Note: THEY FINALLY ADDED THE DAMN CATEGORY!
From the first time I saw the trailer to Volume 1 of BASILISK, I was intrigued by this beautiful and yet disturbing series. And having now seen the entire series, John and I have both come to the conclusion that we would have killed to have had this series (and these soundtracks!) during the L5R game. The English dub, by the way, is spectacular all the way around, the music is lush, the animation vivid, the story incredible, and the characters developed.
I love Gennosuke as a character, personally. (And it helps he's voiced by Troy Baker, who I hear as the samurai Yoshio from my book 'The Sword of the Soul'.)
Warning - slight spoiler as to Gennosuke's ninja talent.
"Gennosuke-kun, come on! Danjo-sama is waiting for us!" The young woman sighed and put her hands on her hips, staring up at the balcony of Kouga Gennosuke's room. "And tie your sandals properly this time, I'd hate to have to explain how you fell down the stairs along the way!"
"Coming, Miyamori!" he called out, startling her by leaping off the balcony to land easily on his feet beside her. As he straightened up from his crouch, he grinned, then brought his palms together and made an elegant bow to her.
"Show-off," she grumbled, turning and making her way across the Manjidani compound.
"You're just upset that you couldn't do the same thing," Gennosuke reminded her, his long legs easily keeping up with his younger cousin's stride.
"It's not for lack of skill," she told him. "Exactly how am I supposed to leap off the balcony dressed like this?" She waved one hand down at herself, indicating the formal kimono and obi she wore for their meeting with Gennosuke's grandfather, the leader of the Kouga. "It's not fair that women have to wear kimono and men get to wear hakama and haori. We're ninja, too."
"Yes, but women look pretty no matter what they wear," he teased her. "How silly would men look if we had to wear a dress?"
Miyamori didn't bother dignifying that one with a response, settling instead for just a sigh as she and Gennosuke crossed the compound toward Kouga Danjo's home.
As they walked, Gennosuke began humming to himself, a lilting tune that brought a smile to Miyamori's lips. "What's that?"
"Oh, just something I've been working on," he said, pausing in the middle of his song. "I can't quite seem to get it right, though."
Miyamori drew a wooden flute from her obi, lifted it to her lips, and began to play the song that Gennosuke had been humming, and he marvelled yet again at how easily she could mimic the sound of a nightingale when she played.
"How do you do that so marvellously?" he asked her, a wistful envy in his voice when she was done.
"Perhaps someday I'll teach you. I guess being the older of us doesn't always make you the wiser, hmm?"
Gennosuke grinned at her, and she replaced the flute in the sash at her waist as they approached Danjo's house.
"Are you nervous?" she finally asked him.
"To be honest, a little," he admitted. "Are you?"
"Yes. But all I can do is tell myself that we've been practicing day and night for the last six weeks. Either we're ready, or we're not. That's all there is to it."
"It'll be fine, Miyamori. We're Kouga – we do not fail." The confidence in his voice made her stop walking and look up at him in wonder.
When did you grow so tall, Gennosuke? she thought as she gazed up at him. When did your eyes become wise, and your smile so gentle? It seemed like only yesterday when the two of them were climbing trees and running wild and outdaring one another to imitate the skills of the other Manjidani ninja.
"Miyamori?" she heard, and she blinked, realizing that Gennosuke had caught her staring at him.
"What? Oh, I'm sorry, Gennosuke-kun. It's nothing."
"You looked so serious. Is everything all right?" He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, and she blushed.
"I'm fine, truly. Just… lost in my thoughts. But we should hurry, we don't want to keep Danjo-sama waiting."
She began walking once more, but Gennosuke stood and watched her for a moment before catching up.
"Ah, Gennosuke. And Miyamori. Thank you for coming." Danjo gestured to two cushions, and the two young ninja bowed deeply as befitted his station, then knelt as commanded. For a long time, none of them spoke while the elderly leader studied the two teenagers who sat before him. As was proper, they kept their eyes lowered and their heads bowed, Gennosuke's hands at his sides, Miyamori's in her lap.
"Your devotion to your studies for the last several weeks has been most commendable," Danjo said at last. "Are you prepared?"
"Yes, Grandfather," Gennosuke said quietly.
Danjo turned to the girl who sat beside his grandson. "Miyamori?"
"Yes, my lord. We are."
