stumbles into the ocean, and is trampled by Majūmi no Miko, the horselike demon lord of the sea. Hikage asks Majūmi for Marō’s whereabouts. Majūmi mockingly tells him, “You already know who Marō really is,” adding that he is the demon of the sea and when he is united with Shiratsuyu, the snakelike demon lord of the land, all the yōma will be unleashed. (Is Shiratsuyu the Crazy Fang of the title?) Hikage, angry, attacks Majūmi and is knocked into the sea where he almost drowns, but manages to kill Majūmi.
Marō, in a cavern, decides that Hikage is becoming too much trouble. He orders Shiratsuyu to kill him while he, Marō, goes to Mikawa in the east which he has determined will become a new center of the humans’ powers, and “turn it into a hell”.
Hikage and Aya go to a nearby village to spend the night. They find everyone dead, killed by the the yōma. The next day Hikage goes on alone. Aya, hurrying to catch up to him, meets Kotone, a friendly yōma. She tells Aya that she was killed by her lover, whom she still loves. Hikage is attacked by three yōma: the giant snake; Lady Mai, a giant yōma butterfly; and Yoki, a tree yōma. Yoki seizes Aya and Kotone, but Hikage kills Mai and Yoki, and Kotone possesses and kills Shiratsuyu.
Hikage and Aya go to the east where the forces of Lord Oda Nobunaga have been fighting to take control of Japan. That night Hikage and Aya are joined by Kazami, the Takeda ninja. He has been ordered by Katsuyori, the new head of the Takeda clan, to kill Hikage in order to obtain the yōmas’ support against Nobunaga. But Kazami does not believe in the yōma’s support, and he allows Hikage to win. He dies, saying, “Lord Katsuyori is out of his mind. The Takeda will not last for long.” (According to history, Oda Nobunaga crushed the Takedas at the Battle of Nagashino in June 1575 by the first use in Japan of massed arquebus gunfire, which was also believed at the time to be demonic. After that, most of the Takeda survivors realized that Katsuyori was no Shingen and that the clan was doomed.)
The yōma, led by Marō (or Kikuga no Maru), betray the Takeda who are wiped out by Oda (actually not until 1582). Hikage, now the last of the Takeda, prepares to go alone to Nagashino in Mikawa province to meet his fate/the yōma, which will mean his death. Aya begs him not to go, or if he is determined, to kill her first because she does not want to outlive him.
Hikage goes to Nagashino, a recent battlefield covered by the dead, and calls to Marō to confront him. Marō surrounds Hikage with upthrust giant fingers of rock. Hikage asks Marō why he became Kikuga no Maru? Marō grew tired of being a ninja, and even a human. He has spared Hikage’s life so Hikage could transcend humanity and join him as a yōma. He is about to turn Hikage into a yōma when Aya arrives, calling Hikage’s name and awakening him from a trance. Marō, annoyed, turns his head into a wolf’s and resurrects Majūmi no Miko, the horselike demon lord of the sea. The giant horse stomps upon Aya, giving her the scar that the first Aya had. Marō and Majūmi join into a single wolf-headed centaur demon lord who orders Hikage to become a yōma. Hikage uses his ninja wires to cut the wolf-headed centaur apart. Marō returns to his human form and dies.
In an epilogue, Hikage awakens in a hut near Aya. It’s implied that they will wed. In hell, the human Marō is joined by Kotone, revealing that he was the lover who killed her. Hikage and Aya, traveling down a road, find the body of a woman who has just died in childbirth and her newborn son. They decide to adopt the baby as their own. The baby will grow up to become Marō; his voice is heard humorously complaining that it’s so boring being a human.
Yuck! 80 minutes of misery, horror, screaming women, and dripping blood. It helps if you know Japanese history around Oda Nobunaga’s life. Shingen Takeda died while battling Nobunaga, in 1573 of a mysterious illness or a lingering wound that was blamed at the time on everything from disease to witchcraft and yōma. His son Katsunori tried to continue the Takeda victories, but failed. See the movie Kagemusha. In 1582, the ruthless Lord Oda Nobunaga finally wiped out the weaker Takeda clan, just before he was killed himself. (Actually, he committed suicide when he was about to be killed, to prevent the dishonor of allowing himself to be killed.)
In real history, Oda Nobunaga was the first daimyō to take advantage of Western technology, especially firearms. This got him a popular reputation of dealing with yōma. After his death, Japan was finally unified in 1603 in the Tokugawa shōgunate which enforced isolationism and outlawed all Western technology, until it was overthrown in the 1850s to 1870s. Some historians have theorized that if Nobunaga had not died in his 40s in 1582, he would have gone on to start building an empire outside Japan over 350 years before modernized Japan did, resulting in a strong Southeast Asian nation by the time that Europe reached there in the 19th century. Anyway, this OAV was based on a combination of medieval Japanese demonology and the last years of the Takeda clan in the 1570s & ‘80s, which Japanese audiences would have known would have a depressing ending.
The OAV production was by Animate Film and J.C. Staff. The American release was by A.D. Vision on November 1, 1998. It was shown on TV as part of an anime marathon by Encore Action on November 4, 2000.
Next week: “Forgotten” OAVs #30.