The Hakkenden is a series that is based on the 181-chapter saga (no, that's not a typo, 181) written by Takizawa Bakin (1767-1848). In book form, the story is called Nansoo Satomi Hakkenden (rough translation -- "The Legend/Biography of Nansoo Satomi and the Eight Dogs").
In short, here is the storyline of The Hakkenden:
In an area of Japan called Awa, there are two families that control the area, the Satomi Clan and the Anzai Clan. The Satomi fall upon hard times and ask the Anzai for help. Rather than sending aid, Lord Anzai sends troops to destroy the Satomi, who, overwhelmed by hunger and the Anzai forces, barricade themselves within their castle. Finally, after numerous failed attempts to assassinate Lord Anzai, the Satomi realize that they have no other choice than to surrender. In joking desperation, the head of the Satomi clan (Satomi Yoshizane) promises to give the house dog (Yatsufusa) his daughter's (Fusehime) hand in marriage if Yatsufusa brings Lord Anzai's head. Amazingly, the dog goes off and returns with Lord Anzai's head, allowing the Satomi to finally overwhelm the Anzai forces. However, Yoshizane refuses to uphold his promise, but Fusehime, a stickler for promises, insists on upholding it and leaves with Yatsufusa for the mountains.
A year or so passes, and Fusehime finds out in a vision that she is with child (a litter of 8) and that the Satomi clan has a curse upon it. About this time, a former retainer of the Satomi clan comes into the mountains to save Fusehime. Tragically, in his attempt to shoot and kill Yatsufusa, he instead shoots Fusehime, who, realizing that she is dying and fearing what she may give birth to, kills herself (Thus, in an "honorable act," she has avoided her fate and paved the way to lift the Satomi curse). As she dies, the 8 beads on a rosary that she wears begin to glow and then fly off into the night. Here the anime doesn't really mention it, but within a few years, 8 sons are born to fathers whose last names begin with the kanji for dog, "Inu." Each of these sons is born holding one of the 8 beads from Fusehime's rosary. Within each of those beads is written a kanji that represents a Confucian ideal. These boys grow up as the embodiment of that particular ideal. These "Eight Dog Warriors" are to lift the curse from the Satomi family.
In episodes 1-9, shown last semester, the anime showed us how these eight dog warriors came to know each other. Since they all have these cool beads and the same birthmark, they know that they have something in common, but as of episode 9, they know nothing about their destiny to break the curse on the Satomi clan.
So, lets do a run-down of the 8 main characters in this series.
Inuzuka Shino: Introduced in the second episode, Shino's main quest was to return the Murasame, a really cool sword, to its rightful owner -- the leader of the Kanto (Tokyo) region (the sword is so cool that it actually drips water off its edges). Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances (see episodes 2 and 3), the sword is now in the possession of Dosetsu.
Inukawa Sosuke: Sosuke has been Shino's friend since childhood. Saved from execution by his dog warrior friends, Sosuke is intent on obtaining the Murasame from Dosetsu in order to give it back to Shino.
Inuyama Dosetsu: Dosetsu is currently in possession of the "Murasame," which he took from Aboshi in a fight (Aboshi stole it from Shino). However, during the fight, Aboshi tricked him with an illusion, and he accidentally cut down his own sister (who was just about to marry Shino).
Inukai Genpachi: Genpachi is the wacko in this series. Don't know much about his background, only that he knows how to fight and has some sort of history with Kobungo.
Inuda Kobungo: He was introduced in episode #5. He doesn't like fighting or hurting people due to an accident that occurred in his past which resulted in his father's death (see episode 5).
Inuzaka Keno: Introduced in episode #8. He's the one that dances with the fan in the opening credits. He spent most of his life getting revenge on the two guys who killed his father. With that mission done, he is now with the others seeking the source of their beads and birthmarks.
Inumura Daikaku: Introduced in episode #9, he was forced to kill his own father who had been possessed by a monster.
Inue Shinbei: The nephew of Kobungo. He's the cool kid playing the flute in the opening. As of episode #9, we have only seen him as a baby (episodes 4 and 5).
Last, but certainly not least, we have Aboshi. Like every anime, Aboshi is the evil bad guy in this series. You can sort of categorize him as the devil himself. As far as I can tell, he draws his strength and power through the suffering of these eight dog warriors. Bringing them pain and creating havoc in their lives seems to be Aboshi's only reason for living. I guess you could see his character as a symbolization of the curse which is on the Satomi clan and thus on every one of the dog warriors.
Since The Hakkenden is only 13 episodes, we are planning to finish it off this semester (the last two being shown in the marathon). It is released by Pioneer (yup, the same ones who did Tenchi, El-Hazard, and unfortunately -- Armitage III).