Anime of Tomorrow
Category Archives: Samurai
Winter to summer 1999 (4 OVAs) (alternate title – Samurai X: Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal)
After being saved by Seijuro, a wise hermit swordsman, he takes the young boy Shinta as his student and gives him a new name—Kenshin. As the years pass, the boy’s resolve for justice and righteousness focuses him into a powerful warrior; a testament to his teacher’s skill. But he’s not satisfied with simply being strong. He wants to use the skills he’s learned to put an end to the wars that bring pain and suffering. Against his teacher’s advice, he comes out of seclusion and dedicates his sword to Katsura, a man whose motives seem to coincide with his own. But when a woman named Tomoe witnesses his skills, Kenshin’s life will soon become swept into confusion.
Samurai X is one of the greatest anime of all time? Gimme a break. Just from a technical standpoint, this anime was made in 1999 and the animation quality doesn’t hold a candle to pretty much any other anime of the late 90s or early 2000s you could name. The third episode of the OVA is a particularly obtuse example of laziness because there are several scenes where they just overlaid the animation with live video. Perhaps this was a vain attempt to make some kind of artistic expression, but all it did was stick out like a sore thumb and take me out of the experience just when I was starting to get emotionally attached.
It’s also full of weird little, unexplained niggles that roughen an otherwise sharp piece of work. One of the things that constantly irked me is Kenshin’s red hair. Why should he be the only unique character in an anime that does a very good job of depicting a truer version of Japan than most? The origin of Kenshin’s x-shaped scar was also a big letdown. I was left with the anticlimactic feeling of, “that’s it?”
The only really redeeming feature of this show is its writing that balances a lot of different themes ranging from historical fiction and bloody action to a little slice of life and tragic romance. But even that isn’t really up to par. The first episode starts out a little broken and does a poor job handling all the flashbacks. Once that’s over, it flows nicely from a story about a self-righteous young man who wants to make the world a better place to a point where he finds that life is not as simple as he thought. However, this philosophical revelation is spat back into our faces when Kenshin just goes right back to the war he now knows full well to be futile and contrary to his goal of ending pain and suffering. I can’t think of a worse conclusion to an otherwise heart-felt series.
I want to make something clear. Unlike other popular anime that I despise, I don’t think Samurai X is bad—simply highly overrated. It’s certainly better than its main series Rurouni Kenshin—if for no other reasons than it has much better pacing, tone and voice acting. But in a lot of ways the OVAs completely devalue Rurouni Kenshin now that I understand his past. I feel somewhat insulted on his part that he could be depicted as such a quirky, typically carefree person in the main series after all he’s experienced. It seems like a rather undignified treatment of Kenshin’s character.
When I go to sites like AnimeNfo, Anime News Network and My Anime List and I look at their list of the best anime, out of all the possible titles the anime community could have latched onto, I can’t see how Samurai X could be anywhere within the top 1000. There’s just nothing to it that warrants such acclaim.
Summer 2012 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – The Ambition of Oda Nobuna) (more info)
Oda Nobuna gives me this weird impression that some narcissistic Japanese history buff wrote himself into his own historical fan fiction and managed to pass it off as the script for an anime. Yet another of Japan’s idiosyncrasies is on full display—gender bending. Following in the footsteps of such anime as Sengoku Collection, Samurai Girls and Sengoku Paradox; as it turns out, most of Japan’s historical generals were actually women.
Finding himself 450 years in the past, protagonist and RTS aficionado Yoshiharu just rolls with his new circumstances—giving the impression that the time traveling rules in this series are, “if you go back in time, you were meant to so that you can shape the future.” It’s nothing new or exciting. And naturally hero and heroine have some hollow chemistry between them that just has to be there by default because they’re the main characters and it’s what people would expect. Pretty much all aspects of the premise can just be written off as playing mix and match with ideas that have already been done before and better by other anime.
So Oda Nobuna is a historical fiction that’s so crumblingly insubstantial I can’t think of anything more meaningful to say about it. If you’re into ridiculous anime that feature female warriors in classical Asian settings and watching them do battle I say stick with Koihime Musou so at least you can get a few good laughs and don’t have to put up with half-baked romance.
Summer 2012 (12 episodes) (more info)
My first reaction went like this—finally, an average, normal samurai anime. But then I found out that Hakuouki is bigger than I knew and I’m jumping into something that I’m not even sure if I want to find out more about. Characterizing an anime like this right off the bat may not sound like the praise I intend it to be, but considering that last samurai series that didn’t involve some strong supernatural elements that I can easily recall was probably Samurai Champloo, it’s no wonder I’m pleased to see a return to the basics in this age-old genre.
In what appears to be a developing theme this season, what exactly this series is going to become remains to be seen. However, a down on his luck ronin samurai who hasn’t lost his moral compass and who’s been taken in by a shady new master sounds as good a start to a rough-and-tumble samurai story as I’ve ever heard.
The character designs aren’t anything to write home about, with most of the large number of men in this cast looking a tad effeminate with their soft faces and long, wild ponytails. There’s no signs of any bromance, though—so I’m not worried this is some weird yaoi trap. In fact, with most of the characters hating each other’s guts, I’m predicting something suitably masculine and gritty—even if this series has yet to reveal how it intends to handle the action that I’m expecting will be coming very soon.
So while this anime is keeping its cards close to its chest, I can clearly see that it’s fairly different from anything else in recent years and that’s encouraging. Whether or not I explore anything more that the Hakuouki franchise has to offer remains to be seen at this point, but being that this is a prequel, I guess it’s not the worst place to start.