"Then it is time," the old man said firmly, rising to his feet, while Gennosuke and Miyamori did the same. They followed him out into the main courtyard and training ground of the Manjidani compound, where they saw several others gathered, waiting for them. Gennosuke recognized Kasumi Gyobu and Kisaragi Saemon in the crowd, while Miyamori waved to Okoi, who was standing beside her older brother. They also saw Muroga Hyoma, with Kagero by his side, whispering a soft narration to the blind ninja, and there was Udono Josuke perched on the steps of a nearby house, a sake jug in his hand as he regaled Jyubei Jimushi with his latest exploits.
Danjo turned and addressed the crowd. "Here stands Gennosuke, and here stands Miyamori." Gennosuke and Miyamori bowed to the crowd, who did not bow in return. "Are they ninja?"
"NO!" the other ninja shouted in the ancient tradition.
Danjo looked over at the two who stood waiting. "You must prove your worth before the Kouga Clan. Now."
He stepped back, and Gennosuke drew his katana, his face tense with concentration. Miyamori, however, did not move, but remained still, her hands at her sides, and closed her eyes. For a long time, Gennosuke stood there and waited for her attention to falter, but Miyamori's attention did not waver from him, and finally he began to circle her on silent feet, searching for any opening in her defense. She never moved, but everyone in the crowd would have sworn that she was tracking Gennosuke by the beating of his heart.
When Gennosuke was directly behind her, he stabbed directly at Miyamori's undefended back...
... only to watch his blade go through her as though her body were made of nothing but mist.
Carefully, he withdrew his blade, sheathed it, and bowed to her, and slowly her body became whole once more. She turned around, opened her eyes, and bowed to him, and the crowd burst into applause.
Gennosuke smiled at her, his eyes showing his pride in his cousin's skill, then he closed his own eyes as Miyamori straightened. He stilled his breathing, concentrating on her, as she slowly slid one hand into her sleeve and withdrew two of the throwing stars that the Kouga favored. Patiently, she waited for Gennosuke's attention to falter, but like her own earlier, his did not slip, and so she began to move away, bringing her hands back, poised to throw. Then she whipped her hands forward, sending the two stars scything toward Gennosuke...
... who caught one in each hand by his very fingertips before flinging them back and embedding them in the ground at her feet.
"Oh, well done, Gennosuke!" Miyamori blurted out before she could stop herself, then she blushed hotly as the other ninja laughed and applauded their leader's grandson.
"Yes, indeed. Well done, Miyamori, and well done, Gennosuke," Danjo said with a smile, nodding his approval. He lifted a hand, and the others gathered in the courtyard fell silent. "Are they ninja?"
"YES!" came the response.
"Are they Kouga?"
Miyamori's eyes flashed to Gennosuke's, but one glance showed that he was just as confused as she was.
"Grandfather... I... I don't understand," Gennosuke said softly, and Danjo's eyes seemed to blaze into his. "What do you mean, are we Kouga?"
"A Kouga puts the Clan above all else, save our honorable Shogun. There is nothing else."
Gennosuke and Miyamori both nodded, but Danjo wasn't finished.
"It will take more than mere words to convince us that you are worthy of being Kouga. Miyamori, come forward."
The young woman approached and stood beside Kouga Danjo. He leaned over and whispered something in her ear, too faint for anyone else to catch. But Gennosuke saw all of the blood drain from her face until the only colour left was her wide amber eyes.
"Yes, my lord," she whispered, her voice barely louder than a breath, then she turned and moved so that once again, she stood before Gennosuke.
"Gennosuke, come forward." Frowning, the young man moved toward Danjo.
"Grandfather, what's wrong with Miyamori?" he asked quietly, glancing over at his cousin. She would not look at him, instead turning her face away toward the crowd.
"She has been given the command that she must fufill to demonstrate her worthiness. Now I give you yours."
"And that is?"
Danjo looked his grandson in the eyes, his gaze never wavering, and as he had with Miyamori, he leaned forward to whisper to Gennosuke.
Gennosuke barely managed to hold back a gasp of horror and outrage. "But Grandfather, that's-"
"-your duty, as commanded by the leader of the Kouga Manjidani," Danjo finished. "You held back against her just now, didn't you?"
It was not a question, and Gennosuke knew it. The demonstration of their skills was meant to test their shinobi talents, not their zanshin skills.
"Are you a Kouga, or are you not?"
