AKA New Royal Secret Commissioner, Phantom Master: Dark Hero from the Ruined Empire
Starring Keiji Fujiwara, Sanae Kobayashi, Ryusei Nakao, Romi Park, Jun Fukushima
Directed by Joji Shimura & Ahn Tae-gun
I have a bit of an oddity here. Unlike most anime, Blade of the Phantom Master is based upon a Korean comic book series rather than a Japanese one. Its setting and visual style therefore reflect a slightly different feel than other anime. The most noticeable way this shows is with the obviously Korean sounding names. I can only wonder what kind of meaning was lost in an English translation of a Japanese adaptation of a Korean story, but I can’t do much more than call it a curiosity and wish I was more familiar with the Korean folktales that inspired it. The voice acting was originally recorded in both Japanese and Korean, and considering its Korean roots I would have preferred to watch that version, but for some dumb reason the American DVD release only retained the Japanese language track.
More unfortunate about its creation is that it was made after CG began insinuating itself into anime. From the very beginning, the film makes it clear that CG is going to play a heavy part of the production. This immediately made me regret choosing this for my next review, and there are several scenes that are just flat out ruined by it. Nothing sucks the fun out of an action sequence like making it with CG. The movie surprised me, however, by not relying on CG as much as I thought it would. It still has plenty of bad moments, but it also has plenty of decent scenes that don’t use any CG or only a slight bit that I could ignore. The CG is mostly used outside of the actual combat, which goes a long way toward making it more bearable. There’s also some good stuff in this film, and I wound up having a mostly pleasant experience watching this.
After rescuing the girl and finding out that she is a total badass with a sword, nearly beating the shit out of Munsu, the newly formed team heads off to another random adventure, this time to help out Jyun, a kid with fuzzy memories who I made Jake in my Dark Tower parallel. This second adventure takes up the bulk of the film’s plot, and it’s far more thoughtful than the first action-oriented story. It follows a more mysterious route as Munsu gradually figures out what has happened to the town. It’s pretty obvious that the guy with the magical acupuncture is brainwashing everyone, and I got a little bored through the middle part. The end though, makes up for it with some good action that unlike the first section of the film doesn’t rely on as much CG, making it easier on the eyes. We get treated to a ferocious sword fight from Chun Hyang, and Munsu’s showdown with a giant monster is cocky, creepy and crafty. It’s also got a nice twist ending. While I can’t say it was entirely unpredictable, I did like where it went, and I would have been upset with it had it ended differently.
Phantom Master has some good action with magical strangeness and clever combat that manages to make up for a few scenes of atrocious CG. It gives you a compelling world, but unfortunately doesn’t have the time to explore it or build up a strong rapport with the main characters. If this were part of a series, it could have delivered a great time, but as a single film all it delivers is a bit of fun without much value. It’s certainly worth watching for fantasy fans, but just as it isn’t quite the anime version of Dark Tower, neither is it quite the epic adventure I wanted it to be.