Hi all. Sorry for the lateness of this post, even though I announced that I would have it ready sooner. Seriously, I should start being more realistic and just say that I’m posting on days other than Tuesday! But anyway, let’s get into this underrated favorite of mine, shall we?
For this review, I will be examining both the first and second seasons of Kagewani together, as I don’t anticipate (for now, anyway) the possibility of a third. While this series is essentially a low-budget horror that aims to entertain us, I found myself really liking the character development involved. I mean, there’s not too much of it for the sake of each episode length, but it did get me to think about that monster that I have lurking within, too.
Or… maybe it’s just the fact that the main character is a professor, kind of like my alter ego on this blog! Hah! I don’t have a monster within, do I? Do I?
Kagewani is set in an alternative present day where unidentified mysterious animals (UMAs) have been popping up everywhere! And they’re not just there to look or act scary, they hunt people! On the case to unravel these mysterious creatures is Dr. Sosuke Banba, a professor who has devoted his life to studying the paranormal.
Now unlike actual scientists or professors who are skeptics first, Banba legitimately believes in the supernatural, which is probably why all of his colleagues think he’s crazy. And if I had to be honest, they have every right to think he is. But the reason this professor is so adamant about his beliefs isn’t so much that he has sighted such a creature, nor is it some childhood fascination that he still won’t let go. No, the reason he believes that the supernatural exists is far more sinister.
Dr. Banba has a monster dwelling inside of him!
The series starts off as a quick tally of the different kinds of UMA we’re dealing with, ranging from creatures that chase people very slowly to massive killing machines that devour anything with legs! And you bet Banba is there to investigate all of them!
If you’re looking for something specific about this series, these monster sightings are kind of generic and uninteresting, compared to a lot of horror series. But we can’t talk about this series without mentioning the original beast that gets its name in the title: the Kagewani.
The Kagewani roughly translates to “shadow crocodile” in Japanese. However, the creature itself is more terrifying than both shadows and crocodiles! The Kagewani is said to be the product of two warring island clans that put the life forces of all the most terrifying creatures they could find together and then see what comes out of it. What they got was a destructive creature that lurks in the shadows, and all it has to do is devour yours to mutilate you!
I won’t go into detail about Banba’s tragic backstory, but long story short, Banba has the Kagewani dwelling inside of him! And for that, will forever be on the run for his life in order to survive.
This series, as many of these kinds of series do, have two competing themes: humanizing monsters, and dehumanizing humans.
The first is pretty straightforward: for each case that Dr. Banba investigates, he discovers that the creatures themselves are becoming more comfortable with humans, as they get closer and closer to the cities. For this reason, Banba’s rival Masaki Kimura grows more concerned that the creatures are blending in and even imitating human form, and allegedly, hiding their malicious intent. For this reason, Kimura keeps a close eye on Banba, knowing exactly the kind of person he is, and sees fit that he must be controlled.
But from a moment that I have shared on this blog before, you would know that I feel differently about Kimura’s assessment: he doesn’t understand the creatures!
The character that strongly represents this idea of humanizing monsters is the plant monster Satoru. There are several episodes devoted to him throughout the series, and we do witness him change from a weak kid who was constantly bullied around to a killing machine that reminds me of one of those Hideauze things from Gargantia (and oddly enough, with a similar message). But much later in the series, we find Satoru again as yet another monster on the run from humanity. Not to go into too much detail again, but this time, we really do see a full transformation of him flourish: Satoru as human.
But from this narrative, we also find the counter theme as well: dehumanizing humans. This fits strongly with the researchers and businessmen behind Sarugaku Pharmaceuticals, and our beautiful bastard of a villain, Kimura, is one of their chief executives.
With every monster sighting that gains more public outrage, guys like Kimura come around to promise an end to the carnage and return a profit. In his case, Kimura plans to learn from the Kagewani and Dr. Banba himself in order to control these creatures. I guess when someone told him that the creature was supposed to be weapon that must be stopped, he thought otherwise and said “this could be incredibly useful” and went mad from there. In fact, you could say that he shares at least one thing in common with Dr. Banba: something Kagewani-related.
Similarly, there is yet another group at work in this series that grows even more concerned about the Kagewani: the hunters who have descended from the tribes that created it.
Coming across as the series’ anti-hero, Nagi is hell bent on killing the Kagewani and all the creatures that have spawned from it. From all the stories passed down by each generation, she knows that her people made a mistake by creating the Kagewani and thus will go to any lengths to destroy it once and for all.
While Kimura and Nagi have completely different motives, both of them exemplify the same idea about humanity: our need to control. For Kimura, it’s to hold on to that destructive power for better use. For Nagi, it’s to eradicate that destructive power altogether. Yet when it comes to what they do in order to take control, neither of them seem very interested in understanding the Kagewani beyond what makes it evil. And since they’re out to kill off creatures regardless of their understanding of them, I have to wonder who the real monster of this anime is.
But enough about humanizing monsters and dehumanizing humans. After all, there is one person who is clearly both from the start, and he’s our main character! What does he have to say about this dialectic?
I don’t know about you guys, but Dr. Banba was one of those characters that I felt like I could put myself in his situation. Maybe it’s because he’s the main character. Maybe it’s because he’s an educator. Maybe it’s because he’s got a monster within, too. But as the observer and the target rolled into one, Dr. Banba can’t possibly embrace the fact that there is a destructive creature that lives under his left temple. He cannot be reminded that he will remain human when the monster is ready to pop out at any moment!
So what is his strategy to dealing with the monster within? It’s a rather pragmatic one: he keeps the destructive power of the Kagewani under control and harnesses it for himself to do what is right. Having witnessed the Kagewani’s power first hand, he knows just how evil it is. Furthermore, he knows that putting his monster in the hands of someone like Kimura would be even more destructive, seeing how he would have no trouble manipulating it for himself (which he does). However, Dr. Banba can’t so easily separate the Kagewani from himself, now that he has been infused with the creature for so long. They coexist.
Dr. Banba demonstrates a great use of power throughout the series whenever he fights alongside the Kagewani. However, he has always been a researcher first, and would hate to use this power all the time. But seeing how it is a part of him, he must learn to harness it himself, and no one else can convince him how to do it. As badass as he is as a Kagewani-human hybrid, I actually found his will to maintain his humanity to be much stronger in terms of his character. You can’t contain such a deadly creature that resides within you so easily, right?
But even though Dr. Banba demonstrates to us that he is more than capable of being a decent human being, he knows that he will forever be marked as a monster as well. For that reason, he must always live his life on the run, for he will never know when the Kagewani will consume his human self for good.
But that’s enough about a very unsettling ending to this narrative. Kagewani is a horror anime that was made mostly to entertain us, and nothing more. So to wrap up this in-depth review, let’s end on something that will give you nightmare fuel, just as the visuals for this anime intended.
So if you are looking for a short horror anime that has some surprisingly good character development despite its rather cliche plot devices, watch Kagewani.