Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga in Shogun | Agents of Fandom

‘Shōgun’ Is a Sweeping Samurai Saga Drenched in Political Turmoil

Hulu and FX have crafted a ‘Game of Thrones’-like series that is sure to please all fans of great television.

This review is made possible by advanced screeners of Episodes 1-10 of Shōgun, provided to Agents of Fandom by Disney for review purposes. This review covers Episodes 1-8.

Although many people would say the “golden era” of TV is a thing of the past, the very existence of Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo‘s Shōgun implies otherwise. Based on the novel by author James Clavell, the series dives into powerful themes of betrayal, influence, and the never-ending pursuit of power. It may be early in the year, but this series is primed to surprise the masses and hold up as one of the best shows of 2024.

Shōgun is a special series because it serves as so much more than just an adequate form of entertainment. When you press play on an episode, the immersive settings, layered characters, and unpredictable plot transport you to the unforgiving world set during the Kamakura period in Japan. The show is a stepping stone to learning about Japanese culture and customs, the unyielding loyalty these customs create, and the oftentimes brutal consequences of disobeying them.

‘Shōgun’ Review: A Complex Story That Demands Your Attention and Rewards It With Respect

close-up of Anna Sawai as Lady Mariko in Shogun | Agents of Fandom
Lady Mariko is one of Shōgun‘s many complex characters, forged but not bound by her circumstances and past. Image Credit: FX/Hulu.

Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat: this is not the kind of show to have on in the background — it deserves 100% of your focus at all times. The majority of the series dialogue is in Japanese, subtitled in English, with some exceptions for a few Portuguese and English-speaking characters. This choice enhances the cultural authenticity of the show and gives it a genuine feel it would otherwise be lacking with an English script. But, this isn’t the only reason why it’s paramount to pay attention.

Every scene, camera shot, and line of dialogue in Shōgun is calculated. There isn’t an ounce of wasted space, which is supremely impressive for a series of this scale. “Filler” is a term this show isn’t familiar with, and it doesn’t waste the audience’s time by giving them less important things to decipher from scene to scene. This is a testament to Maegan Houang and Emily Yoshida‘s script, written to pronounce each delicate detail while also questioning the meaning behind its discovery.

Many shows rely on violence too much, often leaning on it as a crutch to move from one point of exposition to another, but not Shōgun. Action sequences are few and far between, and brief when they do happen — but this is not a flaw. The scarcity of combat gives an added weight when it does come around; because people aren’t drawing their swords every 15 minutes, when someone finally does, it feels immensely consequential.

‘Shōgun’s Cast Brings Beautiful Settings and Powerful Relationships to Life

Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige sitting on the floor in Shogun | Agents of Fandom
It is nearly impossible to pin down Kashigi Yabushige’s allegiances and loyalties, but he manages to fool everyone around him. Image Credit: FX/Hulu.

Each of Shōgun‘s characters is indispensable, and every member of the cast gives a strong performance to drive that point home. Anna Sawai, who plays Lady Mariko, captures the essence of a loyal wife and servant to her lord with devastating beauty. She portrays a heart-wrenching desire to overcome inner demons alongside a fear of letting others dictate her circumstances with genuine power and sorrow. Sawai is a superstar in this series, primed for a massive breakout after her performance here and recently in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.

Hiroyuki Sanada is another of Shōgun‘s true winners. His character, Lord Yoshii Toranaga, is consistently three to four steps ahead of his competition and his cohorts. He never reveals his true motives until the right moment and Sanada’s cryptic performance pairs elegantly with the mystique of his character. Alongside Sawai and Sanada is Cosmo Jarvis, who plays one of the few English characters, Pilot John Blackthorne. John is the antithesis of a white savior, unable to grasp the culture and constantly causing problems for everyone, but Jarvis’ delightfully heartfelt performance forces you to root for him in ways you can’t quite understand.

Each member of the extensive and impressive cast does a stellar job, squeezing every scene for all of its value. Their performances, mixed with the beautiful settings that amplify the emotion of important action and each conversation, work in unison to create a delicately complex and immersive narrative that rewards you handsomely for buying in.

FX’s Samurai Series Deserves Buzz During Awards Season

Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne sitting down holding a cup of sake | Agents of Fandom
Cosmo Jarvis’ John Blackthorne provides some comedic relief, but never at the expense of the story. Image Credit: FX/Hulu.

Although there is considerable time until the 2024 Emmys and subsequent awards shows, Shōgun deserves a seat at the table when the time comes. If there are enough great shows and performances to push this series out of the conversation, then it will undoubtedly be one of the best years in television history. For those willing to challenge themselves by reading subtitles and giving Shōgun one hour of your undivided attention a week, it will pay back your investment tenfold with one of the most astonishing stories you’ve ever experienced.

Shōgun premieres on Hulu and FX in the United States and Disney+ in Canada on February 27. Follow the Agents of Fandom socials for all the latest entertainment news and reviews.

'Shogun' Review

'Shogun' Review
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Total Score

The Good

  • Considerable amounts of palace intrigue to satisfy.
  • Outstanding performances carry each scene.
  • Beautiful settings amplify emotion at every turn.
  • The narrative leaves you constantly guessing in the best ways possible.

The Bad

  • A few unpolished, overhead sweeping VFX shots, but they don't distract form the story at all.
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