It’s probably a good marker of when I first started really getting into anime that to me, “anime + Jubei Yagyu = Jubei-chan the Ninja Girl” (and yes, I know that Jubei is rather removed from reality). Jubei Yagyu makes another female-form appearance in Samurai Girls, and while in her true form she’ll kick ass and take no notes, under normal circumstances she’s rather clueless…
What They Say:
The story takes place in Japan in the early 21st century, in an alternate reality where the Tokugawa Shogunate has remained in power. In this reality, student councils are tasked with oppressing schools. Yagyuu Muneakira is a high school student who rebels against his student council with the help of girls who’ve had the names of famous samurai heroes passed on to them.
Audio is provided in Japanese, English and French 2.0 stereo versions – I listened to the Japanese track for this review. It’s a fairly non-nonsense stereo mix, with good placement of dialogue and effects using the available channels, with the action scenes sounding reasonably impressive. Nothing spectacular, though. There were no apparent encoding issues.
Video is provided in its original 1.78:1 aspect, enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is quite adventurous / experimental with its visual look, with dark colours and backgrounds being the order of the day – sometimes tricky territory for DVD transfers, but handled here with no apparent problems. The visual style is something you may take a while to get used to, though.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
With Manga releasing this on behalf of French company Kaze, we get something I haven’t seen in a while: bilingual disc menus, with the option of French or English being presented as the disc loads. Naturally, I picked English (which neatly avoids the front-loaded trailers that the French have to put up with). The main menu uses a set of clips of the girls as its background, with animated icons provided for direct access to each episode. Further options are provided for Play All and language and subtitle selection; while the episodes for each disc are also directly accessed from the main screen, removing the need for submenus. With both animated background and icons, though, it’s still rather busy to look at.
Extras are spread across the three discs in the set. There are two installments of the added-fanservice OVA shorts on each disc, while on disc one, there are several installments of the ‘4-koma manga’, another set of comedy shorts set to manga-style drawing; on disc two, a pair of trailers and creditless versions of the opening and closing sequences; and on disc three a promotional video.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
It’s the year Heisei 22 in the Japanese calendar, and Muneakira Yagyu receives an unexpected surprise when a naked girl falls from the sky, and kisses him. It’s the trigger for a massive release of power, and the beginning of a huge change in Muneakira’s life. In this world, the Tokugawa Shogunate has never lost power, and so Great Japan has made it into the modern world with its feudal system intact. Muneakira is a student at the Buou Academic School, a prestigious institution reserved for the children of warrior clans only and where the power of the Student Council is absolute. But there’s a growing sense of rebellion and resentment over their power – and abuse of it – and Muneakira’s about to find himself drawn into the dispute…
A growing number of female students have been disappearing, you see, and the suspicion is that Student Council president Yoshihiko Tokugawa, who’s currently on diplomatic duties in France, has something to do with it. In his absence, his younger sister Sen – a girl with a god complex if ever there were one – has taken charge of the school, and she’s dealing with those opposed to her brother in her own no-nonsense way, with the help of her chief enforcer (and, frankly, toy) Hattori Hanzo. Top of her hitlist are seer Sanada Yukimura and her bodyguard Matabei Goto. Muneakira’s arrival coincides with this little crackdown, and he almost inadvertently finds himself siding with Yukimura and Matabei – and when the girl that falls from the sky turns out to be legendary samurai Jubei Yagyu, guess which side turns out to have the greater firepower.
All this is introduction, of course, and there’s still a little explanation required. The great male warriors of Japan have all had the power to form contracts with women, in the form of a kiss, that awakens their latent fighting power. The men that can do this are known as Generals, and the women who are bonded with them in this way are Master Samurai. When Jubei falls from the sky, the kiss she plants on Muneakira in the process creates just such a bond – the first indication Muneakira had ever had that he had the power of a General within him. And it’s a power that Yukimura and Sen would both like to get their hands on. It certainly does no harm that both girls harbour certain feelings for Muneakira, either.
Sen is outwardly a badass, but she has a heart buried in there somewhere – especially where Muneakira’s concerned, as they’ve known each other since they were kids and that leads her to trust him more than her brother when the show’s main conspiracy is revealed. She’s probably my favourite of the three main girls, although her abrasive personality won’t be to everyone’s taste. Yukimura fills the loli slot, and comes complete with a rather tsundere outlook on life – she finds it difficult to express herself, but is totally reliable when you need her to be. Jubei comes with a split personality – normally a complete ditz who dotes on her “onii-chan” (Muneakira), when her Master Samurai powers are called upon she transforms into a cold-hearted, take-no-prisoners killer of frankly awesome power. Each of these three has their own appeal, and they’ve been clearly tailored so that between them they’ll appeal to the widest cross-section of fandom as possible – just like a typical sentai team. There’s just three of them instead of five. Add in other girls who each get their share of the screentime (the aforementioned Hanzo and Matabei, hammer-wielding Kanetsugu, fruit-loop Gisen and French samurai Nia), and there are plenty of people to keep track of.
So. With so many Master Samurai running around, there are no prizes for guessing that there’s plenty of action on show, and with the series having quite high production values it’s all enjoyable to watch – with this release having the added bonus of having the show’s trademark ink splotch broadcast edits removed. There are two main problems, though. First, there’s the way that the whole series takes place in essentially one location: the Yagyu dojo within the Buou Academy. This isn’t a series that likes to get out much, and it begins to feel a bit samey after a few episodes, as it’s the same people playing out the same gags in the same location for half of each episode (with the other half being devoted to moving the plot forward a bit). The way the story unfolds, the fixed location does make sense – it just doesn’t work all that well in practice.
Problem #2 is more unusual. I mentioned the ink splotch editing already – for its broadcast streams, Samurai Girls used strategically-applied brushstrokes to hide its naughty bits – while the vast majority of that has been removed, there’s still a fair amount of ink on view, being deployed in a mostly artistic way this time around. That, along with the show’s unusual artistic style (heavy drawing lines on the characters, understated detail, and a very dark palette) makes the series visually awkward, and more of a challenge to watch than it really should be. Credit’s due for having tried something different, artistically, but it hasn’t quite come off.
Under all that ink, though, the story that unfolds is actually quite good, with a heavy dose of magical girl about it and a suitably evil genius to be defeated in the form of Yoshihiko, when he eventually makes it back from France. You could also add a little moral about how the needs of the many shouldn’t always trump the rights of the few, if you were feeling generous.
The thing I find with shows is that you quickly split them into shows you want to see as soon as each new episode / volume comes out, and shows that you don’t mind leaving for a while. Samurai Girls falls into the former category – despite my frustrations with it, when it was being streamed last year I still wanted to see what would happen each episode and watched them as and when they were released, and when this set landed it somehow managed to work its way to the top of quite a large backlog. Most of the characters are interesting and appealing enough in their own ways for me to care, at least a little, about what happened to them. Yes, it falls into the same trap as Highschool of the Dead in that the high level of fanservice hurts it more than it helps it – doubly so as the fanservice here goes beyond what HOTD had – but again like HOTD the underlying story is good enough to carry the show through that problem. I said when I saw the streams that this was one where I’d be happy to stump up for the physical release when it eventually appeared. My pre-order is in. And not just to get rid of those damned brushstrokes.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, French Language 2.0, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, OVA Extras, “4-koma manga”, creditless opening and closing sequences, Promotional Video
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: A-
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: 30 January 2012
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: MPEG2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37″ widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.