Juni Taisen tells the story of the 12th year of the infamous “Zodiac Tournament”. Held annually, it serves as a means for the 12 most influential and powerful families in the world to determine who reigns supreme. Each house is identified by one of the 12 animals of the Zodiac, and a representative is sent to fight to the death in an effort to obtain a single “Wish” from the mysterious organization that funds the tournament every year. With a fresh batch of fighters with unique styles of combat, as well as an abundance of intrigue, drama, and betrayal to go around, who knows how the battle will shape up once the dust has settled?
12 people enter, one person leaves! With the popularity of the battle royale genre hitting a fever-pitch in gaming, it’s no wonder that the premise for Juni Taisen could be intriguing to a broad base. From the opening episode, it promises a real bloodbath – featuring the world’s most dangerous and capable fighters in a knock-down, drag-out fight. The opening confrontation between Boar and Rabbit showcases the level of action you eventually come to expect from the series.
This is where we run into my biggest gripe when it comes to Juni Taisen: when the animation is good, it’s really good, but there are also points in the series where it gets agonizingly bad. A pair of episodes in the latter half of the series that documents Dragon and Snake’s backstory is particularly bad, with filler shots and low-detail scenes abound.
This is particularly frustrating, because some of the characters are honestly interesting. Though hyped extensively in the opening episodes, as we learn more about the Ox, we watch as he transforms from an aloof killer to a fighter with a rigid set of morals before our very eyes. Other fighters, notably Monkey and Chicken, have equally compelling narratives that are brought to life with such care that I had to wonder if it was from the same team.
The inconsistency hamstrings an otherwise promising story, but I found that the closing episodes helped to compensate for the disappointing middle arcs.
One of my favorite elements of Juni Taisen is that the fighters are a bit more grounded in reality as highly skilled “soldiers”. While the FATE franchise has plenty of battle royale goodness going on, the over-the-top magic users and otherworldly titans that clash in the well-known fantasy series certainly belongs in its own category. While some of the Juni Taisen warriors lean on drugs to help enhance their abilities, and one warrior in particular appears to be channeling powerful necromancer-like powers, the majority of the combatants are certainly more human than monster.
The blu-ray release itself is fairly standard: no bells or whistles to speak of with the exception of the highly entertaining “Zodiac Sessions”, which features clips of ADR director Vic Mignogna having a brief chat with the various voice actors after their characters meet their unfortunate end. It’s a great look behind the scenes of the dubbing process, and some of the reactions (I’m looking at you, Monica Rial) are pretty fantastic.
Overall, if you’re looking for a battle royale series that’s a bit more grounded than the FATE franchise, Juni Taisen: Zodiac War might be a good fit for you. While the animation suffers from wild swings of quality, particularly in the latter half, the interesting characters and smooth combat make for a solidly entertaining ride.
Many thanks to Funimation for providing us with a review copy of this release in exchange for our honest review.
Juni Taisen: Zodiac War
- When the animation is good, it's spectacular
- Ox's backstory and moral compass is particularly powerful
- The warriors are a bit more relatable than FATE's otherworldly Servants
- Wildly inconsistent animation quality
- Story gets overly formulaic at times