What Is It?
Zenki is a 52-episode action show based on the manga series Kishin Dōji Zenki by Kikuhide Tani & Yoshihiro Kuroiwa. The show was directed by Junji Nishimura (Ranma 1/2, Dog Days’), and features character designs by Hideyuki Motohashi (Fushigi Yugi, Hikaru no Go). It was animated as a joint project between Studio Deen and Kitty Film. In the west, Zenki was originally released by Central Park Media on VHS, with a Media Blasters DVD release hitting in 2001.
The series is set in modern-day Japan, in a small village known only as Onmyoji Town. Well, by “modern”, I mean “early 1990s modern,” before cell phones and the internet were really things in the common world. But I digress.
One thousand years before, Japan was dominated by all manner of evil beings. Demons and devils besieged the lands, and humanity was at the verge of destruction. It was only at the hands of high priest Ozuno and the mighty guardian demon Zenki that mankind was able to defeat the darkness that descended upon the earth.
While he was indeed mighty, Zenki could only be controlled by Ozuno himself. Fearful that nobody would be able to stand up and tame the demon, Ozuno sealed Zenki into a stone monument before he drew his final breath. And, of course, all was peaceful, unicorns farted rainbows, and pocky rained from the sky for a millennium… or something.
Anyway, in the modern world, the shrine’s fallen into less fortunate times, and young priestess Chiaki Ozuno spends her days doing everything possible to bring money into its coffers. Her fate is forever changed, though, when a strange demonic object known as a Seed of Evil is awakened.
Legend has it that the day the Seeds begin to awaken is the beginning of humanity’s decline. And, once again, it falls upon Zenki’s shoulders to save humanity. Leading the charge behind him is Chiaki, descendant of the great Ozuno and trusted heiress to the powers to control the beast. Will she be able to save the world from the forces of evil, or will she be overcome by the sheer will of the great beast Zenki?
Why Was It Passed Up?
Truth be told, Zenki was always a below-the-radar release. The show first hit stores on VHS on September 5, 1995. This was a period when the anime market was in its earliest days, and shows sold primarily on word of mouth. It was during this year that we saw a number of classics first hit western shores, including Ninja Scroll, Urusei Yatsura, Doomed Megalopolis, and My Youth In Arcadia.
Before I go on, let me just say this. In 1995, Ninja Scroll as pretty much the title to own. This was a film that created fans, and drove an entire generation of anime enthusiasm. It was the one show that was on every single fan’s shelf that year, and the one show that just dominated the conversation.
So, given the soft launch of Zenki combined with the magnitude of the “must have” titles of the year, the series simply didn’t have a chance.
In 2001, Zenki suffered a similar fate. The first volume was quietly released against just about every major property that could hit stores in 2001. Seriously, in the show’s release month of September 2001, the following heavy hitters had volumes hitting stores:
- Ranma 1/2
- Rurouni Kenshin
- Gundam Wing
- Cardcaptor Sakura
- Dragon Ball Z
- Gundam MS08
That doesn’t even begin to scrap what hit in the months immediately before and after! Much like the show’s VHS release, the DVD was simply doomed to fail at market.
Why This Show?
I’m going to level with you. Zenki is a monster of the week show.
That said, it’s a genuinely good monster of the week show. It’s a series that uses the format to its advantage, to continuously up the stakes, and really deliver that sense of oncoming dread. The monster designs are genuinely creepy at times, and the series continually hammers home the fact that they are little more than human hosts, who may be killed when the Seed of Evil is defeated. Battles are well-paced, and just bloody enough to deliver a taste of the brutality of a battle between demons.
At the same time, though, Zenki is utterly charming. The main cast is lively well-developed, with quirks and eccentricities that really endear these characters to the viewer. The chemistry between players is wonderful, and the dialogue is generally well written. At the same time, there’s a whimsical sense of humor through the show, that combines straightforward jokes, slapstick, and a few mild perverted gags to round out the mix.
That said, there is a perverted old monk, and he is just delightful.
The show’s plot presents itself well, with a mix of the lighthearted and the dire that allows for urgency, without becoming too heavy. The characters grow and evolve through the show’s run, especially in regards to the relationship between Chiaki and Demon Lord Zenki.
And did I mention that Zenki is an utter badass? Because he totally is.
Zenki is one of those shows that is just plain fun to watch. It’s a series that manages deliver a darker storyline without becoming overbearing. At the same time, it’s able to be playful and silly, without really ruining the overall feel of the series proper.
The voice acting is fantastic, pulling in players like Chisa Yokoyama (Tenchi Muyo!, Sakura Wars) and Yuji Ueda (Love Hina, Rurouni Kenshin). And who can hate the show’s Hironobu Kageyama opener?
That said, the show does have a few definite warts. The animation is fairly low budget, and there is a definite stiffness outside of the battle scenes. In addition, there are a few segments in which the humor simply falls flat.
Still, given Zenki‘s many positives, it’s hard to not recommend it to those looking for an alternative to the average weekly shonen show.
Note: the trailer is unavailable. We’ve included the opening sequence instead.