Thursday 15 March 2012

Anime REVIEW: Hyakka Ryōran Samurai Girls

Hyakka Ryōran Samurai Girls (or simply 'Samurai Girls' in the West) is a 12 episode anime series released in 2010. Based on the light novel series of the same name, as you can guess from its name its main contents are samurai, girls and plenty of fan service.

The Girls (from left to right): Nia, Hanzo, Sen, Jyubei, Yukimura, Matabei, Kanetsugu  

In an alternate version of Japan known as Great Japan (where the Tokugawa Shogunate has remained active yet isolated from the rest of the World), the Buou Academy is a school at the base of Mt Fuji where those from military families train to become samurai. Muneakira Yagyu arrives at the school to take over the Yagyu dojo and quickly becomes involved in a power struggle between the school's student council and Yukimura Sanada, the 13-year old lolita leader of the Toyotomi faction. During a battle between the two groups, a mysterious girls falls from the sky and kisses Muneakira, granting her amazing samurai abilities.

As Munakira and the girls (whose numbers grow as the series progresses) investigate this girl, Jubei Yagyu, they soon discover that she has two personalities - childish and airheaded, yet when she kisses Muneakira she becomes a highly skilled yet sadistic samurai warrior with a power level of five million. Not only this, but Munakira's kisses are able to grant others the powers of a Master Samurai, with him having the power of a general. Amongst the harem hi-jinx that quickly ensue, the group also become involved in a dark aura that is covering Great Japan and an evil presence that is drawing ever closer.

Muneakira, oblivious protagonist.

While powers from a kiss is hardly the most original of concepts, there are some other noteworthy aspects to the plot and setting. Despite it looking like the Sengouku or early Edo periods of Japanese history, the series is set in modern day, meaning traditional styles clash with present day technology - from gene therapy and fighter planes to laptops and digital cameras. The problem lies in that while it sets itself up quite well, very little is explained in the course of the show (especially Muneakira's powers), and this is because in reality Samurai Girls is an ecchi show first and foremost. Early on the jokes are somewhat amusing, but as it becomes more and more clear that its getting in the way of the actual plot and spiralling down into near-pornographic levels they do become a little discomforting. The characters are heavily clichéd (the slightly dimwitted protagonist, the tsundere, the flat chested loli etc.) and save for the three girls who become master samurai (Jyubei, Yukimura and eldest daughter of the Shongunate Sen Tokugawa) are largely forgettable as they fall into the background quite quickly. There are plenty of supernatural harem/ecchi anime that have been able to balance plot and fan service, but this show doesn't quite get the hang of it and the end result is most of the plot being crammed into the final three episodes.

Jyubei: 0 to badass in one kiss flat.

One aspect of the show that is worthy of praise though is its beautiful and somewhat unique art style. Heavy brush strokes, muted colours and thick character outlines make the series feel as if it were drawn on time-worn scrolls. The ink blot technique used for scene transitions (and also censorship if by chance you're watching the TV version) also emphasise this feel, with the blotting often also changing colour to suit the characters and/or attacks on screen at the time. While the animation does shift to black and white for the final episode's climactic fight, it does make for a powerful visual effect. It's just a shame that such great art direction is mostly wasted on lackluster comedy and gratuitous fan service.

Instead of an AWESOME SAMURAI ANIME, this is what you get most of the time.

While not completely awful, Hyakka Ryōran Samurai Girls certainly leaves plenty to be desired. The actual plot (which on paper had the potential to be quite interesting) plays second fiddle to harem jokes that have been done a million times before (and often better) and more breasts than you can shake a sword at. At 12 episodes, it's hardly a strenuous watch and if you aren't adverse to such a quantity of fan service the art is certainly good enough to keep you watching. If however you do have some sort of aversion to animated nudity, I recommend you steer clear of the Samurai Girls.

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