Gennosuke's breath came fast between clenched teeth, and his hand clutched the pommel of his katana so tightly that he felt the tsuba cut into his hand, drawing blood.
Then he turned and took his place once again before Miyamori, who still would not turn and face him. Looking at her, Gennosuke could not help but wonder what order she had been given to prove her worth as a Kouga Manjidani ninja, but he had no doubt that whatever it was, she would do it.
Even if it meant trying to kill him.
Gennosuke closed his eyes, shutting out the sight of Miyamori's pallor and the sorrow on her face.
Danjo did not look at the two young people standing in the courtyard - instead, he raised his voice so that all of the others could hear.
"Here stands Miyamori, and here stands Gennosuke. They have both proven that they are ninja... now, they will both prove their worth as Kouga."
Miyamori closed her eyes and winced, clenching her hands into fists at her sides, and Gennosuke felt as though his blood were slowly turning to ice in his veins.
In the courtyard, everyone could feel the tension in the air, like the instant before a storm breaking. Okoi shivered and slipped her hand into her brother's, while Hyoma put his arm around Kagero, who was trembling as she watched Gennosuke and Miyamori face one another.
Danjo stood gazing at the cousins who still would not meet one another's eyes. While in his heart, he felt a deep sorrow for them both, not a single emotion touched his aged face.
In that instant, both Gennosuke and Miyamori opened their eyes, their gazes locked on one another. For a moment, time stood still, and then suddenly Gennosuke seemed to be wreathed in shadow and flame, surrounded by a malevolent darkness, save for the burning of his eyes. Miyamori's whole body seemed to convulse, and her hands reached out to Gennosuke, but no one could be certain if she was pleading with him... trying to stop him... trying to embrace him.
They would never find out, for then Miyamori's hands moved of their own volition, drawing another knife that she'd hidden in her obi, sending her flute clattering to the ground, and she buried the blade in her throat all the way to the hilt.
"G... Gen... no... suke..." she gasped, choking on her own blood, then she sank to the ground, her eyes staring blindly at the sky. As she fell, the darkness and fire surrounding Gennosuke faded away, but no one in the courtyard said a word.
For a moment, there was absolute silence, and then it was shattered by an outbreak of clamouring voices.
"Did you see...?"
Only Gennosuke did not speak, his eyes staring at Miyamori's body lying in the dust.
"My God, Miyamori-san..."
"Like hell's own darkness..."
"Danjo-sama, I don't understand...?"
"ENOUGH!" Danjo bellowed, and the courtyard fell silent once more. "Are they ninja?"
"Yes." This time, the response was not shouted, but whispered.
"Are they Kouga?"
Gennosuke finally spoke, turning on his grandfather with helpless rage and grief in his eyes. "How does this make us Kouga? TELL ME!"
Danjo gazed at his grandson, and at last a hint of sorrow touched his face.
"A Kouga ninja exists to serve the Clan. There is no room for question, for doubt. When given a command, it is honored absolutely."
"And what command did you give her?" Gennosuke's face was tormented by guilt as he gestured at Miyamori's body. "What did you say to her that made her turn so pale?"
Danjo did not look away.
"'Let Gennosuke kill you.'"
"WHAT?!" The young ninja's bellow filled the courtyard, and the others turned away. "YOU TOLD HER TO DIE?"
"Because she is a Kouga ninja... but you... are the heir. It is not enough for the leader of the Manjidani ninja to die for the Shogun. You must also kill... and sometimes, when there is no other way, that includes your own people."
The horror and anguish on the young man's face was terrible to see, and he turned away from his grandfather to fall to his knees beside Miyamori. Biting back angry tears, he tenderly closed her eyes, but then his gaze was caught by something else.
Her flute, where it had fallen at her feet.
With shaking hands, Gennosuke picked it up, clutching it tightly as though trying to catch the memory of her earlier song. Closing his eyes, he rose to his feet and walked away, moving only by instinct and by memory. The other ninja parted before him, allowing him to pass. But just as he reached the end of the courtyard, he stopped.
"I will find another way," he whispered, but every single person in the courtyard heard him. "I will... for Miyamori."
That night, during the evening meal, Hyoma lifted his head and turned his sightless eyes toward the forest, where he could hear music of heartbreaking loveliness and sorrow drifting over the Manjidani compound.
"What is it, Hyoma?" Danjo asked. "What do you hear?"
Hyoma sighed and bowed his head. "I hear... Gennosuke's promise… to Miyamori."