Manga/Manhwa-to-anime film is almost a done deal when it comes to Japanese and Korean comic book series. Such as the case once again with “Blade of the Phantom Master” (Shin Angyo Onshi translated New Royal Secret Commissioner). Directed by Joji Shimura and Ahn Tae-gun, the film is based on the Korean manga-manhwa created by Youn In-Wan and Yang Kyung-Il. The thing with certain anime adaptations is that it often requires some knowledge in the part of the viewer to appreciate the material, and more often than not, it requires an understanding as to what kind of audience the anime film was intended for. “Blade of the Phantom Master” is one such anime adaptation and it is the first collaboration between Korean and Japanese creators.
The film begins after the collapse of the city of Jushin (a fictional place modeled after feudal Korea) and the Amen-Osa, the phantom masters, the hidden warriors who used to defend Jushin have all but disappeared. Now, from the ashes of fallen Jushin, a hero named Munsu (Keiji Fujiwara) have resurfaced to defend the people from a corrupt lord called Byon (Ryusei Nakao). Having felt some guilt in his failure to a young man named Monlyon (Daisuke Kishio), Munsu seeks to rescue his lost lover Chun Hyang (Sanae Kobayashi) who is a captive of Byon, who wants to make her his lover and as his bodyguard because of her incredible skills and mystic powers. Now, when another young man named Jyun (Jun Fukushima) arrives seeking aid, Munsu must travel with his new “Sando” to figure out just what is going on in Jyun’s island and who exactly is Lord Yuite (Mitsuru Miyamoto).
Being adapted from the first chapters of the manga, “Blade of the Phantom Masters” feels rather episodic and something that seems more to ‘entice’ the viewer rather than develop its characters. The film does manage to give the viewer an idea as to how this world after Jushin worked. It is true, such areas of development feels little undefined, and it barely scratches its surface, but fortunately, the strength of the main protagonist had enough going for him to carry its burden. In this world, simple peasants are faced with threats from tyrants, thieves and con men. To make things worst, they live in fear with beasts, zombies and sadists. This anime film also has some themes about humanity and their desires; such desires can lead to truth and that sometimes denying a desire can lead to realizing a truth.
The writing does well in establishing the personality and character of Munsu. It was easy to read into his state of mind, and as with most heroes, they do have a certain weakness; in this case, he has asthma. Munsu is an interesting character, but not exactly as multi-dimensional as portrayed in the movie. He had that ’cowboy’ attitude that made him feel like a ’spaghetti western’ reject, but then that medallion of his (that remains a little of a mystery) can summon phantom warriors, a small army at the command of an Amen-Osa. I also liked the character of Chun Hyang, she was the kind of warrior woman who appeared single-minded but had a very compassionate soul. She is easily the more interesting character of the two. However, the script of the film misses an opportunity, as it fails to develop her. I know she may have been intentionally underwritten to whet the viewer’s appetite, but it felt more as if the script was assuming all its viewers to be a fan of the manga, and so those who have not read the source material may find the screenplay rather lacking.
The screenplay did have some areas that needed smoothing over, and the direction makes small attempts to express the passage of time. I was a little put off when the film transitioned from the Byon plot into the Jyun story, it felt very episodic and I wasn’t too keen with its transition. Thankfully the voice acting and the animation were competent and good enough, that it was somewhat able to cover up its weak scripting. I understand, this was based on stories that may have been episodic anyway, but reading a material is totally different from watching a screenplay.
To its credit, the film did have some nice layouts and the animation was well executed. It was also cool to see that the film had several scenes of gore and the action was not meant for kids. The ‘hobgoblins’, the zombies and the final bad guy had designs that felt inspired by “Ninja Scroll”, while lacking most of that anime film’s creativity, they were nice nonetheless. There is an amount of gritty appeal to the way Munsu fights his battles, whether by his guns or by magic, the fights were fast and furious. Chun Hyang does nearly steal the show as she fights an incredible sword battle against a swordswoman called Mari (Romi Pak). Their fight wasn’t long, but it certainly was stylish, as the intensity matches the look of a choreograph dance. I do have to admit that I was pleased to see that the animation designs did not have the over-expressive bulging eyes, and the women did not have the curvaceous exaggerated assets (big boobs and butt); they looked truly Asian in nature, slender and yet very sexy.
“Blade of the Phantom Master” certainly had its appeal. It had some personality and certainly the action scenes weren’t bad. The one flaw that I saw was that the film feels like a small part of a bigger story, and so it feels very incomplete. Maybe this was the beginning of a new series, and while it enticed me, it wasn’t really something special. The film feels like the beginning (it is an adaptation of Munsu and Chun Hyang‘s early adventures), and it could’ve benefited if it was a longer. Not a bad anime movie for fans I can see, but those with little or no knowledge of the source material may feel a little lost. I guess I wasn’t its intended viewer. Worth a look, recommended if you're a fan. [3 Out of 5 Stars]
Thanks to the power of the internet, it's rare that an anime title (in this case an OVA full-length feature film) should manage to take me by surprise. And yet when Funimation's reissue of ADV Film's Blade of the Phantom Master showed up unannounced; that's exactly what happened. Based on a popular Korean manga, the anime incarnation has been around for several years now but hadn't made my short list of must-have properties... until now. Coming in at a total runtime of 90 … more
Legend tells of a secret army, the Amen Osa, the phantom master. Hidden warriors waiting to strike from the shadows to protect justice and defend the Jushin Empire from tyrants thieves. But Jushin has fallen, and its citizens live in fear of zombies, beasts and sadists.
Now from the ashes of destruction, a hero appears to defend the people. His name is unknown, and no man knows who serves. Is he the last of the Amen Osa? The answer will be revealed when the blade of the phantom master is unleashed.